WarOnaBusEl Salvador. A strange land where (in the 1980s) war remains a constant presence. As a former Green Beret soldier and as a war correspondent, I had been to such places before. But this was the first time I went to war on a “chicken bus”—one of those crowded and colorful Latino buses with about 20 people spilling out of seats and onto the roof, hanging on for their lives while inside in the aisle turkeys and chickens lay with their legs trussed.

The bus climbed out of San Salvador’s basin along narrow roads where communist guerrillas sometimes extorted “war taxes.”

Peasants in ox carts and strong brown women bearing amazing loads on their heads had grown accustomed to heavily-armed government troops trying to keep the roads open and the villages clear of terrorists. Out of a population of about five million people, 50,000 had been killed in the tiny nation’s ongoing civil war that pitted the socialist-communist philosophies of the East against the democracies of the West.

Many of the villages bore the scars of battle. “The communistas do not want peace,” a peasant farmer told me, sweeping a hand toward the mountains. “One time the communistas came to take away my cousin and make him fight for them. He did not want to go. So they shot him.”

Much of Latin America with its high illiteracy rate, unemployment, and dogged poverty, which sometimes crowds entire families into discarded packing crates, is a live well of revolutionary rhetoric and discontent. I met a man named Autberto in a rooming house where I sometimes stayed in San Salvador. He admitted he was a communist when I caught him listening to Radio Venceremos, the voice of El Salvador’s Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) broadcasting from communist Nicaragua.

There had just been a bombing in the city, a series of explosions that caused power outages. Lights flickered. Helicopters passed over.

“There is fighting again,” said the mistress of the rooming house. “The guerrillas are bombing the electricity again.”

Autberto’s face remained expressionless.

“Come,” he said the following morning. “I will show you why I am a communist.”


Charles W. Sasser, former Green Beret soldier and combat correspondent, is author of over 60 books and thousands of magazine and newspaper articles. His latest book, CRUSHING THE COLLECTIVE, is a historian’s assessment of the path of collectivism on which the United States may be bound.