The Other September 11th: Commemorating the Victims of Government Violence in Chile

As millions of Americans commemorate September 11th, let us reflect on another tragedy which occurred the same day — casualties which did not occur on our soil, but which are nonetheless part of our history.

On September 11th, 1973, a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état was carried out against the democratically elected Chilean President Salvador Allende. According to documents declassified during the Clinton presidency, this was the culmination of several years of CIA-fomented unrest and propaganda against Allende's party, the social democrats, in Chile — another manifestation of America's myriad proxy conflicts and interventions during the Cold War with the USSR.

While casualties on the 11th were relatively few, in the ensuing years a brutal military junta led by Augusto Pinochet killed, imprisoned and tortured tens of thousands of leftists and other oppositionists. The official number of victims stands at 40,018, with over 3,000 deaths and disappearances; Chile is still recovering from the damage caused to its political and economic systems.

Up until the early 1970s, Chile was a blossoming young democracy. Allende first ran for president in 1964. From 1963 through 1973, the CIA spent around $20 million on propaganda and other operations within Chile— which included arming Allende's opponents — to discredit him.

Despite this, Allende won the popular vote in 1970, and began to implement his social democratic policies. These included minor redistribution of Chile's very stratified wealth, nationalization of some major industries, and — perhaps what irked the Americans the most — international independence from the world's superpowers. (It should be noted that despite American trepidations, the Soviets also did not support Allende's presidency, fearing he would negatively influence some European states.)

The CIA's operations continued from 1970 through 1973, and resulted in one of the most horrific examples of U.S. intervention abroad in history. Chileans suffered sixteen and a half years of Pinochet's brutal rule. Then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once told Pinochet, "In the United States, as you know, we are sympathetic with what you are trying to do here."

Indeed, not long after Pinochet took power, the U.S. government resumed previously suspended economic aid to Chile, in effect rewarding the junta for its oppressive politics.

This is merely one instance of dozens of U.S.-sponsored foreign coups and interventions.

While certainly not all instances were as violent as Chile's (though some of them were much worse), the U.S. has intervened to change or disrupt foreign regimes at least sixty times in the past sixty years alone. Some interventions (such as Iran in 1953, and Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, during which U.S. money and arms helped build the foundations of today's al-Qaeda) have had detrimental and enduring consequences on U.S. foreign policy that are still felt today.

So, this September 11th, let us take the time to commemorate not only the victims of violence directed at us, but also those of the violence we direct at others.