The annals of Frontier Partisan warfare are stained with so many tales of slaughter that cataloguing them all becomes a minefield of moral hazard. Gazing into this abyss is a reminder that man is a killer angel.
My friend Greg Walker has published a hard-hitting piece on NEWSREP.com on an incident in the dirty war in El Salvador that has been pushed way down the memory hole. Greg pulled no punches, right from the headline: US government complicit in the massacre at El Mozote. It’s behind a paywall; you may want to subscribe.
The El Mozote Massacre occurred on December 11, 1981, when the Atlacatl Battalion — a rapid-deployment counterinsurgency force trained in El Salvador by 10-man Special Forces team from 7th Group in Panama and under the command of Lt. Col. Domingo Monterrosa — conducted a limpieza operation at the village and in the surrounding area, considered to be a base for insurgents. (note: original version stated that the unit was trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas; Greg Walker provided a correction, see comment below).
Limpieza operation means “cleaning operation” and “cleaning operation” meant the killing of more than 800 men, women and children. Girls were raped; small children were slaughtered. The thing was horrific.
Walker offers the darkest comparison possible:
Atlacatl was to be the Einsatzgruppen. Just like the Like the Nazi “deployment units” raised by Heinrich Himmler—the founder and overall commander of the SS during World War II—the Atlacatl was the mobile killing unit of the Salvadoran High Command. Special tasks included the execution of communist party functionaries, FMLN and Catholic church officials, and FMLN political officers; as well as men, women, and children in those areas the military command deemed under the control of the guerrillas.
Leftist guerrilla mythology and propaganda had American Green Berets participating in the slaughter, which isn’t true — but it shows how damaging such actions can be to a counterinsurgency campaign. And the U.S. government nevertheless has blood on its hands:
What did the U.S. government know and when regarding the El Mozote massacre? NEWSREP confirmed there was an American adviser present with Lieutenant Colonel Monterrosa on the day of the massacre, both at the Atlacatl’s base in La Libertad, and then on the ground when Monterrosa flew in to personally relay the order to “clean” the village.
That American left the village as the killings began and made his way back to the U.S. Embassy, where he reported what was occurring. That information was cabled to the U.S. State Department. Elliott Abrams, former Assistant Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan, was privy to the embassy report. Abrams would dismiss the massacre outright, then offered praise for the Atlacatl Battalion…
Abrams is a zombie neocon who continues to lurch around in Latin American policy, despite being convicted of two counts of withholding information from U.S. Congress during the Iran-Contra hearings, a sin for which he was pardoned by President George HW Bush, who was himself ass-deep in dirty business in Central America.
He has most recently been revived as a Trump administration special envoy overseeing policy toward Venezuela.
Nobody here is arguing that atrocity inflicted by right-wing death squads makes communist insurgents in El Salvador “the good guys.” Hell, Walker is a combat veteran of the war in El Salvador — he was there to combat that insurgency. We’re not about promulgating cartoon versions of history, and Communists in power have their own killing fields that girdle the globe. But we do ourselves no favors by deep-sixing our memory of horrors committed in the name of “democracy” and “anti-communism.” Actions like El Mozote surrender any claim to a moral high ground, and on the most practical strategic level, they simply create more insurgents. According to Greg’s report, even Lieutenant Colonel Monterrosa himself seems to have recognized this before he was assasinated in 1984.
In response to a query from a reporter…
“He shrugged and said, ‘Yeah, we did it. We carried out a limpieza there. We killed everyone. In those days, I thought that was what we had to do to win the war. And I was wrong.”
Wrong as hell. And it’s wrong to forget it. I salute Greg Walker — and NEWSREP — for having the stones and the chops to recount a tale that a whole lot of people would rather see buried along with the skeletons of hundreds of men, women and children in El Mozote, El Salvador.