February 15, 2002

Sept. 11: One date, two different horrors

By Javier Hurtado
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

Ask anyone in Chile what happened on Sept.11, and they would probably say it was a dark day. But they are not talking about Osama bin Laden's terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and other symbols of the U.S. magnificence, but the military coup -in 1973 - that took place in that South American nation.

Both countries share a date to remember with a lot of consequences in common: distortion in the daily people's lives, economic instability, and grand cultural and social changes.

When Estefan O'Kingston, 23, a Chilean drama student at University of the District of Columbia, was ready to leave for class on Sept. 11, he turned on the TV and realized that something awful was happening: the World Trade Center's twin towers were falling down and destroying thousands of innocent lives.

In the meantime, in his native land at the other end of the world, protesters were remembering the 1973 coup by Gen. Augusto Pinochet against the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, a coup that was supported by the CIA. Pinochet remained in power until 1989.

The military coup still divides the nation.

"When I was a kid, Mom used to talk to me about the dictatorship, and was really set on telling me that Pinochet was the enemy, the killer. But at school I used to hear other versions from my classmates. I grew up with my mom's version on the matter," O'Kings-ton emphasizes.

Estefan says children tend to absorb what their parents think, and he asks himself what is going to happen with the American kids who are too young to remember the history that unfolded last fall. "Will it happen the same that it did with me?" he asks and immediately answers, that perhaps, in the big cities like Washington D.C., where people are mostly educated, children will grow up without prejudices against the Muslims. "Here there is a great diversity and kids know that Afghans are not dangerous for them, they know that it is a specific group. But what will happen in places where people don't have the knowledge and diversity that big cities have?" he asks again.

Obviously, Chilean TV stations started to cover the other dark Sept. 11 that was striking the world, broadcasting the chilling images from CNN. After that great media coverage, ironically, some Chileans even call their own Sept. 11 "the small Sept.11."

William J. Carter, a retired professor at George Washington University, agrees that Chile and the U.S. share some consequences, but not all: The popularity of militarism has increased in the United States, and certainly in Chile was the opposite. In Chile, the military became feared by millions and was something to be scared of.

Carter says that this young generation will repeat the history of World War II, when every young man wanted to show his patriotism and love for his nation by enrolling in the military. "It seems to be a parallel now with this generation, which is set on demonstrating its love for the country, and its awareness of its heritage and freedom," explains the professor.

And it's perhaps the biggest difference most Chileans perceive between the United States' and Chile's own dark day: In the North American country, a patriotism was born naturally among the people, filling their lives with flags and other red, white and blue symbols that bring a breeze of hope to a wounded nation.

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