Monday music: 11 September

…not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious. (Walter Benjamin, died Catulunya, September 1940)

So we set out, with cameras at the ready, for New York, another city of my dreams assaulted on another September 11, again a Tuesday morning when fire fell from the sky. Though by 2001 very few people in the world recalled the existence of that remote Chilean date, I was besieged by the need to extract some hidden meaning behind the juxtaposition and coincidence of those twinned episodes bequeathed to me by the malignant gods of random history. There was something horribly familiar in that experience of disaster, confirmed during my visit to the ruins where the twin towers had once reached for the sky… every citizen of the United States forced to look into the chasm of what it means to be desaparecido, with no certainty or funeral possible for those who are missing. The photographs were still there in 2006, pinned on the wires separating the ogling spectators from the abyss… (Ariel Dorfman, 2 September, 2011)

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the horrific attacks on New York and Washington, carried out by far right Islamists. Below, Bruce Springsteen’s “My city of ruins fanfare for the common men and women killed that day, and his hope for a new, better tomorrow. 9/11 is of course also the anniversary of the 1973 military coup in Chile, which replaced Allende’s elected government with one of the most brutal dictatorships of our time, a dictatorship supported by the American and British governments.

In the first months after the coup d’état, the military killed thousands of Chilean Leftists, both real and suspected, or forced their “disappearance“. The military imprisoned 40,000 political enemies in the National Stadium of Chile… In October 1973, the Chilean song-writerVíctor Jara, and 70 other political killings were perpetrated by the death squad, Caravan of Death (Caravana de la Muerte). The government arrested some 130,000 people in a three-year period; the dead and disappeared numbered thousands in the first months of the military government.

Below, for all the victims of Pinochet’s regime, Victor Jara‘s “Preguntitas sobre Dios” (Little Questions About God), written by Atahualpa Yupanqui.

One day I asked grandfather ¿where is God? My grandfather was sad and gave me no answer. My grandfather died in the field without prayers or confessions, and was buried with the Indian bamboo flute and drum. When I asked ¿father where is God?  my father got serious and gave me no answer. My father died in the mine without doctor or confession, sweating the miner’s blood for the boss’s gold, and was buried with the Indian bamboo flute and drum… I sing when I am free and when I’m in prison I feel the voices of the people who sing better than me… God watches over the poor, maybe yes or maybe not but he surely lunches at the table of the boss.

September 11 is also the Catalan national day. Being an anti-nationalist, I will not play the turgid Catalan national anthem, “Els Segadors“, but rather “El Cant dels Ocell” (The Song of the Birds), a Catalan folk song which Pau Casals always played at the end of his concerts, looking forward to the moment when Catalonia would be free of fascism, and when humanity as a whole would be free.

From Ariel Dorfman’s Open Letter to America:

How could I not wish you well? You gave me, an americano from the Latino South, this language of love that I return to you. You gave me the hot summer afternoons of my childhood in Queens when my starkest choice was whether to buy a Popsicle from the Good Humor Man or the fat driver of the Bungalow Bar truck. And then back to calculating Jackie Robinson’s batting average. How could I not wish you well? You gave me refuge when I was barely a toddler, my family fleeing the fascist thugs in Argentina in the mid-Forties. One of you then. Still one of you now. How could I not wish you well? Years later, again it was to America I came with my own family, an exile from the Chile of Pinochet you helped to spawn into existence on precisely an 11 September, another Tuesday of doom. And yet, still wishing you well, America: you offered me the freedom to speak out that I did not have in Santiago, you gave me the opportunity to write and teach, you gave me a gringa grand-daughter, how could I not love the house she lives in?

Where is that America of mine? Where is that other America? Where is the America of ‘as I would not be a slave so would I not be a master’, the America of this ‘land is our land this land was meant for you and me’, the America of all men, and all women, everyone of us on this ravaged, glorious earth of ours, all of us, created equal? Created equal: one baby in Afghanistan or Iraq as sacred as one baby in Minneapolis. Where is my America? The America that taught me tolerance of every race and every religion, that filled me with pioneer energy, that is generous to a fault when catastrophes strike?

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. And I recall apparently also the date in 1941 on which Maria Spiridonova, Rakovsky, Kamenev’s wife, many others were shot by the NKVD outside Oryol.

    Mentioned here, with a source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Spiridonova

  2. I realize these points might be controversial but please hear me out:

    “…looking forward to the moment when Catalonia would be free of fascism, and when humanity as a whole would be free.”

    Franco’s regime was not fascist. I realize Loyalists and the radical Left referred to the rebel forces as “The Fascists” but the actual fascist party in Spain, the Falange, had limited power in Franco’s government. Many of the Falange’s key activists and leaders were killed during the civil war and those left alive after the conflict were not central figures. Another important difference between Franco’s regime and fascist countries like Nazi Germany is the state never had the sort of totalizing influence where it dominated every single element of human existence. The sphere of Education, for instance, was returned to the Catholic Church. The economy was not controlled by the state. Businessmen had much more freedom than in fascist countries. In fact, there was a certain amount of pluralism allowed in Franco’s regime. Granted this was among a limited group of players who were willing to follow Franco’s rules but it still makes Spain a different case than Germany or Italy. The regime shared more in common with Latin American military dictatorships than fascism which brings me to my next set of comments.

    You identify Pinochet as “one of the most brutal dictatorships of our time”. I wonder what standards you are using. For example, brutal to who? And to what extent? He was certainly brutal to the Left, there is no denying that. But if two deaths are twice as bad as one, he pales compared to many of the other dictators of the twentieth century. The big three–Hitler, Stalin, and Mao–were responsible for the deaths of millions, if not tens of millions.

    How many were killed during Pinochet’s coup? 3,000? And what was the total in all the years he ruled after that? The figures provided by the Left are perhaps tens of thousands at the most.

    I am not trying to say he was “good for Chile” or anything of the sort but placing things in comparative perspective, I think of King Leopold’s role in the Belgian Congo, Pol Pot and the Khymer Rouge, Ismail Enver Pasha in Turkey, Haile Menghistu in Ethiopia, and Kim Il Sung in North Korea. These regimes were responsible for well over a million deaths. Sukarno in Indonesia–a key U.S. ally–500,000 deaths. Even a tinpot dictator like Idi Amin killed between 100,000 and 500,000. How many others in the 20th century were responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths. Pinochet?

    I hate to seem so cold-hearted and disgusting but when we examine these sort of horrendous events we need a metric of comparison that does not place politics as the primary consideration. For me it is the individual human lives that were liquidated, murderdered, tortured, starved. Where do Franco and Pinochet fit on this continuum?

    • Very valid points TNC.

      I weakly disagree about Franco and fascism. Franco’s regime did not conform perfectly to the ideal type of generic fascism, but I think it was pretty close. It was a more personalised dictatorship and less a party state than the other fascist countries, and in that closer to some of the Latin American and African dictators of the 20th century. Radical modernism played a much smaller role, and traditionalism a much larger one (including, of course, Catholicism, which is untypical of fascism, but not completely exceptional). Anti-capitalism played still less of a role. There were also distinct phases within his long rule, some of which were closer to fascism and some less so.

      On Pinochet, no he is not on a par with the really appalling regimes you mention. (I didn’t know Sukarno killed so many, by the way.) But he was brutal nonetheless, and perhaps I have more of a personal involvement, as there is are so many Chilean emigres and their children in my world. Read http://mneumann.tripod.com/pinochet.html or http://www.enotes.com/genocide-encyclopedia/pinochet-augusto to get a flavour of his regime’s viciousness.

  3. Agreed. I would never want to live under Pinochet or Franco! What sometimes gets lost in the emphasis on killing is how prevalent torture was in a particular regime and Pinochet and Franco were quick to torture their political opposition, perceived and real.

    I can’t remember where I got the Sukarno statistic. As you know, these numbers are contested so I am sure I could find another source that claimed fewer were killed.

    You know what I think of Wikipedia but this entry provides an overview of the various findings:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indonesian_killings_of_1965%E2%80%931966

    “In the first 20 years following the killings, thirty-nine serious estimates of the death toll were attempted.[32] Before the killings had finished, the army estimated 78,500 had died[38] while another early estimate by the traumatised Communists put the figure at 2 million.[32] The army later estimated the number killed at a possibly exaggerated 1 million.[27] In 1966, Benedict Anderson estimated the deaths at 200,000 and by 1985 had offered a range of 500,000 to 1 million.[32] Most scholars agree that at least half a million were killed,[39] more than any other event in Indonesian history.[24] An armed forces security command estimate from December 1976 put the number at between 450,000 and 500,000.[23]“


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