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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Based in large part on his extensive account published in the December 6, 1993, issue of the New Yorker , National Magazine Award winner Danner's engrossing study reconstructs events that took place some dozen years before. In December 1981, over 750 men, women and children were killed in El Mozote, El Salvador, and the surrounding hamlets. Although at the time it was covered on the front pages of both the New York Times and the Washington Post , the reports were not enough to derail Ronald Reagan's push to prove that the El Salvadoran government was "making a concerted and significant effort to comply with internationally recognized human rights." Why the government chose to ignore stories in the nation's two leading newspapers is one part of Danner's sad, well-researched book. The other is why El Mozote was attacked at all. Populated by evangelical Christians who, unlike Catholic neighbors fed on liberation theology, did not abet the rebel FMLN, the people of El Mozote believed they would be spared when the army decided to wipe out insurgents and their supporters. After several days of brutal rapes and murders, a handful of people managed to escape to the rebels, setting in motion press reports and the under-investigated, coyly couched American embassy reply that allowed the U.S. to continue its massive subsidies. Danner has disinterred an event that is an equal indictment of Salvadoran brutality and American blindness.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In October 1992, the international community was shocked to hear of the recovery from shallow graves of 25 bodies, all but two of them children, near the ruined church of Santa Catarina in the village of El Mozote, El Salvador. Shortly thereafter, another 100 corpses were discovered elsewhere in the village. After 11 years of investigation, political pressure, and intense lobbying efforts by human rights groups, civil libertarians, and concerned individuals, the truth of what really happened in 1981 in this remote Salvadoran village finally began to emerge, a flashback to the infamous My Lai massacre of the Vietnam War. The situation in El Mozote was similar: villagers caught in the political crossfire between rival groups during a brutal war, trying to remain on friendly terms with their own soldiers while fearing to alienate the opposition. Danner's well-written account, which first appeared in The New Yorker and has been expanded here, does a good job of presenting evidence based on eyewitness accounts and reveals the callousness of U.S. Central American policy (the killers were American-trained soldiers of the Salvadoran Army). Especially recommended for Latin American collections.
Philip Y. Blue, Dowling Coll. Lib., Oakdale, N.Y.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (April 5, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067975525X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679755258
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #103,439 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

For more information about Mark Danner, please visit his website at http://www.markdanner.com

Mark Danner is a writer, journalist and educator who has written for more than two decades on foreign affairs and international conflict. He has covered Central America, Haiti, Balkans and Iraq, among many other stories, and has written extensively about the development of American foreign policy during the late Cold War and afterward, and about violations of human rights during that time. His books include Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War (2009), The Secret Way to War: The Downing Street Memo and the Iraq War's Buried History (2006), Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror (2004), The Road to Illegitimacy: One Reporter's Travel's Through the 2000 Florida Vote Recount (2004) and The Massacre at El Mozote: A Parable of the Cold War (1994). Danner was a longtime staff writer for The New Yorker and is a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books. He is also Professor of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley, and the James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs, Politics, and Humanities at Bard College.

Mark David Danner was born at Utica, a small city in northern New York State, on November 10, 1958, the son of Dr. Robert Danner, a dentist, and Rosalyn Sitrin Danner, a high school Spanish teacher. Raised in Utica and in the Adirondack mountains, Danner attended John F. Hughes School and Utica Free Academy, where he served as co-editor of The Corridors, which was named, his senior year, the best student newspaper in New York State. He was graduated in June 1976.

Danner entered Harvard College in September 1976. After majoring, successively, in philosophy, English literature and religion, he took his degree in Modern Literatures and Aesthetics, an interdisciplinary honors concentration that combined comparative literature, philosophy and art history. He found himself particularly marked by an individual tutorial on the development of modern fiction with Frank Kermode, then visiting Harvard as the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry, and by a class in international relations taught by Stanley Hoffmann and Guido Goldman. After spending a year traveling in Europe, Danner was graduated from Harvard College, magna cum laude, in June 1981.
In September 1981 Danner began work at the New York Review of Books as an editorial assistant to editor Robert B. Silvers. In 1984 he became senior editor at Harper's Magazine and, two years later, an editor at The New York Times Magazine, where he specialized in foreign affairs and politics and wrote pieces about nuclear weapons and about the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti. Danner joined The New Yorker's staff in April 1990, five months after the magazine published his three-part series on Haiti, "A Reporter At Large: Beyond the Mountains" -- and a few days after the articles were granted the 1990 National Magazine Award for Reporting.

At The New Yorker, Danner began contributing regular essays to the "Comment" section of the magazine, notably on the Gulf War. On December 6, 1993, for the second time in its history, The New Yorker devoted its entire issue to one article -- Danner's piece, "The Truth of El Mozote." That article, an investigation into the notorious massacre in a remote Salvadoran town, was granted an Overseas Press Club Award and a Latin American Studies Association award. In April 1994, Vintage published Danner's book, The Massacre at El Mozote: A Parable of the Cold War. The New York Times Book Review recognized The Massacre at El Mozote as one of its "Notable Books of the Year."

During the mid-1990's Danner began reporting on the wars in the Balkans, writing a series of eleven extended articles for The New York Review of Books, which began with Danner's cover piece, "The US and the Yugoslav Catastrophe" and concluded with " Kosovo: The Meaning of Victory," (New York Review, July 15, 1999). The articles were recognized by the Overseas Press Club as the "Best Reporting From Abroad of 1998." Metropolitan Books will publish an adaptation of these pieces in a volume entitled, The Saddest Story: America, the Balkans and the Post-Cold War World. Danner also co-wrote and helped produce an hour-long television documentary for ABC News's Peter Jennings Reporting series: "While America Watched: The Bosnian Tragedy," which aired on March 30, 1994 (and which was awarded an Emmy and a duPont Golden Baton). He later co-wrote and helped produce a second documentary for the same series, "House on Fire: America's Haitian Crisis," about the run-up to the United States' occupation of Haiti, which aired on July 27, 1994.

Danner's writing has appeared in Aperture, Harper's Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, The Times Book Review, and on The Times Op-Ed page. His 16,000-word essay, "Marooned in the Cold War: America, the Alliance and the Quest for a Vanished World," which appeared in World Policy Journal (Fall 1997) provoked a prolonged exchange of letters and responses from Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, Congressman Lee Hamilton, and Ambassador George F. Kennan. Danner has appeared widely on television and radio discussing international affairs, including on Charlie Rose and The MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour on PBS, CNN's PrimeNews , ABC's World News Now and C-Span's Morning Show, among many other programs.

In 1998, Danner began teaching at the University of California at Berkeley as a visiting professor at the Graduate School of Journalism and Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Human Rights. In 2000, Danner was named Professor on the faculty of the Graduate School of Journalism at Berkeley. He currently spends half his year at Berkeley, where he teaches courses on political violence, crisis management in international affairs and writing about wars and politics. In fall 2002, he became founding director of Berkeley's Goldman Forum on the Press and Foreign Affairs, leading a series of debates and discussions on foreign affairs, journalism and politics. In 2002, Danner was named Henry R. Luce Professor of Human Rights and Journalism at Bard College in the Hudson Valley of New York State and in 2007 the James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs, Politics and the Humanities. At Bard he teaches courses on literature, intellectual history, foreign affairs and politics.

Danner began writing about the war on terror soon after September 11, 2001 and later began speaking out extensively about the Iraq War, notably in a series of debates with Christopher Hitchens, Leon Wieseltier, Michael Ignatieff, David Frum, William Kristol and others. He reported on Iraq for The New York Review of Books and wrote a series of essays for The Review on the emerging torture scandal that came to be known as Abu Ghraib. In October 2004, he collected these essays and gathered them, together with a series of government documents and reports, into his book, Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror. Torture and Truth was awarded the 2004 Madeline Dane Ross Prize from the Overseas Press Club for best book on current affairs. In May 2005 Danner wrote an essay for The New York Review accompanying the first American publication of the so-called "Downing Street Memo," the leaked minutes of a July 2002 meeting of high-level British officials discussing the coming Iraq War. The essay provoked a number of responses and led to two subsequent essays, all of which were collected, along with relevant documents and a preface by New York Times columnist Frank Rich, 2006 in The Secret Way to War: the Downing Street Memo and the Iraq War's Buried History.

In March 2009, Danner published an essay in The New York Review, "US Torture: Voices from the Black Sites", which revealed the contents of a secret International Committee of the Red Cross report based on testimony from "high-value detainees" in the "War on Terror," who had been captured, held, and interrogated at secret US prisons--the so-called "black sites". Shortly thereafter, he published a second essay, "The Red Cross Report: What it Means" and released the full text of the report on the The New York Review website. Weeks later, in a move senior Administration officials claimed was prompted by the disclosure of the Red Cross material, President Obama ordered released four Justice Department memos in which the Bush administration purported "to legalize torture."

In October 2009, Danner published Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War, a large book whose title was inspired by the observation of a former Haitian president (overthrown in a military coup) that "political violence strips bare the social body, the better to place the stethoscope and track the life beneath the skin." The book contains political reporting on wars, revolutions and other forms of violence from around the world, including the aborted election in Haiti, the genocidal civil war in the Balkans, and the invasion, occupation and counterinsurgency in Iraq, along with much writing about the war on terror and the torture of detainees.
Danner's work has been honored with a National Magazine Award, three Overseas Press Awards, and an Emmy. In June 1999, Danner was named a MacArthur Fellow. In 2006 he was awarded the Carey McWilliams Award from the American Political Science Association to honor that year's "major journalistic contribution to our understanding of politics." In 2008 he was named the Marian and Andrew Heiskell Visiting Critic at the American Academy in Rome.
Danner speaks French and some Spanish. He serves on the board of the World Affairs Council of Northern California and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Pacific Council on International Policy, and the Century Association, and is a fellow of the Institute of the Humanities at New York University. Danner divides his time between San Francisco and New York.

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77 of 81 people found the following review helpful By john@vianet.com.sv on December 15, 1997
Format: Paperback
What compelled the army to decapitate infants, hang children and wipe out an entire village of 800 civilians? Why did the U.S. support a government that massacred nuns, priests, social workers and catequists? Danner's book presents in clear and undeniable form the insanity of U.S. policy in El Salvador in the 1980's. I am a U.S. priest working in El Salvador not far from El Mozote. Every day we work with survivors of the war, and see the results of the trauma still evident. Danner's book gave me a great insight into the decisions that led to the Mozote massacre, as a keyhole to the broader conflict.
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63 of 71 people found the following review helpful By edward j. santella on April 4, 2001
Format: Paperback
Mark Danner has written a marvelously researched and page-turning account of one of the larger attrocities in Central America committed by U.S. trained, supervised and funded armies. After the American War in Vietnam, the U.S. made a strategic decision to pay the locals to do our fighting. In other words, a proxy war. Lieutenant Colonel Domingo Monterrosa, the crafty, spirited and charismatic officer who commanded the Salvadoran forces at El Mozote, trained in Panama at the U.S. training installation later moved to Ft. Benning, Georgia and named the School of the Americas. Graduates of the SOA have been implicated in the murders of thousands of civilians, Archbishop Romero and American nuns and priests.
What I found most interesting, contrary to my previous opinion, is that the Ambassador and at least several American officials in San Salvador believed something terrible had happened in El Mozote. Without access to the site - it had been recaptured by the FMLN rebels - they could prove nothing. Nevertheless, they attempted to communicate their fears to Washington. Washington decided not to believe. Instead, the New York Times recalled one of the reporters who had been to the site at FMLN invitation and had seen the bodies. The story seemed unbelievable.
The story was, of course, Communist propaganda and therefore not to be believed. Well, yes, the FMLN did broadcast the story with the intent of influencing Salvadorans and Americans. It was propaganda. It was also true.
There is a parallel in U.S. history. (There may be more than one.) During the 1920's and 30's and even later, the American and European press was rife with reports of mass murders in the Soviet Union.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 9, 1997
Format: Paperback
In the early 1980s the Reagan administration engaged in all sort of efforts to convince the American people that its policies in Central America were geared towards preserving the democracy and freedom of the region's inhabitants, while at the same time preventing damage to their country's own internal security. However, Mark Danner, in his brilliant work that examines one of the darkest episodes of the conflict in Central America during that period, demonstrates that the U.S. supporters of the counterinsurgent option in countries like El Salvador, openly misled the American public as to the origins, methods, and final results of their intervention there. Throughout his well-documented effort, Danner (who himself became another unwilling victim of the Cold War - he was virtually fired from his job at the New York Times as a result of his coverage of El Mozote massacre)provides more than enough evidence that the U.S.-perfected doctrine of counterinsurgent warfare, when applied to situations such as El Salvador, can produce results of unequaled human perversity. In the name of freedom and democracy, the U.S.-trained "Atlacatl Batallion" murdered in cold blood hundreds of innocent, unarmed civilians -mostly women and children. In the meantime, Reagan and his advisors in Washington (even after convincing proof had been provided by the reporting of Danner that the massacre had indeed been carried out by U.S. allies there)cynically denied that anything had taken place. Instead, some argued that perhaps the victims of the massacre had killed themselves to embarrass the U.S and its military allies. In the end, Danner and the only survivor of the massacre - a middle aged woman - would be vindicated by history. And yet, the disturbing nature of that dark episode in the history of U.S.Read more ›
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 14, 2004
Format: Paperback
Mark Danner's short book, The Massacre at El Mozote, is an extremely powerful depiction of not only what can go wrong with US foreign policy, but of the lengths politicians will go through to convince us that what they are doing is, in fact, right. The thoroughness and integrity of Danner's investigation cannot be disputed; on top of that, he is very adept at leaving readers to draw their own conclusions. The book may be the Hiroshima of our times.
While I agree with earlier reviewers, especially the point that what appears to be propaganda should not be immediately dismissed as such, I think the real lesson of the book is that the US, as a leader in world affairs, needs to choose its "friends" very carefully. Danner's book made me realize that while the US likes to shape Latin American policy, in point of fact the powerful "Good Neighbor" to the north is often manipulated by the very regimes it seeks to control. And as citizens of this great country, we have a hard time imagining such a thing.
The butchers of the El Salvador government, trained and financed by the US, knew that they could commit whatever atrocities they wished so long as they opposed the socialist rebels. Consequently, in December 1981, they murdered 767 people at El Mozote and in surrounding villages with impunity because they understood that the political stakes were much higher in Washington once the Reagan administration had committed itself to supporting the status quo. In its frantic attempts to dispute or to ignore the details of the massacre, the Reagan administration-which liked to portray itself as hard-line-really appears as the spineless weakling in this whole affair. Truly, the "tail wagged the dog.
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