Saturday, August 1, 2009

It Can't Happen Here


        Heraldo Munoz was a student in my first seminar on Marx at the Graduate School of International Studies many years ago. He had come from Chile, where he had been, as a young social-democrat, an activist, a national supervisor of cooperatives or “people’s stores” – Almacenes del Pueblo - to provide inexpensive food for workers under the hopeful regime of Salvador Allende.  He gave a presentation in the course and wrote a paper about the 18th Brumaire which was perhaps the most meaningful personal experience I had so far encountered in a student (I encourage each student to do this kind of work, and Heraldo’s paper is still a paradigm).  He said then, as he says now in his wonderful book The Dictator’s Shadow: Life under Pinochet (Basic Books, 2008)  - see the next post and  Today and the 18th Brumaire here that he was among the millions of Chileans who thought that they had long entered the realm of democratic stability and peace.  Elections had occurred by the turn of the 20th century in Chile.  There had been 70 unbroken years of democracy. No police state could happen here.  The tradition of democracy was bone deep among Chileans (just as it seems in the United States or England or  Israel).  An early member of the Second or socialist international,  the Chiilean socialists had pioneered democracy and radicalism.  It had long been an accepted participant (with much support; with some repression) in political give and take.  Chile was a leader of civilization, not a “backward country.”  It can’t happen here. Chile was not the turbulent  France of the great revolution and Napoleon, or of the revolutions of 1848 and the Second Bonaparte or of the Blum government  and Vichy or of the Algerian war and the French generals plotting a coup against De Gaulle; it was not a Fifth Republic. Chile was not the Italy of endless  transient regimes, the Greece of the colonels.   The men with the guns were not a step away.  Like all Latin American militaries, the officers were trained by the United States; military contracts to purchase American planes and equipment were part of ordinary diplomacy, the reality of “aid.”  See the School of coups here.  The CIA had brought down the democracies in weaker and less democratic Guatemala, overthrowing the Arbenz regime in 1954 or the Social Democracy of Joao Goulart in Brazil in 1964.  Murders happened elsewhere. Civilians ruled the U.S.-armed military.  It can’t happen here.

       In 1970, a moderate social democrat was elected, one willing to rely on the United States including for military aid and training, a moderate except that he did not want Chile to be dominated by the United States – the tyrant Pinochet later admitted, as Heraldo writes, that he  never heard Allende say anything hostile about  the United States – and who wanted to help the poor.   The Commander in Chief of the Chilean armed forces General Rene Schneider made it clear: yes, there was political heat between the Christian Democrats representing the Chilean elite and the socialists of Allende and the MIR (the movement of the Revolution Left). The elite felt threatened.  But the army was professional and loyal.  It can’t happen here. 

      Before Allende’s inauguration,  Kissinger ordered the kidnapping of General Schneider by reactionary Chilean officers.  As Heraldo relates, they murdered him.  But popular revulsion meant that Allende could not be overthrown quickly.  Three years intervened. 

        In any case, President Nixon was busy elsewhere.  He was extending imperialism in Vietnam, just yesterday a colony of French colonalism, conquered by Japanese imperialism, and then again by an American-aided French colonialism. Nixon made war on and slaughtered civilians in Cambodia.  These were clients states of America, threatened by guerilla movements from below.  They were not stable democracies like Chile. It can’t happen here. Kissinger was concerned with China.  He was also occupied by the Middle East and the first energy crisis.  As in Bush in the Middle East just yesterday, the wolves were busy.  It can’t happen here.

          As Heraldo describes in beginning of his book, he believed in Chilean democracy.  But he stored four sticks of dynamite in a friend’s closet to protect against a coup.  The friend was afraid and didn’t take care of it.  Heraldo writes charmingly and realistically of how lucky he was not to have blown himself up, carrying the deteriorated dynamite around under his coat.  He had a pistol.  He had a hope, a deep belief, but he was no fool.  When he showed up at the socialist headquarters the day of the coup, the workers had a few guns.  The American-provided tanks and planes were moving, the army was marching.  If Allende had mobilized a general strike and the ordinary people had refused cooperation with the coup, it might have been defeated.  Allende did not.  In military terms, the battle was no match.

         John McCamant, my wonderful colleague, had long written on Chile and democracy.  He had  relied on the moderate newspaper, El Mercurio (the New York Times of Chile).   When he discovered it was funded by the CIA to spread anti-Allende disinformation, he felt, rightly, betrayed.  On September 11th, 1973, he was visiting at the National University in Santiago, eating lunch downstairs in the cafeteria.  On the second floor was the Psychology Department.  The soldiers  came in, went upstairs, shot five people, and left some men with guns.   September 11th

     As an undergraduate Heraldo had studied at SUNY Oswego. He married Patricia, an American.   After the coup, McCamant helped him get a fellowship to the Graduate School of International Studies, to escape from the tyranny, to do a Ph.D.  In my class, Heraldo gave Marx’s account of the triumph of the Second Bonaparte a flesh and blood character which it has never lost for me.  By a subtle alchemy, one’s students change each of us, give us if we are open, deeper insight into life, bring a new and different energy to important words.

        John learned from Heraldo, too.  As a political scientist and a Quaker, the experience in Chile shook him to the core.  He later took part in nonviolent protests against Governor Richard Lamm’s sending the Colorado national guard to Honduras to prepare violence  against the Sandinistas.  In contrast to sanitized and banal political science writing about the state, he wrote brilliantly of repression, of how the CIA trains and launches criminal acts against other democracies, and distorts the evidence that American academics rely on.  One must learn to see and evaluate evidence of  covert international interventions – ones which may appear to academics, even in cases so massive as Chile, “invisible.” At my school we had a debate involving over a hundred students and faculty about whether the CIA should be permitted to recruit.  Wary of a certain academic narcissism, John said: “I don’t expect you to oppose the CIA because it overthrow democracy in Chile or murdered thousands of people.  But I am saying that it corrupts my research, that it corrupts our research, that it is an enemy of scholarship.”  The meeting voted 104 to 4 to ban CIA recruitment –  because of crimes (of course, the organization  still recruited at the University of Denver).  But alone among international studies schools, for 15 years, the Graduate School of International Studies barred CIA recruitment.  This honorable practice finally changed during the Bush period when Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the neocons insisted that the CIA was “dangerous, enemy territory.”  The analytic wing of the CIA still cared about facts (under Cheney’s orders, the operational wing – one that in a democracy has done infinite harm and needs to be ended - waterboarded Khalid Shaikh Mohammed 183 times in a month to try to elicit the lie that Saddam had ties to Al-Qaida.  See What the torturer knew here.  So the School is again, with all its moral ambiguity, involved with the CIA. 

       Heraldo was a student in my classes with Condi Rice – see The performer lost in her performance here – and Doug Vaughan.  Doug is a radical journalist who had gone to Latin America and especially to Chile (the coup murdered his lover).  He, too, came back.  There were some startling discussions in my class about what the US and Pinochet had done.  In the new documentary made by Sebastian Doggart  “American Faust: From Condi to neo-Condi,” Doug speaks about how Condi was almost in tears at those meetings.  I was, too.

       Heraldo and Doug and I were all active in the International Committee against Racism.  That movement was based on the idea that white Americans are hurt by racism as well as its more obvious and extreme victims.  Consider the Republican efforts to redistribute wealth from the majority to the top 1/10 of 1%.  If they couldn’t erect a wall with Mexico, appealing to American racism (and I suppose, they fantasize, to keep out Arabs), what electoral program do they have?

     As a young man, Heraldo had been part of the Allende administration.  In Chile despite the wasteland of the dictatorship, he intended a career in public life.  Condi later got an internship with Democratic Senator Gary Hart (she would work on both his Presidential campaigns); Heraldo got an internship with Democratic Senator and environmentalist Tim Wirth.  I have learned from both these students, but very different things.

       When democracy returned to Chile, Heraldo worked in the administration of the socialist Ricardo Lagos as under-Secretary of State.  He was eventually appointed Chilean ambassador to the United Nations.  When Al Qaida destroyed the twin terrors and struck the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, international sympathy for America was widespread.  Le Monde in France and La Repubblica in Italy ran headlines: “We are all Americans.”  From the great democracy of Chile, Heraldo Munoz at the UN had the same sentiment.  He led a committee to cut off money from the terrorists.  He expressed displeasure about governments that did not sufficiently cooperate.

       Condi had become a dogmatist, with the neocons like Wolfowitz, about how only states are dangerous.  She had ignored a warning from Gary Hart.  Leader of the Hart-Rudman committee on the dangers of a terrorist attack in the United States, Hart talked to Condi about the committee’s report on September 5th and she said she would warn the President. Rice also ignored the warnings of Richard Clarke, who told Bush after 9/11: “Mr. President, Al-Qaida did this.”  Rice had demoted Clarke from meeting with the Cabinet.  Long in the security apparatus, starting under Reagan, Clarke had met daily with Clinton’s cabinet and been the central force in foiling previous Al-Qaida plots, for instance at the millenium.  Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice had been focused on going to war with  Iraq from the start of the administration, and had no interest in Al Qaida.  With a promise of greatness, her role in American policy has been a tragedy.

      The Bush administration expressed contempt for the great international democratic movement against their planned aggression in Iraq.  It was a movement of millions of people (see here for some photographs – thanks to Chris Tranchetti).  Democracy almost prevented the mad and self-destructive crimes of the American establishment.  The Bush-Cheney tyranny brought itself and the country down.  International politics and reaction are intimately linked with domestic politics (the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with the Patriot Act and the denial of habeas corpus to American citizens, coupled with dramatic  redistribution of wealth upward, an unregulated financial casino with bizarre short term incentives, and economic collapse; the democratic protest against American aggression and hubris in the world with the enormous protest in the United States   (a theoretical aside: as I describe in Must Global Policy Constrain Democracy?, foreign policy – who is weak or “soft” on security – is the key in American elections.  The Democrat Kennedy beat Nixon because he alleged, the “soft” Eisenhower had allowed a “missile gap” to open up with the Soviet Union; being “tough” has been, for many voters, a sole and adequate attraction of Republican candidates in their long recent dominance, their putative “Manliness” in Harvey Mansfield’s silly title.  Political “science” also alleges separate levels of analysis, the international sphere in which realism and neorealism speak of similar powers irrelevant of regime structure; comparative politics with a focus on how governments are organized.  Drawing on the evidence of one’s eyes, my argument shows that this distinction is almost as strange as the inter-democratic peace hypothesis).

        Most of the democracies in the world opposed the war because of pressure from below, except Tony Blair in England and the rightist Aznar in Spain.  Even Jacques Chirac responded to the movement in France (and different French interests); a political hack for forty years, he became a great statesman, whose French sophistication and irony were unusual in international affairs (he said to Blair” “Let's see: I am the leader of the French right and you are leader of the Left in England and you are trying to persuade me to invade Iraq…”),  in standing against the American criminal or rogue state.  At the United Nations, the Security Council reflects inordinate, unequal power, including a veto for the great powers.  It often serves, or at least cannot effectively oppose, bizarre policies of the United States.  The US even forced the UN into the boycott of Iraq through the 1990s in which 4,500 children, by UN statistics, died every month.  All the humanitarian officials, notably Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday, resigned and charged the UN with genocide.  The Clinton administration pursued this bipartisan policy despite the fact that it wrecked the United Nations as a possible center for negotiations and leader for peace in a new era, marked by the end of the Cold War.  For blindness and tragedy, it was hard to beat that Clinton-Madeleine Albright policy.

       But faced with naked American aggression in 2003, the Security Council did not sign off.  During 2003 and 2004, Chile was on the Council.  Heraldo Munoz played a leading role among the non-great powers. In one of the months before the decision was reached, he was the President of the Security Council.   He tried to get the United States to hear the democratic pleas of the world. Chile resisted all blandishments and threats.  And in the United Nations’ greatest act for a common good and decency ever, the Security Council voted down US proposals to invade Iraq. It  stood against American aggression. At the start, one does not quite  imagine that one’s students might play a great and significant role in public life. Heraldo has.

       I have written a long book on the American Revolution and the possibility of the emancipation of slaves, Emancipation and Independence (forthcoming, Chicago, 2010). For the preface and introduction, see here and here.  In 2004, to celebrate the greatest and sole successful  slave revolt in all of history, the one that made Haiti in 1804, and implicitly to honor Haitian democracy and President Aristide, twice overthrown by the United States after the Cold War had ended, the United Nations declared the year to be the year of the slave - to honor slaves who had made themselves free.  Heraldo and I were not much in touch then.  But we communicated about these common efforts to celebrate anti-racism and to honor those who have broken the chains.  Diplomacy is otten thought to be a pale and compromised thing.  From the great democracy of Chile, it is not.  Heraldo’s story might inspire you.  It does me.


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