"The Jewish people as a whole will be its own Messiah. It will attain world domination by the dissolution of other races...and by the establishment of a world republic in which everywhere the Jews will exercise the privilege of citizenship. In this New World Order the Children of Israel...will furnish all the leaders without encountering opposition..." (Karl Marx in a letter to Baruch Levy, quoted in Review de Paris, June 1, 1928, p. 574)

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Remembering the other 9/11


By Antonio Castillo

Historical memory is fragile and selective. And so I try to excuse the fact that the other 9/11 didn't even make it into our news daily's filler.

Not a single expression of grief for Chile's 9/11, when a criminal, US-backed military coup deposed the democratically elected Socialist government of President Salvador Allende, on 11 September 1973.

At least the thousands of those who survived Chile's 9/11 — myself included — didn't have to stomach the phoney sombre Australian journalists remembering, live from New York, 'the day the world stood still'; or the sight of a former Prime Minister crossing the Brooklyn bridge clad an ACB tracksuit, expressing sorrow on behalf of the Australian nation. 'It's still one of those moments in my life that I'll never forget,' the former Prime Minister solemnly declared.

Chile's 9/11 is one of those moments that I'll never forget either. How can I forget La Moneda, Chile's government palace and the symbol of the most lasting democratic system in the world, engulfed by flames after been bombarded by Hawker Hunter jet fighters. These were not murdering jihadists, but Chilean pilots executing Washington's international terrorist act.

We are still waiting for the United States' admission of guilt. No US government has ever recognised its involvement in Chile's 9/11.

As I revised some of my notes this week for a university lecture I came across the handwritten memo, taken by former CIA director Richard Helms, which records the orders of US President Richard Nixon to foster a coup in Chile.

'1 in 10 chance perhaps, but save Chile!; worth spending; not concerned; no involvement of embassy; $10,000,00 available, more if necessary; full-time job-best men we have; game plan; make the economy scream; 48 hours for plan of action. This presidential directive initiates major covert operations to block Allende's ascension to office, and promote a coup in Chile.'

This memo goes back to 15 September 1970. How terrifyingly efficient all of this was. In three years, Allende's Chilean peaceful road to socialism was over, as was Chile's democracy.

The military coup of 9/11 left an indelible mark on Chilean life. That September had an auspicious beginning for my own family. My sister Marcela was born on 1 September.

The first day of September was traditionally the beginning of el mes de la patria (the month of the motherland) and marked the beginning of spring. It is a windy month and the clear skies are decorated with colourful kites.

September was traditionally a month of celebration — a month that marks Chile's independence from colonial Spanish rule in 1810. Up until 1973, September was a month of unity. The coup ended all of that. September has never regained that sense of national unity and celebration. Now it is a month when we remember our fallen.

The coup submerged Chile into the darkest period of its history. Thousands were murdered and many others became desaparecidos (missing people). Torture became a terrifying prospect and exile — borrowing Milan Kundera's remark — amputated the life of thousands of Chileans.

I remember as if it were yesterday the day that General Pinochet's dictatorship began. As a young kid, I was out playing street football with my best friend Guille, when my mother shouted to me to get inside immediately: 'Allende has been killed.' He had died inside of La Moneda.

Despite my mother's caution, there was a sense of calm in our sleepy town in the north of Chile. Santiago, the capital city and the epicentre of the coup, was a long way from our home.

Soon we realised that the brutality of the armed forces would reach us too. On 13 September, my father did not come home from work. He had been arrested, and his workplace — a nido de comunistas (nest of communists) for the new authorities — became a military concentration camp, where the cancer marxista (Marxist cancer) would be extirpated. My father survived. Many of my friends' fathers or mothers didn't.

Chile's 9/11 reminds me that I am a product of a defeated political and social project. Last week I told one of my students — who was grieving her own defeat in the Australian elections — 'Your political defeat was at least a result of democratic means.' Mine wasn't.

I am one of the children of the dictatorship; the generation who lived most of their formative years under Pinochet's brutal rule. As a school student — and then at university — we were more concerned with the next resistance campaign than submitting assignments.

Later on, our professional careers were put on hold. As the doors of the media were firmly closed, we developed alternative ways to communicate, educate and re-socialise Chileans about the democratic values and norms we aspired to. Revista Periferia (Periphery Magazine) and Radio Umbral (Umbral Radio) became our main tools of resistance and struggle.

And yes, we considered other means of struggle too; until we realised that it was a foolish idea — a military defeat of the US-trained and -equipped Chilean army was impossible.

Journalist Robert Fisk says any story has victims and perpetrators. On 11 September 2001, the US was the victim of a terrible crime. Twenty-eight years earlier, on 11 September 1973, the US was the perpetrator of a terrible crime in Chile.

More than two decades have passed since Chile finally recovered its democracy, in 1989. And today while I remember Chile's 9/11, a fragment of Pablo Neruda's 'Sonnet 20' flies to my mind — 'nosotros, los de entonces, ya no somos los mismos (us, the we of then, are no longer the same)'.

It is true, we have changed, but we have not forgotten that event that changed our lives forever.

Antonio Castillo is a journalist and lecturer in media and communications at the University of Sydney. His latest book, Journalism in the Chilean Transition to Democracy, was published last year. He is currently researching a book on journalists, exile and memory.



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