Turmoil in the Western Hemisphere is growing by the month. The stakes are enormous. Why does one superpower-the United States — seem powerless to act in its own interest? CENTRAL America is ablaze on several fronts.
In EI Salvador, recent successes by insurgents have prompted renewed government requests for increased U.S. military aid for that beleaguered country.
In Nicaragua, counterrevolutionaries — covertly financed by the United States — have taken a firm hold in areas of the countryside. A storm is brewing in the U.S. Congress over Washington's attempt to put pressure on the Marxist regime in Nicaragua. The U.S. claims it only wants Nicaragua to quit supplying revolutionaries in El Salvador. Yet the forces the United States is assisting openly profess that their aim includes the overthrow of the government in Nicaragua.
At the southern tip of the Caribbean island chain, off the coast of Venezuela, Cuban engineers are building a 10,000-foot-long airstrip in Grenada. To the east, on the northern shore of South America, a pro-Soviet government has taken root in Suriname, the former colony of Dutch Guiana. Authorities there have offered to send troops to Nicaragua "to defend the revolution" in that country.
Region of Turmoil The countries of Central America have lived, ever since their days of independence in the early 1800s, in a cauldron of political uncertainty.
This has naturally concerned the United States. The economic fortunes of the United States and Central America, as well as the Caribbean island countries, have been closely linked together. This has been true despite vast differences in culture, language, religious orientation and historical development patterns.
The United States-along with Canada — emerged as a unified prosperous society, underlaid by a large and influential middle class. By contrast the Central American societies were unsuccessful in attempts at broad political union and remained divided among themselves and within themselves.
As a whole they could be described as somewhat feudalistic societies, with a layer of wealthy and politically dominant landowners and entrepreneurs at the top.
While a substantial middle class developed in El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panama, great gaps between the prosperous and the poor continue to this day. With regard to politics, moderate parties between the authoritarian right and revolutionary movements on the left have been difficult to establish. There is precious little "middle ground."
U.S. Involvement Periodically the United States has felt compelled to intervene militarily in the region to preserve its own interests. During one period, U.S. marines remained in Nicaragua for 20 years. Interventions, however, nearly always came with a price: widespread resentment in Latin American countries of yanqui imperialism.
During the late 1970s officials of the Carter administration expressed the hope that the contentious region could be "depoliticized." Despite frictions between Washington and Cuba-which represents Moscow's interests in the Western Hemisphere-the hope was expressed that regional trouble could be kept "outside the context of the superpower relationship."
Moscow and Havana read the U.S. hands-off policy differently. Now was the time, they believed, for them to intervene in perennially troubled waters to pursue their long-range interests.
The first opportunity presented was in Nicaragua where, in the late 1970s, widespread resentment built rapidly against the 50-year-long rule of the Somoza family (which had close ties to the United States).
A popular-front revolution succeeded in 1979. Marxists within the front ultimately captured the major spoils of the revolution, deposing democratic moderates of power and influence.
It wasn't long before trouble erupted in neighboring El Salvador, inspired and eventually supported by Nicaragua's revolutionary leadership. One of El Salvador's communist leaders, the late Cayetano Carpio, asserted that after El Salvador falls, it and Nicaragua would be "arm-in-arm and struggling for the total liberation of Central America."
Conflicting Latin and U.S. Views In recent months, foreign ministers of several Latin American nations have appealed — so far unsuccessfully — for an end to the East-West conflict in Central America and for the removal of all foreign forces.
Ironically, the United States has but a handful of advisers in El Salvador and Honduras, whereas in Nicaragua alone there are 8,000 Cubans, including 3,000 military "advisers," plus specialists from the Soviet Union, East Germany, Bulgaria and North Korea.
Just as English-speaking norte-americanos have often been insensitive to concerns of Latin Americans, so Latins sometimes fail to understand deeply held concerns of the U.S. with regard to deteriorating conditions immediately south of its border.
"I know a good many people wonder," President Ronald Reagan said earlier this year, "why we should care about whether Communist governments come into power in Nicaragua, El Salvador or other... countries... of the Caribbean....
"People who make these arguments," continued the President, "haven't taken a good look at a map lately.... It isn't nutmeg that's at stake in the Caribbean and Central America; it is the United States' national security."
The future well-being of U.S. allies, too, is involved, the President maintained. At stake, in the President's view, are the vital sea-lanes of the Panama Canal — no longer under sale U.S. control — the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Through these waterways pass half of U.S. imports, including large quantities of oil. The region, the President believes, constitutes the country's "fourth border" and is of strategic importance in resupplying Western Europe in case of an emergency.
In the event of war, the bulk — up to 85 percent — of the U.S. Army's combat logistics would have to be shipped from ports on the Gulf of Mexico.
Echoing the President's concern is Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. To bring revolution right up to the southern border of the United States would cause the U.S., Mr. Weinberger says, to bring military forces back from Western Europe and Asia to defend the national integrity of the United States. Europe and Asia would then be exposed to the full military and political leverage of the Eastern bloc.
Vietnam Haunts America The talk of "dominoes" falling one after another in Central America and the Caribbean also haunts the memory of many in the United States.
Such language is painfully reminiscent of traumatic experiences in Southeast Asia where the United States suffered its first defeat in war and where indeed dominoes did fall-South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
The urge in the U.S. Congress not to intervene directly in Central America, even though the stakes are so much higher, is strong.
Make no mistake. America's "pride in its power" was shattered in Vietnam. The tragic experience of Vietnam stalks the halls of Congress and the corridors of editorial offices throughout the land. Vietnam, editorialized the March 28, 1983, issue of The New Republic, "will continue for many years to weigh like a nightmare upon the foreign policy of the living...."
The fact is, there are parallels between the disaster in Southeast Asia and the way in which the U.S. is approaching the crisis in Central America.
First of all, the United States today has no overall regional strategy for meeting the challenge — or, at least one that has a broad consensus of support. Second, Washington, as in the 1960s and 1970s, is neglecting to deal with the real opponent. And finally, as in Vietnam, the U.S. is seeking not to win but merely "not to lose" the struggle.
Regarding the first parallel, retired U.S. Air Force General T.R. Milton wrote in the March 1983 issue of Air Force magazine that in Southeast Asia, "we were concentrating on a place called South Vietnam, and there were maps to prove its borders existed. In real life the borders did not exist and Ho Chi Minh [North Vietnam's leader] knew it. He, unlike our intellectuals, did have a strategy, one designed to... [consolidate] all of Indo-china — Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos-under Hanoi's rule. He must have had trouble believing his luck when we declared North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia out of bounds."
Similarly today, many insist that each insurrection in Central America arises spontaneously from local conditions and is nonrelated to other eruptions in the region.
The insurgents themselves say otherwise. Earlier this year, El Salvador's guerrillas declared; via their
Radio Venceremos station in Managua, Nicaragua, that they were part of a regional struggle. "We are and will continue to friends of the people and governments of Cuba and Nicaragua and we're not ashamed of it. To the contrary, it makes us proud to maintain relations with these nations," Radio Venceremos said. "Our war is and will continue to be national, but... we view our plans in the framework of a regional conflict in which there are interests of the people of Central America, the Caribbean and Latin America."
Many in the U.S. Congress, the news media and the public-which receives its information from skeptical newsmen-, do not hold to the regional approach. A recently released document from the National Security Council confessed of continued "serious difficulties with U.S. public and Congressional opinion which jeopardizes an ability to stay the course."
Second, in Vietnam, according to Colonel Harry G. Summers, interviewed in the New York Times Magazine of February 13, 1983, "North Vietnam was the real opponent." In chasing after Vietcong guerrillas in South Vietnam, he reports "we were like a bull charging the toreador's cape."
"The result," he said, "was that the army got caught up in... search-and-destroy operations which cost the lives of many American soldiers, outraged public opinion and did not deal with the source of Communist strength North Vietnam.... The Communists controlled the tempo of the fighting. "
Except for restricted air attacks the United States never seriously took the war to the North. Weapons and materiel flowed into North Vietnam and down the Ho Chi Minh trail into South Vietnam virtually unimpeded throughout the war.
Similarly today, Cuba remains a well-armed and fortified sanctuary supporting the Central American battle zones.
More Soviet arms poured into that bastion during the years 1981 and 1982 than at any other time since the Cuban missile crisis two decades earlier. And now, since December 1982, Nicaragua, too, has been declared "off limits" by the U.S. Congress. Arms will thus continue to flow from Cuba to Nicaragua and into EI Salvador across a labyrinth of routes similar to the Ho Chi Minh Trail network.
Finally, in Vietnam, the United States, despite its enormous investments of men and materiel, sought not victory but simply to "bring the enemy to the bargaining table" for a negotiated settlement-the apparent aim of U.S. policy in EI Salvador today.
The U.S. gave up direct involvement in Vietnam in January 1973. Then Congress, despite pledges of support, drastically cut military aid to South Vietnam-while the Soviet Union doubled its support. South Vietnam crumbled in April 1975.
"What followed," reported former President Richard M. Nixon, "was one of the great tragedies of history. The 'liberators' brought ruthless tyranny.... There were no boat people before the communists took over. Now 110,000 fleeing their liberators have drowned in the China Sea. Hundreds of thousands have been tortured and killed in 're-education' camps. In Cambodia alone over three million have been murdered and starved to death...."
Americans thought they could simply walk away from the chain of horrors they helped unleash in far-off Southeast Asia by giving up the fight. They won't be able to walk away as easily from a similar upheaval in Central America. If Congressional critics, continues Mr. Nixon, "oppose the president's request [for aid] they can justify their action by proclaiming that they are preventing... another Vietnam. But they cannot escape the responsibility for what happens thereafter...."
Grave Dilemma for U.S. Former Secretary of State Alexander Haig, in an appearance before a Congressional committee in 1982, expressed his conviction that "the American people will support what is prudent and necessary, provided they think we mean what we mean and that we're going to succeed, and not flounder as we did in Vietnam."
That is easier said than done, many observers believe. The fact is, the American public and its representatives, far from being convinced as to what to do, are hopelessly divided. The defeat in Vietnam shattered national unity on foreign affairs and in addition stripped the power of the President to act decisively in the face of perceived threats to national security.
The United States is caught between not wanting to intervene directly and "losing" EI Salvador altogether; between not wishing to offend historic Latin sensitivities and seeing one domino topple after another-right up to the Rio Grande.
The domino theory is not just an invention of the United States. The British newsmagazine The Economist in its April 9, 1983, issue stated that "the domino theory is even truer of Central America than it was of South-East Asia...."
The British and other Europeans are concerned over yet another blow to the power they depend upon for their own protection. "The 'loss' of EI Salvador," continued The Economist "could be a lethal foreign-policy blow for America, reminding its friends and its foes of Vietnam and the Iranian hostages. It would bring the sound of guns uncomfortably closer to Panama and Mexico."
U.S. political analyst George F. Will put the threat in stark terms: "Events in Central America are spinning rapidly toward a decisive moment in U.S. history. None of the fictions that were used to rationalize acceptance of defeat in Vietnam can be used regarding Central America. The threat there is close [and] clear.... There the United States will show-will learn-whether it is any longer capable of asserting the will a great power requires, or whether the slide into paralysis is irreversible."
True Cause of the Turmoil But the real reason the United States of America floundered in Vietnam and is apparently so confused today hasn't been understood!
Those outside English-speaking North America, as well as the people of the United States, might be shocked at the real reason.
In his book The United States And Britain In Prophecy, Herbert W. Armstrong, editor in chief of The Plain Truth, writes: "... the United States, even still possessing unmatched power, is afraid fears — to use it, just as God said: 'I will break the pride of your power'...."
The United States has stopped winning wars.... America was unable, with all its vast power, to conquer little North Vietnam! The United States is fast riding to the greatest fall that ever befell any nation!" (Write for your free copy of Mr. Armstrong's book today,)
The people of the United States no longer enjoy God's protection. Scandalous national sins-divorce, crime, drug addiction, pornography, the condoning of homosexuality, to name but a few-have at last, after more than 200 years of national well-being, cut America off from the Source of her national greatness.
In a very real sense, Almighty God has, up until now, "hedged the United States in." The oceans on both sides have acted as huge protective buffers. Friendly Canada lay to the north. And as long as the U.S. possessed unassailable power, no major competing powers or ideologies had, until recently, been able to take root in the Western Hemisphere.
But this is no longer the case. God says, prophetically, of the United States that "I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned; and break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down" (Isa. 5:5, RAV).
Notice also Psalm 89, verses 38 through 43: "But You [God] have cast off and abhorred, You have been furious with Your anointed.... You have profaned his crown by casting it to the ground. You have broken down all his hedges; You have brought his strongholds to ruin. All who pass by the way plunder him; he is a reproach to his neighbors. You have exalted the right hand of his adversaries; You have made all his enemies rejoice. You have also turned back the edge of his sword, and have not sustained him in the battle."
The rest of this psalm reveals that after a time of national punishment and captivity God will restore the fortunes not only of the United States but those of its neighbors far and wide. War, poverty, inequality, political oppression and turmoil will, finally, be uprooted in the happy and prosperous world tomorrow foretold in the Bible.
But in the days just ahead, the U.S. is heading for further calamities on its own doorstep.