Other September 11
New York Times Editorial
September 11, 2003
Death came from the
skies. A building — a symbol of the nation — collapsed
in flames in an act of terror that would lead to the deaths of
3,000 people. It was Sept. 11.
But the year was
1973, the building Chile's White House, La Moneda, and the event
a coup staged by Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Now, after decades of
silence, Chileans are protesting in the streets for the reversal
of amnesty laws that block prosecutions for the killings after
the coup. The face of Salvador Allende, the overthrown Socialist
president, is everywhere, and now behind La Moneda is a new statue
of him wrapped in the Chilean flag. Chile's president, Ricardo
Lagos, is proposing a truth commission to look into reports of
torture, special judges to find the disappeared, new pensions
for victims' families and an amnesty program for former soldiers
who tell where the bodies are buried.
Chile is not the
only country in South America focused today on the crimes of decades
ago. In Peru, the truth commission investigating the guerrilla
wars of the 1980's and 1990's just released a report concluding
that more than 69,000 people were killed or made to disappear.
In Argentina, a new president has just annulled two amnesty laws
that the military forced through Congress after the "dirty
war" ended in 1983.
In the United States,
Sept. 11 will forever be a day to remember our victims of terrorism.
Yet our nation's hands have not always been clean, and it is important
to recall Chile's Sept. 11, too. "The Pinochet File,"
a new book by Peter Kornbluh, a researcher at the nonprofit National
Security Archive, presents declassified documents showing that
the Nixon administration, which had tried to block Mr. Allende's
inauguration, began plotting to bring him down just 72 hours after
he took office.
Mr. Allende, a Socialist
but a democrat, had done nothing to Washington. President Nixon
took his election as an affront — "it's too much the
fashion to kick us around," he said — and he worried
most that a successful Socialist would inspire others.
The United States
did not directly participate in the coup, but it laid the groundwork
for it and supported the plotters. Afterward, even as mass murder
ensued, the Nixon administration secretly embraced Mr. Pinochet's
Much has changed
in 30 years in Chile. Today, a woman, Michelle Bachelet, is the
respected defense minister, and she and the army's commander,
Gen. Juan Emilio Cheyre, are modernizing and depoliticizing the
military. General Cheyre has denounced past abuses and vowed they
will never be repeated. The courts are trying more than 160 former
military men, but retired officers feel betrayed. They still argue
that they saved Chile from communism, and they say Chile needs
That is code for
enforced silence, for forgetting. But the lesson of Chile, Peru
and Argentina is that reconciliation requires the opposite. Silence
prevents a nation from coming to terms. Real reconciliation comes
from what the guilty are trying to avoid: full information, reparations