To the Editor:
An otherwise brilliant issue was sadly sullied by the inclusion of the non-eyewitness account of the student-police riots in Mexico City, written by Brian Glanville [“A Memory of Mexico,” March] . . .
After his confession (“I missed it all”), which was darling in its naiveté commendable in its frankness, and shocking in its implications, I was about to pass on to the next item in my cover-to-cover progress through the magazine, when my curiosity impelled me to read on to see how Mr. Glanville would report his unobserved details of this fear-panic-confusion-and-prejudice-charged tragedy. There followed an almost unrelieved succession of equivocal comments.
After speaking of flares which, “students said,” were dropped from one of two helicopters, Mr. Glanville writes, “The first shots, they thought, had also come from the helicopters.” (The emphasis here and elsewhere is mine.)
Next, a Mexico City cab driver attests to the honesty of ¿Por Qué?, “the one journal of opposition” in Mexico—testimony that should be accepted without question, since everyone knows Mexico City cabbies are second only to those of Tijuana as reliable sources of information on public affairs.
Describing windows “dotted with bullet holes” at the Colegio de Mejico, the report reveals that “gunmen, obviously professional, had raked the place with crossfire, using dumdum bullets.” Mr. Glanville doesn’t say how he concluded the shooting was the work of pros, but he probably assumed it would take a professional to hit the broadside of a window shooting crosswise, and, of course, only professionals would use dumdum bullets for that kind of a job. Dumdum professionals, no doubt.
Of the shooting in the Plaza, we read: “There had been snipers on the balcony, but they had almost certainly been government agents. . . .” While snipers were firing from the balcony (government agents maybe) and troops were shooting and bayoneting on the ground, “Other agents, wearing white gloves on their left hands for identification, were interspersed among the crowd.” None of these agents provocateurs appears to have been injured in the melee, probably because of the talismanic effect of the magic white gloves in deflecting bullets and bayonets—so long as these Mexican Kamikazes held their left hands up good and high.
There were several other less-than-positive statements:
From that point, the bodies were taken away by the military and allegedly burned. . . .
The reason . . . for the massacre seemed to lie in the vindictive character of President Diaz Ordaz.
The defiance of the students, we heard, was something he had taken bitterly to heart. . . .
. . . it was probable that the generals were by no means averse to the massacre. . . .
“Stories were circulating of foreign correspondents being beaten up. . . .” and “. . . of whiskey being forced down their throats to make them appear drunk and disorderly. . . .”
Later “it was heard” that students who confessed were “allegedly” beaten and tortured.
But, finally, a faintly redeeming note: “What distinguished and . . . invalidated these confessions was—like the government’s own pronouncements—their ingenuous silliness. . . .”
How ingenuously silly can one get?
H. T. Rowe
Ridgewood, New Jersey
Mr. Glanville writes:
The fact that I was not in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas on the night of the massacre did not prevent me from carefully reconstructing what had happened, in situ, over the next three weeks. If certain statements seem “less than positive,” there are two good reasons. First, I was and am not prepared to jeopardize the safety of those who gave me information; a precaution at which it is easier to sneer from the comfort of Ridgewood, N. J., than in Mexico City. Secondly, because it is not my habit to state as fact what I have not seen for myself, however good my sources.
To take the Mexican cab driver’s remark on ¿Por Que? out of context is simply cheap; it was quoted merely as an indication of the way the magazine is popularly regarded. I myself am perfectly satisfied that the bodies were burned, that the students were tortured, that the President did resent the students’ defiance, but I could scarcely be present in Campo Militar Number 1, in the prisons, or in the Presidential Palace at the relevant times.
On the other hand, there is no question that the security agents wore a glove on the left hand, for several of them invaded the balcony from which the student leaders were speaking, and were observed by journalists, such as Mr. Rodda, of the Guardian. The opinion that the crossfire of dumdum bullets which raked the windows of the Colegio de Mejico was the work of professionals was held by a senior official of the college, who based his view on the extreme precision of the fire, and its minimal duration. The dropping of flares by the helicopters was far too generally observed to be denied, while the circumstances of the hitherto peaceful meeting do strongly suggest that the snipers on the balcony were government agents. Again, this could not be proved beyond doubt; even if one had, as Mr. Rowe preferred, been an eyewitness.
How ingenuously perverse can one get?