Whose memory is this, anyway?

September 11. It goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway. Anyone in the US can muster a lot of memories about that day. But a different “that day.” I am thinking of another specific September 11, the day that changed a society forever. It was the day tanks rolled in the streets of cities throughout the country. The President assassinated, even if by his own hand. After that September 11, the generals governed for fifteen years through harsh and brutal oppression. Yes, that September 11, the one in 1973.

The Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos is situated in a working class neighborhood in Santiago and documents the coup that ousted Salvador Allende: President of Chile; socialist; champion of the people. A man democratically elected to office and violently exiled from the Earth. The coup and its aftermath is laid bare through film, news reports, recorded testimony, and documents, including reports from the truth and reconciliation committees. The museum is dedicated to preserving the memory of the coup, the suppression of human rights, and the resistance mounted by individuals and institutions.

We were in the Museum for several intense and emotionally exhausting hours. The images and stories were heartbreaking in their frankness. We saw the photographs of the mass graves, instruments of torture, detention facilities, and many faces of the 38,000 people who went missing or were murdered by the Pinochet regime. I left the museum in a dark space, deeply troubled by our history.

And yet, there was something missing. Neither the audio guide nor the presentations addressed the question, “why did it come to this?” I saw no presentation on the cold war geopolitical struggle between two superpowers. There was nothing said about the competing purposes of the President and the Congress, reflecting not just the global power struggle, but the contradictory claims of legitimacy from within the country itself.

It is not a justification, but it is part of history that the military intervened, abolished congress and established a regime to “stabilize” the situation. Fifteen years of repression and resistance followed.

The exhibit did not appear to look at the precursors to the coup. It left the impression that bad people performed heinous crimes and horrendous abuse on ordinary people. The crimes were horrendous. The abuse was inhumane. There is no question about that.

Solzhenitsyn is often quoted “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.” Ultimately the violence and abuse is due not to the goodness or badness of people, but to our willingness to allow ourselves to become convinced of the rightness of a call to action, and to deceive ourselves into false rationalizations.

I see it happening in our society now. The ideologically possessed, acting on the left and the right, assured by their convictions call forth the forces of darkness to serve the ends of their ideology. It shows up on the faces of ethno-nationalists advocating for racial purity, and it shows up in the voice of a late night “comedian” stating his desire to punch the face of a teenage boy because he is white and conservative. It is where Antifa rioters terrorize citizens and riot to demand the suppression of speakers in public spaces.

Ideology dehumanizes. If there is something to remember from the Chilean coup, it is that. When we allow ourselves to be possessed by ideology we dehumanizes others, and in the process we dehumanize ourselves.

The Museum of Memories and Human Rights is a reminder. It is also a warning.


2 thoughts on “Whose memory is this, anyway?

  1. Larry Jones February 12, 2019 / 9:01 pm


    Very powerful words, very powerful!

    I wish many more people could read you observations!

    Good Stuff

    Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone


    • aworthwhileillusion February 18, 2019 / 6:34 pm

      I just found out that the app for this week site allows me to respond to comments. I thought it should but am sure a bit flummoxed by the software. Thanks for your comment. I’m finding myself wanting to speak up a bit more, and probably will.


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