Fort Benning freedom riders take on terror

Opinion





Justice often, Finds its tongue, In the outrage, Of the young





Our vans are now one hour on the road, with 20 more to go. We’re headed home from Fort Benning, Ga., a convoy of two radio-connected Fairfield University vehicles, toting 14 students, staff and fellow travelers. We’ll drive all night, rotating drivers, navigators and sleepers. The politics here is decidedly pro-Jesuit and anti-School of the Americas (SOA).

This year’s SOA protest – the 13th – drew 11,000 such pilgrims, roughly 90 of whom volunteered for arrest by crossing onto Army land. Typically about half will receive prison terms, sometimes in Danbury. One of our own conscience-laden numbers seriously contemplated going over the wall herself, but decided to postpone until her logistics were in better order. An illuminating note on the nature of this young/old throng was the warning that going to prison suspends one’s Social Security benefits.

The protest poses an annual dilemma for local Columbus officials. Fort Benning, host to the SOA, provides 40,000 jobs to the Columbus region. Political leaders, therefore, feel that they really should do something to fend off the dangers of so many pushy purveyors of placards, puppets and peace. This year their response was metal detectors. The local federal judge approved the detectors’ use, based on police concerns over the alleged threat of black-clad anarchists and “frenzied women bearing (sic) their breasts.” Thus we all had our metal detected upon nearing the site, but officers were unable to calibrate their machines to successfully identify anarchy or nakedness. As it turned out, no bare bosoms materialized, much to the disappointment of some of our party. Neither did the dozen or so anarchists display any anti-social behavior, beyond lamenting the murder and oppression of some millions of Latinos. Much of the black clothing belonged to priests and nuns.

Protest, of course, relies heavily on music to motivate its masses. And so there was singing galore and a slew of professional-quality performances. New CDs of struggle and suffering graced many a departing backpack. The music also conjured up visions for some of shareholders similarly streaming forth from a United Technologies (UT) annual meeting, humming tunes of annihilation and avarice. And UT did indeed take its share of hits for manufacturing many of the choppers, often flown and maintained by U.S. mercenaries, that daily spray poison on Colombian fields and sometimes fire rockets at Colombian towns. But war-torn Colombia seemed far removed from orderly Columbus this day.

Outside Benning’s landscaped gate, one would never sense being on the doorstep of the world’s largest terrorist training camp. Nor would SOA leaders ever even coyly admit to such distinction. Torture has been stricken from its syllabus, replaced, we hear, by studies in democracy. But somehow, when the natives get restless, be it in Colombia, Mexico, Honduras or elsewhere, the number of students from that troubled land rises, and not for the purpose of examining democratic process. They want to learn counterinsurgency. The insurgencies they wish to counter typically take the form of labor demands, human rights demands land reform demands, and demands that water, power, forest and oil resources not be sold off to foreign investors. Those demands often feature American corporations as their cause, and when unmet for too long, can spawn armed revolt. Then, especially, do Yanqui investors cherish the School of the Americas, despite the tens of thousands that its grads have killed, tortured, and maimed.

Amazingly, the kids at Fairfield U., a distant Jesuit college, understand all this. Well maybe not so amazingly, since Jesuit priests and laity have long been prime victims of the SOA graduates. They, and Catholics of every order, lead this annual charge on terror’s most famous gate. But the main gate to U.S.-backed terror lies farther north, in Congress. Even the kids in this van realize that.





William A. Collins is a former state representative and former mayor of Norwalk, Conn.