Sunday, September 11, 2011


Chile 1973: another 9/11

On September 11, 1973, the military of the United States took part in a terrorist action that resulted in the armed overthrow of the elected government of Chile. The military government headed by Augusto Pinochet took power in Chile with the aid of the U.S. government, and during the next decades the Pinochet regime murdered and disappeared untold thousands of people who were opposed to the regime or whom the Pinochet government found inconvenient for one reason or another.

In the website of the radio show "Democracy Now!," host Amy Goodman and co-host Juan Gonzalez interview Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman, who was in Santiago, Chile, on the day of the military coup; Dorfman at the time was a cultural adviser to Chilean president Salvador Allende. Allende died during the bombing of the presidential residence by planes supplied by the U.S. military. In the interview, Dorfman -- who spent part of his childhood in New York -- reflects on the events of September 11, 1973 in Chile, and also on the events of September 11, 2001, when he was in the United States, and the long aftermath of both.

The interview with Ariel Dorfman is here.

The Democracy Now! segment continues with a discussion of some of the other significant historical events that have also taken place on September 11 in various years in India, Guatemala, and at Attica prison in upstate New York. The additional discussion is here.


The great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda died during the days following the coup in September 1973 -- he had been seriously ill with a brain tumor, and his death, at the very least, was hurried along by intentional medical neglect after the military government took power.

In the website of the Paris Review is a long interview with Neruda by Rita Guibert, from 1971. Neruda talks about all aspects of his life and work, his politics, the historical and political events in which he had taken part during his life (in particular the Civil War in Spain during the 1930's, and the presidential election campaign in Chile at the time which result in the election of Salvador Allende, whom Neruda supported); and much else.

The interview with Neruda is here.

I originally read the interview with Pablo Neruda many years ago (sometime in the mid-1970's) in the book Seven Voices, which gathers interviews Rita Guibert did with seven Latin American writers. The book appears to be out of print at present, though it may be out there if you go searching the used book websites, or ask your local used book store to do a book search.

Two other works I can recommend, also long out of print as far as I know, are Chilean Writers in Exile, edited by Fernando Alegría (published 1982 by The Crossing Press), a collection of stories and short novels by Chilean writers dealing with the 1973 coup and afterwards; and For Neruda, For Chile edited by Walter Lowenfels (published 1975 by Beacon Press), an anthology of poems written in tribute to Neruda and in response to the coup in Chile, by poets from several dozen countries around world.

And one other I really like is Clandestine in Chile by Gabriel García Márquez, published in English translation in 2010 by New York Review of Books. The book is an account (non-fiction, not a novel) of the experiences of Chilean filmmaker Miguel Littin, who in 1982 entered Chile after living abroad in exile for several years, and spent two months secretly making a documentary film about the political coup and about political and economic conditions in Chile under the Pinochet regime. Márquez wrote the book after extensively interviewing Littin about his experience making the film. The publisher's webpage for the book is here.


On September 11, 2001, I was at work in the morning when the planes flew into the World Trade Center. Sometime by mid-morning (around 10:00 or 10:30 Central time), our employer closed the office for the day -- office buildings in cities all over the United States were closing for the day -- and we left and went home.

I didn't go home immediately. I work in downtown Minneapolis. I walked a couple of blocks to the building of the local CBS T.V. station here. The station had a large T.V. in their window at street level, and a small crowd had gathered and was watching. I stopped and watched the news for a little while. It was there that I saw the video of one of the planes flying into one of the buildings. I remember one of the T.V. announcers (maybe Dan Rather) explaining, as the video played, that "this is actual video, not an animation." This comment struck me at the moment -- and again often in the days that followed -- as an interesting (and probably unintended) commentary on the nature of "news" reporting, what it has become in these years.

As I stood watching the T.V. news reports, a couple of dozen other people gathered around also watching, coming and going, I was suddenly reminded of all of those bad science fiction movies in the 1950's where Earth is being attacked by flying saucers.

Eventually I became aware that downtown was emptying of people, and I hopped on a bus and went home. After a little while I headed to a family member's house and hung out there for much of the day, checking out the news on various cable channels. As I sat and watched through the day, I began having the odd sensation that much in the news reports was becoming too scripted -- the way announcers kept saying "everything has changed, everything is different now." This has become an old long story in the years since. I could go on at length about this, but for the moment I'll just say (what should be obvious) that I've found it's a good idea not to take anything in a corporate new story as an established fact without checking into it further. What I heard that day in the news reports from CNN, NBC, CBS, etc., was the faint but unmistakeable beating of the drums of war.


A couple of other links to offer, also related to some or all of the above:

An interview with poet Martín Espada, in the website of the organization Solidarity, which describes itself as a "socialist, feminist, anti-racist organization." They've titled the interview "On 9/11 and the Politics of Language." (I can also highly recommend Espada's book of poems The Republic of Poetry published in 2006; I've written about Espada's book in this blog, here.) * The interview with Espada is here. (Thanks to poet Philip Metres in whose blog Behind the Lines I found the link to the interview.)

And, a talk given by writer in Arundhati Roy in September 2002, titled "Come September," in which she reflects on the events of the previous year, and more generally on the economic and political role of the United States in the world, and on various movements to resist the trends of corporate globalization. A transcript of her talk is here. (The page will come up as a pdf in the web browser.) * When I Googled for this item, I also saw some links to YouTube video of Roy's talk, though I haven't checked any of them.


The next day, September 12, 2011, poet Adrienne Rich was scheduled to read at the University of Minnesota. During the day I called the phone number listed for info about the reading, and reached a recording at the university English department office, informing callers (as had already been announced in the news) that all classes at the university had been cancelled for the day. The recording then said that the Adrienne Rich reading would go on as scheduled.

I went to the reading that night. It was the Ted Mann Concert Hall, a modern building on the West Bank campus (across the Mississippi River from the main campus on the east side). The building is well-designed for such events, with good accoustics and a good view of the stages in front. The reading was free, and a large crowd showed up, the place was packed.

As things got started, the person who was introducing Adrienne Rich explained that Rich had been in Kansas City the day before (the 11th) when all flights were grounded. So she hired a driver, and they drove for 13 hours through the night so she could make it to Minneapolis for the reading on the 12th.

Rich came out and read. The room was absolutely charged with the air of the events that had taken place the day before. She started by talking a little about this. Then she read poems. I don't remember, now, most of what she read -- I do remember that she read her long poem "An Atlas of the Difficult World" from the book of the same name, among others. What I remember from that evening is that there, in that room, were gathered several hundred of us who wanted something other than the fanatical saber rattling that had been blaring out from corporate news media and government press conferences during the previous 24 hours.

She read for probably 45 minutes. Copies of her book Fox (just published at the time) were on a table in the lobby. I hung around for a little bit afterwards, talked with a couple of friends. I headed out into the mild fall night and caught a bus home.

Every year since 2001, when September comes it's become commonplace for news media people to ask whoever they're talking to "Where were you on September 11?"

When I think about that question, more often than not I remember, instead, being at Adrienne Rich's poetry reading on the evening of September 12. "Only these friends hold joyous here," wrote Robert Duncan, "where the world like great Sodom lies under fear." (The poem by Duncan is "This Place Rumord to Have Been Sodom" in his book The Opening of the Field.)

Remembering back to that night, September 12, 2001, I can't think of anything else I would rather have been doing, or anywhere else I would rather have been.

Lyle - Thank you for your piece on the other 9/11. Unfortunately, what happened in Chile in 1973 has disappeared into the general state of political amnesia which is our norm. The fact that a left coalition won a general election and elected a socialist government is a story the rich do not want told. It is an example that has relevance for us here and now. I remember seeing the movie of The Battle for Chile, Littin's movie, which is quite powerful and not surprisingly is disappeared. I also remember Missing, the Costa-Gavras movie, with Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek. That also was excellent and exposes our government's role in the coup. It is too bad this is ancient history. I appreciate your writing about this. I know Dorfman was on MSNBC but it has not been covered enough. I hope all is well with you. I have relocated from Alaska to NH. Jon Baird
Jon, thanks for your comment.

I've also seen the documentary film The Battle of Chile -- a great film -- although Littin wasn't the director of that film, it was directed by Patricio Guzman.

The film Littin made clandestinely in Chile was Acta General de Chile. I haven't see it.

I did very much like the Costa-Gavras movie Missing. (I've really liked most of Costa-Gavras's films that I've seen.)

Thanks for coming by and reading. Hope all is well with you also.
strieyeah, you are right about the movies. Must be old age, turning 60! We only seem to have the dimmest idea of what goes on outside the US. During that period, the 70's, so many crimes were washed away. Operation Condor and all the people who were disappeared. There should be an accounting but i guess there never will be. I hope you keep writing. Take care. Jon
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