By Corey Markum
This semester I’m teaching a course on Modern Latin America that focuses on social movements and revolutions. Today I diverged from our current topic, the 1910 Mexican Revolution, to discuss “the Latin 9/11” with my students.
On September 11, 1973, twenty-eight years prior to the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, the democratically elected leftist government of Chile under President Salvador Allende was overthrown in a military coup. A military junta eventually culminated in the establishment of a right-wing dictatorship under General Augusto Pinochet. In the process and wake of the coup, an officially-estimated nearly 3,000 Chileans were killed, while tens of thousands were imprisoned, detained, and often tortured.
Notably, the United States government under President Richard Nixon, especially the CIA, played a significant role in the conditions leading up to and the execution of the coup, although how direct a role and the extent of involvement remains somewhat debated. At the very least, declassified governmental documents demonstrate that the Nixon administration was aware the coup was going to happen, had expressed approval of and desire for an overthrow as early as 1970, had ordered the CIA to engage in economic sabotage against Allende’s government, and ensured that CIA operatives in Chile not interfere with Pinochet’s revolution.
What I wanted my students to take from this discussion was twofold. First, I hope they understand the moral complexity of the U.S. nationalism generally surrounding 9/11/01. As I stated in class, we need not downplay the very real tragedy and pain of the attacks in 2001 in order to recognize and acknowledge that the United States tacitly or actively also engaged in an inexcusable attack on human lives and democratic institutions thirty years prior. Both events represent egregious and calculated attacks on democratic societies and innocent populations, and each set in process series of events leading to thousands upon thousands of additional lives lost or harmed. Second, I hope my class recognizes that nothing happens in a historical vacuum. In other words, if we sought empathy with our global southern neighbors, how might the 9/11/01 national rallying cry of “Never forget!” sound to Chilean survivors of the earlier September 11’s horrors? How might former president George W. Bush’s assertion that the world is either “with us or against us” in the wake of 9/11 ring in the consciousness of those whose world was rocked by the CIA’s participating and/or looking on as Pinochet and his allies conducted a consolidation of power through terror and torture?
September 11 should well be considered a day of mourning and remembrance. My hope for my students, and especially for myself, is that such memory and grieving be authentic, inclusive, and redemptive.
For further reading/context, I include a couple links below. In particular, the competing narratives of U.S. involvement are shown in the testimony of a former CIA agent and of Australian operatives, respectively:
The Other 9/11: A CIA Agent Remembers Chile's Coup
The Other 9/11