Remembering The Other 9/11

Each September 11 we gather collectively to remember the terrorist attack which brought down the Twin Towers in New York on that dreadful day in 2001. Gore Vidal once famously termed our country "the United States of Amnesia." Vidal was referring to our habit of forgetting our own history, but our amnesia is nowhere as bad as when it comes to remembering the history of our neighbors down south. Long before those planes cast the predatory shadows over Manhattan, Latin America already knew the date of September 11 as a deep, unforgettable scar. In 1971 Chile made history when it became the first country to elect a Marxist president, Salvador Allende, in free and democratic elections. The victory created shockwaves in the region where the image of socialism was immediately associated with the radical example of Cuba, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Allende began a social reform process which was a far cry from the radicalism of the Cubans or Chinese, it was a gradual process and yet for the United States, it was a dangerous example. The Richard Nixon White House became convinced that the Chilean road to socialism would set a dangerous precedent in a region mired by poverty and extreme inequality. These were the days of the Cold War when ideological battles outweighed common sense or rationality.

The first major danger signs came when Allende nationalized Chile's copper, taking it away from the major private industries with big links in the United States. Capitalism freely brushes away borders and shudders when socialism does the same. Then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger famous and cynically said that "we should not let a country go Communist, simply because of the irresponsibility of its own people."

As documented in "Story Of A Death Foretold: The Coup Against Salvador Allende, September 11, 1973," by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, the Nixon administration ordered a series of economic sabotages and began funding fascist groups to destabilize Chilean society through terrorism and riots, provoking shortages and other calamities. Nixon said the U.S. should "make the Chilean economy scream."

Eventually the situation spiraled into a major tragedy when Chilean military officers, trained by the United States and led by General Augusto Pinochet, led a fascist coup on September 11, 1973 when the air force bombed the presidential palace and smashed the government. Allende fought to the end in the palace itself and took his own life rather than surrendering. The result was a brutal dictatorship which killed over 30,000 people and even increased inequality in Chile.

Why is this important for us to know in the United States? Apart from the fact that our country had a role in Chile's plight, history is a universal reality and it cannot be brushed aside. Our actions in other countries have direct consequences that affect our own national interests, many times negatively. Consider the situation today in Iraq. Once again our imperial president is justifying airstrikes and the deployment of troops in another country. But the rise of the Islamic State is a direct result of our 2003 invasion and destruction of Iraq. We shattered that country through a violent occupation, driven by mad visions of remaking an entire region. The corrupt government we installed and helped support there only laid the groundwork for a radical, extremist, terrifying group like ISIS to emerge out of the blood-soaked earth and proclaim the end of the old order, backed the U.S., and the birth of a horrible new age. In the Arab world, where the terrorists of 9/11 came from, we continue to support brutal regimes in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen and elsewhere where the restless seek solace in toxic doctrines and unforgiving, intense visions. The crimes of September 11, 2001 have no excuse, but the roots we must not look away from.

Even in Latin America figures like Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales took power in elections in the 2000s as a reaction to U.S. policies in the region. And they were at least socialists without arms, whereas in the Middle East we have not learned the lessons of our actions and with more bombs and interventions will only help breed new nightmares.