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imperialism & war | legacies

But The Band Plays On

Two wretched people died within days of each other -- Augusto Pinochet and Jeane Kirkpatrick. No, they didn't face firing squads, the needle or the noose. They were allowed to pass on via old age, an imperial luxury their many victims didn't enjoy.
Two wretched people died within days of each other -- Augusto Pinochet and Jeane Kirkpatrick. No, they didn't face firing squads, the needle or the noose. They were allowed to pass on via old age, an imperial luxury their many victims didn't enjoy.

Yes, Pinochet was hassled and harassed over the last years of his life, but never seemed in any serious danger of getting thrown into a Saddam-like cell and facing the same "justice." And there's a very good reason for that: Pinochet faithfully served the interests of capital in Chile; and unlike Saddam, he didn't turn on his benefactors or force them to retrospectively care about his atrocities. This is why you didn't hear the same "humanistic" cries in US ruling circles as was heard when Saddam attacked the Kuwaiti monarchy. Pinochet knew his place and understood the rules of engagement. To this day, he still has defenders in the US, as did Saddam -- until August 2, 1990, that is.

One recurring defense of Pinochet's regime is that he "only" killed 3,000 or so Chileans, with a reported 1,000 missing. Not nearly as brutal, his defenders say, as was Pol Pot, much less Mao or Stalin (further proof of capital's "benevolence"). But also recall that al-Qaeda operatives "only" killed 3,000 or so Americans and others on 9/11, a much smaller crime, if one is wed to per capita assessments. After all, Chile had 11 million people, whereas the US pushed 300 million. How would someone be received if he or she hailed the 9/11 attacks as not only justified, due to US aggression, but said that the attacks were a drop in the bucket, death-wise, a form of restraint that proved al-Qaeda's "benevolence"? And unlike Pinochet in Chile, al-Qaeda did not overthrow the elected US government and install an oppressive regime that lasted 17 years, further evidence of al-Qaeda's lighter touch. Think that person would make the talk show rounds, or get a gig with an elite think tank?

This is not to say that because Augusto Pinochet and al-Qaeda used terror and mass murder on their ideological enemies, they are the same. One significant difference: Pinochet had his own Air Force, whereas al-Qaeda had to hijack planes to do its killing. See? Not at all alike.

Jeane Kirkpatrick, who loved Pinochet and spoke warmly of him while in Santiago, was further up the policy ladder than the Chilean dictator, but shared many of his passions. One in particular, death squads. As Reagan's UN Ambassador, Kirkpatrick defended that administration's funding and training of state terrorists throughout Latin America, most enthusiastically in El Salvador, where early on Kirkpatrick dismissed claims that Maryknoll nuns who were raped and butchered by the Salvadoran National Guard in 1980 were "victims." As she put it, "The nuns were not just nuns, they were political activists, and we should be very clear about that." Of course. And in an emerging, Western-style democracy, political activists, especially those who work with the poor, are legitimate targets for state violence, a policy that Kirkpatrick never tired of championing.

Still, as much as Kirkpatrick enjoyed watching powerless people being shot in the head or hacked to death with machetes and dumped into rivers or mass graves, she never got to kill any of her enemies herself. An imperial perk, as we know. But still, how gung ho would Kirkpatrick remain if she were given a rifle at, say, El Mozote, and encouraged to murder with impunity? Something tells me that she would balk at direct engagement. If true, then Kirkpatrick was more hypocritical than someone like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who at least had the honesty to personally behead a given captive. But then, when you do your own killing, it cuts down on the number of dismembered bodies needed to make the political statement you wish to make. In that sense, Kirkpatrick's rhetorical support for mass murder and torture was more constructive, as it was part of a larger effort to legitimize the terrorist policy of the Reagan White House. What good would Kirkpatrick be to her bosses if her precious time was taken up with pumping bullets into peasants' brains? This is why larger, more successful terrorist operations hire out.

There are those, primarily on the left, who are celebrating the passing of these two ghouls. In a way, it's understandable; in some instances, fitting. But I rarely, if ever, feel any joy when criminals like Pinochet and Kirkpatrick die. Yes, they've met their maker, but then, we all do, eventually. And once they're gone, there are many others who eagerly replace them, keeping the system of mass killing for greed and geopolitical power humming along. When the system itself dies, then perhaps I'll crack a smile and pop a cork -- assuming it hasn't laid waste to the world around us before it finally expires.

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