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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Monday, December 11, 2006

"For Us The Living"

And Also: Someone, whose thoughts generally are worth reading, if not always fully agreeable, has some insider insights on the Seattle school race case. The movie referenced last time was lackluster, but all agreed that the dinner afterwards was pretty good, especially the bread. Love good bread.

[Also: Christopher Hitchens might be an ass in various ways, but sometimes his perspective is not skewered. See here. To underline my point below that some still think Pinochet was a great guy, see here. Anti-american values yet again.]

His reign was rather problematic for various reasons, but Augusto Pinochet did die in a timely fashion. That is, fitting into a theme matching a movie I recently saw, one that actually was well made.* [It is hard not to be darkly flip at times, life appearing to merit it.] Hermanas (Sisters) took place in 1984 Texas with flashbacks ten years before politically troubled Argentina. I have a complimentary promotional postcard in front of me for The Blonds, a documentary of sorts regarding the same general era -- the film created by a woman whose parents vanished, and “victims of the Argentina's brutal military junta." And, I recently saw Isabel Allende promoting her latest book ... she is the niece of the democratically elected leader who Pinochet forces (with Nixon/Kissinger's blessing) killed.

It is fitting to reference fiction and other artistic representations of such events since Latin America has a rich literary condition addressing its long and troubled history. A wonderful book/film entitled Like Water For Chocolate, for instance, is an example of the "magical realism" technique often used in such works. The book tells a story about a woman in turn of the century Mexico (20th Century) who used food to express the passions she is not able to do so because of familial restraints. Allende also uses the technique as well as her own style in books like House of the Spirits, a fictional account that patterns experiences in her own country of Chile. And, we see the father dissident professor character in Hermanas use a fake Russian writer to make points about current events.

[Barbara Kingsolver is another writer who influenced my thoughts of the region, both her fiction and essays. Also, Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq by Stephen Kinzer. Yes, as usual, I lean a certain way. I have read a few neutral accounts of the events, but those at least somewhat dubious about our policies in the region ring true to me. And, overall, honestly.]

We saw the value of deeper truths expressed in fictional terms in the biblical book as well. Thus, the trio was used by later writers for their authority in order to promote a certain vision as well as to address current concerns. In effect, is this not how the Bible is often used in our day? As to the immediate issue, Latin America has long been a concern (think the Monroe Doctrine or not recognizing Haiti, since [eek] it was run by blacks, former slaves at that), even if there was a sort of "sidebar issue" to the whole thing. Along with various not too deeply thought out assumptions about the region. Thus, I have at various times heard the assumption (without much authentication or addressing of unsaid beliefs) that Pinochet in effect had little choice. There was going to be violence there anyway. At least, he "stabilized" (sounds benign, huh?) the region, and provided economic well being for the country.

This is almost amusing. No, it is, it just is one of those "laugh so you cannot cry" moments. Chile at the time had a policy that recognized the value of rotating the different political groups in power. It was time for the social democrats, represented by an erudite scholar sort (the bulky plastic glasses he wears in my newspaper’s photo fits the bill) by the name of Salvador Allende. The country, as I recall, had three main parties, so Allende's government had in effect plurality support. But, he was in no way some dangerous reactionary, the Che of Chile. Such nuances, of course, didn't quite fit U.S. policy at the time (or that of its President, who unconstitutionally in effect delegated such responsibilities, a theme that we still hear as some sort of necessary doctrine).

A legitimate approach would be to have been supported the democratically elected choice, using our connections to ensure the dissident forces would not work against what had some potential to be a troublesome situation. [Or, not get involved.] And, yes, the military and industrial leadership forces were a bit wary about even a soft acceptance of "leftist" thinking. Can't trust those people. So, they set it up to fall, "they" including the U.S. that felt totally justified to assist in the murder of a democratically elected leader of a country that was in effect an ally. Again, this was in no way a compelled by events approach, just one that matched certain political interests. The net result was unrest all the same, including by people who were unsurprisingly horrified at what was going on, as well as a chunk of society who very well might have been better off with more social welfare policies.

Let it be remembered that the income tax was once held to be "socialist" in our country. The word is only horrifying for those who want it to be. And, it simply is ridiculous to assume our social conditions match those of other countries in all respects. It also is useful to remember the size of some of these countries, which also is a factor -- it is like comparing the policies of Vermont or Minnesota with the United States, the latter state much more social welfare friendly than the nation as a whole. But, it really bears mentioning that a not all too ideal history with the power in the North (El Norte), the United States, is a big factor as well. All of this must be kept in mind, and if it is, perhaps so many would not have so simplistic (often troublingly so) sentiments about such places.

I think it is quite telling that the country as a whole has a generally weak understanding of the history of the region, if anything, basically accepting things as unlikely to have gone another way. The Contras serve as a core example of the problems with this viewpoint. Reagan could-- let's be blunt here -- unconstitutionally go along his merry way and Doonesbury is the only place where the general public might fully understand the ridiculous nature of the whole affair. And, in no small part, this was because a general sentiment that "pro-U.S." was a simplistically obvious determinant. Many are refreshingly cynical about assurances that one party or the other is so much more ideal, but such cynical realism only seems to go so far. Other times dubious tropes, resulting in horrible loss of life and human rights violations, are basically accepted. Necessary, you see, to stop the violence and such.

You know, like in Iraq. Kinzer's book suggests the fact that this all is not to be taken in isolation. Life and foreign policy can be compartmentalized only so much. Attempts by Spain to bring Pinochet to account, something Chile itself was wary about doing in promotion of the peace (given its past and likely still troubling forces still having some bite, this is far from surprising ... doesn't necessarily let them off the hook, so to speak), surely has other parallels. But, yes, Latin America -- and individual nations/regions therein -- needs to be examined on its own. And, Hermanas provides an artistically superior way to do this, as does the death of Pinochet at 91.

I might consider this proof of Billy Joel's dictum that only the good die young, but Jimmy Carter is still around, writing books and doing some good. So, see the Gettysburg Address (the source of the quote), perhaps the best case is to use his death for the benefit of the living, in the process, putting the dead into perspective.


* It played in a charming little theater known as "Two Boots" (for the pizzeria, which can be found next door) in the Lower East Side, which plays such independent/foreign fare. This time, they gave out free popcorn, a reasonable small size. Timely, since I didn't eat much that day, and leaving room for ... yes, a p&b sandwich at a tiny automat that I passed on the way back to the subway. Not quite comparable to the now defunct eatery that was in midtown, but appreciated. Below 14th Street has its charms.