Closing the School of the Americas

Published in the Hollister Free Lance, November 25, 1998
Dear Editor:

An article in the November 19 Free Lance detailed plans of some local people to get arrested while protesting at the School of the Americas (SOA) in Ft. Benning, GA. They are protesting the fact that foreign soldiers who have been trained by the SOA have gone on to commit atrocities in their own countries.

While I can't dispute that the events they are protesting have occurred, we should realize a few things before calling for the school to be shut down.

First, I don't believe a causal link has been established showing that SOA training is responsible for these atrocities. Unless the SOA is somehow brainwashing the people it trains, the soldiers were probably thugs before they even got to the SOA.

Also, it doesn't really take sophisticated military training to kill a few unarmed people. For example, one incident cited was the 1989 killing of six Jesuit professors and two women in El Salvador. This was certainly awful, but was the SOA training responsible? A small band of death squad thugs could have committed that atrocity with nothing more than cheap handguns if they wanted to.

What this indicates to me is that the SOA needs to change its policy on who gets admitted; it does not mean that the school should necessarily be closed.

For example, the SOA should perform psychological testing on candidates before admission. Candidates should also have their military and criminal records checked to ensure thugs aren't being trained.

Also, soldiers should be better trained in the proper way to handle civilians during military conflicts. There should certainly be no discussion of torture, imprisoning non-combatants, etc. in any SOA manuals (released SOA manuals supposedly contained such things).

Second, let's not obscure things by treating this as a financial issue. It is a moral issue, not a financial one. The Free Lance article claimed that $20 million dollars was budgeted for the SOA, and quoted Julianne Sabadin as saying, "People may think this doesn't affect us as Americans, but it does, if not morally, than (sic) at least economically. People have a right to know where their tax dollars are going."

If the SOA is truly an immoral institution, any amount budgeted for it would be unconscionable. However, if the SOA is performing a useful service (or could perform a useful service), $20 million is a drop in the bucket in a federal budget that exceeds $1 trillion (according to what I found on http// That is less than 2/1000ths of 1%.

Which leads to my third point. Ms. Sabadin says, "I don't want my money to be used for military programs in other countries." However, if you think about it, it seems that training foreign soldiers to assist in defending their country is far more cost-effective than training our own to have to fight there if necessary.

If an ally of ours is involved in some armed conflict, I would much rather have that country's soldiers do the fighting than have to send American troops there. I would hate to have American lives lost because we decided that training foreign soldiers to defend their own country was somehow wrong.

Some people already complain that the U.S. seems to be the world's police force. I feel that the primary responsibility for defending one's country should fall on that country. However, if that country isn't capable of training its soldiers effectively, I would much rather train them in America than have to send Americans there to fight. The old saying still applies Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, he eats for life.

Of course, this is all predicated on the fact military training is necessary because wars do happen. It would be nice if they didn't, but that isn't realistic. If you believe war is immoral no matter what the circumstances, you'll oppose any military training regardless of whether the soldiers are foreign or American.

Also, it assumes that the SOA could be a very useful entity, even if you don't believe it is now. Instead of just dismantling the entire program, let's transform it into a program that we can be proud of -- one that provides worthy soldiers with excellent military training and a strong grounding in the moral responsibilities of being a soldier.

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