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A Call to Conscience

The Anti-Contra War Campaign

Roger Peace

Publication Year: 2012

Unlike earlier U.S. interventions in Latin America, the Reagan administration’s attempt to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua during the 1980s was not allowed to proceed quietly. Tens of thousands of American citizens organized and agitated against U.S. aid to the counterrevolutionary guerrillas, known as “contras.” Believing the Contra War to be unnecessary, immoral, and illegal, they challenged the administration’s Cold War stereotypes, warned of “another Vietnam,” and called on the United States to abide by international norms. A Call to Conscience offers the first comprehensive history of the anti–Contra War campaign and its Nicaragua connections. Roger Peace places this eight-year campaign in the context of previous American interventions in Latin America, the Cold War, and other grassroots oppositional movements. Based on interviews with American and Nicaraguan citizens and leaders, archival records of activist organizations, and official government documents, this book reveals activist motivations, analyzes the organizational dynamics of the anti–Contra War campaign, and contrasts perceptions of the campaign in Managua and Washington. Peace shows how a variety of civic groups and networks—religious, leftist, peace, veteran, labor, women’s rights—worked together in a decentralized campaign that involved extensive transnational cooperation.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Series: Culture, Politics, and the Cold War

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I am grateful to the many individuals who shared their experiences and insights with me via interviews and communications. It was an adventure to gather their stories and I regret that not all can be included here. I am especially indebted to three people. ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xi-xiv

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pp. 1-6

Bill Gandall was eighteen years old when he first set foot on Nicaraguan soil in 1927. He was part of an expeditionary force of three thousand United States Marines sent to put down an anti-U.S. rebellion led by Augusto Sandino. Ordered by his superiors to obtain information about Sandino “by any means possible,” ...

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1. U.S.-Nicaragua Relations, the Sandinista Revolution, and the Contra War

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pp. 7-28

The United States looms large in the history of Nicaragua. In 1904, one year after acquiring the Panama Canal Zone through “gunboat diplomacy,” President Theodore Roosevelt announced that the United States would henceforth act as an “international police power” in the Western Hemisphere. ...

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2. An Overview of the Contra War Debate

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pp. 29-52

U. S. aid to the contras began in secret, but once exposed in the media, the Reagan administration went to great lengths to win public and congressional approval. President Reagan delivered three nationally televised addresses on Central America or Nicaragua (April 27, 1983, May 9, 1984, and March 16, 1986) ...

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3. Origins of the Anti–Contra War Campaign

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pp. 53-80

The anti–Contra War campaign emerged out of progressive U.S. sectors with connections to Latin America along with the post–Vietnam War peace movement. The Nicaragua solidarity campaign coalesced in early 1979, the Central America movement in 1980, and the anti–Contra War campaign in early 1982, drawing together an eclectic mix of groups. ...

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4. Expansion of the Anti–Contra War Campaign, 1983–84

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pp. 81-113

The Contra War became a hot political topic in Washington in 1983. The first volley was fired on April 13, 1983, when Rep. Edward Boland publicly denounced the administration for lack of compliance with the recently enacted Boland Amendment. Two weeks later, he introduced legislation to cut off all aid to the contras. ...

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5. Organizational Dynamics of a Decentralized Campaign

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pp. 114-144

Unlike the anti–Vietnam War movement, in which activist groups argued for years over whether to demand immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops or a negotiated settlement, there were no division in the anti–Contra War campaign over immediate political goals. ...

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6. The Politics of Transnational Solidarity

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pp. 145-176

What progressive activists hailed as “solidarity” with the Nicaraguan people, the Reagan administration and its rightist allies decried as a Sandinista conspiracy. On April 2, 1985, with votes on contra aid coming up in Congress, President Reagan told Washington Post reporters that the reason his Nicaragua policy lacked public support ...

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7. Meeting the Political Challenge, 1985–86

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pp. 177-207

In early 1985 the Reagan administration launched an all-out media and lobbying offensive aimed at winning Congressional approval of $14 million in “humanitarian assistance” to the contras. Strengthened by his landslide reelection, President Reagan ratcheted up the verbal war. ...

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8. Sustaining the Anti–Contra War Campaign, 1987–90

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pp. 208-244

Recent events have given us the opportunity to make 1987 a turning point in the six year U.S. war in Central America,” wrote Steven Slade, national Pledge of Resistance coordinator, in early 1987. “After years of struggle to simply slow the pace of escalation, we now have the chance to actually reverse the direction of U.S. policy. ...

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pp. 245-246

The path to a humanistic socialist society was indeed difficult for Nicaragua. The Sandinista experiment might have fallen on its own, due to intransigent poverty, poorly managed programs, business opposition, or other internal causes, but the Reagan and Bush administrations were not willing to take the chance. ...


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pp. 247-288

List of Personal Interviews and Communications

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pp. 289-292


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pp. 293-307

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613762042
E-ISBN-10: 1613762046
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558499317
Print-ISBN-10: 1558499318

Page Count: 302
Illustrations: 1 map
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Culture, Politics, and the Cold War