Today marks the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. As awful as that day was, I will reflect also on another awful anniversary the world…at least some of the world…remembers today. That is, the September 11, 1973 coup d’état staged against Salvador Allende, Chile’s first democratically-elected president, with the backing of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
Allende, a leftist and the first Marxist ever to be elected president of a democracy, refused to leave the presidential palace in the midst of bombing by General Augusto Pinchoet’s forces. He gave a live farewell radio address and then reportedly shot himself as Pinochet’s troops approached. I find it odd that Pinochet’s dictatorship lasted seventeen years. As I reflect on the horrors that have taken place on September 11, I realize that seventeen years have elapsed since the horror and chaos of the attacks on the U.S. In a sense, our country has since that time been living in an environment in which, like Chile, our freedoms were greatly reduced in the name of “protecting” us from those who would do us harm. It’s not just long lines and baggage searches that remind us of what September 11, 2001 did to our lives, it’s the growing fear among many that we must keep everyone not like “us” out of our country, as if “us” can be defined in any rational way.
According to Chilean government accounts, almost 3,200 people died or disappeared in political violence and about 28,000 others were tortured between 1973 and 1990, during Pinochet’s dictatorship. And almost 3,000 people died on September 11, 2001 as a result of the planes crashing into the twin towers, the Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania field. Both events led to long periods of chaos and confusion. I suppose one can legitimately argue that, in both cases, the chaos and confusion continues.
Significant aspects of the 2001 terror attacks were broadcast, live, on television. As such, there’s more “footage” and more sensational graphics available for remembrances than the event in Chile. The September 1973 coup, which occurred less than three months after an attempted coup in late June, was supported by the U.S., so perhaps a more vocal and visual expression of regret in this country about the Chilean event would be inappropriate; one doesn’t express regret at the death of those one helps willfully murder, does one?
Today, as the madman in the White House goes about his chaotic self-aggrandizement ceremonies, I have to wonder whether he deserves at least acknowledgement for his honesty (in spite of his voluminous spray of lies) about his motives? Past administrations have lied about both motives and actions while steadfastly maintaining decorum that befits civilized society. Where is this leading? Nowhere. I’m just expressing remorse that we live in a world in which decency in public life and among public persons is so rare.
It would behoove us to remember September 11, 1973 even as we mourn our own losses on September 11, 2001. We ought to remind ourselves that we have much to mourn, both lost lives and lost innocence.