Gen. Augusto Pinochet, dead at 91.
My family and I lived in in Viña del Mar, Chile during the year 1969, and many of my earliest memories are set in our house and nearby. I recall playing outside in the wintry June air and various details of life in Chile in those days, details that reveal much about Chile’s heritage, distinct from the rest of Latin America due to British economic support from the country’s earliest days. France also played an important role in the country’s self-definition, and I well recall French-style blue-and-white enamelware street signs in the neighborhood around my preschool.
My father has related stories of the radicalized environment in which he taught business at a Chilean university that year. He was repeatedly hassled by activist students whose principal strategy was to disrupt his classes but shouting or otherwise making discourse impossible. He relates his attempts to reach out and communicate with these folks, concluding with regret that he was never able to make a personal connection.
A couple of my most important early memories take place in Chile. In one, during the lead-in to the American moon landing, a fancy department store in the center of the large town we lived near to (Valparaiso, I beleive) mounted an elaborate series of window displays depicting fanciful interpretations of the moon landing at 1/3 scale. I was so deeply fascinated by the displays that I insisted on requesting one of the 3-foot-tall cardboard-and-styrofoam silver-spraypainted astronauts. This artifact remained with me until I was about 16 or 17 years of age.
Directly related to this, what I long considered to be my very first memory took place in Chile. In July, 1969, the first moon landing was broadcast worldwide. My parents awakened me in what I recall as the middle of the night, and we watched the events on our portable 12-inch black-and-white Sylvania television, a TV I took with me when I left home and was very sad to lose when it quit working sometime in the mid eighties.
When the coup occurred in 1973, it was in the wake of the extraordinarily divisive 1972 Presidential election which eventually spawned Watergate. I was stunned and disturbed that an election could be undone by military action, and as it became clear that the US had lent direct support to the coup, my first-grade sense of justice was deeply disturbed. In subsequent months, as Watergate unfolded, my trust in the world – not just the world of adults, but the world itself, the whole idea of life – was more-or-less destroyed, and since then, I have lived with a world view that mistrusts expressions of absolute ethicality or actions taken based upon the concept of rights.
As subsequent events in Chile came to light, I became more and more disturbed. The introduction of torture and extra-judicial killings to the apparatus of government were apparent to me by the time I was in third grade, and I quickly learned how inadvisable it is to point out how deeply the US has been involved in the tactical and strategic re-introduction of such practices in the service of the quest for global dominance.
Augusto Pinochet, with the collusion of my native country, chose to strip a certain innocence away from my toddler self, despite my fortunate position nestled deep in the heart if the international middle class.
Initially, I let loose with some profane sentiments regarding the decedent as I wrote this. I chose Pinochet as the symbol of a sense of personal betrayal, and certainly his actions merit censure and punishment. But he’s dead. So instead may I offer my condolences, albeit very angry ones, and my sincere wishes that the general shall rest in peace.