From 1959 through 1975 the United States was involved in one of the most controversial wars of all time, the Vietnam War. People can and do argue for hours about the war and how it was just or unjust, but something people tend to agree on is peace. On May 4th 1972 students at Kent State University in Ohio were protesting the Cambodian Airstrikes, During this protest, the Ohio National Guard opened fire on the student killing four and injuring nine more in a mere thirteen seconds. Now, there is also controversy about whether or not the students provoked the shootings or not, but this is not the point I am attempting to make. The theme is that students were murdered by advocating for peace.

 

Michael and Raj view one of the many stones that memorialize the dead at the massacre site.

Today we visited another site similar to the Kent State University shooting in Santiago Atitlan. During the Guatemalan Civil War in the year 1990, a government military platoon was stationed on the outskirts of Santiago Atitlan. Soon people began to “disappear”- which meant the military suspected that those people were part of or supporting the Guerrilla movement and they were being punished for it by death. The people of Santiago Atitlan were growing painfully tired of disappearing victims and they wanted to do something about it. The major problem standing in there way was the mayor. So when the time came, the people of Santiago Atitlan elected a new mayor who was for the people’s idea of stopping the disappearing of innocent people that was taking place. On December 2, 1990 the community gathered at the church to seek for a solution to the brutal problem of disappearing. They decided to create a white flag of surrender to show the military that they came in peace so that the community and the military could discuss what was going on. That night the community of Santiago Atitlan walked up the hill carrying the white flag to crate peace when suddenly the military opened fire of the people killing thirteen of them. The military claimed that they were intoxicated with beer and hard liquor and were drunk. In turn, this created the military to believe that the community of people that were walking towards them was invading Guerrilla soldiers. This was an awful explanation for such a horrific tragedy. This was the product of the military making up an excuse because they were never given orders to fire.  Due to this catastrophe, the people of Santiago Atitlan closed down all of their shops and markets of food to the government soldiers. This ultimately led to the military leaving the town because of the lack of food and supplies. Still to this day, military members are still not allowed to wear their military uniforms in the town of Santiago Atitlan because it still brings up the painful memories of those who had died advocating for peace.

I was born in 1996, so naturally I did not feel the immediate connection to the people of Santiago Atitlan who were massacred. As I began to look around the sacred ground and the stone memorials, I started to make connections with the people. The first memorial I looked at was of a boy who died at the young age of eighteen. I am only a year younger, and my sister is eighteen, so I began to realize and think about how I would feel if one of my family members or one of my friends  was in that situation. I began to think about all of the experiences that they would be missing and how much more they had to live for. The next memorial I visited was one of a nine year old boy who was murdered. When I saw this I instantly thought of my little sister, who is eight, and what I would feel like if this awful thing happened to her. At that age it is incredibly hard to form positions, let alone a position that you would be willing to die for. I came to the conclusion that this nine year old boy who died probably did not know what was really going on and was a victim to a terrible crime. All of the people who died on this day did not expect for this to happen, all they wanted was peace in their town and in their lives.

Dolores, our Mayan guide for the day, remembers the massacre well and explains the ruthless behavior of the soldiers and peaceful protest of the townspeople against oppression.

When we returned back to the hotel this question was posed to the group as a journal question: How do you create peace? After pondering this question and listening to others answer this question, I came up with a solution. My solution is a lot like the movie Pay it Forward. For those not familiar with the film, it is about a boy who comes up with the idea of not paying someone back for a good deed, but instead paying it forward to three different people. My solution is paying forward the ideas of peace, which are: love, listening, and solidarity. If what you are doing is for the genuine love for the other person, then it will be peaceful. If you listen to the person and consider their situation, then there will be peace. Finally, if you walk with the person and do not drag them behind you, then together you will be peaceful. If you spread these ideas of peace to people around you, then eventually people start to focus on others before themselves and create peace between them. This ultimately leads on to bigger ideas, like war, and greater peace around the world.

 

3 Responses to The Massacre at Santiago Atitlan, by Michael Ward

  1. Carol Ward says:

    Well done. I remember having the same feeling when we visited a work camp in Poland and the children who eventually killed had been born the same year as I was.
    Very sobering experience.

  2. Mike & Jenny Ward says:

    After reading all of the posts thus far, it is quite evident that you and your peers are having a life changing experience as you witness the lives of the Guatemalan people. We are proud of you and can’t wait to see you tomorrow night.
    We love you,
    Mom, Dad and Riley

  3. Brad Shear says:

    Michael, it’s great to see you how much you have changed in a positive way. The trip has opened your eyes and I hope you continue your passion at home in Phoenix. Can’t wait to see you guys.

    Best,
    Mr. Shear

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