- A Call to Conscience: The Anti-Contra War Campaign by Roger Peace
Although several books and articles have been written on various aspects of the anti-Contra campaign of the 1980s, Peace’s is the first all-encompassing study. Starting with an overview of U.S.-Nicaragua relations, he lays out in convincing detail evidence that the Reagan administration routinely distorted the truth and broke both U.S. and international law in a fanatical quest to overthrow the Sandinista government. He then moves on to discuss the makeup and methodologies of the multiple organizations that worked to change U.S. policy toward Nicaragua. There were socialist groups in solidarity with the Sandinistas because they saw in them the potential for another Cuban-like state. There were pacifist and liberal organizations that favored negotiations with the Sandinistas over war. There were also groups with religious bases that opposed the Contra war without necessarily supporting the Sandinistas. Although these various organizations had divergent ideologies, they were able to overcome their differences and cooperate because they had two common overriding goals: the termination of U.S. support for the Contras and the prevention of a direct U.S. military invasion of Nicaragua.
The author’s discussion of the socialist left is valuable in that such detailed attention is not found elsewhere. His treatment of religion-associated organizations, however, especially their Catholic component, could have been more thorough. Peace does quote Margaret Swedish, head of the Religious Task Force on Central America, who opined that “the Catholic social justice lobby” was the most influential lobbying group in Washington on Central American issues and cites a similar statement from U.S. Congressman Michael Barnes. He does not elaborate, however, on this contention, nor does he say much about the important role played by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which issued letters critical of Reagan’s Central American policy and sent influential spokesmen to testify before congressional committees.
Peace’s assertion that the mainline U.S. media reported even the most outlandish charges made by Reagan officials against the Sandinistas, while ignoring FSLN achievements in land reform, education, and health care, is well taken. He contrasts what he sees as their journalistic failures with the reporting of progressive periodicals like The Nation, Mother Jones, and Nicaraguan Perspectives, and the religious periodicals Sojourners, Christianity in Crisis, and Tikkun. Curiously, he ignores Catholic magazines like The National Catholic Reporter and America. During the period of Contra activity, virtually every issue of these influential periodicals contained strong well-researched articles and editorials critical of the Reagan administration’s Central American policy. Often, they were based on reports from church personnel who experienced firsthand the catastrophic effects of U.S. policy on the Nicaraguan people. [End Page 752]
Especially commendable is Peace’s coverage of the coordinated efforts of the national, state, and local anti-Contra organizations and the politics of transnational solidarity in the anti-Contra campaign. Indeed, the importance of such organizations as Witness for Peace, which brought thousands of North Americans to Nicaragua on fact-finding tours, cannot be overestimated. Most of these sojourners, when they returned to the United States, passed on what they had experienced through op-ed newspaper pieces, magazine articles, and slide shows presented at churches, colleges, and other locales. No wonder Oliver North listed domestic opposition groups as the primary obstacle to Reagan’s Nicaraguan policy.
In his research the author adroitly blends information from archival records, government documents, and secondary literature with interviews from about 80 North American and Nicaraguan leaders and citizens involved in the anti-Contra campaign. Although he notes in his introduction his sympathy for this campaign, which he contends “was on the right side of history” and “represented the best of the United States,” he shows no reluctance in pointing out the deficiencies of the movement, such as its lack of a central spokesperson or a clear, unified message. In short, Peace’s book is an outstanding study that should provide valuable lessons for those who...