On 11 September 1973, I was in Chicago teaching sociology when news of the disaster in Chile reached us. The hemisphere’s most ambitious effort to construct a more just, egalitarian, “socialist” state by democratic means was being destroyed.
This was before the Internet, when getting news unfiltered by the media conglomerates took ingenuity and patience with a shortwave radio. But those of us who had been working to advance “progressive” movements around the globe had our own decoder. Despite the slant of the Chicago Tribune, the Sun Times and the big three TV channels, we knew that army, navy and air force units had risen against the elected government only with the consent and the urging of the US Government, especially President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. For many Americans, those of us who were paying attention, the Chilean coup destroyed whatever vestige of faith we may have had in the commitment of the US Government to democracy beyond its borders.
The massive destruction by bombs, firing squads, torture and the imposition of martial law preserved for the time being the hegemony of US and allied capital in its subject countries, but it also demonstrated how precarious that hegemony had become. The costs to Chile in lives and welfare were immense; we would learn the details only later. But the wound to US influence and prestige was deep and possibly mortal.
On 11 September 2001, Susana and I were only a few blocks away when we heard the first plane crash into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. I wrote about that only hours after it occurred, and then for the next few days — before weblogs — I posted my reactions and reflections on my regular webpage. You can see those reports here.
The young men who seized the four airplanes on that day were almost certainly not thinking of Chile, may not even have known where it was. But, whatever else may have motivated them, they were attacking that hegemony and superpower arrogance that had been on display there, and before that, in Iran in 1953, and in the Arab countries and many other places for decades.
But that was not the way to do it. The violence begot counterviolence, inflicting terrible costs but bringing no advantage either to Islamic terrorists or to the US and allied power brokers. The Chile coup of 1973 and the WTC attack of 2001 were but episodes in a longer process of transformation whose underlying forces are economic, technological and — in response to those developments — social. Chile has recovered despite the bombing of the Moneda palace and other atrocities. The Arab peoples are demanding democratic rights. Despite the violence and counterviolence of repressive forces, the grip of bankers and industrialists is slipping. The global hegemony of US capital has now almost disappeared, its power fragmented among many powers including China and the other “BRIC” —Brazil, Russia, India, China — and contested by ever more powerful popular revolts in, among other places, the Arab countries that have little or nothing to do with Al Qaeda and its strategies. The new world that many of us want to form will be a peaceful construction or it just won’t happen.