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When We Forget, Anguish Is Often Buried Alive

How important is the pain of the past? Should people strive to confront it or try to forget it?

Such questions routinely underlie news stories and media debates. Depending on the spin, history can seem crucial or irrelevant to the present. In deep ways, the past is far from over. But commentators often claim that we should just move on and let bygones be bygones.

Lately, world attention has been riveted on former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and the possibility that — a quarter of a century after he seized power from Chile's democratically elected government — the general may face prosecution for his crimes.

Since Pinochet's arrest, news outlets in Chile have been delving into horrible truths about the 17 years of his brutal regime. Meanwhile, the media discussions in the United States have been more restrained.

The political repression overseen by Gen. Pinochet — including widespread torture and the murders of more than 3,000 Chilean people — did not only result from the policies of the junta in Santiago. Top officials in Washington were also directly responsible.

A recent New York Times article mentioned “some uneasiness in Washington with the idea that former government leaders can be held responsible by foreign courts.” According to the news account, a Boston-based law professor worried aloud: “What's to prevent Spain from extraditing Henry Kissinger, who was involved in the coup?”

A few days later, Times reporter Barbara Crossette observed that “efforts to subordinate national sovereignty to internationalist notions of universal crimes are especially tricky for the United States.” She added: “Suppose Cambodians decided to indict Henry Kissinger on charges of ordering the bombing of their country during the Vietnam War?”

Those kinds of scenarios are far-fetched nightmares for many in the US media elite — such as Ted Koppel, who long ago declared himself “proud to be a friend of Henry Kissinger.” The ABC newsman has ranked his pal as “certainly one of the two or three great secretaries of state of our century.”

Likewise, for the past three decades, Washington Post Company owner Katharine Graham has counted Kissinger among her closest friends. Any detention of Kissinger on charges of war crimes would probably also distress the movers and shakers at CBS, where he has served on the board of directors.

It's easy to toss off platitudes about people in another society — how they should face up to their past. But it's always much more difficult to implement such principles closer to home. So, Kissinger has never been compelled to answer for his role as a key architect of policies that caused a total of more than 1 million deaths in Chile, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, East Timor and elsewhere.

Kissinger, of course, remains free to live in luxury and travel as he pleases.

Shortly after Pinochet's arrest, the Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman penned an open letter to him that appeared in the Spanish newspaper El Pais and has now been excerpted in the December issue of The Progressive magazine.

“What I have wanted to see for 25 years now — and I still have a hard time believing that it might be about to happen — is that before your death you will be forced to look with your blue eyes into the dark and light eyes of the women whose sons and husbands and fathers and brothers you made disappear, one woman after another,” Dorfman wrote. “I want for them to have the chance to tell you how their lives were fractured and torn apart by an order that you gave, or by the ‘action’ of the secret police that you chose not to stop. I have asked myself what would happen to you if you were forced to hear day after day the multiple stories of your victims and to acknowledge their existence.”

Here at home, in the United States, we may cheer about Pinochet's belated legal difficulties. But we could render a valuable service by demanding that the news media finally expose a wide range of deceptions that have never been given a proper burial.


  1. Mark Laszlo January 30, 2021

    American exceptionalism is the USA’s govt’s carte blanche to violate all moral values abroad, as if their causes are so great and good, they can do no wrong, except in the USA and our closest, oldest allies’ lands.

    Mostly the hypocrises, atrocities and betrayal of Woodrow Wilson’s doctrine of encouraging and defending the self determination of Peoples to choose and build their own forms of government, are hidden from the American People by our govt and voluntary self censorship of our press and American allied press. Mostly the American People are happier not knowing what they don’t tell us, to spare our personal and national moral reckoning.

    Those who expose and confront us with the dark side of American foreign policy; the news, (mostly old news) that ever reaches many of us, is via our loyal opposition, that is controlled opposition, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post; world class newspapers, except for the CIA’s disinfo and what they don’t tell us. And the far right, posing as speakers from the center of our national values, makes war on such liberal presses for confronting our consciences at all re: foreign policy.

    Those who begin to confront our suppressed national conscience are sneered at as bleeding heart liberals, called traitors and now are even physically attacked and threatened with mass lynching, as by the capitol breachers who knocked a lady reporter for the NYT to the floor, said “let’s pop some libtards” and a retired logger in Compotche who proposed hanging liberals from every tree.

    The 1st question our fractured nation needs to ask is not ‘how can we let the govt be so evil to the world and lead so many in our armed forces to commit atrocities as armed forces’ customs’ like
    “Kill them all. Let God sort them out.” And acting like the Geneva Conventions our government helped to write, are good enough to execute foreigners for, but not good enough for us to follow, as Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange exposed in decrypted videos of a helicopter massacre on an Iraqi journalist and children and a helicopter massacre on Iraqis and the wounded insurgents they came to save, creating a pond of blood in the street 10 meters wide.

    And what has already come of the now widely accepted exception of Dick Cheney and others to “cruel and unusual punishment”, banned on the 1st page of our Constitution?

    That 1st question we must ask is: What is the price for letting the govt that’s supposed to be of, for, and by, all of us; making us all responsible for their actions, abandon all morality in other countries whenever they see fit, even on the levels of standing orders and practices and not telling us?

    And the 1st answer is shown by now standard practices of American police, even the Mendocino County Sherriff’s department, that brutalizes and tortures people not convicted of crimes during arrest, to force them to sign away rights and confiscate their property, with cowardly stomping of their backs in their sleeping bags, excruciatingly tight handcuffs and exposure to clouds of mosquitos nearly naked on a cold night, as in a recent letter to the Anderson County Advertiser of the bust of the legally placarded grow of “Eagle”.

    As in the Fisher pirate’s Humbolt Redwood Company’s hired ex-Navy Seals, who torture defenders of nature from the holocaust of
    species that endangers humanity, using tazers on our protestors. Tazering to torture is now a standard practice of most American police depts and ICE.

    In the practice of torture, 1st overseas, then made routine at home, is an example to show the outcome of abandonment of national values of the USA’s founders and followers overseas.

    For by targeting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for govt and corporate hegemony overseas, they are ever more ripped off from us in America, by the govt that was ours.

    The evils we practice in the world always come home.

  2. Douglas Coulter January 30, 2021

    A pecking order is required for fascist system to function. Without enemies the people turn on oppressive governments. Give us enemies and we circle the wagons.
    When commie threat ended with Soviet Union collapse Ronald invented the terror threat with Beirut. Pure salesmanship. An attack on a poorly defended military target in a combat zone is not terrorist attack, it is simple warfare.
    Look at any family, we bicker and fight until the Hatfields show up.
    Muhammad Ali famously said, the slave owners enemy is not my enemy. We put him in prison for that! We have been fascist for quite some time but it is getting harder to disguise. Communist or fascist seem to be the two opposite systems of thought.

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