As the Austin Film Festival draws to a close, I sit in a coffee shop on Congress Avenue awaiting a web series screening (which is a new thing in the TV business. This new format could be the next reveloution for independent filmmakers that rivals the movements of the 60’s, 70’s and 90’s). As I wait for the 25-minute-till, go stand in line alarm, I reflect on last night’s documentary called “Finding Oscar”. Oscar was one of two Guatamaulan boys who escaped genocide when a tyrannical government waged war on purported enemies of the state. The execution of a plan to eliminate all opposition was initited by a dictator propped up by the US government under the auspices of waging war against rebel insurgents.
Brutal murders were carried out by an elite military group. Membership in this special forces unit by young men was highly coveted. Their orders were to exterminate entire villages, bury the evidence and burn everything. Women were ordered separated from the men. They were raped, men were interrogated but not for any specific purpose. When it came time to finish the job, the townspeople were all marched to the village water well outside of town. Adults were put out of their misery before being hurled to the bottom. Children on the other hand were thrown in alive. Many years after the human rights crisis, in order to uncover the truth, a prosecutor finds two of the former “special forces” soldiers. Some of the story is told from their perspective. The interesting thing is that there was no proof brought to bear on the case but they cooperated anyways. It’s hard to believe these cold-blooded killers, admittedly guilty of heinous acts, could have lied and gotten away with it but instead they fessed up and agreed to cooperate with the investigation. Through the narrative, we learn that many of the murderers joined the unit because they believed it was a legitimate part of a legitimate government authority. One recounts that on the day of the massacre, all of the men in the unit were ordered to go get people from the group of captives and take them to the well, which they all did. Then they were ordered to throw them in, which they also did. The man recounting these events said that it was done this way under orders from the commanding officers who answered to the dictator who wanted each man to have blood on his hands so that no one would ever talk.
The two young boys culled from the group of victims due to their unique eyes and skin, are found many years later as adults in foreign countries. One of them, Oscar (who was 5 when it happened), was reunited with his biological father whom he did not remember. Using information provided by the two Guatemalan special forces alumni, many of the guilty remnant were identified, located and held to account in Guatemalan criminal court. Oscar testified in some of the trials and is now under government protection living with his family. After the US declared an end to the war, the killing stopped.
The story only covers events specific to the genocide that occurred in this one town. But it represents an accurate case study of the terror exacted by this same regime in hundreds of other towns. These two military men featured in the documentary were part of a conspiracy that tortured and murdered hundreds of thousands of people. When asked why he came forward, one of them stated that he wanted to clear his conscience. Some people in the western world believe in “Moral Turpitude” as a reason for why people do bad things which means that the defendant has no conscience. I personally can’t find any support for this belief in our western social institutions that concern themselves with upholding the virtue of truth in the search for evidence of the nature of reality; neither in the academic circles that teach history of our principles that circumscribe the behavior of proper western society, nor in the crowd of religious scholars that delineate Christian theology (if it can be truly said that any realistic interpretation of scripture really does accomplish this lofty goal).
I’m not anti-war personally, but in the west where we like to punish people based on a positivistic assessment that the convicted suffers from “Moral Turpitude”, I wonder if president Reagan, anyone in his cabinet, members of the US Congress during the crisis, or the average American felt any culpability or guilt from our role in creating this perfect storm of terror. If not, does that mean we suffer from moral turpitude?
As I try to figure out how to proceed in writing a story about the financial crisis and its effect on the most vulnerable members in American society, I think of this more extreme tale of genocide and wonder if there’s anything to be learned. I’m stuck trying to figure out who my antagonist(s) is (are). Are they villains? Were the Guatemalan special forces soldiers villains? Was it the Guatemalan dictator who is the villain or the US president or congress, or us regular people because we let it happen by not paying attention? And what is the one thing that distinguishes villain from antagonist. If one can comit murder and yet have a conscience, can the line really be drawn by “Moral Turpitude”? Does it even exist.
What do you think?
Link to Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/24613099@N05/3765135511/in/photolist-6JHiBv-pJC14G-4QvFMm-4QvFFJ-34S2Tw-acpzGT-6GBVVc-6GFRmy-6GFWP5-6GFMW7-6GBQCD-6GBGbi-48HLLH-g3Lx8Y-6GGfYG-6GBysv-6GFU6j-6GG2wq-6GFPyU-6GC4ST-6GFJMw-6GBwAp-6GBTZg-q3KqNB-6GFW2U-6GG7by-6GFQiE-6GG4fC-61oFae-q3Cm37-6GBPh6-6GBRhn-q3CmQj-6GGiDU-6GBDwR-6GFDYd-q3CVYf-qk1J9K-6GC1FK-q3DdpS-6GC7iM-dnYdqt-q3CnqY-q3KMQX-5qNC9U-6gCYaw-q3Mbg4-qhUUrs-qk8ypb-q3CsbQ
(Photo copyright cranky messiah – Creative Commons License)