The 10-year Contra war in Nicaragua is destined to become a "forgotten" conflict in American history because the United States was the aggressor nation and eventually lost, a Kansas University historian said Wednesday.
"We don't like to think that democracies start wars and are the aggressor nation," said Charles Stansifer, KU professor of history, during a University Forum on Wednesday. "And the wars we lose, we like to forget them."
Stansifer said that the United States lost the war in Nicaragua because its "surrogate" fighters, the Contras, never controlled any significiant territory within the country, were never able to unify their factions, were not popular with the people, and have little influence in the new Nicaraguan government.
"In short it was Reagan's war, and so President Reagan must be responsible for the war," he said. "Seldom is it so clear that you can point to one individual who was responsible for a conflict."
STANSIFER spoke to about 50 people on "Looking Back at the Contra War" at Ecumenical Christian Ministries, 1204 Oread.
His presentation was held in conjunction with Central America Week 1992, sponsored by Latin American Solidarity and other organizations.
Stansifer, director of Latin American studies at KU from 1975 to 1989, helped write part of an upcoming book, "Modern Prolonged Wars."
In the Nicaraguan conflict, the United States assisted thousands of counterrevolutionary, or Contra, guerrillas who fought the leftist Sandanista government that was in power in Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.
The Contras, operating from countries which bordered Nicaragua, received millions of dollars in military aid and training from the United States, Stansifer said.
He said the Contra war probably was "the most destructive war in Central American history."
"THE DEGREE of destruction was such that it deserves to be called a war," he said. Stansifer said about 30,000 lives were lost and thousands of people were injured or orphaned.
Stansifer said he does not fully understand why the war was fought or why the Reagan administration thought the Sandanista government was a threat.
"I still cannot see Nicaragua as a threat to the United States," he said. "I do believe I understand the fear of communism this fear is real and it does lead to extremism."
Stansifer, who has traveled to Nicaragua 14 times, said a Cuba-like communist state never existed there.
He said the formation of such a state was possible, but unlikely during the 1980s.
STANSIFER said the Contra war is "a truly sordid issue in American history," adding that many questions about the role of U.S. Army Reserve units and Central American leaders in the region, remain unanswered.
"Although we can't understand the Contra war, at least we can study the details and hope it doesn't happen again," he said.