An odyssey in the long quest for justice

Book Review

Disturbing the Peace: The Story of Father Roy Bourgeois and the Movement to Close the School of the Americas By James Hodge and Linda Cooper Forward by Martin Sheen Orbis Books, 2004 Softcover, 224 pp., $20.00



In “Disturbing the Peace: The Story of Father Roy Bourgeois and the Movement to Close the School of the Americas,” James Hodge and Linda Cooper take us along on Bourgeois’ personal journey.

The School of the Americas (SOA), renamed the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation” in 2001, is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers located at Fort Benning, Ga.

Initially established in Panama in 1946, it was kicked out of that country in 1984 under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty. Former Panamanian President Jorge Illueca said that the School of the Americas was the “biggest base for destabilization in Latin America.” The SOA, frequently dubbed the “School of Assassins,” has left a trail of blood and suffering in every country where its graduates have returned.

The book opens as Bourgeois, Father Larry Rosebaugh and Sister Linda Ventimiglia, masquerading as army personnel, break into SOA headquarters.

They not only managed to gain access to the SOA offices but also to smuggle in sound equipment that enabled them to play the last homily of slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. SOA-trained assassins gunned down Archbishop Romero in 1980.

The three protesters were eventually discovered. When found, Bourgeois was in a tree with the sound equipment. Although the Army was finally able to stop him from playing the tape, Bourgeois continued to shout the remainder of the homily in Spanish.

Bourgeois’ personal journey started in the killing fields of Vietnam where he met a priest who ran an orphanage. Working with the orphans, Bourgeois began to see the ravages of war and its effect on the poor — victims on two fronts.

Bourgeois joined the Maryknoll Fathers, a missionary order of the Roman Catholic Church. Once there, he was sent to Bolivia to minister to the poor. Once he heard their cry, there was no turning back for this courageous man.

The more he learned about U.S involvement in Latin America, the more compelled he was to “whistle-blow.” As his conscience was pricked he was compelled to act.

Bourgeois co-produced a documentary titled “Gods of Metal” with Father Paul Newpower that was nominated for an Academy Award. The documentary exposed the evils of President Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” program. The film contrasted the trillions of dollars spent on war with the little for books and bread.

Bourgeois eventually joined the Trappist order. There he found the quietude of Trappist life helped him to clarify his own personal feelings, but he became even more convinced that he must act and returned to the missionary life.

He realized he was committed to working for the poor and the neglected as well as doing all in his power to protest the work of the SOA and to end the U.S. involvement with instigating wars in Latin America and throughout the world.

The book brings us to the present day, where we have George W. Bush in the White House and a bloated military budget that is once again causing instability and wholesale devastation.

This is a gripping account that shows one man’s gradual transformation from war to nonviolence, and from nonviolence to passive resistance and active suffering. It is also a compelling story of courage and passion of a man to close a school whose sole purpose is to train death squads and assassins in Latin America and possibly elsewhere. This book forces us to open our eyes and see what our government is doing with our tax dollars and in our names.

The author can be reached at mreale@cpusa.org.