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The crimes humans commit against each other have numerous justifications and rationalizations, to most of us in North America, we hear more about the atrocities of our enemies, that we do of the ones we commit in our name.  John Dower examines the Cold War period in history and concludes that our hands were just as bloody, if not more so, than our hated enemy.

     “When the torture manuals refer to “neutralizing” targets, this was commonly recognized as a euphemism for killing.  There is no evidence that cover US forces participated directly in the the grotesque torture, death squads, massacres, and “disappearances” characteristic of the dirty wars that ravaged Latin America, only that they promoted and supported them.  At the same time, there i”s little or no evidence that, in taking sides in these wars and training and materially aiding “anticommunist” participants in them, the United States gave serious attention to human rights or the rule of law.  In most countries south of the border, Washington supported right-wing regimes in their state terror.  In Nicaragua, it abetted the Contras in pursing a murderous campaign of “guerrilla” terror against the government.  Proxy war, surrogate terror, disdain for human rights and even for plain decency all came together. 

      As always, it is not possible to quantify the costs of this violence with any exactitude.  For South and Central American societies, the political, cultural, and psychological costs were – and to some degree still are – enormous.  Writing in Cambridge History of the Cold War, John Coatsworth observed that the Contra insurrection in Nicaragua devastated the economy, forced the government to abandon most of its social programs, and “cost th lives of 30,000 Nicaraguans, mostly civilian supporters of the Sandinista revolution.”  He put the death toll in El Salvador between 1979 and 1984 at nearly forty thousand, most who were unarmed combatants murdered by the armed forces. 

    Coatsworth also noted in passing that President Reagan visited Guatemala City in December 1982 and praised the ruling military junta for its commitment to defend the country against the threat of communism.  In 1982- 1983 alone, the government forced eight hundred thousand peasants into “civil patrols” ordered to uncover and kill insurgents or see their communities destroyed.  It followed up on its threat by destroying an estimated 686 villages and hamlets and killing between fifty thousand and seventy-five thousand people. 

    All told, Coatsworth estimates that the Cold War in Central America saw nearly three hundred thousand deaths in a population of thirty million, plus a million refugees who fled the area, mostly for the United States.  Based on examination of published CIA and State Department materials plus other reports unsympathetic to communist regimes, he reached this conclusion: “Between 1960, by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin’s gulags, and the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those in the Soviet Union and its East European satellites.  In other words, from 1960 to 1990, the Soviet Union bloc as a whole was less repressive, measured in terms of human victims, than many individual Latin American countries.” 

   This does not diminish the multiple horrors of Soviet violence and oppression, but helps place them in perspective.”

-John W. Dower.  The Violent American Century. pp. 68 – 69.

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