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Home About Us Prisoners of Conscience Articles "Is the Cause Worth a Precious Soldier's Life?"
"Is the Cause Worth a Precious Soldier's Life?" PDF Print E-mail
November 22, 2003

There are many and varied reasons for opposing the Western Hemisphere
Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC, fomerly the School of the
Americas -- SOA).

We are here today to repudiate the U.S. Army?s practice in the past of
using torture manuals in the training of Latin American soldiers.

We are here today to reject the School of the Americas? record of training
dictators, torturers, and other human-rights violators. Some of its
graduates participated in the brutal assassination of the six Jesuit
priests and the two women in San Salvador in 1989. These martyrs are
present with us here in Columbus, Ga., this weekend as we revere and honor
in our Mass and procession a very significant relic of them -- some of the
blood which they shed for the people of El Salvador, which was collected
from the garden where they had been slain.
In another case, Father James Carney, who had been in basic training at
Ft. Benning before serving in Europe during World War II in the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers, disappeared in Honduras in 1983; some of the Honduran
troops alleged to have been involved in his torture and disappearance were
products of the SOA.

But we are not concerned only about past atrocities. And our concern goes
beyond the question of whether a few human-rights units are included in the
institute?s curriculum. Indeed, when Father Joseph Mulligan visited the SOA
in 1990, some instructors told him that some mention was being made of the
notion of human rights but that the trainees did not take it seriously,
throwing in the teachers? faces the facts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and
other U.S. atrocities.

One of our main reasons for demanding that the U.S. government close
SOA-WHISC has to do with the recruitment of Latin American troops into the
military strategies and operations of the U.S. government. SOA-WHISC is a
symbol and instrument of this, as its very name indicates. Other countries
of the hemisphere have been pressured into sending token forces (about two
hundred from each of several nations) to cooperate in a military occupation
which the Bush administration has defined as necessary for U.S. security.
Do the people of Latin America need to participate in this kind of
"security cooperation"?
Troops from Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic
have joined U.S. soldiers in Iraq, which we find very sad and ironic. It is
especially ironic in the case of Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic,
since those countries were occupied by the U.S. military in the early 20th

Another reason for closing SOA-WHISC has to do with the nature and purpose
of the Latin American military forces. They do not exist primarily to
defend one nation against another, but rather to protect an unjust and
inequitable distribution of resources within each country against movements
of social and political change. By training and equipping the armed forces
of Latin America, the U.S. military is strengthening the hand of the
privileged elites in their efforts to repress unions, farmers, students,
and others struggling for justice. The most needed priority for Latin
America is not further militarization.
As Christians we hope and struggle for a world of justice and peace:
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be
satisfied.... Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called
children of God" (Matthew 5).

Of course, this year the demonstration against SOA-WHISC is an occasion to
express opposition to the invasion and the current occupation of Iraq as
well as the growing militarism of the U.S.
We grieve for the U.S. soldiers who have been killed in Iraq, and our
hearts go out to their loved ones. We are also profoundly saddened by the
far greater number of Iraqi deaths resulting from the U.S. invasion and
military occupation. And we are deeply concerned about the troops from
Latin American countries and from other nations who are in Iraq.
We support these troops, but we want to do more than pray for them and
send condolences to their families when they die. And so we say: bring them
home, save their lives.
They are seen by many as foreign invaders in Iraq, and they seem to be
killing more and more innocent civilians in their pursuit of the guerrilla
To the U.S. and Latin American soldiers in training at Ft. Bennett, Ft.
Bragg, and other military installations, we say: please reflect seriously
on the reasons which have been given for the war in Iraq. Weapons of mass
destruction? Ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda terrorists?
Or does it have more to do with oil and other natural resources in the
Middle East, and lucrative construction contracts for well-connected U.S.
corporations, and privatizing the Iraqi economy for American companies?
Do you want to risk your life, and risk leaving your family without you,
and kill Iraqi militants and civilians for such purposes of the Bush
administration? If not, please consider applying for conscientious objector
Vernon Baker, who received the Medal of Honor for his bravery as a 2nd Lt.
in World War II, has said: "Before we fight a war, we have to ask ourselves
a basic question: Is the cause worth a precious soldier?s life? Each of our
soldiers has loved ones, and if you can?t answer the question `yes,? then
don?t fight the war" (Chicago Tribune, Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2003).
Let us all follow our conscience, being faithful to the truth as we see
it. As Jesus said: "if you live according to my teaching, you are truly my
disciples; then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free"
(John 8:31-31).

Gary Ashbeck
Father Benjamin Jimenez, S.J.
Kathy Kelly
Father Joseph E. Mulligan, S.J.
Brother Mike O?Grady, S.J.
Father Bernard Survil
Father Jerry Zawada, O.F.M.

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