Documentation: Peace Without Freedom Is Hollow

One of the things that distinguishes a great country is that other countries feel little jealousy in appropriating for themselves the heroes of that great country. While it isn’t true that great men are only born in great countries, it does seem true to me that when they are, the smaller, less powerful nations of the world are often quick to adopt those men as their own heroes. One hundred and seventy-five years ago last Sunday, one such adopted hero was born in a log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky. His name today is synonymous with the struggle of the downtrodden and the underprivileged to obtain freedom.

Now, well over a hundred years after his death, his words and his actions have taken on almost mythological proportions. As a man, we remember him as bashful, melancholy, very slow to take offense and very sensitive to personal criticism. We remember him as mild and almost meek, and as a man ripped apart within by the gravity of events that ripped apart your notion.

In his day, however, he was hated, viciously, fervently, by millions of Americans in the North and in the South. He was blamed for a military conflagration in which more Americans died than in all of its other wars combined. At the time, this American hero, this Salvadoran adopted hero, was blamed for making war.

I mention all this not only to remember his birthday, but to point out the central issue that is at stake and that must be resolved if there is to be any real meaning to the word “peace.” Abraham Lincoln understood it, it seems to me, far better than many here or even in El Salvador understand it today. Peace without freedom is hollow, it is a wasteland, it is valueless, it is not worth defending or supporting.

On the field at Gettysburg Lincoln asked those that gathered to mourn the dead to honor them by adopting, their devotion to freedom so that they might not have died in vain. In order that, in his words, “Governments of the people, by the people, and for the people should not perish from the earth.”

It is the mark of a true pacifist to devote himself to that freedom without which peace is meaningless and war is simply stupid.

The issues with which Lincoln grappled then and those with which we had to deal today in order to bring peace to Central America are the same. Nothing has changed. To make peace without freedom is to dishonor the dead and the living.

If, in desperation or stupidity, or both, the leaders of my Government were suddenly to embrace the latest guerrilla “peace” proposals, it is conceivable that hostilities would cease. The war would be over, but the peace would have been bought at too high a price.

So here is the moral dilemma that faces the pacifist. It is the same dilemma that faced Lincoln and that has faced leaders ever since there have been tribes or nations, namely, that men must die, that they must sometimes be killed, for freedom to be obtained and for peace to have any meaning at all.

In the context of what I have just said, let’s look at two recent peace proposals for Central America. One proposal is entitled, “Integration Proposal and Platform for a Broad-Based Provisional Government.” The other is entitled, “Report by the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America.”

Now you may not view the second as a peace proposal, but of course that’s what it is. Peace is its objective, the very reason why it was written. The first proposal, the integration proposal, was announced in El Salvador in February and was about four pages long. The second proposal was released a week earlier and is over 100 pages long. The first proposal has certain advantages over the second proposal. First of all, the guerrilla proposal doesn’t cost any money. It’s free. The United States taxpayer would not be asked to spend billions of dollars to help rebuild the economy, get crops planted, improve health and sanitation facilities, etc. So in that sense, the guerrilla proposal is a bargain.

In another sense it is also attractive; on four pages it answers all the problems. A “broad-based,” their words not mine, “provisional government” would be established (how? is somehow problematic which would have as its objectives the following:

1. Rescue the national independence and sovereignty.

2. Destroy the oppressive apparatus and establish the basis for a true democracy with full compliance with human rights and political freedom and which seeks to fully implement the people’s participation to achieve definite peace.

3. Attend to the people’s most urgent and immediate needs and adopt basic economic and social measures to change these structures.

4. Establish the necessary practical conditions to resolve the present state of war.

5. Prepare and hold general elections.

Very concise I would say.

Later the proposal goes on to explain that the broad based provisional government would include a government junta, a ministerial cabinet, an advisory state council, and a supreme court of justice. The provisional government itself would be comprised of representatives of workers, peasants, teachers, employees, professional colleges and universities, political parties and the business sector as well as, of course, the FMLN-FDR and the National Army which, the guerrillas say, would have been “duly purged.”

Later the guerrillas go on to specify what this broad-based national government would do: such PR stunts as establish a moratorium for personal debt, begin a massive literacy campaign, join the nonaligned movement, and establish a series of “foundations” to reorganize the economy. On the face of it, it’s an admirable plan. All we have to do is close the legislative assembly, replace it with a council of state, and set up a junta, and then everything else will follow. But there’s a problem, and I’m afraid it is fatal. The guerrillas are proposing government for the people. A tiny elite at the top negotiate themselves the authority to manage the country, its economic and social life, its foreign policy, everything. Even if these men were benign philosopher-kings, the proposal would be unacceptable, but they are not. They are terrorists. They have killed and maimed tens of thousands of innocent Salvadorans. They have, with their allies abroad, destroyed the national economy of El Salvador. Not just the big businesses, the enterprises of the rich or the fortunate, but the buses on which the “campecinos” take their vegetables to market. The closing of hospitals and schools where children are born and learn to read.

No, these men are not philosopher-kings, but ideological despots. To trust these men would be to play the fool. While there are men among the democratic left, some of which are even associated with the guerrillas, who I believe do have a good faith desire to bring about peace in El Salvador, they have neither the power nor apparently the will to persuade those who have the guns to accept the course of action which might bring real peace. Government for the people isn’t enough. For 50 years we’ve had government for the people. Until our recent election, governments for the people were established without their consent with nauseating regularity with the result that poverty, repression and ignorance became hallmarks of national life.

In three years, we’ve made enormous efforts to abandon governments for the people in search of real democracy. We will not, we cannot, go forward by going backwards. The real and hidden causes of the guerrillas’ peace proposal are too high and the value of the peace obtained too worthless.

The other proposal is much different and much more hopeful. It begins with the assumption that liberty is worth fighting for. It proposes economic, political and security measures to help secure that liberty within the context of democratic government.

First, the Commission proposes that a Central American Development Organization be established, CADO for short, through which economic assistance could be channeled and targeted to those individuals and organizations who will reinvest it in their own futures, in their own countries, employ their fellow citizens, and support political beliefs which make government of the people, and by the people possible.

CADO and the other economic initiatives in the so-called “Henry Jackson Plan” do not in and of themselves bring about peace What they seek to do is bring about the social, political and economic revolution that makes peace worthwhile when it is obtained.

To obtain it, the Henry Jackson Plan “peace proposal” suggests a number of things. First, it proposes, like the Contadora Group, that we seek regional negotiations to end the military build -up, to remove foreign advisers, and establish a basis for non-intervention and self-determination within the Central American region.

Second, it proposes that we fight a war. Not that the U.S. “go to war” but that those who are defending liberty be given the necessary resources to secure their countries against the well-armed guerrilla movement that is committed to the destruction of democracy.

So how do these two peace proposals compare? I have heard only praise in the media for the guerrilla proposal and only criticism for the Henry Jackson Plan. The guerrillas may not be winning the war in El Salvador but they have certainly won the war in the press in the United States. Should events in Central America spin out of control, should my country and others in the region succumb to leftist totalitarian governments, you will feel the consequences here. A guerrilla victory in El Salvador, whether by force of arms or by more insidious methods like power sharing, might bring peace to El Salvador but not to the region. I’m not just speaking of the flood of refugees that would come to this country, though that will certainly occur. Other more immediate consequences will also be felt, not the least of which will be the need for the United States to project military force into a region where it was heretofore unneeded. I am sure most of you are familiar with the military consequences of such a change in the geopolitical map but I wish to point out that the cost in hard currency in U.S. dollars would be enormous. As a substitute for worthless peace in El Salvador, we would have a very real war, in Honduras, or in Costa Rica, or in Guatemala, or in Panama, or in all of those countries at the same time. Any proposal which ignores this, and which ignores the various components of the problem, including the military one, will fail. Those who for partisan or ideological reasons want to emphasize the military or the economic aspect over the other risk assuming the blame for a major disaster, indeed a major war.

I said at the beginning that the true pacifist has to come face-to-face with the moral dilemma. He must recognize that human sacrifice and human freedom are inextricably tied together. This is very true in El Salvador today. The war in El Salvador will end when my government succeeds, as it will, in eliminating death squads, reforming the judicial system, and completing the land reform, in building better discipline within the Armed Forces, in rebuilding the national economy. When we’ve done these things, the war will end.

But it will not have ended through power sharing; it will have ended because free men worked together to build a strong government capable of eliminating terrorism in separate battles waged in the economy, in politics and in the mountains where guerrillas hide.

I am afraid that the same is true for the world. There will be no “world without war” until there is a free world and until men and women are willing to fight to make it so.

This speech was delivered to a Review Conference on the Kissinger Commission Report, held in Seattle on February 16, 1984 under the auspices of the World Without War Council.


  • Ernesto Rivas-Gallont

    At the time he wrote this speech in 1984, Ernesto Rivas-Gallont was El Salvador's Ambassador to the United States.

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