When Benjamin Linder graduated in mechanical engineering from the University of Washington in 1983, he had no intention of becoming a “yuppie,” the popular eighties term for a young urban professional pursuing consumer gratification, so he declined opportunities to work for Boeing or any other military contractor. As revolution swept the Central American isthmus, Linder admired the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which in 1979 overthrew a Nicaraguan dictatorship supported for decades by the United States. Nicaragua seemed to be forging a revolution of a new type: pluralistic, democratic, favoring neither total state control nor free market, and led collectively rather than by a strongman caudillo. “We have not reproduced the sociopolitical mechanisms of the United States or the Soviet Union,” a Sandinista leader told Playboy in 1983. “We're not following any form. What we are doing is seeking a profound solution. To what? To the poverty of this country.”
Linder moved to Managua, Nicaragua's capital city, as one of the first of tens of thousands of American internacionalistas – analogous to the brigadistas of 1930s Spain, although in developmental rather than combat roles. North American visitors were sponsored by groups in the United States such as the Nicaragua Network, whose volunteers joined in coffee harvests; TecNica, which sent welders, lathe operators, and computer programmers; and the Quixote Center, a Roman Catholic relief organization. Thousands of co-operantes, most in their twenties, had long-term stays as teachers, doctors, nurses, veterinarians, and architects. American conservatives labeled them traitors, but the United States was not officially at war with Nicaragua even if Reagan accused the Sandinistas of trying to establish a “Soviet beachhead” while the CIA covertly armed the contras, the bands of counterrevolutionaries whose core came from the former dictatorship's National Guard.
Ben Linder was more radical geek than radical chic. Short, skinny, his beard a scraggly red, and never without a pen in his pocket, he did not fit reporters' image of the “Sandalista,” a frivolous, Birkenstock-wearing revolutionary tourist. One friend described Linder as “wry about the country's problems and the revolution's shortcomings, unlike other starry-eyed, dogmatic internationalists.” Unable at first to find work as an engineer, he juggled, clowned, and acted the part of Uncle Sam in street theatre. “I go to some godforsaken country to save the world with my newly acquired skills,” he wrote his parents. “And what happens?