December 11, 1981: El Mozote Massacre

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A Brief History

On this date, December 11, 1981, during a time of renewed tension in the cold war the United States was eager to help “friendly” countries resist communist rebellions and the USSR was doing all they could to “convert” non-communist countries to Marxism.  With this backdrop, the U.S. had been training anti-insurgency forces in El Salvador and helped form the first such unit there.  Unfortunately, this day saw a bloody and wrongly applied use of that force when the village of El Mozote and the area suffered the massacre of abut 900 innocent people.

Digging Deeper

Digging deeper, we find the Atlacatl Battalion (the El Salvador anti-insurgency force) sent to the El Mozote area to root out leftist guerrillas, gathering villagers and other peasants from the area and confining them indoors on December 10th overnight.

On December 11th, the sad events unfolded.  Government soldiers began forcefully interrogating the peasants, torturing and executing many men and boys.  Their blood lust once started became unstoppable, with rampant rape of women and even young girls.

Slitting children’s throats and hanging them from trees seemed to be great sport for these forces, and wholesale slaughter of the peasants was begun and finished.  Of course, having killed everyone in sight, the troops also helped themselves to whatever loot they could find.  The village’s buildings were burned, and the crazed soldiers were off to another small village where the horrors were repeated.

American newspapers were leaked information about the massacre a month or so later and sent investigators to El Salvador to see if the reports were true.  The dead bodies and burned buildings said the stories were true.

The next 10 years saw accusations, denials, excuses and investigations until 1992 when criminal charges were urged by Salvadoran activists.  It was not to be, as the El Salvador government passed an amnesty for all massacre perpetrators in 1993!

The shred of justice the victims were granted did not take place until 2011 when the El Salvador government finally apologized for the massacre.  Meanwhile, scavengers have removed “souvenirs” from the site, allegedly using skulls as decorations and candle holders!

Question for students (and subscribers): How can people justify massacring other people?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please read…

Binford, Leigh.  The El Mozote Massacre: Anthropology and Human Rights (Hegemony and Experience).  University of Arizona Press, 1996.

Danner, Mark.  The Massacre at El Mozote.  Vintage, 1994.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by Efrojas of a memorial of a massacre site at El Mozote, Morazan, El Salvador, has been released into the public domain worldwide by the copyright holder of this work.


About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.