Memories of Violence in the Salvadoran Civil War

Comparing the Memoirs of Civilian Elites and Former Military Officers
  • Erik Ching


El Salvador’s civil war (1980–1992) was a long and brutal episode that has left an indelible scar on the nation’s psyche. No civil conflict in the latter half of twentieth-century Latin America, perhaps with the exception of Guatemala’s, resulted in a higher per-capita casualty rate than El Salvador’s, particularly during the first three years of the war. Salvadorans have dealt with this history of violence in diverse ways; some want to remember; others are anxious to forget. Those who wish to forget have been emboldened by a blanket amnesty law passed by the conservative ARENA government in the immediate aftermath of the war. That law, combined with the absence of a formal truth-and-reconciliation process, has left the issue of remembrance and forgetting to the marketplace of ideas, where Salvadorans have been injecting their memories of the war into the unregulated public sphere in a discursive battle for legitimacy. The goal of the present chapter is to explore the ways in which two particular “memory communities,” former military officers and civilian elites, have negotiated their recollections of that violence in the public sphere through the medium of their published life stories (memoirs). The chapter shows that certain people’s will to forget, and the often convoluted narrative strategies they employ to do so, are continually challenged by other people’s will to remember. The outcome is an ongoing narrative battle that reveals an unprecedented openness in Salvadoran society, but also an unsatisfying void of consensus that may be contributing to the surge in violence since the war’s end.


Public Sphere Life Story Military Officer Military Government Memory Community 
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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erik Ching
    • 1
  1. 1.History Department, Furman UniversityGreenvilleUSA

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