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A Brief Word (Again) About a Slain Hero (and a few miscellany)
March 26, 2007

As I noted last week, I intended this week to resume my historical ruminations concerning US involvement in El Salvador, unless "life intervened." Well, guess what. The increasing demands of my publicity tour just won't permit me the time to write and research such lengthy pieces, nor can I lug around the texts I'll need for reference to make them as detailed and thorough as I would like. So I'm going to spend the next few weeks talking about current events as they touch on El Salvador, and thus reflect upon the present-day conditions I try to portray in Blood of Paradise.

Specifically, I'll address the continuing use of El Salvador as a template for our military effort in Iraq, and the recent murder of three Salvadoran congressmen by corrupt police officers in Guatemala. (I touched on this latter issue last week; see my Weekly commentary for March 19th.)

This week, though, just a few brief notes:

Anniversary of a Tragedy: Although this won't be posted until Monday, March 26th, I'm writing it on March 24th, the twenty-seventh anniversary of the murder of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero Y Galdames. (I wrote about Archbishop Romero two weeks ago; see my Weekly commentary for March 12th.)

In a recent interview with the NBC journalist Ann Curry, she explained her willingness to go to the world's trouble spots despite the danger by saying, "I am more afraid of not having done enough to help others than I am of dying."

These same words would apply to Archbishop Romero, and thousand of others who died during the Salvadoran civil war because they dared take their religious convictions to heart, and interpret their Christianity as requiring of them a "preferential option for the poor." Archbishop Romero's commitment was virtually absolute, and he continued speaking forthrightly and courageously, even after he learned his name was on a list of those who were to be eliminated.

I have thought a great deal about the slain archbishop today, and wonder if I am living up to his example. If I'm honest, I have to admit that I am not. And so I ask myself: What is keeping me from expressing a similar courage—simple cowardice? The inertia of habit? The obligations owed to my career, my friends, my family? The constant day-to-day compromises one makes with power, or money? I don't ask this to berate myself for my failings, or conduct a one-man orgy of guilt, but rather to appraise myself and my life with a clear unsentimental eye, while at the same time hoping to rekindle the inspiration I need to go beyond my usual strivings, and try for something a little more: my best. I think it's a serious question, and one we should always ask ourselves, whoever our heroes might be.

Jeff Becom, photographer extraordinaire: Second, I want to let everyone know that photographer Jeff Becom, whose richly evocative image appears on the cover of Blood of Paradise, has graciously allowed me to show a few more of his photos of this same Honduran sailor's bar here on my website. To see them, go here.

Happy Birthday, Ed! Third, on another anniversary note of sorts, I and a number of other northern California mystery writers—including Rhys Bowen, Ann Parker, Camille Minichino, Nadia Gordon, Tony Broadbent, Tim Maleeny, Kirk Russell, and Dylan Schaffer—threw a surprise birthday party on Friday evening, March 23rd, for Ed Kaufman, the owner of M is for Mystery in San Mateo, one of the premier crime and mystery bookstores in the country.

The evening was billed as a reading for my new novel, Blood of Paradise, but when Ed and I booked the date, he let it slip that it was his birthday, and the scheming began. Ed's wife Jeanne, store manager Pam Stirling, and the rest of the M is for Mystery staff were in on the caper, and even though Ann and Camille, with all the best intentions in the world, almost blew the surprise by walking in a bit early with balloons, Ed didn't catch on until the cake appeared that something was up. (Though he did, in introducing me, express a little surprise that so many folks had turned out for my event—hmm.) Cara Black and Steve Hockensmith, unable to attend because of other obligations, nonetheless sent congratulations from afar, and a grand time was had by all (even Tilly and Morgan, the canine celebrants). The inscription on the cake read, "M is for Mensch," and truer words were never written—certainly not with icing. Many happy returns, Ed!

A note on sources: Finally, I want to make explicit the various sources to which I've been referring, and will continue to refer, as I write about El Salvador. These books (and one transcript posted on the Internet) have been particularly helpful, and I recommend them to anyone who would like to know more about El Salvador or our policies there:
  • From Madness to Hope: The 12-year War in El Salvador: Report of the U.N. Commission on the Truth in El Salvador
  • Our Own Backyard: The United States in Central America 1977-1992, by William M. LeoGrande (University of North Carolina Press)
  • Insurgent Collective Action and Civil War in El Salvador, by Elizabeth Jane Wood (Cambridge University Press)
  • "Window on the Past: A Declassified History of Death Squads in El Salvador," by Cynthia J. Arnson, from Death Squads in Global Perspective: Murder with Deniability, edited by Bruce B. Campbell and Arthur D. Brenner (St. Martin's Press)
  • El Salvador, A Country Study, edited by Richard A. Haggerty, (Federal Research Division, Library of Congress)
  • Understanding Central America (3rd Edition), by John A. Booth and Thomas W. Walker (Boulder: Westview Press)
  • Inside El Salvador: The Essential Guide to its Politics, Economy, Society and Environment, by Kevin Murray and Tom Barry (Albuquerque: Resource Center press)
  • Testimony of Terry Karl, Ph.D., Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, in Juan Romagoza Arce v. Jose Guillermo Garcia and Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova: link
  • On Your Own in El Salvador, Hank and Bea Weiss (On Your Own Publications)

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