Monday, September 11, 2006

Remembering September 11

Thirty-three years ago today, the Chilean armed forces rose up against the popularly-elected government of Salvador Allende. As inflation skyrocketed under Allende (thanks in no small part to upper-class distributors preventing goods from reaching the market, leading to a fierce black market that affected all), and as protests between middle- and upper-class sectors against Allende and workers and leftists supporting Allende became increasingly confrontational, the military, led by the heads of the four branches (which included Augusto Pinochet) decided Allende had to go for teh security and well-being of the nation. Thus, on September 11, 1973, the air force began dropping bombs on La Moneda, the presidential house, and armed forces fought a gunbattle with Allende supporters. Knowing what fate held for him, Allende took his own life with a gun he'd received from Fidel Castro, and by the end of the day, martial law was in effect, there was a mandatory curfew, and Chile's military, with Pinochet at its head, installed what would become a 17-year dictatorship.

Beginning on September 11, the Chilean state killed more than 3,000 people during that dictatorship, with most of those deaths coming in the first five years (1973-1978) as the military clamped down on "leftist threats." The military state tortured thousands more, and tens of thousands were directly affected through the loss of loved ones and friends, as well as having to learn to deal with those family members who were affected by torture. Many of the dead were "disappeared", and even today, thousands of elderly mothers and siblings do not know what happened to their loved ones.

Even today, the country is torn. While Pinochet has lost support among even many of his staunchest supporters due to embezzlement that netted his family millions of dollars in the 1970s and 1980s, the issue continues to tear the nation. He has been stripped of immunity, but remains under house arrest, and will likely never see trial. Many human rights sectors are divided over how to deal with him and his legacy. Many families still don't know what happened to their loved ones or where their bodies rest. The government is torn over trying to properly remember the horrors of Pinochet's government while also attempting to move on.

Today, Americans will act like their own September 11 is the only one, completely unaware of the legacy of 9/11 in other parts of the world. Yet the ORIGINAL "September 11" bears much that we can learn from. First of all, while the total deaths in Chile and the U.S. are similar, the fact remains that Chile's own state launched a campaign of mass murder against its own citizens. Outsiders did not do the deed. What is more, we condemn the use of torture against thousands and thousands of Chileans today, and have a full view of how devastating the methods and the effects of torture are, yet the U.S. government refuses to acknowledge this openly, continuing to use torture in offshore sites while continuing to insist we aren't torturing. Unfortunately, in world history, this is nothing new.

What we can also learn is how the fact that people were willing to attack the U.S. on its own soil should have been anything but surprising. Recently, news stories over an ABC film on Vietnam have commented on the notion that the second 9/11 was the Clinton administration's fault. But if we're to seek blame for an attack on American soil, you can't put it on any one administration, or any one person. It rests in our policies dating back for dozens of years.

During the corrupt Nixon administration, NSA Advisor Henry Kissinger and others openly sought to undermine the Allende administration in Chile, proclaiming it's danger as "Communist." The U.S. government failed in its efforts to cause counter-revolution in Chile with its assassination of General Schneider after Allende's 1970 election, but we openly supported the Pinochet government practically before it was even in office, and allegations (probably true) of CIA agents in Chile leading up to 1970 still taint our involvement. What is more, Chile was not an isolated incident - Kissinger, now as Secretary of State, also supported openly the Argentine military coup of 1976. While Kissinger refutes he had any role, recently de-classified documents reveal him telling leaders in April of 1976, immediately after they had assumed power, to "do whatever was necessary" to combat the leftist threat in their country, and the U.S. would support them any way they could. Kissinger sought to continue a long legacy of the U.S. working on building nations in the way the U.S. felt appropriate in Latin America. The Argentine military proceeded to kill an estimated 30,000 of its own people over the next 7 years.

Nor does South merica stand alone in revealing our appaling foreign policy. In the Caribbean, the U.S. passed the Platt Amendment in 1901, guaranteeing that we could intervene when we felt things weren't "going right" in Cuba, and we continued to support dictators like Fulgencio Batista in Cuba, and the Somoza family in Nicaragua, until their people openly rebelled. And let's not forget our continued support of Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam until 1963, by which point it was too late. Whether the Vietnam War could have been prevented is a uesless debate, but it remains undeniable that the U.S., in its insistence on building nation-states the way the U.S. patronizingly saw fit while refusing other countries' autonomy, certainly impacted the divisivenes of the war in Vietnam. While we're at it, let's also not forget that, when we decided that the Shah of Iran no longer ran a country that was satisfactory to the U.S.'s liking, a CIA plane flew the Ayatollah Khomeini into Iran so he could build a "proper" Iran. And while Saddam Hussein was certainly not the finest of leaders by any stretch of the imagination, we are witnessing once again the hubris of the United States as Iraq is immersed in a civil war, all because we felt we could make Iraq a nation-state better than the Iraqis themselves could.

The U.S.'s foreign policy for more than 100 years has been miserable overall. We continue to insist on supporting and installing governments that are openly to our exploitative interests and likings, and oftentimes, when a nation decides to express autonomy and self-governance for a majority, we step in and remove that government through means, economic and political and military, covert and overt, that continues repression and denies people a popular voice. To blame one person, or one administration, is stupid and futile. Indeed, popular American ignorance to the events cited above raises hatred for this country as much as anything else.

This post has perhaps taken more of a U.S.-centered approach than I'd initially hoped. However, the lessons remain important, indeed, vital, let us not forget Chile and dozens of other countries where our actions, either directly through involvement or indirectly through policies and support, have suffered.

On this, the fifth anniversary of the United States's 9/11, pause and reflect on Chile's 9/11, on the more than 3,000 dead at the hands of their own state, the thousands of tortured, and the effects that Chileans everywhere still feel today, 33 years later.