On the Death of Children

New Orleans Saints football coach Bum Phillips said at a recent cerebral palsy fundraiser, “I would give all my victories, every game, to save the life one child.” A sentiment typically American rings in these words, for ours is a country where billions are spent annually to save unnamed children from rare diseases, and where countless private citizens organize or donate to relief funds for the hungry children of the world.

But I have recently returned from Central America, where I saw children with faces charred to the bone by American phosphorous bombs. I have seen teenage students shot, as they lay praying for their lives, by El Salvadoran militia with U.S. M-16s and U.S. Army uniforms. I have seen Guatemalan children by the thousands starving in refugee camps because our American military aid has turned their ancestral homeland into free-fire zones. In Guatemala, I saw farm children weeping over the bodies of their mothers raped and shot by death squads carrying CIA-financed arms.

When we say “the life of a child”, do we mean only an American child? Do we distinguish between a child burned alive by napalm in El Salvador, and a child in the United States? Was this not exactly the distinction the Nazis made between children of “Aryan” blood, and those they considered not worthy of life?

President Reagan demonstrated his awareness of the intensive American commitment to the young when he arranged last month to be photographed bringing two Korean children to the U.S. for heart surgery. Yet his actions in Central America since his inauguration have led to the deaths of over 12,000 Nicaraguan, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan women and children.

One day last month, as President Reagan was fighting a Congressional attempt to cut military aid to El Salvador from $87 million to $64 million, nine more farmers, two of them pregnant women, were murdered by a right-wing death squad. When asked who might have been responsible for these killings, a U.S. Embassy official was quoted by Newsweek as saying, “The (El Salvadoran) government itself is a right-wing death squad.”

Despite these and many other killings in November in El Salvador, the President on the last day of November pocket-vetoed a bill which would have attached human rights conditions to continued American funding of El Salvador’s right-wing military government. That bill alone would have saved many innocent lives.

As we are in the Christmas season, we might remember that in Spanish “ El Salvador” means “The Savior”, who said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for such is the kingdom of God.” As a parent, I have learned that my own children are the most joyful aspect of my life, and hope I understand Christ’s concept that the innocence of children is the essence of the kingdom of God.

As such, I feel the moral implications, for ourselves, of what we do every day in Central America are catastrophic. I am sure that if all Americans could have the benefit, as I have had, of living there, we could immediately force a change in President Reagan’s actions.

According to our laws, if a person knowingly buys a rifle for another to use in a killing, he becomes an accessory to murder. When we Americans, through the CIA, knowingly purchase weapons for death squads, or when we, through President Reagan’s expanded military aid program, buy napalm, helicopters and bombs to be used against the villages of Central America, we become, equally, accessories to the death of children, the sons and daughters of our neighbors.

The Dallas Morning News, 12/26/1983

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