Guatemala experienced the bloodiest of the Central American civil wars, with an estimated 200-300,000 dead over three decades. That war ended in 1996 after a long and arduous peace process, one aided by the oft-maligned United Nations and the involvement of El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras -- all nations recovering from their own bloody conflicts.
For Americans not directly involved in a war (even Bush's War), war is an abstraction. We have become so desensitized to it thanks to Hollywood, video games and the nightly news. We hear things such as, "only one person died in the attack" and we think, "phew, it was just one." But every death is a tragedy of epic proportions, touching dozens if not hundreds or thousands. This country rightfully mourned 3,000 dead in the 9-11 attacks, yet doesn't consider the deaths of thousands of foreigners to be worth any consideration. But they hurt just as bad.
Bush's War has many casualties, but one of them has been the concept of "peace". It's seen as a matter of weakness, or appeasement, of anti-Americanism. So it was emotionally overwhelming for me to spend time in a place that celebrated peace. Various displays commemorated the ravages of war, others paid tribute to the nations of the world that lent their support in Guatemala's efforts for peace -- a true coalition of the willing.
Peace wasn't a weakness. It wasn't appeasement. It was a search for the highest ideal. A search that ultimately proved to be successful.
In Guatemala's national palace, the peace accords were commemorated with the following sculpture:
Every day, a new white rose is placed on those two hands. The rose symbolizes another 24 hours of peace. Baby steps in a nation and region long ravaged by proxy wars and internal conflict.
I quietly wept as I gazed upon the sculputure. I wept for Guatemala, the pain for its losses and for hope for its future. I wept because it reminded me of the long path to peace in my own El Salvador. And I wept for my own United States, where peace is now a dirty word, where torture, death and human rights abuses are dismissed in a matter befitting Saddam Hussein, and where our leaders seek war and foment chaos.