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A Call to Conscience

A Call to Conscience: The AntiContra War Campaign

Roger Peace
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    A Call to Conscience
    Book Description:

    Unlike earlier U.S. interventions in Latin America, the Reagan administration’s attempt to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua during the 1980s was not allowed to proceed quietly. Tens of thousands of American citizens organized and agitated against U.S. aid to the counterrevolutionary guerrillas, known as “contras.” Believing the Contra War to be unnecessary, immoral, and illegal, they challenged the administration’s Cold War stereotypes, warned of “another Vietnam,” and called on the United States to abide by international norms. A Call to Conscience offers the first comprehensive history of the anti–Contra War campaign and its Nicaragua connections. Roger Peace places this eightyear campaign in the context of previous American interventions in Latin America, the Cold War, and other grassroots oppositional movements. Based on interviews with American and Nicaraguan citizens and leaders, archival records of activist organizations, and official government documents, this book reveals activist motivations, analyzes the organizational dynamics of the anti–Contra War campaign, and contrasts perceptions of the campaign in Managua and Washington. Peace shows how a variety of civic groups and networks—religious, leftist, peace, veteran, labor, women’s rights—worked together in a decentralized campaign that involved extensive transnational cooperation.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-204-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xv)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Bill Gandall was eighteen years old when he first set foot on Nicaraguan soil in 1927. He was part of an expeditionary force of three thousand United States Marines sent to put down an anti-U.S. rebellion led by Augusto Sandino. Ordered by his superiors to obtain information about Sandino “by any means possible,” Gandall and his fellow marines routinely used torture on local residents to extract the requisite information. “We committed a lot of atrocities, of which I was a part,” reflected Gandall sixty years later. “I was just the same as the rest of them.” Over time, however, he...

  7. CHAPTER 1 U.S.-Nicaragua Relations, the Sandinista Revolution, and the Contra War
    (pp. 7-28)

    The United States looms large in the history of Nicaragua. In 1904, one year after acquiring the Panama Canal Zone through “gunboat diplomacy,” President Theodore Roosevelt announced that the United States would henceforth act as an “international police power” in the Western Hemisphere. Operating under this vague mandate, the Taft administration dispatched 400 U.S. Marines to Nicaragua in 1909. Their mission, however, was not to uphold law and order but to aid a Conservative insurrection against the Liberal government of José Santos Zelaya. Three years later, a contingent of 2,700 marines was sent to buoy up the weak Conservative government...

  8. CHAPTER 2 An Overview of the Contra War Debate
    (pp. 29-52)

    U. S. aid to the contras began in secret, but once exposed in the media, the Reagan administration went to great lengths to win public and congressional approval. President Reagan delivered three nationally televised addresses on Central America or Nicaragua (April 27, 1983, May 9, 1984, and March 16, 1986)—apart from three more on the Iran-Contra affair—and twenty-two radio addresses with a major focus on Nicaragua. Top administration officials also spoke out, the State Department issued a series of background papers, and two new agencies were created in 1983 to promote administration views far and wide: the White...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Origins of the Anti–Contra War Campaign
    (pp. 53-80)

    The anti–Contra War campaign emerged out of progressive U.S. sectors with connections to Latin America along with the post–Vietnam War peace movement. The Nicaragua solidarity campaign coalesced in early 1979, the Central America movement in 1980, and the anti–Contra War campaign in early 1982, drawing together an eclectic mix of groups.

    Liberation theology had the effect of drawing Christian liberals closer to the political left and pushing them further from the religious right—in both the United States and Latin America. One result in the United States was a more sympathetic view of Latin American revolutionaries. According...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Expansion of the Anti–Contra War Campaign, 1983–84
    (pp. 81-113)

    The Contra War became a hot political topic in Washington in 1983. The first volley was fired on April 13, 1983, when Rep. Edward Boland publicly denounced the administration for lack of compliance with the recently enacted Boland Amendment. Two weeks later, he introduced legislation to cut off all aid to the contras. President Reagan chose that very day, April 27, to present his case to the American people and Congress in a nationally televised address. His full-throated endorsement of the contras excited much news coverage but failed to sway the Democratic Party majority in the House. On July 28,...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Organizational Dynamics of a Decentralized Campaign
    (pp. 114-144)

    Unlike the anti–Vietnam War movement, in which activist groups argued for years over whether to demand immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops or a negotiated settlement, there were no division in the anti–Contra War campaign over immediate political goals. Participating groups were united in seeking an immediate end to U.S. support for the contras, opposing a direct U.S. invasion of Nicaragua and, after May 1985, calling for an end to the U.S. trade embargo. These common political goals did much to mitigate differences in philosophies, organizing styles, tactical preferences, and constituencies. Although there was no central leadership body comparable...

  12. CHAPTER 6 The Politics of Transnational Solidarity
    (pp. 145-176)

    What progressive activists hailed as “solidarity” with the Nicaraguan people, the Reagan administration and its rightist allies decried as a Sandinista conspiracy. On April 2, 1985, with votes on contra aid coming up in Congress, President Reagan toldWashington Postreporters that the reason his Nicaragua policy lacked public support was that “we’ve been subjected, in this country, to a very sophisticated lobbying campaign by a totalitarian government—the Sandinistas.” Three weeks later, he declared in a national radio address, “The Sandinista Communists are lobbying your senators and representatives. Together with the misguided sympathizers in this country, they’ve been running...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Meeting the Political Challenge, 1985–86
    (pp. 177-207)

    In early 1985 the Reagan administration launched an all-out media and lobbying offensive aimed at winning Congressional approval of $14 million in “humanitarian assistance” to the contras. Strengthened by his landslide reelection, President Reagan ratcheted up the verbal war. He accused the Sandinistas of attempting “to spread communism to El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, and elsewhere,” and lauded the contras as “our brothers.”¹ The administration ruled out for the time being the “direct application of U.S. military force” against Nicaragua but maintained that this “must realistically be recognized as an eventual option, given our stakes in the region, if other...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Sustaining the Anti–Contra War Campaign, 1987–90
    (pp. 208-244)

    Recent events have given us the opportunity to make 1987 a turning point in the six year U.S. war in Central America,” wrote Steven Slade, national Pledge of Resistance coordinator, in early 1987. “After years of struggle to simply slow the pace of escalation, we now have the chance to actually reverse the direction of U.S. policy. This is the chance we have been waiting for.” Slade pointed to three developments as sources of hope: Democratic Party control in both houses of Congress, a decline in the administration’s credibility due to the Iran-Contra affair, and an increase in the credibility...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 245-246)

    The path to a humanistic socialist society was indeed difficult for Nicaragua. The Sandinista experiment might have fallen on its own, due to intransigent poverty, poorly managed programs, business opposition, or other internal causes, but the Reagan and Bush administrations were not willing to take the chance. They sought to foreclose the possibility of a viable socialist-oriented economy in Latin America by beating Nicaragua into submission through terrorism and sabotage. In the end, this proved nothing about socialism, but only that a powerful nation can bully a smaller one. To the Latin Americanist historian Thomas Walker, the Contra War was...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 247-288)
  17. List of Personal Interviews and Communications
    (pp. 289-292)
  18. Index
    (pp. 293-308)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 309-314)