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The Shining Path To Nowhere

Memo to War Minister: There is No Play Time in War, Bozos

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, April 23, 1997.

The Peruvian security forces, including police, army, and the personal guard of Prime Minister Fujimoto, made a rather impressive rescue of the hostages at the Japanese Embassy yesterday. Apparently, the guerrillas from the Shining Path were correct when they accused the government of digging tunnels a month or so ago, which makes the whole thing somewhat more mystifying. If the communist rebels knew there were tunnels, it makes little sense they would allow eight of their number to play soccer above them, clearly audible, leaving only six of their mates armed and guarding the hostages on the second floor of the building. But they did, and in one half hour they were all dead.

It is tempting to read more into this event than meets the eye. First, it is yet another spectacular flame out of the communist ideology that terrified the establishments of this century, which is to say, communism. Surely, the Shining Path guerrillas, and there are probably significant numbers left - in prison, anyway - must know that they are on the wrong side of history, and that the term progressive no longer refers, necessarily, to those favoring regressive taxation and excessive socialism. And they see no whiff of desperation about their acts of hostage taking in foreign embassies.

The incident also demonstrates something else: they did not kill the hostages, and in the days of automatic weapons a spray of bullets takes three seconds and no skill. They probably could have.

Third, there is something wonderful about a supposedly class and racially stratified Hispanic society, the Peru of Pizarro and the slaughter of the Inca, electing a Japanese as President and re-electing him, although given their history, electing anyone is great progress. There is also something impressive about the obvious, somewhat sentimental, patriotism of President Fujimoto. He is a politico of the first water, manipulative and somewhat slippery, with tendencies towards authoritarianism. Still, he is so obviously a Peruvian in outlook that it makes our claims of racial progress look somewhat hollow. Of course, it is not like Peru elected an Incan as President.

And here is the crux. The Shining Path, probably a quarter century old, is not without considerable justification. Peru is thuggish towards its Native Americans. It exploits its virtual peasantry. It has a criminal justice system that needs work, to say no more. It feels great attraction for foreign corporations that can profit the ruling class. All this is true and unassailable. But Peru is changing, and like most of that continent, changing quickly. And the Shining Path is fighting for ideals long invalidated by events.

But the most interesting aspect, to me, is that soccer game. Much has been made of the Stockholm syndrome, where captives - like Patty Hearse - become so engrossed with their captors they form deep emotional attachments and cease to operate in their own best interest. After a while, they identify more with the kidnappers than their previous life. It is a common observation. But here is an example of the kidnappers, the vicious Shining Path, becoming so absurdly relaxed they abandoned not only strict military procedure but even basic common sense. What is the interpretation here? Surely Che would never have allowed such frivolity, but would the revolutionaries of the early and mid century have performed such a deed of self-immolation, storming an embassy and becoming mere kidnappers? Maybe, but this taking of Japanese hostages had all the stigmata of being an attempt to release personal friends from jail, which was the non-negotiable demand of the guerillas, rather than a blow for the revolution. Such bourgeois sentiment was abhorrent to the original revolutionaries under the Red Flag, and it is hard to picture the cadres under Castro or Trotsky being caught like that. Can it be that communism, for which it is now safe to express some romantic regret, did not die in a spending war with the capitalist West but from its own internal disintegration? They produced no martyrs here, no fighting till the last bullet. They were killed playing soccer over tunnels they knew existed and chose to ignore. Metaphor alert.