Massacre at El Mozote Term Paper

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Massacre at El Mozote

This report is a critical book review of Mark Danner's excellent 1994 book called "The Massacre at El Mozote: A Parable of the Cold War" published by Vintage Books, a division of Random House. The book comes highly acclaimed from sources such as the Washington Post and New York Times. "Once in a rare while a writer re-examines a debated episode of recent history with such thoroughness and integrity that the truth can no longer be in doubt. Mark Danner did just that in a long article that took up most of last week's issue of The New Yorker. Mr. Danner's subject was the massacre in December 1981 in the Salvadoran village of El Mozote." (Lewis) The review is basically a reaction paper where I point our some of the book's strengths and weaknesses as well as describe to content of the book and my understanding of the authors point-of-view and purpose. The review tries to answer the basics of any book review such as who Mark Danner and why he is an expert on the subject of the Massacre at El Mozote. The report also addresses if the author's background, time, or place affected his overall conclusions that he reached and if so, was there any bias in favor of or against the conclusion. The report also tries to provide insight into the author's point-of-view and give insights to his major hypothesis for writing the work. And finally, I will provide insight into my own interpretations of this excellent work.


The prominent journalist Mark D. Danner was born in Uticah New York on November 10, 1958. He has accomplished a great deal in his lifetime such as teaching journalism at the University of California, Berkly and Bard College. Danner studied modern literatures and aesthetics at the prestigous Havard University where he graduated in 1981. He has been a staff writer for prominent journals as The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine and The New York Times Magazine where the bulk of his professional work revolved around the former Yogoslavia as well as his significant strides in Central America and other Latin American nations.

This background is a strong foudation for his being considered and expert on the central american social and poiltical issues. Danner's work on El Mozote was highly acclaimed and he won several awards for the account. In fact, in 1993, the entire December 6th issue of the New Yorker was dedicated to Danner's work entitled, "The Truth of El Mozote." Only one other time in the New Yorker's long history did the journal dedicate an entire edition to a single piece. This piece became the foundation for the 1994 book now being reviewed. Although Danner has written and co authored more books since, "The Massacre at El Mozote: A Parable of the Cold War" will go down as an investigative and journalistic masterpiece. "After the Danner report, no rational person can doubt that Salvadoran Government forces carried out a massacre. They killed hundreds of people in El Mozote and other hamlets nearby: men, women, children, infants." (Lewis)


The main idea or hypothesis behind the investigative work by Danner was to expose the blatant cover up of a serious war atrocity which occurred in the early 1980's in Central America. The significance of the journalistic work done by Danner gave the events of December 1981 an antagonist and a victim, or many victims as Danner estimated that well over nine hundred civilians died there that day.

Danner's investigation may have revealed what actually occurred at El Mozote in El Salvador Central America. The event as it stands now is considered the worst atrocity in modern Latin American history. This story was virtually unknown or better yet, purposely hidden from outsiders of the El Salvadorian civil war. Of those who knew of the tale, the majority of individuals such as politicians and journalists debated the facts of the events in the small community region of El Mozote or simply denied that any massacre had occurred.

The book by Mark Danner details more than just a massacre. Danner's book and investigation excelled because of his discovery of the inherent corruption and attempted cover-up of the 1981 murders by the nation of El Salvador and more importantly the Regan Administration here in the United States. "That in the United States it came to be known, that it was exposed to the light and then allowed to fall back into the dark, makes the story of El Mozote -- how it came to happen and how it came to be denied -- a central parable of the Cold War." (Danner)

The corruption went high up in the United States government and the many half truths and political half speak were clearly attempts to whitewash the overwhelming truth that the El Salvadorian military literally murdered several hundred civilians and that the murders were actually clearly planned and accepted administrative policy. The cover up, as Danner pointed out, even included embassy officials who were supposed to investigate the massacre but were redirected by El Salvadorian soldiers. "The U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Deane Hinton, cabled the State Department on Feb. 1, 1982, that his views should not be distorted -- that though he had no confirmation he did think "something happened" in El Mozote. This cable, found by Mr. Danner, was of course not disclosed at the time." (Lewis)

Danner's investigative work discovered that the soldiers literally refused to bring the then investigative team closer than a few miles of the killing zone. Of course, the war zone also deterred them from insisting on seeing the site, but that seems unjustified considering the details of the events. Danner showed that then Ambassador Dean Hinton, Under Secretary of State Thomas Enders and Assistant Secretary of State Elliot Abrams all 'saw no evidence to confirm that government forces systematically massacred civilians.' It was easy for the officials and their representatives to justify that there were no signs of a massacre considering that they never saw the site. Only a few miles away according to Danner, there were beheaded bodies that were burned and half buried that would have easily sufficed to announce the atrocities committed by the soldiers.

The United States was in a precarious position in 1981. They had to support Democracy and the only alternative to the Marxist movement was the El Salvadorian military. However, these troops were a murderous bunch. So the ironic truth was that as the United States Congress may have been appalled by its choice of allies, they felt as though they had no alternative but to send financial backing to stop a Marxist rebel victory and thus a cold war loss to communism.

This entailed that each civilian that was killed made the other civilians seek the support of the Marxist rebels. Danner's investigative journalism basically revealed that the many discredited reports of the murders from 1981 were really corruption and cover up attempts to hide the mass murders in order not to put the non-Marxist troops in a bad light. "Dr. Juan Mateu Llort, the director of El Salvador's Institute of Forensic Medicine, declared that the skulls themselves proved nothing, for "there were an abundance of armed children in the guerrillas." (Danner) But the murderous tendencies could not have been what the United States wanted. "I didn't really understand what was happening until I saw a soldier take a kid he had been carrying -- maybe 3 years old -- throw him in the air and stab him with a bayonet. They slit some of the kids' throats, and many they hanged from the tree... The soldiers kept telling us, 'You are guerrillas and this is justice. This is justice." (Danner)

Opinion and Quality of Evidence

I believe that Mark Danner's work was very compelling and it brought the events of the December 1981 atrocities into the mainstream. The majority of the media have touted that Danner's investigative work and overall story is highly believable. His journalistic insight is now considered the actual truth behind the story of attempts of the El Salvadorian military to use United States Military taught 'Repression Through Terror' techniques to rid the nation of the Marxist rebels.

The massacre on December 11, 1981, was part of a calculated plan of action that consisted of repression through terror tactics. "El Mozote was in a place, in a zone, that was one hundred per cent controlled by the guerrillas," one of the original American advisers with the Atlacatl told me. "You try to dry those areas up. You know you're not going to be able to work with the civilian population up there, you're never going to get a permanent base there. So you just decide to kill everybody. That'll scare everybody else out of the zone. It's done more out of frustration than anything else." (Danner)

Danner points out that even before the massacre occurred the Salvadorian Army was already following a plan of action. On December…[continue]

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