Joan Kruckewitt of Mountain View, a reporter in Nicaragua for ABC radio stations from 1983 to 1991, has written a book called "The Death of Ben Linder: The Story of a North American in Sandinista Nicaragua" (Seven Stories Press, 1999).
She tells the story of an idealistic young engineer from Portland, Ore., who lived and worked in Nicaragua during the country's civil war. He was shot in 1987, by members of the U.S.-backed Contras, the first North American to be killed in that conflict.
(A Davis-related footnote: Davis nurse Ann Souter, who worked in Nicaragua for several years, was called upon to dress Linder's body. Several Davis-area people with connections to Nicaragua attended a reading by Kruckewitt at The Avid Reader in July.)
"The Nicaraguan experience dramatically changed my outlook on life," said Kruckewitt. "It expanded my world view. It taught me that life is frail, and can be snuffed out at any time, and therefore that friends and family are precious, and should be cherished during this moment.
"The Nicaraguan experience taught me that life is not fair, but one can strive to make it more fair. It taught me that people and ideals are fallible, and can be sidetracked by power, ambition and/or money. Therefore, I admire people who have ideals, and who maintain their moral integrity, " she said.
Ben Linder was a man who maintained his moral integrity. Leaving the comfort of his upper-middle-class American home, he moved to a Third World country in 1983 at age 23 and enthusiastically threw himself into not only learning the language but embracing the culture.
Linder's serious hobby was clowning. He juggled, rode a unicycle and clowned for the children of Managua and rural Nicaragua bringing them a joyful spectacle that many had never before seen.
He also worked hard to bring a small hydro-electric plant to life in the rural village of El Cua and provide the village electricity. Many international workers had come to the impoverished village, but after a few weeks or months had grown discouraged and disillusioned, or realized they didn't have the required skills, and went home. Linder stuck to the task.
Kruckewitt, who met Linder several times, said he shared his gifts and opportunities with those less fortunate.
"The Nicaraguan experience allowed me to better understand poverty, ignorance, and lack of education and opportunity, and how these things can grind a person down in life so there is no escaping from them. It has made me value education," she said, reflecting on the lessons she learned.
"And it has given me hope that as long as people like Ben Linder exist, there is a chance for social justice in the world, " she added.
And because she's a good reporter, Kruckewitt is able to make Linder's story immediately accessible to those who have never been to Nicaragua. In her book, she describes in compelling terms the heat, the mud, the food, the danger and the loneliness Linder faced.
For documentation, she relied on Ben's letters home to his family and girlfriend, interviews with his friends and co-workers, and her own experiences.
Inevitably, there also is a political element to her book. Today, Kruckewitt is less likely than she was 10 years ago to extol the virtues of the Sandinistas. But she still appreciates the excitement and passion that moved 100,000 "internationalistas," North Americans and others, to come to Nicaragua in the 1980s, and still condemns the role the United States played.
"From the Nicaraguan experience, the U.S. should have learned to pursue peaceful options instead of jumping to military options," she said recently.
"Under the Reagan administration, Washington engaged in a smokescreen of negotiations, which were never sincere or real. U.S. diplomats were used as stooges; they were given no power. Meanwhile, secretly (and later openly), Washington fomented war," she added.
"The U.S. turned Honduras into a puppet nation that was a staging ground from which to launch wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Our tax dollars were used for massive corruption in Honduras, to create death squads, to buy weapons, to fund CIA games, and to cause death and destruction throughout Central America.
"From the Nicaraguan experience, our government should have learned to use our tax dollars for constructive purposes, and not destructive purposes. However, unfortunately, those lessons have not been learned. As demonstrated in this past decade, the U.S. again too quickly leapt to a military solution without seriously exploring peaceful solutions," she added.
This book can be ordered from a local bookstore or, for an autographed copy, send a check for $22 (includes shipping) to P.O. Box 413, Belmont, CA 94002.
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