Death squads sometimes drive slowly, in their four-wheel-drive American wagons with dark windows, through villages or isolated neighborhoods in broad daylight simply to remind the locals of their existence (as if they could forget), to instill terror in case they were in danger of becoming carefree, to keep them obedient in case they were feeling rebellious. Intellectually, I know that happens, yet I cannot feel the fear that a Ford Bronco with dark windows can instill by simply driving slowly past my house. If I have any fear at all when I see a four-wheel-drive vehicle cruising my neighborhood, it’s fear that the occupants will throw beer cans on my lawn. I cannot understand what it’s like to be terrified by an unexpected visit by strange men in the middle of the day. I frequently have unexpected visitors, but it has not once crossed my mind that they may be from a death squad. My greatest fear is that they are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Nor can I completely understand the terror such visitors can instill just by their presence, just their tone of voice, just the way they look at me. I cannot understand this because I don’t live in a land where people are disappeared as a matter of course, where mutilated bodies are dumped in public places to keep the population terrified and obedient.

Michael Smith, “Terror,” from Sanctuary Stories


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