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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media


Norway’s Prime Minister called it “an act of terror which the world has never seen before.” He was talking about September 11, 2001. He might have been talking about September 11, 1973.

Thirty years ago La Moneda, the former mint where the socialist and democratically elected President of Chile, Salvador Allende, had his office, was destroyed in a coordinated air and ground attack and Allende was killed. Some claim he committed suicide. Others say he was shot by military putschists and cite as evidence comments he made in a series of short, stirring radio addresses while under assault. “I am not a martyr,” he said, “but those who refuse to recognize the will of the majority of Chileans should know I shall defend the government because that is the mandate I have been given by the people. I shall remain in La Moneda even at the cost of my life.”

The coup, Allende charged, demonstrated foreign capitalists linked to reactionary elements within Chile would stop at nothing in defense of their profits and privileges. “Nonsense,” replied the Nixon administration in the United States. “Allende was overthrown due to his own incompetence. His own mismanagement led to a clamor for his ouster which compelled the military to intervene.”

Evidence, however, confirmed that the Nixon administration, in alliance with multinational corporations which viewed Allende as a threat to their interests plotted with reactionary Chileans to overthrow him. “It is not a part of American history that we’re proud of,” Secretary of State Colin Powell remarked recently.

Among the principal agents involved in preparing the ground for the coup were the Anaconda and Kennecott Copper companies that owned the copper mines on which Chile depended for 80 percent of its foreign exchange, the International Telephone and Telegraph Company which also had substantial interests in the country, and President Nixon’s National Security advisor, Henry Kissinger. “Covert Action in Chile: 1963-1973,” published by the United States Senate in 1975 is a compelling account of their conspiracy. It is available on the web at http://foia.state.gov/Reports/ChurchReport.asp.

After Allende’s overthrow, a military junta led by Augusto Pinochet arrested, tortured and killed thousands of Allende’s supporters; abolished the Congress; banned trade unions and political parties; took control of the media and universities; burned books, and outlawed popular music. Then with U.S. government support and under the guidance of free market economists trained at the University of Chicago, it privatized property Allende had nationalized, opened the economy to foreign competition and investment, and presided over a massive redistribution of income from the poor to the rich. When Pinochet was finally forced out of office and democracy restored to Chile in 1990, 44% of Chileans lived below the poverty line. On October 16, 1998, while visiting London, Pinochet was arrested on a warrant issued by a Spanish judge charging him with crimes against humanity. Eventually, for health reasons, he was allowed to return to Chile, but the effort to bring him to trial for human rights abuses continues as the 30th anniversary of the coup which toppled the Allende government approaches.

Of course Mohamed Atta and the other Al Qaeda operatives who hijacked passenger jets and used them to bring down the World Trade Center’s twin towers and one wing of the Pentagon weren’t thinking of what happened in Chile when they chose September 11 for their mission. But the coincidence that their attack on America in 2001 and the coup in Chile in 1973 took place on the same day leads us to ask, “Is there anything to be learned from considering them in tandem?” Strikingly, the answer is, “yes.”

What 9/11/01 gave the United States is a new rationale for overthrowing governments, not the moral authority to do so. In Chile, Henry Kissinger maintains, our government was preventing the spread of communism and promoting democracy. In Afghanistan and Iraq, President Bush claims, we are combating terrorism and promoting democracy. That is the way they would have us see it. It is what former Senator J. William Fulbright called the “tendency to equate power with virtue” or, in short, “the arrogance of power.” Most realize, however, that our policymakers’ motives are not always as pure they proclaim.

Why do people object to the United States assuming the role of world policeman in the wake of 9/11/01?” “Because they recall 9/11/73,” is one answer. “Why do they question our government’s motives in Iraq?” “Because they know that the Bush administration has close ties with business firms hoping to profit one way or another from Iraq’s oil, because they remember we helped overthrow the democratically elected government of Chile, and because they recall Allende’s caveat about capitalists,” the cognoscenti respond. “But Iraq is not about oil,” our policymakers say. “Sure, and Chile was not about copper,” the skeptics retort. “Still we got rid of Saddam Hussein,” the Bush administration boasts. “Yes, and in the process marginalized the United Nations, undermined respect for international law, killed thousands of Iraqi civilians, and neither advanced the cause of democracy nor diminished the threat of terrorism,” diplomats and scholars respond. “What can we learn from 9/11?” people ask. “Which 9/11?” is the appropriate answer.

by Paul Cantor