Feedback August 26,Guillemont, Somme region, northeastern France: He is fat and bloated and has his full pack on and is covered in thousands of steel blue flies.
Nearby, in the long-depopulated villages, you can see stirrings of life: In a remote corner of El Salvador, investigators uncovered the remains of a horrible crime — a crime that Washington had long denied.
The story of the massacre at El Mozote — how it came about, and hy it had to be denied — stands as a central parable of the Cold War. But follow the stony dirt track, which turns and twists through the woodland, and in a few minutes you enter a large clearing, and here all is quiet.
No one has returned to El Mozote. Empty as it is, shot through with sunlight, the place remains — as a young guerrilla who had patrolled here during the war told me with a shiver — espantoso: Into this quiet clearing, in mid-October last year, a convoy of four-wheel drives and pickup trucks rumbled, disgorging into the center of El Mozote a score of outsiders.
Some of these men and women — most of them young, and casually dressed in T-shirts and jeans and work pants — began dumping out into the dust a glinting clutter of machetes, picks, and hoes.
Others gathered around the hillock, consulted clipboards and notebooks and maps, poked around in the man-high brush. Finally, they took up machetes and began to hack at the weeds, being careful not to pull any, lest the movement of the roots disturb what lay beneath.
Chopping and hacking in the morning sun, they uncovered, bit by bit, a mass of red-brown soil, and before long they had revealed an earthen mound protruding several feet from the ground, like a lopsided bluff, and barely contained at its base by a low stone wall.
They pounded stakes into the ground and marked off the mound with bright-yellow tape; they stretched lengths of twine this way and that to divide it into quadrangles; they brought out tape measures and rulers and levels to record its dimensions and map its contours. And then they began to dig.
At first, they loosened the earth with hoes, took it up in shovels, dumped it into plastic pails, and poured it onto a screen large enough to require several people to shake it back and forth.
As they dug deeper, they exchanged these tools for smaller, more precise ones: Then, late on the afternoon of the third day, as they crouched low over the ground and stroked with tiny brushes to draw away bits of reddish dust, darkened forms began to emerge from the earth, taking shape in the soil like fossils embedded in stone; and soon they knew that they had begun to find, in the northeast corner of the ruined sacristy of the church of Santa Catarina of El Mozote, the skulls of those who had once worshipped there.
By the next afternoon, the workers had uncovered twenty-five of them, and all but two were the skulls of children. Later that afternoon, the leaders of the team — four young experts from the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Unit, who had gained a worldwide reputation for having exhumed sites of massacres in Guatemala and Bolivia and Panama and Iraq, as well as in their own country — piled into their white four-wheel-drive vehicle and followed the bumpy, stony road out of El Mozote the Thistle.
Slowly, they drove through Arambala, waving to the smiling little girls standing on their porch, and out onto the calle negra — the "black road" — which traced its way up the spine of the red zone, stretching north from the city of San Francisco Gotera to the mountain town of Perqu? At the black road, the Argentines turned left, as they did each evening, heading down to Gotera, but this time they stopped in front of a small house — a hut, really, made of scrap wood and sheet metal and set among banana trees some fifteen yards from the road.
Getting out of the car, they climbed through the barbed wire and called out, and soon there appeared at the door a middle-aged woman, heavyset, with high cheekbones, strong features, and a powerful air of dignity. In some excitement, the Argentines told her what they had found that day.
The woman listened silently, and when they had finished she paused, then spoke. In the polarized and brutal world of wartime El Salvador, the newspapers and radio stations simply ignored what Rufina had to say, as they habitually ignored unpalatable accounts of how the government was prosecuting the war against the leftist rebels.
El Mozote seemed to epitomize those methods, and in Washington the story heralded what became perhaps the classic debate of the late Cold War: In the United States, the free press was not to be denied: By earlywhen a peace agreement between the government and the guerrillas was finally signed, Americans had spent more than four billion dollars funding a civil war that had lasted twelve years and left seventy-five thousand Salvadorans dead.
By then, of course, the bitter fight over El Mozote had largely been forgotten; Washington had turned its gaze to other places and other things.
For most Americans, El Salvador had long since slipped back into obscurity. But El Mozote may well have been the largest massacre in modern Latin-American history. That in the United States it came to be known, that it was exposed to the light and then allowed to fall back into the dark, makes the story of El Mozote — how it came to happen and how it came to be denied — a central parable of the Cold War.
But in San Salvador, five hours by road to the west, where President Alfredo Cristiani and the generals and the guerrillas-turned-politicians were struggling with one another about how to put in place, or not put in place, a purge of the officer corps, which was proving to be the most difficult provision of the ten-month-old peace accord — struggling, that is, over what kind of "reconciliation" would come to pass in El Salvador after more than a decade of savage war — the first skulls of the children were enough to provoke a poisonous controversy.The claustrophobia was awful for the diggers, the labor exhausting.
But 29 prisoners escaped the German camp before the tunnel collapsed.
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