Wednesday, July 18, 2007

July 18

On 18 July 1971, on the 1,907th anniversary of the Great Roman Fire, my wife was born; she shares her birthday with Hunter S. Thompson, who blew his brains out with a rifle in the fall of 2005. On Hunter Thompson’s 12th birthday in 1925, the memoirs of a German prisoner named Adolf Hitler appeared in print for the first time. Among other subjects, Mein Kampf mused at length about something the author described as “the Jewish peril.”

On July 18, 1982 the President of Guatemala, Gen. Rios Montt, explained his own stark domestic policies to a nation that was enduring its fourth decade of civil war. “If you are with us,” Gen. Montt explained, “we'll feed you; if not, we'll kill you.” Indeed, during his two-year rule, Gen. Montt’s paramilitary death squads killed tens of thousands of mostly indigenous Guatemalans who insisted on feeding themselves. Among those who died at Montt’s hands were hundreds of villagers at Plan de Sanchez, who were cut down just hours after Mott’s callous remarks.

According to a 2004 report on the massacre by the Inter-American Court on Human rights, Montt’s forces
separated the children and the young women aged from about 15 to 20. Then the massacre began. First they tortured the old people, saying they were guerrillas, then they threw two grenades and fired their guns. Finally they sprayed petrol around and set fire to the house… [The next day, Buenaventura Manuel Jeronimo] emerged from his hiding place to see the destruction they had caused. Along with Eulalio Grave Ramírez and his brothers Juan, Buenaventura, and Esteban, they put out the flames that were still consuming the bodies. Those that weren't totally charred showed signs of torture, as did the naked bodies of the youngest women.
Jeronimo told a reporter two decades later that the terror continued for days after the killings stopped:
We survivors hid in the forests those nights, as soldiers were still patrolling, looking for any villager they could find. In the night, dogs would come and eat at the bodies of our loved ones. We would try and bury them, but we didn't have enough time, and still the dogs would come, dig them up, and eat at them.
Predictably, US president Ronald Reagan celebrated the anti-communist sensibilities of Gen. Montt, who was an evangelical Christian minister and a personal friend of both Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

“President Ríos Montt,” Reagan explained, “is a man of great personal integrity and commitment . . . . I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice.”

Two years after the Plan de Sanchez massacre, a mentally distressed, unemployed security guard named James Oliver Huberty told his wife that “society had its chance” before leaving their house just before 4:00 p.m. on July 18, 1984. Carrying two semiautomatic weapons and a shotgun, Huberty then walked into a McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro, California and opened fire. After 77 minutes and nearly 300 rounds of ammunition, 21 people were dead and 19 others wounded. The killings ended when a police sniper shot Huberty in the head. At the time, it was the worst mass killing by a single gunman in US history.

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