Lives At Stake

I think of Agenor often. We met in a refugee resettlement camp near Jalapa, on Nicaragua's northern frontier. He was barely 13 years old at the time. I later wrote about Agenor in "Marginal Notes"--the skinny kid with the tattered clothes and baseball cap who caught my eye because of the heavy rifle he carried over his shoulder.

Agenor was a member of the Nicaraguan citizen militia that defends against contra attacks and the expected U.S. invasion. He served on the night patrol because he went to school during the day. When the priest celebrating the Mass asked the children of the community to come forward first, Agenor showed typical 13-year-old hesitancy, unsure whether he was a grown-up yet or still one of the kids. He finally went forward, and I watched Agenor standing at the back of a crowd of Nicaraguan children, taking the Eucharist in his little hands with that big weight of a rifle on his back.

Now Agenor is 16 years old. When U.S. soldiers finally arrive in Nicaragua, he will be as old as they are. When I first met Agenor, Eddie was also 13. Eddie is from a poor black family in my neighborhood in inner-city Washington. Now Eddie is 16 too. If U.S. troops are sent to Nicaragua, they will probably send Eddie, who will be just about the right age.

Agenor and Eddie may well meet each other in Nicaragua. They will point their rifles at each other, and one or both will be killed. The parents of both will cry.

That's what the great East-West confrontation will come down to--the intense ideological hatred between two superpowers, the ultimate battle for freedom, our great crusade against communism--Agenor and Eddie killing each other.

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