Twenty years ago yesterday I was watching Ed Meese testify before the Iran Contra Committee. One of the Senators asked him why he'd informed Oliver North that he was about to be investigated, resulting in North, (now a host on Fox,) and Fawn Hall spending the next 48 hours shredding documents. Meese replied that just because he'd informed Col. North he was about to be investigated and that he and his secretary had spent the next two days shredding documents, (and in the case of Ms. Hall, smuggling them out in her underwear...) that didn't necessarily mean that the documents they were destroying were pertinent to the investigation.
He said that, and I'll never forget it because it was one of those moments that changed my life. The sheer audacity of the suggestion... the audacity and utter contempt it took to make such a statement in front of the whole country... somehow I couldn't help but take it personally, and the anger I felt towards him quickly turned back towards me. "Of course he can lie to you like that... what the hell does he care? You're a legal proofreader in LA - he doesn't give a flying fuck what you think."
I'd always wanted to be a journalist, telling myself that one day I'd drop everything and go for it. Ed Meese turned out to be the straw that broke the camel's back. I quit my job, put my stuff into storage, got in my van and start driving to Nicaragua.
At the Embassy
The next five months were like one very, very long Warren Zevon song: a succession of triumph, fear, heartache, heroes, whoremongers and mercenaries. Someday I'll write about it. When I was in Tegucigalpa I got to have lunch with the U.S. Ambassador, Everett Briggs. My mother had worked for his father, also a career diplomat, and was best friends with his sister, Lucy. The Ambassador introduced me to Rick Chittister, the U.S. Special Liaison to the Contras, (or "The Resistance" as they were fond of saying, since "Contra" had come to sound so much like "atrocity",) and I got to spend an hour or so in the War Room in the basement of the embassy, chatting with Mr. Chittister and his secretary about the situation in Nicaragua while sitting in a chair Oliver North had probably sat in a hundred times.
"Be extremely careful who you talk to, especially about religion or politics. They have death squads over there too you know. If you have any bibles or other religious artifacts, even if it's just jewelry... leave it here. Just giving a bible to someone over there could get them shot... possibly you too."
Mr. Chittister, (who fit the part of Reagan-era CIA perfectly by the way: he looked like Robert Redford in The Great Gatsby, giving the impression that he'd flown straight to Honduras from the tennis courts at Langley,) went on about the brutality and repression of the Sandinista Regime. Although I was pretty sure it was all just propaganda, I couldn't be sure it wasn't either. I'd never been to Nicaragua.
A few days later I was in the Sebaco Valley, drinking with the men of the village of Chaguatillo, which was where my van finally broke down. It was a week or so before Christmas and the women and children were up at the church preparing for the "Festival of the Virgin" while all the men went down to the river to drink and play guitar. The store had stopped selling liquor a few days before, saving up for the holidays. But now it was open again and everyone was drunk on Havana Club, singing and screaming along to songs I couldn't really understand. My Spanish sucks.
All of the sudden the party at the river broke up and everybody started walking back to the village. As if on cue, all the laughing and singing stopped, and all you could hear were a few murmured conversations among the hundred or so of us walking back in the darkness.
When we reached Chaguitillo all the men quietly lined up along the main street, took off their hats and bowed their heads. In the distance I could hear the soprano chorus of women and children singing. They came down from the church carrying candles and flowers and an altar to the Virgin Mary. Nicaragua is close to 95% Catholic, with obligatory military service for both men and women. The altar-bearers, and many others in the procession were female soldiers in uniform.
I'm not somebody who's normally touched too deeply by religious ceremonies, but this one was different. I knew, like we all do, that our government has been lying to us, but somehow having the message brought home to me like that, carried on the voices of that procession - the sing-shouting of the children and the droning of the old women... it just broke my fucking heart. It was the first, and I think only time I've ever cried for my country - and I've had lots of opportunities since then.
Maybe that's why I'm doing what I'm doing and you aren't yet, but something has to happen soon. The murdering bastards who told us Nicaragua, a country with one working elevator, was a threat to the United States are the same ones who sold us this war and they're the same ones who are planning the next one. And we've got to stop them.
And wearing orange one day a week isn't going to be enough. Not by a longshot.