September Eleventh; An Agonizing Date for Both Chile and United States
Today, the eleventh of September, citizens of Chile search for ways to adequately remember the events of this day 45 years ago, in 1973.
That was the day that General Pinochet led the military coup d’etat which truncated President Salvador Allende’s attempt to lead the country further into Socialism. It is the day that brought an end to Chile’s forty-plus years of democratic government, and opened the doors to a notorious 17 year period of oppressive authoritarian military-led government which claimed several thousands of lives, and became one of the worst periods of human rights abuse in Latin America.
Today Chileans struggle to scratch their way back to a full-fledged democracy with representative rule, an independent judicial system, and an effective Executive operating within the rule of law.
In the United States, on this same day in 2001, we remember the terror of the deadly attack on the symbols of this country’s economic, military, and political power: the Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon, and probably (but unsuccessfully) the Capitol in Washington, DC. And today, like Chile, the country copes with the post 9-11 physical and psychological wounds: bruised nationalism, fears and distrust of foreigners, and endless, costly military actions waged throughout the world in pursuit of the enemy, “radical Muslim terrorists”.
Both countries changed dramatically as a result of each 9-11. The tragic killing that ensued in Chile was essentially self inflicted; Chileans turned on each other, Chileans tortured each other, and Chileans killed each other.
The death in the United States on 9-11 was inflicted by foreigners, not each other, and while United States citizens, mainly soldiers, have been killed over the years in wars and other adventures, this event on 9-11 happened right at home. It happened with a clear message of challenge from outside to the US role in the world, what the US appeared to stand for, and hatred.
So what’s going on today in Chile is inward reflection. It’s been going on for several decades, but because there was such pervasive violence, touching almost every Chilean, the impact of the coup in 1973 and the subsequent dictatorship still affects and divides Chileans and debilitates their ability to ignite again the optimism of Eduardo Frei Montalva’s “Revolución en Libertad” (for those who still remember the 60s), and for others Salvador Allende’s Unidad Popular and its “Via Chilena al Socialismo”.
After the plebiscite in 1988, Pinochet was forced to give up power a year later to a coalition of political parties which provided Chile’s first post-dictatorship, democratically elected President, Patricio Aylwin, then Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, Ricardo Lagos, Michelle Bachelet (twice) and Sebastian Piñera (twice). These presidents have managed a delicate process of broad consultation between myriad political parties across the ideological spectrum from Communist to UDI on the far right, and formation of temporary coalitions sufficiently broad to win elections but only occasionally coherent enough to govern well. The memory of the dictatorship and the threat of devolution into political chaos has seemed to keep pushing the Chilean political process in an increasingly modernizing and democratizing mode. The economy is relatively solid albeit still too dependent upon commodities, especially copper, but within Latin America is still capable of attracting foreign investment and more than its share of immigrants (a sure sign of relative economic health).
The anniversary of Chile’s 9-11 always brings to the surface the struggle between left and right, liberalism and conservatives, internationalists and nationalists. The victims of abuse by the dictatorship still clamor for justice where there has been none, information on lost loved ones that is either being withheld, lost or forgotten, and recompense for suffering. Much has been done to determine guilt, punish the guilty, and move on, but this will still take more time. With so much abuse, it will probably take another generation before the pain is reduced to simply memories.
This day also reminds us of the role the US played, and continues to play, to influence the political processes in foreign lands, like Chile. Chileans killed Chileans in 1973 and after, but the US and others had a hand in the action. The excuse that it was an unavoidable consequence of the Cold War may have some validity, but if you believe that there are no extenuating circumstances that justify the extensive abuse of human rights that the US endorsed or at least ignored in Chile in 1973, before and after, the US was at least complicit. It is common these days to hear a snicker from Chilean friends when the topic of Russian involvement in the US election process comes up. And, putting to bed the cold war argument for US involvement in Latin American affairs, the present US President seems to be inclined to get into the Venezuelan struggle via the military, an idea that most Latin Americans would soundly reject and which surely would give strength to the actual leadership in that country. No, it seems we don’t learn, do we.
So, 9-11 has passed in the US with solemn statements of “We will never bow to tyranny!”, probably meaning the US will continue to spend more money on defense and less on education, research, infrastructure, and health care. And 9-11 has passed in Chile with some acrimonious declarations of “It was all your fault”, “No, it was yours!”, but mostly a promise that “Never again!” will something like 9-1 in 1973 be allowed to happen.
I share the memories of Chile’s September 11, 1973, with Chilean family and friends, and I share the memories of the US September 11, 2001 with my compatriots. But, overriding these feelings is a 9-11 event of great personal significance, the birth of a grandson, Ryan David Joslyn, on September 11, 2003. Fifteen years old today, he knows little of Chile’s 9-11 issues, and a bit more of the US 9-11, since he lives near New York City and has been to ground zero with his family. What I hope for him, his sister, and his four Joslyn cousins, is that the irreconcilable differences that led to both 9-11 events, in Chile and in the US, will not reoccur, neither here nor there nor anywhere, and that in their lifetimes and in their children’s lifetimes, our world will be more peaceful than ours has been.
Posted on September 11, 2018, in Leesburg, Virginia.