Mark Danner subtitles his chilling account of the massacre of hundreds of men, women and children by the Salvadoran army's American-trained Atlacatl Battalion in December 1981 "A Parable of the Cold War." To a degree it is, in the sense that the ideological fervor of the early 1980s provided a rationale for the tangled web of half-truths, obfuscations and moral spinelessness that still clings to many of the individuals who became involved in this sorry affair. But the truly disturbing element of the story, at least in its American dimension, is that the individuals involved are not marginal characters but include many of the best and brightest of their generation: Thomas Enders, Elliott Abrams and A. M. Rosenthal, among others. Few reputations survive Danner's relentless investigation. It is worth noting the wall James Baker, then President Reagan's chief of staff, had carefully built between the White House and the professional diplomats and political appointees on the front lines. "It's a dirty little war and they don't want to touch it," is how Enders explained the lack of support from the "upper ranks" when Abrams questioned him. The memory of El Mozote remains inconvenient and this book is a courageous indictment in the classical tradition of American journalism. Danner has provided a striking memorial to the victims of the tragedy who, because of his effort, will not be soon forgotten.
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