Frankly, I hope he rots in hell. There is no figure more odious than the man who supplants democracy with tyranny. Augusto Pinochet sailed into power on the crest of the military coup dï¿½etat that threw democratic President Salvador Allende out of office and into a coffin. During Pinochetï¿½s subsequent regime lasting from 1973 to 1990, thousands were exiled, tortured, or slaughtered outright. In Chile his opponents were imprisoned; abroad they were assassinated. As part of Operation Condor, Pinochet colluded with other South American dictators to eliminate all those working to dislodge them from their mutual stranglehold of a continent. It was a bear market for human rights, but other indicators indicated otherwise. By undoing many of Allendeï¿½s disastrous reforms, Pinochet restored the upset apple-cart of the Chilean economy. Acting on the advice of the so-called ï¿½Chicago Boys,ï¿½ a group of Chilean economists influenced by Milton Friedman, Pinochet laid the groundwork for Chileï¿½s modern liberalized economy.
Conservative apologists prefer to downplay, rationalize, or otherwise elide over the unpleasant parts of the Pinochet years. Those particular chapters of history happen to be uncongenial to a preferred narrative where free and heroic democracies battle back the serpentine insinuations of an evil empire. Arenï¿½t the other guys supposed to be the dictators and stuff? These apologists cast Pinochet not as the brutal dictator he was, but as the provident savior of Chile in the face of Allendeï¿½s radical and deleterious economic policies ï¿½ as the only conceivable response to the ascension of a known and confirmed Marxist to a position wherefrom he could do the most grievous harm. To hear some of them tell it, Allende-era Chile was a Stalinist vastation crying out for messianic intercession from those ultimate lovers of freedom and tireless templars of democracy: South-American generals. Writing for The Harvard Crimsonï¿½s December 13 issue, budding young apologist Ryan McCaffrey waxes superlative in the quality of his fantasy:
ï¿½Allende turned Chileï¿½s economy on its head, putting thousands out of work and home and expropriating the assets of the poorest of Chileans, who were left to stand starving in Soviet-style bread queues. Bands of revolutionary guerillas roamed the countryside, mercilessly evicting Chilean peasants from their land.ï¿½
In an op/ed curiously titled, ï¿½The Wronging of a Dictator,ï¿½ McCaffrey goes on to call Pinochet a ï¿½devout and caring Christian manï¿½ and to describe the wronged dictatorï¿½s life as part of a ï¿½crusade of justice.ï¿½ Itï¿½s a miracle he doesnï¿½t drown in his own chutzpah. According to McCaffrey, the failed 1986 assassination-attempt of the wronged dictator wasnï¿½t, you know, an attempt to assassinate a dictator; instead, it was ï¿½an indication of the gravity of the communist threatï¿½ and thus justification for a few more years of Pinochetï¿½s regime. From this incident McCaffrey concludes, ï¿½Sometimes the iron fist is a necessary prerequisite to peace, order, and even freedomï¿½an unfortunate reality of human affairs.ï¿½ It is indeed an unfortunate reality of human affairs that without the iron fist of dictators to keep us in line, even dictators run the risk of being assassinated.
In addition to the argument that the 1973 coup was a geopolitical and humanitarian necessity (plausible perhaps as late as 1974), other apologists point to the sustained and miraculous performance of the economy achieved by Pinochet as if comparative prosperity were enough to expiate the murder and torture of thousands ï¿½ not to mention the lapse of democracy itself. Most are careful to disavow such a monstrous proposition on its face while nevertheless ï¿½putting it out thereï¿½ as something they have the gall to articulate yet under which lack the temerity to subscribe their names. Such an argument, never vocalized above a whisper and always relegated to the advocacy of another, must of necessity require the mingling of two ledger-columns that is forbidden by all human decency.
The last excuse trotted out by apologists deals with the disproportionate opprobrium directed towards Castro and Pinochet. They complain that Castro receives nowhere near the censure Pinochet receives from the Left, and they attribute this deficit to resentment of Pinochetï¿½s economic policies and approval of Castoï¿½s. Unfortunately, theyï¿½re right ï¿½ the romanticization of Castro by naï¿½ve members of the Left is embarrassing and wrong. Castro is a scoundrel, and if thereï¿½s any justice, heï¿½ll reap a scoundrelï¿½s reward. Yet even if the Cuban dictator has managed to retain a certain modicum of political sympathy, the crimes of Castro diminish those of Pinochet not a whit. One need not endorse the probably misguided ban on imports and travel, nor need one countenance the multiple botched assassination-attempts made by America over the years, to admit that Castro is a criminal and recrudescent curse upon the land he claims to shepherd. But so was Pinochet. Conservatives are guilty of the selfsame hypocrisy they attribute to liberals so long as they soft-pedal Pinochetï¿½s legacy, seeing in Chileï¿½s economic success-story the vindication of free-market ideology. In a perfect world we should not have truck with either species of dictator.
This isnï¿½t a perfect world. Every tally shows more compromises made than promises kept. The worst things are often done in the name of the best things, and there are some who donï¿½t bother with names at all. We were the ones who helped the Shah overthrow Mossadegh in ï¿½53, and we were the ones who helped Pinochet overthrow Allende in ï¿½73. Sadly, the usurpation of third-world democracies is a pas de deux. But so the story goes, we did a little wrong to do a great right: preventing the collapse of Chile into communism along with all the immiseration and atrocity historically attendant. The lives of three thousand people donï¿½t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Was it wrong?
It was wrong. To my mind, the chief sin of American complicity stems not from the scattered graves of Pinochetï¿½s three thousand victims, but rather in the cavalier nonchalance with which we discarded the freedom of other people. The paternalistic attitude that writes off the electoral decrees of a ï¿½naï¿½ve electorateï¿½ (as McCaffrey, sage of Harvardï¿½s conservatives, puts it) contains an implicit derogation of Chileans from human beings worthy of self-government to an administered population. The surest way to banish absurdity is to publish it far and wide. The surest way to smudge the patina of attractiveness from radical socialist policies is to tabulate their empirical failures. The idols of political stability and economic prosperity have clay feet if they come at the expense of democracy. The open society is the only truly stable one. The tactics of repression are doomed to failure no matter the benevolence and wisdom behind their imposition. They only foment the perennial rhythm of crackdown and revolt, reprisal and bloody counter-reprisal. The Reign of Terror and the execution of 30,000 shivering Communards belong to the same historical trajectory.
There are many dictators left in the world ï¿½ some are officially our allies and others our enemies, but in the end it doesnï¿½t matter. The wages of tyranny is death, and sooner or later theyï¿½re all going to get theirs. Requiescant omnes in pace.