known for their quick and ruthless extermination of
prisoners who deny their authority.
I was walking with my daughter when she casually mentioned it
was a decade ago that Joe and she walked into the mouth of the Terrorism
Beast in the distant jungles of a land that was torn by war.
My wife and I could not stop our daughter from going alone
down to the war-torn country to provide aid for the villagers who were
being oppressed by the government. Many of the indigenous people
“disappeared” until someone stumbled upon a grave where they were buried
with their hands tied behind their backs and a plastic bag over their
heads—a common way of torturing and then killing any dissidents.
Sabra, our older daughter, went down to the strife-riddled country to participate in
“live-ins” with villagers who were attempting to take their illegally
seized land back from the government. She met Joe in Central
America and the two Americans linked up with other fearless world citizens
willing to risk their lives by exposing themselves to a country’s
brutality over its people. The theory was that if an American, or a
German, or a Swiss was part of the indigenous community, the military
would not randomly kill or torture the villagers for fear of “bad press.”
But on this particular day, ten years ago, the villagers
pushed the military to the extreme. They were on a “land take.” The
villagers, nearly 500 of them, had hidden for over two years in the bottom
of church after being driven away from their land and having their lives
threatened by the government. They were tired of running. As the war in
El Salvador was nearing its end, the villagers mustered the courage to
assemble and “squat” on a piece of land to claim it for their own. Under
the “old law” if they could possess the land it would become
Sabra and Joe and a contingent of other “foreign Nationals”
from various countries, were living with the villagers to thwart the
military from razing the primitive complex. On this particular day the
local people and foreigners marched deep into the jungles to “squat” on a
chunk of potential homeland.
The military appeared, armed to the teeth. Machine guns were
jammed in people’s faces and bullhorns shouted that they must disperse or
die. A Jesuit priest began to say the world’s longest Mass. He
performed a spiritual filibuster, designed to intimidate the troops from
violence, because they were primarily Catholic.
primitive Mass drew on, the military began to circle the cluster of
villagers, knotted into a ball similar to how a "wild west" wagon train
formed a circle when under attack. The El Salvadoran military
began to pluck out the foreigners, reaching in and snagging the German,
the Swiss, and Joe. They dragged them to a truck under the muzzle of
machine guns, forcing them into the back to await God only knew what.
They attempted to capture my daughter, but the women of the village formed
a thick wall of defiance around her—knowing that a woman would suffer far greater
harm and horrible possibilities versus what a man might endure.
My daughter, safely jammed in the epicenter of the village women as troops
tried unsuccessfully to reach her and extract her, watched the truck pull
away and her finance, Joe, disappear. Hours passed and the tension grew
to such an extreme that the villagers finally broke and dispersed, walking
back to their make-shift camp by a river.
Sabra gathered all the belongings for Joe and the others and
hitched a ride into the main city to find out what had happened—to see if
he was still alive—and to put as much pressure on the government to
release him and the others.
She went to the U.S. Embassy, which, at the time, was siding
with the military. They said they would “look into it,” but didn’t.
Days passed. Then, Joe was released. The newspapers showed pictures of
him and the other foreigners, with a headline saying they were “foreign
terrorists,” who attempted to blow up a government facility. They were
being “kicked out of the country.”
The story was a nightmare when Sabra and Joe related it. I
felt my skin crawl with fear for them. They had fought Terrorism with
naked faith. They put themselves in the jaws of the Beast, and felt its
sharp, fetid teeth and its foul breath. They were lucky. They survived
the Terror. They are now personas non grata of a country that, at
the time, held no compunction for killing anyone or anything that stood in
its totalitarian way.
Locked in the cell, Joe told of his fear when the guards
harassed them. Of being interrogated. Of the fear of being
exterminated and dumped in some shallow grave. Of the CIA coming in and
out, ignoring them. Of not being able to communicate or having any rights
or freedom to defend himself against the oppression.
Then there was my daughter’s fear of what might happen. Her
struggles and pounding on the doors of the Embassies, trying to raise
awareness, trying to get information, trying to “save her future husband.”
I had gone to war in Vietnam with weapons, airpower,
artillery. My fear was minimal compared to the unarmed fear of those who
fight the enemy with faith alone. I thought a lot about that on December
5, the anniversary of Joe's and Sabra’s Day of Terror.
September 11, 2001—when Terrorists threatened their lives, their security,
their country of birth and its citizens-- was equal to their
December 5, 1991 when Terrorists threatened the rights of all the innocent
women and children of El Salvador who did not agree with the " terrorist
Faith is a great shield. It drives people to the edge of
human challenge. It makes a priest stand in front of bulldozer driven by
a squad of military soldiers with machine guns, rifles and pistols about
to tear down a hut to remove squatters.
It drives armless, driven young people to live
among the “victims of tyranny” in hopes they might stave off the assault
on the women and children’s right to claim a homeland ripped from them by
a government seeking to empower itself over its citizens.
When I write about Semper Vigilante—Always Vigilant—and extol
the Three Shields of Vigilance—Courage, Conviction and Action—I forget to
remember often about my son-in-law's and my daughter’s trek to a far-off land
where their naked faith stood one day under the threat of death to
underscore the virtues of the Three Shields.
I was glad my daughter casually reminded me about the ten-year
anniversary. It made me proud to know that not only were they Parents of
Vigilance, both of them were Warriors of Vigilance.
But the war they waged was not one where they chose to “kill
Terrorism.” Rather, they chose to “face Terrorism.”
In the conversation that ensued with my daughter, she was deeply troubled
about the idea of “killing all the Terrorists,” which is the current
strategy of the U.S. Her instincts were non-violent, but then over the
past ten years her world had changed. She has two children and the
Terrorists were attacking their security by blowing up the World Trade
Center, and vowing to indiscriminately kill anyone or anything that got in
their way. She was knotted up between the desire to know her children
were safe from Terrorism’s long and ugly reach, and her desire for a
I spouted out my militaristic point of view. How we must
eradicate the “rats” or they will keep infesting our homeland. It
sounded good, but deep down I wondered if that were possible. Could we
“kill all the rats” of the world? Could we bomb and strafe and execute
all the Terrorists of the world?
Even as the words passed my lips I felt
Yet I knew that standing up to them, face-to-face, would mean
certain death. They had no ability to relate to the safety of a child,
or distinguish between the innocent and the military. We were all enemies
of their beliefs.
But I did know one thing for sure. I knew that Terrorism
sought to create Fear, Intimidation and produce Complacency in a
society. That was a bottom-line truth.
I knew also that a Parent of Vigilance, a Citizen of
Vigilance, a Relative of Vigilance, could stand face-to-face against the
Fear, the Intimidation and the Complacency if they took the Vow of
knew in some small but defiant way, an American father or mother or uncle
or aunt or cousin of a child could take the position that they were not
going to let Terrorism expel them from their own country. They were not
going to be driven away from the security of their homeland by Fear of the
As the villagers in El Salvador, Americans could perform a
“land-take.” They could “squat on their rights” to preserve and protect
their children. They could, as the village women had done for my daughter
over a decade ago, circle the children of our nation with vigilance.
They could form a wall of “naked Conviction” so strong as to drive the
Oppressors away eventually. They could show strength rather than weakness
that their children were more important than their own lives.
The villagers ten years ago had taken my daughter as “child of
Terrorism” and formed a human ring around her. They had become the
“Mothers of Vigilance,” willing to risk their lives to protect her from
the grasp of Terrorism.
I hoped that Americans were willing to form a human knot around
their children. I hoped they had the courage the indigent,
uneducated, struggling peasants of El Salvador had shown to
my daughter that day, December 5, 1991.
To: "Let's Not Shut The Eye Of Vigilance Ever Again"
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