Two Septembers

by Chris Bertram on September 11, 2003

I was not surprised that the newspaper which carried a column including the lines “A bully with a bloody nose is still a bully” in the aftermath of September 11th 2001, should head its comment page two years on with a reference to September 11th 1973. The message the Guardian thereby seeks to convey is that what happened in New York two years ago is nothing special, and has to be seen in the context of US responsibility for other crimes against humanity.

After September 11th 2001, I was, like many other people, disgusted by the various statements made in the Guardian, New Statesman, London Review of Books and elsewhere, to the effect that the victims somehow got what they deserved, shouldn’t really be considered innocent and so on. I said so at the time, and then later on my blog, Junius, and then in a paper I wrote on the war in Afghanistan. When, as liberal or a leftist, you make such points, you get a good deal of approbation from the conservative and libertarian parts of the blogosphere. The sentiment being “joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” It is nice to be praised, to be considered part of the “decent left” and a “non-idiotarian”. While I may flatter myself that I’m not especially susceptible to flattery, I know that I’m not exactly immune to it either.

I don’t want to take back one word of what I’ve written about September 11th 2001. I feel just as repelled by the Pilgers, Pinters and Alis today as I did then. Their world view is not mine. But I also, remembering September 11th 1973, feel somewhat dirtied by some of the praise I received from the right-hand-side of the blogosphere. I’ve read recently a certain amount of blogospheric comment on Chile, often highly critical of the Allende regime. I don’t have the knowledge or the expertise to evaluate Allende’s economic policies, and I’m sure that many of his political choices were wrong or unwise. But no explanation of the context, and not examination of the “root causes” of the Pinochet coup can justify or excuse the

3,197 cases of victims of ‘disappearances’, extrajudicial execution and death resulting from torture under military rule. [A] figure that does not include the thousands of victims of torture who survived their ordeal. (Amnesty)

There can be a “decent left”, that sees September 11th 2001 as the crime against humanity that it was, a crime that no amount of context or explanation can excuse or mitigate. But I’d rather not be told how decent I am by anyone disposed to excuse September 11th 1973 and its aftermath.

{ 91 comments }

1

Scott Martens 09.11.03 at 11:15 am

Chris, let me turn this 1973 vs. 2001 case around.

In 1990, Chile finally had an elected government, ending the Pinochet regime. Had it been within their power, and had the Chilean government wished it, would they have been justified in demanding that Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George Bush – just to name those who played visible roles in sustaining the Pinochet regime – be turned over to Chilean authorities for trial, with the ultimatim that they would conduct a war against the United States if this demand was not met? In this contrafactual world I’m describing, they would have a decent chance of killing a great many Americans by conducting such a war.

I’m not sure if I can answer that question in the affirmative, but I’m sure that whatever my answer is, it’s the same one that I have for Afghanistan. I agree with you entirely that it was horrifying to see people – some of whom I actually had some respect for – saying such inane things about 9/11. There is, of course, a double standard in the way America’s actions and those of its allies are treated when compared to other nations. A double standard is not a justification for the commission of horrible acts. Just because OJ can get away with killing his wife doesn’t mean we all can.

But, there need to be voices pointing out that there is a double standard, and this is especially true now, when both the US and its enemies claim to be fighting a holy war. And, I am glad to see the Guardian taking up that role, however futile it is likely to be.

2

Andrew Coates 09.11.03 at 11:16 am

I don’t think your reaction to September the 11th was untypical on the left. Many leftists were profoundly shocked and felt deep moral solidarity with the victims. Chartist magazine carried pieces in this vein. On his Blog Norman Geras has put it well: that instead of saying “I condemn this…..BUT…” the important point to make was ‘condemn’, without any ‘buts’.

Would that the Right had that moral seriousness towards atrocities carried out by their side (the Other September 11th in Chile).

Andrew Coates

3

Andrew Coates 09.11.03 at 11:17 am

The line above should read “not untypical of leftists”!

4

Chris 09.11.03 at 11:44 am

I wouldn’t want to say _that_, exactly Andrew, because I wouldn’t want to treat the Right as monolithic (don’t you hate it when people attribute views and attitudes to The Left?). I’m sure there are many sincere conservatives and libertarians who do have the requisite moral seriousness, and those people would, I hope, not think of Pinochet as being on their “side”.

5

Guessedworker 09.11.03 at 11:53 am

The attempt by a broad section of left opinion to explain or contextualise 9/11 and insodoing place American foreign policy in the dock, is simply prejudice and opportunism. It does not engage with he motivation and function of Islaamic fundamentalist terror. The groups loosely allied to AQ have a common aim, which is to defeat the west and western materialism, protect the faithful thereby and even, eventually, convert the world to Islaam. The two hundred and two people who died in Bali were not Americans. They were mostly westerners, though – which was enough.

9/11 was the second attempt on the WTC target with a view to goading America into action. The objective wasn’t to raise consciousness as to America’s evil deeds. It was to radicalise and unite Moslems everywhere in preparation for the long struggle ahead. AQ, therefore, is causative and not reactive to American foreign policy. The left can cease its anti-American prattle.

6

Chris 09.11.03 at 12:01 pm

Oh dear, no sooner have I chided Andrew for attributing attitudes to (undifferentiated and homogenous) Right than Guessedworker attributes “prattle” to the (undifferentiated and homogenous) Left.

7

James 09.11.03 at 12:27 pm

We should also be a little bit careful to remember that there was just as much odious blaming from people on the right over 9/11 — the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons of this world come to mind.

8

vika 09.11.03 at 12:42 pm

Again and again I am surprised by our [human] willingness to *not* differentiate between sympathy for the actual victims of a terrorist act and criticisms of its socio-political context. I argued about this at the dinner table, a month after the tragedy, until a family member choked up with tears and left. Is it really so incomprehensible, even repulsive, to think that such tragedy was long time coming for the Big American Brother, at the same time as one shudders at the actual human cost?

I don’t think it is morally or otherwise wrong to put acts in context (remembering not to black-and-white), without an attempt to make that context into an excuse or mitigating circumstance. There’s a hell of a lot of context for everything we do, and ignoring it for the sake of sympathy for the victims is silly. The two are not equivalent, nor are they in conflict.

9

james 09.11.03 at 12:42 pm

Great post Chris. You express mys entiments exactly both as regards the pathetic response of many on the left to the atrocity and the somewhat sickening unwillingness of many on the right to seriously address – indeed acknowledge – America’s sins – Chile, Vietnam etc. etc.

For this reason – and speaking as someone not on the left – I feel that Christopher Hitchens’ writings have a lot to be said for them – both a serious response to Sept. 11 and moral credibility i.e. the knowledge that he is capable of condemning America’s past at least.

Scott,

“both the US and its enemies claim to be fighting a holy war”

No, the US does not. Beyond one slip (never repeated) when Bush referred to a “crusade” against terror – and we all know that “crusade” is usually meant as “a strong campaign” rather than a holy war – and the ritual request that “May God bless America” it does not.

Only the deliberately obtuse could fail to see that this is qualitively different from bin Laden.

As for your Chilean comparison, its fallacious in so many ways it doesn’t really deserve serious analysis. Suffice to say that Kissenger et al can no longer be said to pose a threat to Chile. Would that we could say the same of bin Laden and co. as regards America and others.

10

vika 09.11.03 at 12:44 pm

I should also note that, much as I’m loving the writing on Crooked Timber, I’ve had little time and net access over the summer and into this month. Apologies if I’m repeating points that have been made elsewhere.

11

novakant 09.11.03 at 12:45 pm

I also felt revulsion at some efforts on the left to contextualize and thereby to a certain extent excuse 9/11, especially when these efforts tried to establish a false sense of causality (as in: “this had to happen because of US foreign policy”). Some went even further and wouldn’t even acknowledge the innocent victims as such (e.g.: “people working in the WTC were evil servants of the capitalist system, so they somehow deserved to die”). They were innocent victims – full stop.
It’s amazing, though, how you apply double standards when you claim that contextualizing 9/11 is inherently misguided, while at the same time performing a rhetorical tapdance, which includes a lot of context and creates an equally false sense of inevitability, to justify the Afghan war and thereby the killing of even more innocent civilian victims. Would you really want to tell an Afghan who lost his family that his loss was entirely justified by the greater scheme of things and that he would understand and even welcome it if he only put it in perspective? If you lost your parents, children or friends would you give a damn if the loss occured due to a terrorist attack or a perfectly justified war?

12

Scott Martens 09.11.03 at 1:37 pm

James, many of the men who helped put Pinochet in power were still in positions of power themselves in 1990, and Chilean leaders still felt the fear that if they went to far in erasing the Pinochet era, the US might assist in another coup. If I was Chilean, I certainly would have considered them a continuing threat.

How much of the war in Iraq is being justified on security grounds, now that it’s over and few of the military threats it posed seem to have been real, and how often do you see bloggers and pundits advocating it as a war for the promotion of often rather vaguely defined values? We may not have wars to Christianise the savages anymore, but the Iraq war is being widely justified as a mission to civilise the barbaric. That strikes me as a holy war – if what it holds sacred is largely secular.

13

bobw 09.11.03 at 2:03 pm

Let me offer a partial response to the “context” point made by Vika (although I may be going off on a tangent not intended by Vika). On one level, it should go without saying that we can’t meaningfully understand September 11 without understanding the larger context which created AQ and caused it to fly two planes into the World Trade Center. Americans need to keep this “context” in mind if for no other reason than to prevent similar attacks in the future. This does not mean, however, that admonitions to consider the “context” of the attack are appropriate — either morally or rhetorically — in all circumstances. I was living in London in September 2001 and experienced first hand the “they had it coming” reaction from some quarters of the British media. When some expressed outrage at the seeming ease with which 3,000 deaths were being dismissed, the response typically made was along the lines of “Of course every human death is a tragedy, but you have to remember how many deaths the US has caused around the world over the last 50 years.” Which, one couldn’t help but feel, was supposed to somehow justify the WTC deaths.

[There was some grim amusement to be had during the weeks following September 11 in watching certain commentators in the British press attempt to use the attack to prove that the US was, finally, reaping the bitter fruit caused by those behaviors which formed the basis of those commentators’ particular complaints against the US. If I remember correctly, George Monbiot of the Guardian at one point suggested that the September 11 attacks reflected a world angry that Bush had repudiated the Kyoto accords.]

This response — an appeal to context — was simultaneously accurate and monstrous. Accurate because the US government has, indefensibly, caused thousands of deaths in the last 50 years, and those actions probably did contribute in some small way to the hijackers’ motivatons or, at least, self justifications. Monstrous because the US government’s bad acts do not in any way justify the deaths of any American not involved in those acts, and invoking those bad acts as “context” for those deaths inevitably implies that it does. It is, to my mind, every bit as monstrous to offer the US’s overthrow of Allende as “context” for the September 11 deaths as it would be to offer the Turkish victory over the Serbs at the Battle of Kosovo in the 14th century as “context” for ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.

Providing context inevitably implies a causal link which, in turn, inevitably implies possible justifications. There are some topics — and the murder of innocents is one of them — which really shouldn’t feature statements qualified by appeals to context.

14

Ophelia Benson 09.11.03 at 3:21 pm

This all interests me because I already had it in mind to do a September 11 1973 Note & Comment at B and W today, before I logged on – and here I’ve been forestalled or pre-empted or something.

Of course, one trouble with the whole ‘the US had it coming’ idea is that surely bin Laden and his pals couldn’t possibly give less of a monkey’s about Chile – surely in fact al Qaeda has a good deal more in common with Pinochet than it does with Allende. What the US arguably ‘has coming’ is something more along the lines of Kissinger haled before the War Crimes Tribunal (which of course is one reason the US is so opposed to it). That day in Paris when he was handed an invitation to chat with a judge was a good beginning, at any rate. That doesn’t translate to having 19 misogynist religious maniacs crashing planes into occupied buildings coming – that’s the wrong punishment meted out to the wrong people by the wrong people for bottomlessly wrong reasons, and it just doesn’t compute in any way.

15

Matthew 09.11.03 at 3:28 pm

The New York Times has a similar story

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/11/opinion/11THU2.html

16

citizenk 09.11.03 at 3:36 pm

“As for your Chilean comparison, its fallacious in so many ways it doesn’t really deserve serious analysis. Suffice to say that Kissenger et al can no longer be said to pose a threat to Chile. Would that we could say the same of bin Laden and co. as regards America and others”

And 30 years after the destruction, Rome couldn’t be said to be a serious threat to Carthage. I’m sure if OBL were able to engineer the imposition of a Islamicist military dictatorship, 30 years later some equaly vile apologist in Riyadah would make the same argument you have made. Pompous twit.

17

Guessedworker 09.11.03 at 3:50 pm

Chris,

I accept your chiding with one caveat. As you say, one does not have to be on the right to condemn terrorism. But one has to be fully human, which most of us are irrespective of political persuasion.

What, then, to make of those individuals who in explaining 9/11 fall back upon the reflex of egregious anti-Americanism? In constructing an analysis why does their by no means disguised contempt for America so predictably win out over common sense and compassion? To me it’s pretty apparent that the lead impulse here is nothing more political than self-hatred, albeit it self-hatred reflected outwards. It is a heated state of mind. It is in a hurry. The familiar, safe, even pleasurable selection of a hate object close at hand cannot admit the considerations of a mature heart and mind that we might want to bring to a great issues such as 9/11. For this reason it is easily debunked. But if I had to live every day with these people as political soulmates I would probably have junked the Guardian and my two volumes of The Theory of Communicative Action years ago and joined Conservatives.

18

tom beta 2 09.11.03 at 3:55 pm

Scott Martens:

but the Iraq war is being widely justified as a mission to civilise the barbaric. That strikes me as a holy war – if what it holds sacred is largely secular.

I’ve never heard that argument, and I hang out on pro-war blogs pretty much every day. Maybe you have a specific source (w/ link?) in mind?

19

citizenk 09.11.03 at 4:05 pm

“What, then, to make of those individuals who in explaining 9/11 fall back upon the reflex of egregious anti-Americanism? “

It’s clear that Falwell, Roberston and their ilk hate America and everything that it stands for. So there is no dispute. But one question that needs analysis is why the much milder reflexive anti-americanism that showed up just after 9-11 in the Guardian excites so much more passion than the open applause for slaughter by rightists with far more power and influence. So, dear reflective and analytical GuessedWorker, maybe you can enlighten me. What is it about moral clarity that makes “this is terrible but …” so unacceptable, while “This is God’s judgement” or that nitwit in Oklahoma’s “God smote the fags” fade from memory? For me, I don’t require that people object to evil in some formula. People who say “it’s a terrible crime, but it’s caused by US colonialism” may be insensitive, politically tone deaf, or even wrong, but they don’t bother me. People who say it’s a result of freedom, like Falwell, or who use the deaths of innocents as an excuse for starting another war, like Rumsfeld, or to destroy civil liberties, like Ashcroft, do bother me. So please clarify. Your indignation puzzles me.

20

Ophelia Benson 09.11.03 at 4:07 pm

Well, I think there are other reasons for the ‘egregious anti-Americanism’ besides self-hatred. I think American amnesia or just plain never having known about it in the first place are also part of the picture. There are a hell of a lot of Americans who simply don’t know what we did in Chile and don’t believe it if you try to tell them. Same thing with Iran only more so, because it was two decades earlier, so might as well be in the Pleistocene. The CIA overthrew a democratically elected government in Iran? Nooooooo, we never did that. Well, yes we did.

If that kind of thing were more widely known, it might be less necessary to harp on it and sound self-hating.

21

maurice florence 09.11.03 at 5:09 pm

Judith Butler had an interesting article in the Spring 2002 issue of the publication Grey Room, where she wrote:

“If we believe that to think radically about the formation of the current situation is to exculpate those who committed acts of violence, we will freeze our thinking in the name of a questionable morality. But if we paralyze our thinking in this way, we will fail morality in a different way. We will fail to take collective responsibility for a thorough understanding of the history which brings us to this juncture. We will, as a result, deprive ourselves of the very critical and historical resources we need to imagine and practice another future, one which will move beyond the current cycle of revenge.”

Some may right this off as an indulgence of muddy postmodern thinking, however, for the moment, I’ll stick with Stanley Fish and call it “simply another name for serious thought.”

22

Chris 09.11.03 at 5:23 pm

Sincerely to seek explanations for horrendous events such as September 11th 2001 is, indeed, not to excuse or justify the actions of the terrorists. But the “explanations” lazily offered by Guardian columnists (and others) in the wake of the events did have that character of partial justification, of mitigation and so on.

23

JohnC 09.11.03 at 5:38 pm

Wow. It’s astounding to me to see people not want to contextualize the issue. Part of the problem is that 9/11 is seen as something without context. An event that stands alone.

And now we have a flaming category error where what should be properly categorized as a police actionis now categorized as a war. The damage that has been done because of this is simply astounding.

There’s always going to be a lot of hurt and anger at anyone who tries to tell you you’re not the only one who’s suffered such an event, nor is this event even the worst of the tragedies.

That’s human nature.

But without this harsh reality, we go on to make even bigger mistakes.

A vigilante may be terribly hurt, but they’re still wrong.

And sometimes pointing that out is extremely painful to the vigilante.

But considering what was has been done in the name of 9/11… Perhaps we vigilantes of the world need to go to therapy more often.

24

Ophelia Benson 09.11.03 at 5:42 pm

Yes, that Guardian article has a few non-sequiturs along with excellent points about Chile. This for example:

“Instead of ending transgressions against other nations, the US has spread carnage and war, violating civil liberties and human rights.”

Well but which transgressions against other nations would the US have to end in order to get the approval of OBL and al Qaeda? Do we transgress against other nations by, say, support for equality for women? Is it possible that OBL’s idea of human rights is not the same as Roger Burbach’s?

Or this:

“The years to come will focus on the great divide that has emerged out of the two September 11s. On the one side stands an arrogant unilateralist clique in the US that engages in state terrorism and human rights abuses while tearing up international treaties. On the other is a global movement that is determined to advance a broad conception of human rights and human dignity through the utilisation of law, extradition treaties and limited policing activities.”

But that leaves out a third, very large, very important, and very dangerous and loathsome side: the side that whips women with car antennas for showing a bit of hair or wrist, and has no interest whatsoever in ‘a broad conception of human rights and human dignity’. Not unless ‘broad’ and ‘human’ and ‘rights’ are completely redefined, it doesn’t. Oversimplification of the issues doesn’t help.

25

drapetomaniac 09.11.03 at 6:02 pm

that instead of saying “I condemn this…..BUT…” the important point to make was ‘condemn’, without any ‘buts’.

no. the ‘buts’ came because milliseconds after the event, it was being appropriated and abused by the right. it was this orgy of self-righteousness political mileage making that triggered the ‘but’.

if you are saying that the right was free to abuse the event from go and the left could only hang its head and weep, i’m afraid i don’t think people not on my side are in a position to give me advice.

that very day when bush said something about america having evil for the first time, he triggered all the contextualization of the left. and considering the fear of violence against (taken to be) muslims in the US and in muslim countries, i don’t think it was wrong.

and i lived through 9/11 in ny.

26

james 09.11.03 at 6:22 pm

citizenk,

If you want to defend the proposition that for America to go to war to topple the Taliban following the Sept. 11 attack carried out by their al Qaeida brothers in arms, whom they provided safe haven to, is equivalent to Chile (hypothetically) going to war with America in 1990 in revenge for its support for Pinochet, then do so, preferably without resorting to ad hominem insults.

Me, I think it is such a fallacious analogy such as not to deserve serious consideration.

But then I’m a vile pompous twerp, aren’t I?

27

scott h. 09.11.03 at 6:30 pm

So Bush saying America suffered evil = appropriated and abused by the right? Jeeesus.

28

Elias 09.11.03 at 6:45 pm

“When, as liberal or a leftist, you make such points, you get a good deal of approbation from the conservative and libertarian parts of the blogosphere.”

Of course, this is where your argument ends – based on a false assumption…

Not unlike the current ruling elite who use a broad brush in order to perpetrate an illegal war of aggression by convincing Americans that Islamic fundamentalists and Iraqi Baathists are one-in-the-same, you lump different ideologies together as many in the mainstream do, only to further cloud a necessary understanding of history and current events…

In the case of the former, it’s intentional – in your case, it must be simple laziness…

Leftists are not liberals.

Conservatives are not libertarians.

A fundamental understanding of that is absolutely necessary to understand what is happening today.

One more thing.

Could you offer proof that legitimate leftists like Noam Chomsky, Helen Caldicott, Edward Said, or any journalist from the Guardian or any other “leftist” publication ever inferred that “…the victims somehow got what they deserved…?”

Or were you just referring to nameless bloggers?

29

Elias 09.11.03 at 7:00 pm

For those who believe that history began on 9/11/01, it’s important to know that others believe there’s a great deal of history that preceded that date.

And those of us who believe that history actually began long before 9/11/01 sometimes like to point to examples of that history that might shed some light on what happened on 9/11/01.

The interesting thing is how many liberals who are perfectly fine with pointing out how cause-and-effect works with societal problems, suddenly don’t want to hear how cause-and-effect works with foreign policy.

For instance, liberals correctly understand that poverty and injustice create crime and unrest. To understand this to be a part of the “decent left.”

But when you make the equally correct point that US foreign policy creates the vast reservoir of hatred and revenge that results in 9/11, then, by definition, you become an “idiotarian.”

30

Elias 09.11.03 at 7:11 pm

RE: Followups

Don’t forget to add the 1/2 dozen or so September 11ths in which the US aided and abetted Saddam Hussein…

…that is, September 11, 1983, September 11, 1984, September 11, 1985…

31

Keith M Ellis 09.11.03 at 7:14 pm

My (ex) girlfriend’s brother died in the North Tower that day. And we both find the American narcissism that obsesses –apparently forever — over 3,000 deaths in the context of a world that still sees genocides measured in the hundreds of thousands to be, in a word, revolting. And we also find the appropriation of grief and exploitation by the rest of America of the deaths of those 3,000 be repugnant and, again, narcissistic. Aside from the first few days (particularly the response by New Yorkers), the aftermath of this tragedy has elicited much of what I despise about this country I love.

As far as I’m concerned, this day can’t end soon enough.

32

Elias 09.11.03 at 7:43 pm

RE: followups

…not to mention the September 11ths the US used to train and arm Islamic fundamentalists like bin Laden to resist the illegal invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in the same time frame…

…September 11, 1981, September 11, 1982…you get the point…

33

Elias 09.11.03 at 7:45 pm

Well said Keith…

34

Chris 09.11.03 at 8:16 pm

Elias, if I thought liberals were leftists or conservatives were libertarians I wouldn’t have used the connectives “or” and “and” to link them.

On what various journalists actually said, see for example the New Statesman piece ‘In buildings thought indestructible’ (17 September 2001 which rhetorically answered its own question about whether the victims of September 11th were innocent with a ‘yes and no’.

Drapetomaniac might want to look at that too, since she plainly believes (as she’d said before) that the various outrageous statements by Guardian and other journalists at the time were simply reactive.

If you want to comment on what I write, fine. But please take the trouble to read it carefully first.

35

Doug 09.11.03 at 8:16 pm

This is interesting on illusions

http://www.policyreview.org/aug03/garfinkle.html

about foreign policy choices.

And this is interesting about the reflexes

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/story.php?storyID=13852

of anti-Americanism.

This is a review of a book

http://www.spectator.co.uk/bookreview.php3?table=old&section=current&issue=2003-08-30&id=1715

about Afghanistan under the Taliban, where a bride cost $100 and the handicapped sister came included in the price. If that’s Islamic purity, then begone with it and good riddance. If that’s ancient tribal custom, begone with it and good riddance.

And this is snarky and intemperate

http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/start.asp?P_Article=12252

but a useful corrective to much that is foolish in this thread.

36

Suruj Dutta 09.11.03 at 8:16 pm

Must say I was disgusted by the article as well, especially from a newspaper which is fairly moderate most of the time.

Like I mentioned on my blog – Psychobabble(http://www.surujdutta.com/html/psychobabble.htm) – the Left seems to have a real problem with their moral relativism. Killing innocent people is evil. Full stop.

Interestingly, it was Yasser Arafat who invented international terrorism as a political tool. He was also responsible for scuttling the closest the Palestinians and Israelis came to a viable settlement two years ago, which is when the latest intifada started.

37

MW 09.11.03 at 8:22 pm

Ophelia’s comment hits the nail on the head.

Most of the so-called “indecent” left’s rhetoric 9/11 came from those who couldn’t shake free of their belief that the opposite pole of enlightened internationalism is the “cowboy” US. Many commentators have made a shtick out of refuting this (Hitchens gets credit for being first and loudest), and it gets tiresome indeed.

Not as tiresome as elias, however, who insists that “US foreign policy creates the vast reservoir of hatred and revenge that results in 9/11.”

Of course there’s nothing wrong with theorizing cause and effect, even in the case of a mass murder. “Context” doesn’t need to have scare quotes around it.

But when the causes proposed are so fatuous and self-absorbed (e.g. George Monibot and the Kyoto treaty, Chomsky’s comparison to the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant, Sami Husseini’s ‘envelope stuffers’, Pat Robertson’s ‘withdrawal of divine protection’, etc…), intellectual fallacy slips into moral depravity.

38

scott h. 09.11.03 at 8:49 pm

There is no cause and effect between Chile and 9/11. Here are Osama’s declarations of war from 1996 and 1998. He doesn’t mention Chile, or Central or South America, or the CIA, or even Mossadeq. He discusses sharia a great deal, including usury. From these declarations, it would seem he hates your local bank loan officer more than the CIA. Osama does not give a damn about Central American death squads.

Chile is considered a grievance by the chattering classes of Europe who think we deserved it, not al-Qaeda. (I’ve written a little more about this in the comments in this post.

39

Keith M Ellis 09.11.03 at 9:03 pm

I’m a liberal, but I’m not a moral relativist (at least in practice). And I was thrilled with the invasion of Afghanistan. And although I agree with the ciriticism that we (the US) sometimes go out of our way to make ourselves targets of resentment, I certainly won’t defend the actions of the 9/11 terrorists.

On the other hand, I also can’t abide the insouciance of Americans when our military (and quasi-military) actions kill innocent civilians. People in the US still applaud and defend the rightness of, for example, vaporizing Japanese schoolchildren and old women. We target civilians, and it’s “war”. They target civilians and it’s “terrorism”. Both are unacceptable.

Basically, we don’t give a fuck as millions of innocent non-Americans die horrible, bloody, violent and terrible unjust deaths…sometimes even by our hands. But the entire world changes and we expect never-ending holy somber rememberance because 3,000 Americans unjustly die. Is this normal and human? Sure. That doesn’t make it right.

But, from what I hear, those doreginers deserve to die because they’ve been corrupted by their uncontollable envy of us. They can’t possibly have any good reasons for hating us. They’re “evil” and “enemies of freedom”. Including those dastardly French.

Right.

40

Harry Tuttle 09.11.03 at 9:20 pm

the Left seems to have a real problem with their moral relativism. Killing innocent people is evil. Full stop.

Woah there son, that’s the right’s moraly relativistic position you are slamming. They say killing American innocents is evil but killing Afghani or Iraqi innocents is neccesary. THAT is moral relativism. Saying that actions may have consequences is common sense… well, to anybody but ideological conservatives.

41

snoey 09.11.03 at 9:33 pm

>the important point to make was ‘condemn’, without any ‘buts’.

Rumsfeld was scribbling ‘but can I attack Saddam’ while the WTC was still burning.

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JamesP 09.11.03 at 9:50 pm

The idea of ‘Context’ was used as a justification for Sept 11 by those who wished America taken down a notch. This unfortunately, taints any legitimate and dispassionate discussion of the event. ‘Context’ was also used to attribute non related history as direct causes. The idea that Bin Laden cared about Chile, etc. More to the point, ‘Context’ was used to blame the US for Sept 11th.

A commentator who really cared about the US would have approached it from another angle. How can we help those who where hurt by this tragedy? How can future tragedies be prevented? The first to address the immediate needs of the victims. The second to discuss prevention and causes.

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nick sweeney 09.11.03 at 11:07 pm

What’s interesting is that the neocon agenda (‘democratize’ Iraq for the benefit of the Middle East) is a version of the ‘root causes’ argument derided by the right post-Sept. 11th, 2001.

The correct posture is: ‘I condemn this… AND’, of course.

As for the question of ‘context’: well, as my now-wife said that evening, when I reached her to ask if she’d heard from a friend who worked at WFC 3: ‘these things happen in other countries.. not in America’. And continue to do so.

Finally, to answer tom beta 2: a glance at the (absurdly well-regarded) weblog of Steven Den Beste will prove Scott Martens’ point in a trice, and recall Col. Kurtz from Heart of Darkness.

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Chris 09.11.03 at 11:26 pm

One essayist, whose name I can’t remember, wrote shortly after 9/11 that America does not do this sort of thing to other countries. I think what I, and several other people, are trying to point out is that it does. We are not saying that America deserved a terrorist attack, as if there is some sort of retribution between countries that can equal such scores. But we are angry that Americans don’t even know about Chile, among other cases, so they agree with the above essayist. What we are saying is not “A bully with a bloody nose is still a bully” but rather “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” Unfortunately Americans don’t know they’re in a glass house.
-Chris

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Chris 09.11.03 at 11:36 pm

Just to avoid confusion, the immediately previous Chris isn’t this one (the author of the original post).

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Chris Martin 09.11.03 at 11:40 pm

Doh. I shall refer to myself as Chris Martin henceforth,
Chris Martin

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jamesp 09.11.03 at 11:40 pm

Often there is a conflict over what is a stone and what constitutes a glass house. Its absolutely correct to say that most Americans are unaware of the US actions in Chile. Most Americans are unaware that France caused the Veitnam war. Or that Britian convinced the US to overthrow Iran. Or that Japan had concentration camps during WWII. Historical knowledge is often as selective as anything else used to make political points.

If US foreign policy is being judged, it should be judeged as a whole, not selectivly. The US has done both noble and horendous actions. What are the actions as a whole? Is it headed in the right direction?

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Ophelia Benson 09.12.03 at 12:01 am

“He doesn’t mention Chile, or Central or South America, or the CIA, or even Mossadeq.”

In case that’s in reply to my post that mentioned Mossadegh – I didn’t say he did mention Mossadegh. I’m well aware that his grievances are not mine and not ones I have the smallest sympathy with. My point was that if the CIA had not thrown Mossadegh out and replaced him with the Shah, the whole climate of the region might – I said might, I certainly don’t know – have been different. That is what we seem to think will happen with a different Iraq, after all.

And that bit about the chattering classes of Europe being the ones who care about Chile – that’s disgusting. You think it’s a trivial or fashionable or frivolous issue? If so, why? What the hell has chattering got to do with it?

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stephen marks 09.12.03 at 12:32 am

Some contributors have a real problem with the simple idea that to explain is not to justify. Granted that there were some crass leftist displays of schadenfreude after 9-11, as there were indecent rushes to capitalise on the right. But it can never be wrong to contextualise if we are ever to learn and progress.

Has anyone seen a documentary on the rise of Hitler which did not start by ‘explaining’ the appeal of nazism by reference to the shock of defeat in WW1; the perceived injustice of Versailles; the ruin of inflation; the impact of mass unemployment, and the sense of humiliation and despair this produced? Is this to justify Hitler? Of course not even though a nazi apologia would quote the same factors.

With any terrorist movement the main problem is not just the terrorists themselves, but the mass of sympathisers who provide the ‘sea’ in which the terrorist fish can swim.

While Osama clearly could not give a monkeys about Chile, the millions who wear his teeshirt, and the non-muslims who see him as hitting back at the US, do share a perception of the USA as an overmighty imperialist bully. And Chile 1973 did contribute to that image.

The attempt to smear all contextualisation as apologia is itself a form of post-9/11 intellectual terrorism and should be resisted.

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scott h. 09.12.03 at 1:23 am

Ophelia: My comment was not a reply to your post. From what I’ve read, I don’t think my views are all that different from yours. I’m not trying to whitewash our past involvement in other countries internal affairs. I don’t mean to excuse what we did in Chile by denying a connection between Chile and al-Qaeda. My only objection is that the way many use it is to imply that it forms part of the basis for al-Qaeda’s philosophy. Or in a “we deserved it” sense. Or used in an apologetic tone for al-Qaeda. The sneering at the mere concept of “evil”. Literally. I’ve seen it, and it’s because they see Chile as the cause, and 9/11 as the effect.

And about the “chattering classes”, I apologize. My comment was ill-tempered and ill formed. I do not consider Chile to be a trivial or frivolous issue. And I didn’t mean to imply that only the Europeans care about Chile.

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Walt Pohl 09.12.03 at 1:35 am

Stephen: Most people who talking about explaining 9/11 sure seem like they are also justifying it. It’s because the reasons they give only ever are things that they themselves object to. At the very least they are trying to exploit it to score political points.

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Ophelia Benson 09.12.03 at 1:44 am

Okay Scott! It sounds as if we do agree. Handsome apology on chattering classes thing; consider it forgotten.

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drapetomaniac 09.12.03 at 2:39 am

So Bush saying America suffered evil = appropriated and abused by the right?

if you can’t see a difference between ‘america suffered evil’ and ‘america witnessed evil for the first time’, then that’s precisely the distinction grauniad leftists were at pains to explain to you very.very.slowly.

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novakant 09.12.03 at 3:23 am

Doug wrote:

“[…] Afghanistan under the Taliban, where a bride cost $100 and the handicapped sister came included in the price. If that’s Islamic purity, then begone with it and good riddance. If that’s ancient tribal custom, begone with it and good riddance.”

The trouble is: you can still buy a bride in large parts of Afghanistan and women are still persecuted and barred from partaking in society.
If you were less occupied with finding justifications for wars and showed a even a little interest in the plight of the people affected by it, you would know that, have a look here for instance:

http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/afghanistan/index.htm

The Bush administration didn’t give a damn about the Afghans before the war, they were praising the Taliban for their “war on drugs” and trying to find ways to build a pipeline with Unocal. And they don’t give a damn now, just ask the Afghan minister of finances. So the US got their revenge which lead to nothing much, since Al Quaeda seems to be stronger than before, and the Afghan people got their liberation which lead to nothing much because nobody wants to pay for it and Afghanistan is now so 2002.

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Jonas Cord 09.12.03 at 3:36 am

What is unique about the “context” that many wish to place 9/11 in is that, for all intents and purposes, it is a vacuum. An ahistorial world where the United States is the only actor worth mentioning in conflicts (hence the brief asides here about WWII bombing atrocities.) Where the crimes of no other nation dare be presented as means of comparison in this dumb game of who has it coming and who doesn’t. That would make this dispicable parlor game fair- and just as pointless.

I do not bring up the crimes of the French on Bastille day, on the occasion of a national tragedy, or even mention it in the company of French acquiantances, friends or collegues. Even mentally cataloguing such transgressions – about the British, the French, the Germans, the Russians, whoever – holds no interest for me. That’s the courtesy most of us – left and right – are looking for.

And we can afford that courtesy, because the intellectual gravitas that is alluded to here as somehow being intrinsic to these critiques is lacking. Terrorism doesn’t tend to make much sense. Witness rich Saudis committing 9/11 – not the impoverished who, in a certain theoretical “context,” should be driven to that sort of abject inhumanity. Chilean terrorists, wild with revenge and fully justified anger over American foreign policy – fail to exist in the context of reality day after day.

Enough. History holds many lessons, but it is not some mechanism meant to administer a sort of giant grievance scorecard.

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scott h. 09.12.03 at 4:04 am

Weird non-sequitur reply there, drapetomaniac. How did the right “appropriate and abuse” 9/11? You say the left wasn’t wrong to “contextualize” because of the fear of violence against Muslims in the US. Was that supposed to be the position of the right? That Bush quote you said triggered it, the closest I could find was: “Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature” How is that a partisan position? Or was it just the word “evil” that set the left off? Explain it to me slowly.

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linden 09.12.03 at 4:39 am

Here’s an interesting thought: Chile happened 30 years ago amidst an entirely different political situation. Now, it is 2003. Is the US busy installing dictators? Has the US installed dictators for the past ten years? No. Did the US install Pinochet as dictator in Chile because the US wanted to slaughter Chileans? No. Did 911 happen because Osama&co intended to kill Americans? Yes.

Don’t most Americans loathe and revile Nixon? Yes. Nixon is short for “criminal”. Most Americans, those with a shred of decency, are not proud of his presidency. Americans did not celebrate when September 11, 1973 happened. We did not take to the streets and cheer. Were we wrong for joining World War II after being attacked at Pearl Harbor because of our actions in the Phillippines or the stupidity of the Treaty of Versailles that ended WWI and proved disastrous? No, of course not.

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citizenk 09.12.03 at 5:08 am

If you want to defend the proposition that for America to go to war to topple the Taliban following the Sept. 11 attack carried out by their al Qaeida brothers in arms, whom they provided safe haven to, is equivalent to Chile (hypothetically) going to war with America in 1990 in revenge for its support for Pinochet, then do so, preferably without resorting to ad hominem insults.

Self defense is self-defense. What’s the difference? If Chile had been able to fend off the US attack and retaliate by destroying the US government, what possible moral objection could be advanced? Of course, if they had such a capability, the US would not have dared to do what it did. If one accepts the moral theory of the enlightenment, self-defense of a democratically elected government against efforts to impose a police state is clearly more justified than an attack on the pathetic employees of the Saudi terrorists.

I await your concession in the usual ungracious “this is too fallacious to merit response” form favored by the morally and intellectually bankrupt right.

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citizenk 09.12.03 at 5:18 am

Don’t most Americans loathe and revile Nixon? Yes. Nixon is short for “criminal”. Most Americans, those with a shred of decency, are not proud of his presidency. Americans did not celebrate when September 11, 1973 happened. We did not take to the streets and cheer.

You know, Google makes this type of stupefying ignorance even more inexcusable. Look at

http://www.nixonfoundation.org/Research_Center/Nixons/RichardNixonFuneral.shtml

Do you see a single mention of the legacy of torture, murder, depravity, and evil?

And as for celebrating the torture regime in Chile, oh yes we did – to our shame. We sent economists, guns, and money by the boatload to the torturers. Professor Milton Friedman flew down to bless the “economic freedom” that is so often associated with blowtorches used in discussions with dissidents.

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linden 09.12.03 at 5:35 am

citizenk, go fuck yourself. I was entirely prepared to conduct a civil conversation but you never even tried.

You full well know I’m right. Americans did not pour out onto the streets and cheer for the deaths of Chileans or for Allende’s death as happened after 911 in the Middle East. Kissinger and Nixon didn’t toast the deaths of the people Pinochet killed. Alas, attempting to use a fucking funeral as evidence of celebration is ludicrous and you fucking know it.

You know that is what I meant. So once again, go fuck yourself.

Also, here are two incredibly interesting articles on this matter. The first one has me convinced that Allende really did need to be removed as he consistently violated the laws and Constitution of Chile in conflict with the military, judiciary as well as legislature. While nothing justifies Pinochet’s reign of terror, Allende had to go and indeed went by his own hand.

The second is interesting as well and written by a young communist who fled Chile after the coup: Thirty Years On, a Chilean Laments ‘We All Killed Allende’.

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chris 09.12.03 at 7:49 am

I realise that people get passionate about these matters – fair enough. But please keep comments within the bounds of civility. If not, I’ll use my magic deleting powers.

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james 09.12.03 at 2:53 pm

citizenk,

I don’t know where you get the idea of me being on “the right” beyond my disagreement with you. If you look at my first post you’ll see I’m no defender of the Pinochet coup.

Clearly, for me at least, the US attack on Afghanistan was self-defence. In what sense would it have been self-defence for Chile to attack America in 1990?

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citizenk 09.12.03 at 3:48 pm

You full well know I’m right. Americans did not pour out onto the streets and cheer for the deaths of Chileans or for Allende’s death as happened after 911 in the Middle East.

Let’s see. A few powerless dim Palestinians star in a CNN repeated loop cheering for the WTC bombings. On the other hand, the worlds most powerful government opens up the cash box, sends guns, ends a economic attack, and the most prestigious academics visit to congratulate the butchers. Wow! We are much more moral. We didn’t celebrate in the streets, because we celebrated in the executive offices. Shows our superior moral fiber. Kissinger and Nixon didn’t toast the deaths of the victims of our coup, they may even have considered them regrettable – how sad, but you know the demands of geopolitics outweigh any of those trivial concerns about blowtorches and electric shocks in the genitals. See that’s the kind of superior moral leadership we show the world. I guess it would have been fine, by your moral arithmetic if OBL had said he was sorry about the deaths, but that’s just the way the ball bounces, fellows.

FYI:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/pinochet/Story/0,11993,194680,00.html

Nothing personal, but I find this type of atrocity excusing to be sickening in the extreme.

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citizenk 09.12.03 at 3:56 pm

James:

Let’s start with 1973. Suppose that Allende had been less naive or more effective and had defeated the coup and captured Pinochet and the other scum and to make it even more unrealistic, suppose Chile had long-range airstrike capability and Chile pounded DC into dust as revenge and as a means of convincing Henry and Dick to stop meddling in their affairs.

Justified or not? If not, explain the differences between such a scenario and the US attack on the Taliban, which I presume we both agree was justified (even though I think it was bungled and brutal, as usual for the Bush leaguers).

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Sandwichman 09.12.03 at 4:35 pm

I went to a 30th anniversary commemoration of the Chilean coup last night. It makes me wonder what 9/11/01 will look like from the perspective of 28 years from now. Will it be remembered in all its panic, rawness and confusion or will it be preserved as a petrified and polished monument to the glory of the national security empire?

It astounds me that so many people forget that there was a blackout of national political leadership on 9/11/01. This is not some wacko conspiracy theory. This is something that all Americans saw (or didn’t see) with their own eyes and heard (or didn’t hear) with their own ears. The Bush presidency was as hapless and unprepared to respond with leadership to a national emergency on 9/11/01 as it was more recently with the Iraq occupation.

The coverup of that leadership vacuum has been all the more astounding in that there was “nothing” really to cover-up — just hour after endless hour during which the putative “commander in chief” was incommunicado.

Bush’s “mission accomplished” flight suit photo-op was the perfect counterpoint to his 9/11 disappearing act. See how jut-jawed and manly he can be when properly choreographed, costumed, rehearsed and set against an artfully arranged backdrop?

Kristen Breitweiser, a 9/11 widow remembers, though. In her Salon review of “DC 9/11: Time of Crisis,” Breitweiser notes, “It is understandable that so little time is actually devoted to the president’s true actions on the morning of 9/11. Because to show the entire 23 minutes from 9:03 to 9:25 a.m., when President Bush, in reality, remained seated and listening to “second grade story-hour” while people like my husband were burning alive inside the World Trade Center towers, would run counter to Karl Rove’s art direction and grand vision.”

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james 09.12.03 at 8:39 pm

citizenk,

“Let’s start with 1973”

In Scott’s original analogy, which I dismissed, we weren’t starting in 1973, but 1990 – when self-defence couldn’t be fairly claimed, only revenge. Plus this timing was crucial

And even so “pounding DC into dust in revenge” would be no more justified than pounding Kabul into dust in revenge – which the US didn’t do.

And even so there’s a difference between the level of violence used to overthrow Allende – shameful as that was – and that of 9/11, which might be why Scott said 1990, when the death tolls could be equated.

But forget all that. Let’s start, not with 1973, but with some basic civility, and not with abuse.

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james 09.12.03 at 8:41 pm

I’m not trying to be a prick by the way, I just think your insults were harsh.

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Armature 09.12.03 at 9:23 pm

bobw writes: “Providing context inevitably implies a causal link which, in turn, inevitably implies possible justifications.”

Nonsense. How can anyone say such a thing with a straight face?

Does speaking of a murderer’s motivations pardon him from his crime? Does speaking of Tsarist Russia justify Stalinism? Not unless you presume a profoundly twisted moral sensibility on the part of the audience.

Understanding is always the first step towards victory, and ignorance is the first step towards defeat. The self-defeating, terror-promoting war in Iraq is a perfect example of a misguided policy that was only possible because Americans lacked adequate understanding of the causes of terrorism. And that ignorance, in turn, stems directly from the selective blindness that conflates examination with justification.

It’s true that no American foreign policy could have pleased Al Qaeda, but that’s not really the issue (and it’s dishonest to pretend that any leftist claims that). The issue is: what aspects of the current geopolitical situation gave Al Qaeda power and access to resources? And what is the proper American foreign policy to deal with this situation? There have always been violent radicals in the world, but these radicals usually have not had access to money, weapons, and thousands of eager recruits all over the globe. Why does Al Qaeda possess all three? To conflate examination of this question with moral relativism is absurd. Yet that seems to be the position of many right-wing commentators.

Note, BTW, that I find European anti-Americanism as contemptible as the next person. But, again, European anti-Americanism isn’t the real issue. Right-wingers are simply using European anti-Americanism as a rhetorical stick to bludgeon dissenters here in America. The “anti-American left” is not exactly an illusion, but it is a grossly inflated strawman. The responsible elements of the left have advocated perfectly sensible alternatives to Bush’s mad policies: fund homeland security instead of tax cuts for the rich; promote stability in Afghanistan instead of waging a costly, destabilizing, unilateral war on a non-imminent threat. And the left advocated these policies precisely because it has been willing to confront the causes of terrorism and address them. Consideration of causes does not justify terrorism; it justifies the correct anti-terrorist measures.

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Thorley Winston 09.12.03 at 9:29 pm

James wrote:

We should also be a little bit careful to remember that there was just as much odious blaming from people on the right over 9/11 — the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons of this world come to mind.

Who on the Right besides Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson made comments trying to blame the United States for 9/11? Because it seems to me that there were a heck of lot more people on the political Left (e.g. the Nation, Green Party, the professional anti-war protesters, etc.) making such comments, in which case any attempt to claim a moral symmetry between the two is disingenuous to put it mildly.

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Thorley Winston 09.12.03 at 9:51 pm

Linden wrote:

Here’s an interesting thought: Chile happened 30 years ago amidst an entirely different political situation. Now, it is 2003. Is the US busy installing dictators? Has the US installed dictators for the past ten years? No. Did the US install Pinochet as dictator in Chile because the US wanted to slaughter Chileans?

Here’s a better question – did the US actually install Pinochet as a dictator? If so, how did we accomplish this feat? Did we send in 15,000 troops like the Soviet-backed Cuban government did? Did we force nearly half of the nation’s workforce to go on strike?

IMNHO if the United States had any involvement in overthrowing Salvador Allende, we were fully justified in doing so. This was a guy who campaigned by promising to nationalize the property of the “gringos” (who surprisingly decided not that it wouldn’t be a good idea to trade with somebody who wants to steal your stuff) and who invited one of his and our nation’s enemies to land 15,000 troops to help keep order. His own supporters had their own brand of beating up and terrorizing the people. Frankly, I have no doubt that the people and the military would have overthrown him regardless of the United States. Any attempt to lay the blame for the coup at the feet of the Big Bad CIA when by all accounts it was a pretty popular coup is disingenuous to put it mildly.

I agree that Pinochet, who reminds me of many of the stereotypical Latin American dictatorships complete with the “Senator for Life” title which sounds like something out of a bad 1960’s spy show, was probably not a great guy. However if Allende had succeeded in retaining power and moving his nation into the Soviet sphere with Castro, does anyone think Chile would the relatively peaceful and prosperous (for the region) country it is today? IMNHO it would probably be more like Cuba whose regime has murdered and tortured a heck of lot more than 3,000 people. The coup itself was relatively bloodless as far as these things go and frankly, as bad as Pinochet may have been, we and the Chilean people could have done a lot worse especially since the next most viable alternative seems to be a Soviet-backed Allende regime (see Cuba) or a long and bloody civil war.

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Brian O'Connell 09.12.03 at 10:16 pm

Whew, someone finally brought up the context of Chile, 1973. I was about to do it, but Thorley did it better than I could have.

The problem, I think, with discussing the context of 9/11 is that many people contextualize it in the very nonsensical way you’d expect them to, with all the same complaints they had on September 10th. Micheal Moore blamed Bush & Kyoto; Jerry Falwell blamed gays and loose women (or something like that). Both of these supply context but are also absurd.

So it isn’t a question of looking at context or not, but rather a question of whether the supposed context is valid or if the writer is just using the opportunity of 9/11 to advance their favorite issues.

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Thorley Winston 09.12.03 at 10:44 pm

Thanks Brian,

Lest anyone get the wrong impression about my first post, let me make it clear that I’m not accusing the entire Left of blaming 9/11 on America. What I am saying though is that Falwell and Roberts were pretty notable exceptions on the Right while similar comments blaming the United States were far more common on the Left. There simply isn’t a symmetry between the two.

As far the 1973 coup, I not only think it is just as silly to try and link it to 9/11 as to the United State’s refusing to ratify Kyoto (like most of the signators) or the ridiculous International Criminal Court (funny how many of the same people decrying military tribunals seem to wish to sign onto the ICC).

Frankly I don’t see how those who wish to use 9/11 as vehicle for pushing their favorite pet political grievances are that much different than Falwell, Moore, Robertson, the Nation, Green Party, et al.

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citizenk 09.13.03 at 3:53 am

And even so there’s a difference between the level of violence used to overthrow Allende – shameful as that was – and that of 9/11, which might be why Scott said 1990, when the death tolls could be equated.

How do you calculate that the “level of violence” represented by raping people to death and electroshock is lower or higher than the level of violence represented by flying a plane into a building? People like our commentator Thorley Winston can write
that Pinochet was probably not a great guy. Spot on. I think that’s exactly what Speer said about his old boss. The US Government, acting against the interests of most of us in the world, has participated in horrible, horrible, crimes. If people respond to a horrible criminal attack on the US by reminding us that there is a moral debt to pay, it’s wrong to attack them for failing to parrot the right party line. I was also not in the mood to hear Chomsky after 9-11, but no matter, it is evil to try to shut people up by slander. Pointing out the known moral failings of the US government is not excusing OBL. And although I was in no mood to hear about Timor or Chile or Cambodia, we don’t get a moral pass just because we got attacked by scum. People should read Lincoln’s second inaugural address and think about how shallow our moral discourse has become.
Imagine what our right wing parrots would have said to Isaiah or Amos.

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Chris 09.13.03 at 7:56 am

9/11 involved the deliberate murder of innocents for a political end (as for, for that matter, does the so-called suicide bombing of civilians in Israel). That was unqualifiedly wrong irrespective of context or background cause (which isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be interested in those things). As I said in the original post, when I’ve made that point in the past, I’ve received praise from the rhs of the blogosphere.

People who defend Pinochet – as Thorley seems to do – are clearly prepared to countenance the deliberate murder (and torture) of innocents for political ends. As such, they cannot, consistently, say what needs to be said about 9/11. And any praise that such people direct towards those who do say what needs to be said, cannot be taken seriously.

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northernLights 09.13.03 at 4:03 pm

I was really worried that something bad was going to happen on the fiftieth anniversary of Iran-CIA, called by some people the beginning of the American Imperial Age.

But all that happened on that day was that we put ourselves in the dark.

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northernLights 09.13.03 at 4:03 pm

I was really worried that something bad was going to happen on the fiftieth anniversary of Iran-CIA, called by some people the beginning of the American Imperial Age.

But all that happened on that day was that we put ourselves in the dark.

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Thorley Winston 09.13.03 at 5:43 pm

Citizenk wrote:

People like our commentator Thorley Winston can write that Pinochet was probably not a great guy. Spot on. I think that’s exactly what Speer said about his old boss

I’m willing to state that I don’t know if he was as horrible as the Allende/Castro-apologists would have us believe though. There does seem to be conflicting evidence as to whether or not he approved the alleged tortures which I have never defended. However as far as coups go, the 1973 Junta was relatively bloodless and quick. Moreover considering the experience that Kerensky had with the Bolsheviks overthrew his government, I’m hard-pressed to put too much blame on Pinochet for taking harder tactics against the Marxist government and its supporters. I won’t argue in favor of torture though which does not appear to have any justification especially since so many of those victims appear to have had nothing to do with supporting the Marxist regime and would therefore qualify as innocent. However in light of the possibility of long and bloody civil war or worse, a Soviet-backed regime in Chile, I’d say it was certainly the lesser of three evils.

The US Government, acting against the interests of most of us in the world, has participated in horrible, horrible, crimes.

Gee the funny thing is that I asked in my original post how it was the United States installed Pinochet as the dictator in Chile and so far no one has come up with an answer. It seems to me that the coup was pretty much an internal thing and would have happened regardless of whether or not the United States had an interest in preventing Chile from being delivered into the hands of one of the most evil ideologies in the history of human kind. The Big Bad CIA involvement (e.g. a minor trucking strike, whoopee) in the coup’s success seems pretty negligible especially in light of the Cuban/Soviet’s sending 15,000 troops and weapons. So if you’re going to claim the United States is at fault for the 1973 Junta (which was probably not a bad thing compared to the two most likely alternatives), where’s your evidence?

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Thorley Winston 09.13.03 at 5:56 pm

Chris wrote:

People who defend Pinochet – as Thorley seems to do – are clearly prepared to countenance the deliberate murder (and torture) of innocents for political ends.

Chris’ smear aside, no where did I countenance the deliberate murder or torture of innocents for political ends. What I did say is that a Soviet-backed Allende regime or a long and draw out civil war would have probably been much worse. Moreover, I doubt that my comparing “Senator for Life” Pinochet to something out of a bad 1960s spy show amounts to defending him. However, I am pretty solid and defensible ground for saying he wasn’t as bad as Allende (who wasn’t the peaceful democrat his apologists love to imagine) and his gang or a long and bloody civil war. The thing people forget is that 1973 Chile was a powder keg with half of the nation’s workforce on strike, 600 percent inflation, a government (which never had more than 36% popular support) nationalizing private industries right and left, and who was inviting their enemies to bring in foreign troops and to arm left-wing militias to keep the government in power. No wonder the Congress of Deputies asked the military to overthrow the government, it was probably the only thing which saved the country.

As such, they cannot, consistently, say what needs to be said about 9/11. And any praise that such people direct towards those who do say what needs to be said, cannot be taken seriously.

Actually I have no problem with saying what needs to be said about either 9/11.

In 2003 the practitioners of an evil ideology murdered 3,000 innocents and inspired a nation to wage a war on that ideology which has thus far resulted in the liberation of two nations whose fate while uncertain is at least more in the hands of the people of those nations.

In 1973, a popular Junta (backed by the workers, the legislative branch of the government, and the military) was enacted against practitioners of an even more evil ideology who were destroying their country and trying to turn it over to the worst dictatorship in the history of humankind. During the Junta, about 3,000 people were killed. Some of them were killed in battle while defending the Marxist regime and some were captured and killed or tortured. Of the latter group, some may have been innocents who were murdered by the more unsavory parts of the Junta that if true is inexcusable. Even so, it pales in comparison to what has happened in other nations controlled by the practitioners of that ideology and the deaths far fewer than most similar civil wars. Moreover, unlike Soviet-backed regimes, the members of the Junta set a timetable for returning control of the nation back to its people and followed it.

What’s not to understand?

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Chris 09.13.03 at 6:35 pm

So, Thorley, even though the social-democratic Allende government didn’t in the real, actual world murder or torture anyone, you feel on safe ground in asserting that since in purely hypothethical ideology-driven Thorley-Wilson-world they would have got down to mass murder in the end, the Pinochet coup was justified? As you say “What’s not to understand?”

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Elias 09.13.03 at 7:46 pm

“mw” writes:

“Not as tiresome as Elias, however, who insists that ‘US foreign policy creates the vast reservoir of hatred and revenge that resulted in 9/11’…Of course, there’s nothing wrong with theorizing cause and effect…”

Of course, positing cause and effect is precisely what the intellectual class does every day:

“Islamic fundamentalism causes childhood indoctrination which causes hatred for the West which causes extremism in Saudi Arabia which creates bin Laden” and so on…

Or, “The US invasion of Iraq will cause ‘shock and awe’ which will cause the Iraqis to lay down their arms which will cause democracy to flourish througout the region which will cause love and admiration for the United States througout the Islamic world…”

Cause and Effect is perfectly fine in these cases because it functions to support US ideology. But when it comes to understanding the hatred others feel for the US, there’s no explaining that – no “Cause and Effect” there, no sir. To do so only makes you “indecent.”

So there’s nothing really new here. Apologists for US crimes like “mw” are a dime a dozen, and I can’t really give them much credibility…

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novakant 09.14.03 at 2:27 pm

“Gee the funny thing is that I asked in my original post how it was the United States installed Pinochet as the dictator in Chile and so far no one has come up with an answer. It seems to me that the coup was pretty much an internal thing […].”

Gee, either you are totally ignorant or just lazy.

I suggest you do a Google search on e.g.:

kissinger chile

“general schneider” cia

ITT chile allende

chile “us involvement”

pinochet “us involvement”

You’ll find tons of proof from all kinds of sources for the US’ efforts to destabilize Chile, the CIA plot to kill Schneider and force Allende out of office to install Pinochet.

On November 13, 2000 16,000 secret US documents were declassified (against bitter resistance from the CIA of course)as part of the Clinton Administration’s special Chile Declassification Project. These documents prove the US involvement you deny and a selection can be read here:

http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/news/20001113/

There is a concise account of the Cia involvement in Chile here

http://www.lakota.clara.net/myths/usdstab.html

Colin Powell said about the matter:

“With respect to your earlier comments about Chile in the 1970s and what happened with Mr. Allende, it is not a part of American history that we’re proud of.”

Considering that this statement is coming from a diplomat it is a pretty damning verdict.

Maybe you are just misinformed, but from the tone of your arguments it seems you would rather prefer not to know the unpleasant truth, in any case above is the “answer” to your “question”.

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citizenk 09.14.03 at 3:08 pm

I’m willing to state that I don’t know if he was as horrible as the Allende/Castro-apologists would have us believe though. There does seem to be conflicting evidence as to whether or not he approved the alleged tortures which I have never defended. However as far as coups go, the 1973 Junta was relatively bloodless and quick.

Sentiments like this are on par with denials of Nazi extermination, apologies for Southern slavery, and other statements which prove either irresponsible ignorance or moral turpitude beyond any acceptable bounds. It’s interesting that such declarations are now usually bound up in some meaningless qualifiers. In any case, one cannot debate people who excuse torture or deny the open historical record.

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Brian O'Connell 09.14.03 at 4:48 pm

Chris: So, Thorley, even though the social-democratic Allende government didn’t in the real, actual world murder or torture anyone, you feel on safe ground in asserting that since in purely hypothethical ideology-driven Thorley-Wilson-world they would have got down to mass murder in the end, the Pinochet coup was justified?

That isn’t a reasonable question.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the US had two options in 1973: allow the leftist Allende to continue what he was doing, or to support the right-wing Pinochet coup. We chose one of the options, and therefore the costs of choosing that option, in human lives and in other things, are known. We obviously didn’t choose the other option, and because that option wasn’t taken, we can never be sure about what the costs of choosing that option would have been. Your question to Thorley seems to assume that because the costs of the Allende option are all hypothetical, that they should be considered zero when compared to the costs of the Pinochet option. Of course, using this basis to judge past decisions will always result in the judgment that the decision was wrong because real actions always have real costs, whereas hypothetical actions have hypothetical costs, which your question implies shouldn’t be considered.

But at least we in 2003 have the luxury of comparing a known quantity to a hypothetical quantity. In 1973, they were comparing two hypothetical quantities.

None of this is to say that we made the right or wrong decision back in 1973. I just think it’s too simplistic to look at the results of the decision that was made and to conclude that we made the wrong decision without considering what the results of choosing the other option would have been. I think that’s true even though, because of the nature of the universe, we can never know for sure exactly what those other results would have been.

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novakant 09.14.03 at 6:14 pm

hmmm, your tale about the two “options” the US had at the time implies a dangerous proposition:

That it is perfectly legitimate for a superpower to topple a democratically elected president of a much weaker country at any time if he doesn’t fit into that power’s global strategy. So it seems in your mind the Chileans could vote for whomever they wanted, if the US didn’t like the outcome of the vote he would be out of office in no time. That’s an interesting perception of democracy.

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chris 09.14.03 at 6:22 pm

Brian, since I don’t accept your consequentialist way of looking at things, I’m not much moved by your point (even if torturing and killing innocents would make the world better, it would be wrong). But, in any case, “hypothetical” is a fairly polite way to describe Thorley Wilson’s projected future of the Allende regime. “Highly tendentious and speculative” would be more accurate, and a highly tendentious and speculative projection is not worth anything as a defence or apologia for grotesquely brutal acts.

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Brian O'Connell 09.14.03 at 7:39 pm

Novakant: Yes, toppling a democratically elected govt is a dangerous proposition. I hope I didn’t seem to suggest that it wasn’t. Returning to the theme of context, however, the policy of containment of the Soviet Union wasn’t just a global stategy, it was a global strategy to defeat an evil empire. I’m sorry if that sounds dogmatic, but I believe that to be a fair assessment of the Cold War. The importance of our winning it equaled the importance of our defeating fascism in WWII.

Chris: There’s no doubt that consequentialism can lead one to make the wrong moral decision. But we don’t live in a world where doing the ‘right thing’ always results in victory. Volumes have been written about this and I can’t add anything to them.

I’m not shilling for US actions in Chile. I just think that any assessment of our actions there which doesn’t take the Cold War into account could never be a reasonable one. It’s so easy now, when everyone knows that we won the Cold War by a mile, to look back at every battle in that war and come to the conclusion that we didn’t need to go quite that far or be quite that extreme in order to win it. But the people who made the decisions at that time didn’t have it so easy.

Most of the discussion about Chile in these comments has been context-free, prior to Thorley’s comment anyway. But if the context of 9/11/01 is important to consider, and I think it is, isn’t the context of 9/11/73 important as well?

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Brian O'Connell 09.14.03 at 7:51 pm

Chris: I do agree that coming up with the hypothetical, contrafactual results for the road not taken is usually going to be controversial. I don’t dispute that there’s plenty of room for argument on that score.

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Thorley Winston 09.16.03 at 2:28 pm

Chris wrote:

So, Thorley, even though the social-democratic Allende government didn’t in the real, actual world murder or torture anyone,

Actually I don’t think that is true, there have been accounts of atrocities committed by Allende’s government and members of his communist party. Unless you are so naïve enough to believe that when the Allende government sent troops to steal people’s farms, there wouldn’t be any bloodshed (see Zimbabwe).

you feel on safe ground in asserting that since in purely hypothethical ideology-driven Thorley-Wilson-world they would have got down to mass murder in the end, the Pinochet coup was justified? As you say “What’s not to understand?”

It is not hypothetical at all (and the last name is “Winston” not “Wilson” – if you wish to use my name as an invective, at least get it right). Any government that expropriates private property is ultimately using violence and/or the threat of violence against people whether some wish to pretend otherwise or not. That the Chilean communists sent out their armed bands/militias is only using this violence in a more direct fashion. Moreover, they had invited the Cubans/Soviets to send in their troops to prop up the Allende regime. Either of these facts alone is enough to justify removing the government and frankly if some of the people who implemented this sort of treason/collaboration got lined up on the wall and shot afterwards, I’m not prepared to say it was unjustified.

If someone had invited Soviet or Chi-com soldiers into the United States thirty years ago while trying to nationalize private property, I’d say that a coup would have been justified (even if the government were lawfully picked by the US House of Representatives) and killing some of the people afterwards who implemented and supported the policy would be understandable. That does not mean that done during the coup would be justified mind you (the torture allegations, if true, do not seem to have any legitimate purpose behind them) and I gladly condemn the imprisoning, torturing, and killing of any actually “innocent” people.

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Thorley Winston 09.16.03 at 2:28 pm

Novakant wrote:

Gee, either you are totally ignorant or just lazy. I suggest you do a Google search on e.g.:

I don’t know about anyone else, but I just do not find it persuasive when upon asking for evidence to back up someone’s claim, they respond with “you are totally ignorant or just lazy” or “do a Google search.” It seems to me that if I were trying to persuade someone that the United States installed a foreign dictatorship, I might have something more substantive to back up my claim. Let’s look the specific sites that Novakent provides:

On November 13, 2000 16,000 secret US documents were declassified (against bitter resistance from the CIA of course) as part of the Clinton Administration’s special Chile Declassification Project. These documents prove the US involvement you deny and a selection can be read here:

http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/news/20001113/

There is a concise account of the Cia involvement in Chile here
http://www.lakota.clara.net/myths/usdstab.html

Thanks for the links but I actually read some of documents on the first site and none of them back up the claim that the United States installed Pinochet. What they do point out is that the United States considered backing a coup in 1970 (which never happened), were concerned about a “loose rocket” in the form of their ambassador in Chile and seemed unable to come up with a way to remove Allende due to the own bureaucratic problems. If your goal was to suggest that these recently released documents qualify as a “smoking gun,” then I am afraid you’ve drawn a water pistol. BTW what is interesting is that the State Department at the time seemed inclined to believe (perhaps they just wanted to believe, I don’t know) that Pinochet was not aware of some of the atrocities going on under his regime.

I don’t think anyone refutes that the United States wanted Allende gone and rightfully so – he was stealing the property of American citizens while moving his nation into the sphere of one of the most wicked regimes in history whom we were waging a Cold War against. I would not be surprised if we someday find film footage of Nixon and Kissinger high-fiving each other and doing the Iggie Shuffle upon learning that the Marxist government in Chile had fallen. Considering though that the Chilean government was ruining the economy (unless you have some theory to blame Nixon for 600% inflation), nationalizing private property, had half of its workforce on strike, was landing foreign troops and arming left-wing militias in order to supplant the military, and the legislature asked (85-40) for the military to step in – I think it’s fair to say that the people of Chile probably would have revolted regardless of whether or not the United States wanted them to.

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Thorley Winston 09.16.03 at 2:29 pm

Citizen K wrote:

Sentiments like this are on par with denials of Nazi extermination, apologies for Southern slavery, and other statements which prove either irresponsible ignorance or moral turpitude beyond any acceptable bounds. It’s interesting that such declarations are now usually bound up in some meaningless qualifiers. In any case, one cannot debate people who excuse torture or deny the open historical record.

So nice that you’ve decided to raise the level of debate with red herrings about slavery and the Holocaust. Please find for me the portion of my earlier remarks in which I disputed that the “atrocities” (I put the word in quotes because I think there is ample room for debate as to what qualifies as an “atrocity” – e.g. over a thousand of the deaths occurring as part of the fighting is not the same as stealing people from their homes in the dead of night and planting them in a shallow grave in the jungle). And yes, given that the people who wish to blame the United States for our actions there in 1973 seem to be unaware of how much of the Junta was local and more importantly, seem willing to excuse the actions of the Allende government, I think some “qualifiers” are warranted. Especially when this thread was about discussing “putting actions in context.”

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Thorley Winston 09.16.03 at 2:29 pm

Novakant wrote:

hmmm, your tale about the two “options” the US had at the time implies a dangerous proposition:
That it is perfectly legitimate for a superpower to topple a democratically elected president of a much weaker country at any time if he doesn’t fit into that power’s global strategy.

I cannot speak on behalf of Brian O’Connel (who is doing a wonderful job on his own but may not agree with the point I am about to make) but why is it relevant whether or not Salvador Allende won 36% of the vote of his people in an election? If democracy is anything more than “two wolves and a sheep voting for the dinner menu” then it must protect the rights of the minority by prohibiting the initiation of force against its citizens. By nationalizing private property (e.g. businesses and farms), Allende’s government lost its legitimacy and its citizens had a natural right to overthrow an oppressive government. Particularly one which was bringing in foreign troops from an enemy power to use against its citizens.

So it seems in your mind the Chileans could vote for whomever they wanted, if the US didn’t like the outcome of the vote he would be out of office in no time. That’s an interesting perception of democracy.

In some cases I agree it would be right to overthrow a democratically elected/lawfully chosen government. Take Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe was “democratically elected” by the majority of citizens of his nation. His group then proceeded to send in armed troops to confiscate the property of a minority of the citizens and killing those who fought in defense of their property (much like Salvador Allende). In a case like that, the minority being oppressed by a government that steals their property had every right to fight back. In so far as some of the victims of the Allende regime’s oppression were American citizens, they had a right to appeal to their own government to protect their property from foreign expropriators.

Moreover by trying to ally his nation with our Soviet enemies, I think a good case can be made that we were right to regard the Allende government as an enemy and support action taken against them. We had every right for our own security to prevent the people who threatened us with missiles in Cuba from gaining a foothold in South America.

Again, no one has argued that everything done after the Allende government was overthrown was justified. I’m willing to agree that it is possible that innocents were tortured and murdered and Pinochet was probably not a great guy. Both Allende and Pinochet are guilty of repression, in that both used government to suppress dissent (Allende went so far as to ban Donald Duck for promoting capitalism). However Allende by his policies of expropriating private property, arming the left-wing militias who terrorized the people, and aligning himself with the Soviets was a worse monster then Pinochet. Pinochet’s “atrocities” (in so far as he is guilty of them) seem mainly directed at members and supporters of the Allende regime which while it may not excuse them is still an important contextual difference IMNHO.

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