August 30, 2008
USEFUL IDIOTS (via Greg Hlatky):
An American adventurer's death in El Salvador: Joe Sanderson traveled the world for years until his death amid leftist rebels fighting El Salvador's U.S.-backed military regime. More than 25 years later, a diary he kept reveals details about his life. (Héctor Tobar, 8/23/08, Los Angeles Times)
Joe Sanderson is one of two Americans known to have fought and died with the guerrillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, the leftist rebels whose war against El Salvador's U.S.-backed military junta was one of the last conflicts of the Cold War. [...]
He had joined an army made up mostly of peasants, college students and union activists -- along with a smattering of foreigners recruited by the international solidarity movement that supported the rebels' cause against a military government associated with right-wing death squads.
"It seems strange to call the M-1 I'm using La Virgencita [the Little Virgin]," Sanderson wrote in his diary after a crazed firefight in which he and enemy soldiers shouted insults at each other in Spanish. "Polished stock, definitely a beauty . . . at least as guns go."
Sanderson's nom de guerre among his companions was "Lucas." He often worked alongside Carlos Consalvi, alias "Santiago," a Venezuelan-born activist who ran the rebels' clandestine radio station, Radio Venceremos. Consalvi rescued the diary and has it in the collection of the San Salvador museum he founded to preserve the rebels' history.
"Lucas was a good friend, a person who lifted our spirits with his optimism," Consalvi said recently. "The American government spent millions of dollars fighting us. But we had one American on our side." [...]
"He was the intellectual and idealist in the family, and was more like my father," said Steve, now 68. "I was the more practical and conservative one and more like our mother."
Steve graduated from college and became an accountant, like his mother, Virginia Coleman. Joe studied theology at Hanover College in Indiana, but dropped out his senior year. Then he hit the road.
In the years that followed, Joe filled Urbana mailboxes with postcards and envelopes emblazoned with colorful stamps: a gray parrot from Nigeria, a zooming jet from the Republiek van Suid-Afrika, a mosque from Jordan.
Steve says the arrival of a letter from Joe was an occasion usually celebrated with a family dinner. "My mother would call and say, 'Come on over, we got a letter from Joe.' "
After the meal, the family would listen to Coleman read Joe's letters. His words brought exotic locales into their living room: the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan, the dun plains of Iraq, the waters of Lake Victoria in Uganda.
In 1969, Joe reached Nigeria, then in the midst of civil war. He got a job administering vaccines to babies in refugee camps. The job was grim, but Sanderson's letters home described his duties and the war with his usual sardonic humor. "The Red Cross," he wrote in one, "is desperate for workers to hit the bush and drink gin, contract malaria and get shot at for breakfast."
He also journeyed to the 38th Parallel separating the Koreas, founded a "hippie hospital" in the Bolivian mountain town of Sorata and posed as a journalist covering the Vietnam War.
When he returned home to the U.S. periodically, he painted flagpoles and church steeples -- the hazardous work allowed him to raise cash for his travels.
His mother tried to get him to settle down and pursue a career.
"When your kid is 19 and he's a wandering hippie, that's OK," Steve said. "But when your kid is 30, or 40, and he's still a wandering hippie, you realize that's what he's going to be." [...]
At 5-foot-11, with blue eyes and sandy hair, he stood out. In an army made up mostly of teenagers and 20-year-olds, he was a wise viejo, or old man.
Veterans of his rebel column still recount stories of his wartime deeds. They remember him as a "metaphysical" philosopher and raconteur who loved the works of Ernest Hemingway.
"He'd wear jeans and a beige shirt, and a red bandanna . . . but never a uniform, because he wasn't a military-type guy," said "Eduardo," a Mexico City surgeon who staffed a rebel hospital and asked that his real name not be printed. The two men talked for hours about religion and flying.
Several of the skills Sanderson had mastered as an Illinois youth turned out to be quite handy to the guerrillas.
"I always wanted Lucas next to me, because he was an excellent shot," said Jose Ismael Romero, then a 25-year-old rebel leader known as "Comandante Bracamontes."
Once, Sanderson challenged the comandante to a shooting contest -- and won.
Unbeknownst to his comrades, Sanderson had taken and passed a National Rifle Assn. marksmanship test in Illinois. Jorge Melendez, a.k.a. "Comandante Jonas," a rebel commander Joe refers to as "the Whale" in his diary, remembers a long discussion with Sanderson over the rebels' poor shooting skills.
"Look, hombre," he remembers Sanderson telling him. "The M-16 is a good weapon, a very versatile weapon. The problem is that the comrades don't know how to use the M-16. You have to teach them how to use it properly."
So, our local rag reran this one, and we were wondering who would find it cute that this guy fought with communist terrorists, when Mr. Hlatky sent this one, The expatriate: Around the time of the Chinese Revolution in 1949, a small crowd of foreign sympathisers came to help build the Maoist dream. Sixty years later, one of them is still there. Michael Donohue, 8/14/08, The National)
Almost six decades later, Shapiro is still here – a robust 92-year-old Chinese citizen with white hair, a strong handshake, and an exceptionally well-preserved Brooklyn accent. Part of a wave of westerners who settled in Beijing in the early Mao years to sign up for the “socialist experiment,” Shapiro is one of a tiny few who lasted long enough to experience the entire, ongoing era of Communist rule – and to see China stage an Olympic opening ceremony last Friday night that gave almost no acknowledgement to Mao’s legacy.
Shapiro has spent much of his life trying to explain his adopted home to the West, first by translating Chinese literature into English, then by writing books of his own. In 1963, he traded his US passport for a Chinese one. Twenty years later he became a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a prestigious body that makes recommendations to the Party leadership. He is not the only foreign-born member of the CPPCC, but he is the only one to have had a bar mitzvah (which took place when Calvin Coolidge was the American president).
On a Friday afternoon earlier this summer, Shapiro sat at a small table in his modest, neatly kept bungalow a minute’s walk from Qianhai Lake – in one of the oldest and best-preserved neighborhoods in Beijing – and talked about his past. [...]
A couple of hundred other foreigners shared Shapiro’s sentiments. Some had fought for the Communists in Spain. A few were fleeing the Red Scare in the United States. Several had already spent years in China, hoping for revolution. In the 1950s they united behind the Maoist task of ending selfishness, eliminating class difference and eradicating bourgeois ideology from the world.
China gave them official “foreign expert” status and a comfortable place to live, usually in the Friendship Hotel on the outskirts of Beijing. [...]
“Certainly some good came of the ‘cultural revolution.’ The turmoil bubbled a lot of scum to the surface – class enemies, sycophants, opportunists, cowards. At the same time the honest, the courageous, the dedicated showed their colours in overwhelming numbers. For millions of young people who never experienced exploitation in the old society, it proved graphically what class struggle was all about.”
How quaint.... Posted by Orrin Judd at August 30, 2008 7:29 AM