Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Don't Know Much About History

But the Nicaraguans do. As do the Cubans, the Chileans, the Vietnamese and in a different way, the English, French, Germans and just about every country— except the USA. Yesterday we began the day visiting the murals telling the story and ended with a talk with a gentle and knowledable man who without a trace of bitterness or rancor, filled in the details of the last 200 years of Nicaraguan history. The names were different—Sandino, Somozas, Fonseca—but the story was the same as everywhere. Those in power (Somozas) do everything to keep their privilege until it becomes intolerable for those at the short end of the stick. Then comes the idealist (Sandino) with a vision of liberty, equal rights, education, a pragmatic person (Fonseca) who knows how to organize and get things moving, a long struggle to overcome murder, mayhem, oppression and a final victory.

And then so predictably, so shamefully, so outrageously, a big power outside the country  who lends weapons, tactics, money, training and support— to the wrong side! And who was that? The good ole U.S.A. The dirty little secret that 99 out of 100 Americans knows nothing about. What we did in Nicaragua, in El Salvador, in Chile, in Guatemala, in Cuba. And that’s just the warm-up. I grew up fed the convenient lie that we are the gatekeepers of freedom worldwide and when we intervened, it was always for the cause of libery and justice. It was a lovely feeling to identify with that image and difficult to discover that it was a house built on sand. Not only is there no Santa Claus, but he’s selling weapons to the bad guys.

It’s not an easy thing to tell the truth to these idealistic 8th graders, a tricky balance between fostering cynicism and arming them with the recognition of history’s patterns so that they can rise up against the next wave. One essential strategy is to always look at motivation, which 75% of the time translates as “Follow the money.” Turns out that the first U.S. interest in Nicaragua coincided with the Gold Rush, Nicaragua being the first choice for building a canal to reach the gold faster. That interest continued into Teddy Roosevelt’s time and beyond the final choice of Panama. So that explains the first wave of U.S. Marines who showed up in the hills and inspired Sandino to resist them.

Then came Reagan in the ‘80’s, further chilling the Cold War and not happy that the Sandinistas leaned more to Cuba and Russia than American imperialism. So he came up with the bright idea of selling arms to Iran and funneling the money earned into supporting the Contras (the bad guys) in Nicaragua. (Remember that term “Iran-Contra?”) And so the second big motivation—choosing your teammates in the big struggle for World Domination.

Painful as it is, our school remains committed to telling the students what the government would rather they didn’t know. But such knowledge alone is not sufficient. To build a sustainable and equitable future, there must be an active, affirmative building process. And so in the morning and evenings, we hear the stories and in the afternoons, help build—literally with shovels and cement and dry wall— a community center and also make art and music in an already functioning community center.

Always amazing is the sense of forgiveness, the recognition that we are not our government and that the sins of the past cannot be laid at the feet of those in the present. Especially when they’re willing to hear and accept the story. At the end of last night’s talk, I said “ On behalf of my country, I am so sorry for what we did and so appreciative of your welcoming arms and forgiveness. May we walk forward together on the path of peace, harmony and social justice.” 


And that begins with little steps like this like American kids gathered in a living room in Nicaragua listening with rapt attention to how things went down, working and creating with the folks here and learning what it means to be a compassionate human being. Backed by knowledge and truth and aiming for love and beauty. As the old song says:

“Don’t know much about history, don’t know much about geometry…
  But I do know that if I love you and I know that if you love me too, 
  what a wonderful world this would be.”

Yes, indeed.

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