Remembering the other 9/11

La Moneda

Historical memory is fragile and selective. And so I try to excuse the fact that the other 9/11 didn't even make it into our news daily's filler.

Not a single expression of grief for Chile's 9/11, when a criminal, US-backed military coup deposed the democratically elected Socialist government of President Salvador Allende, on 11 September 1973.

At least the thousands of those who survived Chile's 9/11 — myself included — didn't have to stomach the phoney sombre Australian journalists remembering, live from New York, 'the day the world stood still'; or the sight of a former Prime Minister crossing the Brooklyn bridge clad an ACB tracksuit, expressing sorrow on behalf of the Australian nation. 'It's still one of those moments in my life that I'll never forget,' the former Prime Minister solemnly declared.

Chile's 9/11 is one of those moments that I'll never forget either. How can I forget La Moneda, Chile's government palace and the symbol of the most lasting democratic system in the world, engulfed by flames after been bombarded by Hawker Hunter jet fighters. These were not murdering jihadists, but Chilean pilots executing Washington's international terrorist act.

We are still waiting for the United States' admission of guilt. No US government has ever recognised its involvement in Chile's 9/11.

As I revised some of my notes this week for a university lecture I came across the handwritten memo, taken by former CIA director Richard Helms, which records the orders of US President Richard Nixon to foster a coup in Chile.

'1 in 10 chance perhaps, but save Chile!; worth spending; not concerned; no involvement of embassy; $10,000,00 available, more if necessary; full-time job-best men we have; game plan; make the economy scream; 48 hours for plan of action. This presidential directive initiates major covert operations to block Allende's ascension to office, and promote a coup in Chile.' 

This memo goes back to 15 September 1970. How terrifyingly efficient all of this was. In three years, Allende's Chilean peaceful road to socialism was over, as was Chile's democracy.

The military coup of 9/11 left an indelible mark on Chilean life. That September had an auspicious beginning for my own family. My sister Marcela was born on 1 September.

The first day of September was traditionally the beginning of el mes de la patria (the month of the motherland) and marked the beginning of spring. It is a windy month and the clear skies are decorated with colourful kites.

September was traditionally a month of celebration — a month that marks Chile's independence from colonial Spanish rule in 1810. Up until 1973, September was a month of unity. The coup ended all of that. September has never regained that sense of national unity and celebration. Now it is a month when we remember our fallen.

The coup submerged Chile into the darkest period of its history. Thousands were murdered and many others became desaparecidos (missing people). Torture became a terrifying prospect and exile — borrowing Milan Kundera's remark — amputated the life of thousands of Chileans.

I remember as if it were yesterday the day that General Pinochet's dictatorship began. As a young kid, I was out playing street football with my best friend Guille, when my mother shouted to me to get inside immediately: 'Allende has been killed.' He had died inside of La Moneda.

Despite my mother's caution, there was a sense of calm in our sleepy town in the north of Chile. Santiago, the capital city and the epicentre of the coup, was a long way from our home.

Soon we realised that the brutality of the armed forces would reach us too. On 13 September, my father did not come home from work. He had been arrested, and his workplace — a nido de comunistas (nest of communists) for the new authorities — became a military concentration camp, where the cancer marxista (Marxist cancer) would be extirpated. My father survived. Many of my friends' fathers or mothers didn't.

Chile's 9/11 reminds me that I am a product of a defeated political and social project. Last week I told one of my students — who was grieving her own defeat in the Australian elections — 'Your political defeat was at least a result of democratic means.' Mine wasn't.

I am one of the children of the dictatorship; the generation who lived most of their formative years under Pinochet's brutal rule. As a school student — and then at university — we were more concerned with the next resistance campaign than submitting assignments.

Later on, our professional careers were put on hold. As the doors of the media were firmly closed, we developed alternative ways to communicate, educate and re-socialise Chileans about the democratic values and norms we aspired to. Revista Periferia (Periphery Magazine) and Radio Umbral (Umbral Radio) became our main tools of resistance and struggle.

And yes, we considered other means of struggle too; until we realised that it was a foolish idea — a military defeat of the US-trained and -equipped Chilean army was impossible.

Journalist Robert Fisk says any story has victims and perpetrators. On 11 September 2001, the US was the victim of a terrible crime. Twenty-eight years earlier, on 11 September 1973, the US was the perpetrator of a terrible crime in Chile.

More than two decades have passed since Chile finally recovered its democracy, in 1989. And today while I remember Chile's 9/11, a fragment of Pablo Neruda's 'Sonnet 20' flies to my mind — 'nosotros, los de entonces, ya no somos los mismos (us, the we of then, are no longer the same)'.

It is true, we have changed, but we have not forgotten that event that changed our lives forever. 

Antonio Castillo

Antonio Castillo is a journalist and lecturer in media and communications at the University of Sydney. His latest book, Journalism in the Chilean Transition to Democracy, was published last year. He is currently researching a book on journalists, exile and memory.

Topic tags: Antonio Castillo, 9/11, september 11, world trade centre, new york, allende, pinochet



submit a comment

Existing comments

Mi corazon llora con Usted y con los suyos. Ojala sea asi que nosotros apreciemos y protegamos siempre la libertad.
Stephen Kellett | 14 September 2010

I did grow up in Europe during the Cold War. I still remember seeing thousands of Hungarians fleeing their homes to escape the brutal Russian invasion. I remember when the same dark evil forces built the Berlin Wall. I remember how people were murdered for trying to escape from behind the Iron Curtain. In Europe, we had a murderous gang of Communists controlling much of Eastern Europe. Communism was the main threat to the freedom of most people in Europe. There was nothing more human or humane associated with Communism.
The USA was the only country, which could and would defend Europe against a total takeover by the Russian Communists. The USA was also active in other regions of the world to fight Communism.

During the Cold War, many bad mistakes did happen. The invasion of East Timor by Indonesia was allowed because Australia could not want a “new Cuba” off Darwin with a Communist regime controlling part of the Timor Sea. In South and Central America, military right wing dictatorships were supported as a counter balance to control the “potential of Communist expansion”.
The Cold War was not always cold and millions died in wars, revolutions, counter-revolutions and assassination in countries such as Korea, Vietnam, Angola, Chile and many more.

I understand that people in many of these countries have witnessed bad things on both sides. There are virtually millions of evil acts that remain unpunished all across the world. Where do we start and where do we end? Do we punish Pinochet and his associates? What about the Shining Path movement?
Considering all the evil things that occurred during the Cold War, NOTHING compares to the brutal and indiscriminate mass murder at 9/11 in New York!

Beat Odermatt | 14 September 2010

Antonio says: " Twenty-eight years earlier, on 11 September 1973, the US was the perpetrator of a terrible crime in Chile." The only evidence he cites is the Nixon memo. Suggestive, but hardly proof and nothing like the abundance of evidence for the crimes of Osama bin Laden cum suis.
Fr John Fleming | 14 September 2010

Nothing compares Beat??? What an extraordinarily ignorant statement. The loss of nearly 3,000 innocent people in the US on 9/11 was tragic and the work of a small group of lunatics.

The murder of the same number of innocent people in Chile under Pinochet’s regime, the torture of tens of thousands, the kidnapping of the babies of the regime’s victims, and the fact that thousands of families still do not know where their loved ones are buried, are calamities of monumental proportions that overshadow New York’s tragedy.

Pinochet’s barbarity occurred as the result of an ideology that demonised a legitimate and popular regime which was undermined by millions of CIA dollars. Hitler was equally successful at demonising the Jews, turning them into “non-humans” who could be exterminated without conscience.

Pinochet’s illegal and brutal regime was supported by the USA who funded the overthrow of Allende’s democratically elected government. That cannot be denied, even if the US does not want to admit to the blood on its hands. The US was acting on behalf of American business, just as they had decades earlier in Nicaragua. It is time they acknowledged that fact.

Lest we forget… My heart goes out to the families of the victims of both the North and South American 9/11 atrocities.

Patricia | 14 September 2010

Thank you for sharing your very moving story of the coup in Chile. At that time I was raising my young family in the USA, where we lived for 15 years. The New York Times did make it clear that there was US involvement in the Chilean illegal, immoral coup, the assination of Allende, the 'disappeared', the whole horrific aftermath.

One of the finest moments after our return to Australia in 1973 was to hear of Nixon's end as leader. Nixon left, to live a very comfortable and relatively honoured life.

Chile, Vietnam and Cambodia remain changed forever.

Don't expect remembrance here, Antonio. We are, because of media and cultural saturation, a USA-centric nation; this will continue and deepen; we seem to become absorbed in what is superficial rather than what may be best to take from that nation.
But some of us do remember, Antonio, and are aware of your grief.
Caroline Storm | 14 September 2010

Patricia! Yes, NOTHING compares to the 9/11 in New York. It was nothing than a nihilistic terror act resulting in mass murder. I did mention that many evil things did occur during the Cold War and I am sick and tired just having the USA singled out as the Bad Boy. Even if all the all the conspiracy theories about the USA would be correct, the indiscriminate terror and murder carried out by leftists and Communist forces across the world would resulted in the death of Millions. It would be nice of some people start taking off their rose coloured glasses of anti-USA bias and compare and condemn ALL political murders across the globe.

I understand that if anybody is directly is affected by such atrocity, it will be hard to forgive and forget. I am sure that as many people from Eastern Europe, Korea, Vietnam etc. have also much hardship to remember.
In fact the USA has always remained a free and democratic country and even the president was sacked for breaking the law. The USA or any other free Western Country never had to build a wall to keep its people in! South America was not especially known to have tolerant and softhearted Communists. You may decide to talk to people from Peru, Nicaragua and Cuba and ask them about their experience during Communist rule or times of mass terror by groups such as Shining Path. Get real and get the facts, please!!!
Beat Odermatt | 14 September 2010

1. Didn't Colin Powell utter some words of regret for this in 2003?

2. If the USA has backed a bloodstained rightwing dictator in the past, then American presidents today should do their utmost to restore democracy in that country now. "Regional stability" and "keeping a lid in the radicals" be blowed. Use military force if necessary. Surely the rest of the world will applaud if America adopts a new policy of exporting democracy to the Third World... right?
Rod Blaine | 14 September 2010

'onya, Antonio!
BillD | 14 September 2010

Beat - I think you are entirely missing the point of Antonio's poignant and thought-provoking article. He was not comparing the dreadful aftermath of "terrible crimes" in US or elsewhere. All are equally despicable. Rather the shattered lives of people affected are proof these events should not be forgotten, even if our fickle media decides which events should live on in memory. Antonio - thank you for reminding us.
Sophie Rose | 14 September 2010

Well written, Antonio! Yes, we - who weren't there - do remember. It was so horrific that I doubt it will be really forgotten.

All power to you, Antonio!
Nathalie | 14 September 2010

Lest we forget...add this one to the Middle East...and the Medals of Freedom (?.) Blair,Howard,and was it a President from Chile ?.
john M Costigan | 14 September 2010

There are many September 11ths. I've heard it said they're annual. In 2001 something rubbish happened on that day. In 1973 too. But let's not forget the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. Or the Lithuanian Civil War. The Collapse of the Quebec Bridge?

OK, so if you lost someone in a terrible incident that happened in living memory, grieve and share your grief with those who love you, but don't advertise it. I'm not buying it. The event was internationally significant. Your tears aren't.

If you are in ongoing danger from criminal acts, report them, find, arrest and prosecute the criminals. Your grief does not excuse your own criminality, nor your brutality, nor your narrowed mind.
Adam Itinerant | 14 September 2010

Great article. It is wonderful to know that there is actual documentation (the Nixon/Helms memo) of the US intention to have Allende overthrown.
I wonder how that memo became public?
Julian Connelly | 14 September 2010

I spoke to my sister today and she just told me how she did have listen to the screaming of a young African girl undergoing genital mutilation. The Governments are failing to control such daily brutality amongst us. Most animals have more real protection then many of these young people. The excuse of “cultural tolerance” and “religious freedom” provides an excuse for these crimes to be carried out. I am sure a young African girl had day of pain to remember forever and it will be 9/14/2010! Fighting real injustice today may be too much of hard work and it could be interpreted as “racist”, “bigoted “ and or culturally insensitive.
Beat Odermatt | 14 September 2010

Sophie Rose's last sentence "Antonio, thank you for reminding us" Yes, we should not forget "Communism Tyranny" Stalin, the great purge, the Gulags, the near extinction of the Russian Orthodox Church. Mao, 75 millions innocent men, women and children were killed in Asia mainly in China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia. Castro, Chavez. What about Islamic Tyranny. For centuries Moslems have been persecuting Jews and Christians, even today the Coptic Church is being persecuted in Egypt, churches are burnt and priests and parishioners are killed. Antonio should thanks God that the USA is our friend and USA is neither a Communist nor an Islamic nation. USA is a democracy, freedom loving nation always ready to help her friends.
Ron Cini | 14 September 2010

A memory of Chile 1973 well worth keeping, as a constant warning. Good story, thank you.
Andrew Graham-Yooll | 14 September 2010

Beat and Ron, oppression is oppression is oppression, regardless of the colour of the government that perpetrates it. One cannot excuse one barbarity with another whether committed by Communists or Capitalists. The murders carried out by the Shining Path, the Soviets or the Chinese government were and are carried out for the same ideological reasons that Pinochet's regime murdered and tortured thousands of innocent Chileans. In all cases, the victims were/are de-humanised because they were/are a perceived threat to the power brokers.

If we in the West choose to ignore the atrocities perpetrated by our powerful ally the USA (to whom Europe especially owes much), then we betray the same lack of ethical judgement and humanity as those whom we have accused.
Patricia | 15 September 2010

I hope I am correct in assuming that we all agree that we should never forget any evil deed done by anybody in the past for whatever reason, ideology or believes. I hope we can do everything possible to stop such deeds done today and to prevent them in the future. To learn from history means that we act today and plan for tomorrow for a world where all people are free to express their thoughts and their believes.
Beat Odermatt | 15 September 2010

Antonio thanks for your poignant reminder of the brutal Pinochet regime and the scars inflicted on Chile. I am lucky that I have never had to experience a dictatorship bent on fear and torture. I can't imagine what it was like and I am sorry that you and your country had to go through that.
alice | 15 September 2010

I had no idea that the date had so much meaning for reasons other than the WTC attacks. This is very solomn but important reading. A brilliant filmic comment on these events is "Nostalgia for the Light" seen at the Melbourne Film Festival 2010.
Carol Andrew | 15 September 2010

Thank you, Antonio. El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido!
John Falzon | 17 September 2010

Thank you, Antonio, for your dignified reminder of the oft forgotten tragedy of Chile. I remember meeting Chilean refugees in the mid 1970s in Paris and W. Germany and the depth of their grief.

I think Caroline Storm's description of Australia as a 'USA-centric nation' is spot on as witnessed by the 'venom' of some responses to Antonio's article.

And please don't feed me the 'freedom of speech' line yet again. Yes, you/we do indeed have freedom of speech which is precious. Apparently we also feel free to say ignorant and stupid things.
Hanifa Deen | 17 September 2010

Thanks to Antonio for this super article - a vivid reminder of what I studied at Macquarie University many years ago. We had a wonderful lecturer Morris, with whom we did international relations. MY eyes were opened to politics in Latin America, and the power, wealth and influence of the USA in those regions. I never felt the same again about the US. I have little trust in it.
Karalynne Redknap | 08 October 2010

A couple of considerations:

1) It is a seller argument to claim full responsibility of the US regarding 1973's military coup. The truth is less attractive, indeed, this tragedy wouldn't have been possible without Augusto Pinochet. Of course there was CIA's help, but don't underestimate Pinochet, he is to blame when it comes to cruelty and torture.

2) Never forget that the coup was initially supported by the majority of the country, or two of the three thirds of Chilean politics, if you will.

3) Allende wasn't assassinated, he commited suicide when he saw himself surrounded by the military. It's impressive to watch how many people fall on this one. I think his decision was a brave one.

4) September in Chile is a beautiful month, full of celebration and joy. Only a few go out on September 11's night to vandalise and clash with the police. The days around September 18 are dedicated to leisure: eat "empanadas", drink "chicha", and so on.

As a bottom line I'll say it's a common mistake for Chileans abroad to exaggerate the effects of the September 11 coup
in today's Chile. We are far more worried about the national soccer team, 2010's earthquake reconstruction, etc.

Sorry for the rusty english, if it's the case.
Juan Carlos | 16 February 2011


Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up