Two Septembers

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On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, I was overwhelmed with feelings of grief and loss. From now on, this date will carry painful memories for most North Americans, but for me and countless other Chileans, this has been the case since 1973. As I watched the terror unfold in New York and Washington, it was difficult for me to comprehend the possibility of it all, but it also triggered images in my mind that changed my life for good on that same day twenty-eight years ago. On September 11, 1973, the Palace of La Moneda in Santiago was attacked by warplanes, and our democratically elected President, Salvador Allende, was killed. This marked the beginning of years of terrorism and bloodshed in our country.The images on my television of planes flying into the World Trade Center were horrific reminders of the warplanes bombing our government palace. The news of the search for survivors and the rising death toll were reminders of my own loved ones lost. Many of their bodies, twenty-eight years later, have still not been found.In my stunned silence, I realized that there was a common denominator in these two tragedies - they were both terrorist attacks on civilians and innocent people. One difference lies in the fact that, while the American people were victims of individual terrorism, the Chilean people were victims of state terrorism.Another commonality is that, in both horrific cases, the United States was part of the equation. This week it is the victim, but sadly, that day in 1973, it was very much the perpetrator. In preparation for the coup d'etat, and during it, the United States School of the Americas trained military personnel of the Chilean armed forces. They took courses that specialized in the terrorization of political dissidents, leftists and progressive organizations and individuals. Curriculum included procedures of physical and psychological torture, terrorism and control. This military school is still open for business today in the state of Georgia. Terrorist gangs were also financed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to kidnap and kill - a fact recently revealed by the international press. Today, as innocent people in the United States endure a terrible tragedy and unbearable pain, we could speculate on the responsibility of the elitist and oppressive structures of that country. However, in respect, and in mourning, for those killed and disappeared on Tuesday, I won't do this. After all, I am a witness to this kind of pain. Many Chileans in exile still mourn the loss of life, of country and of identity this many years later. Even still, in my mourning, more parallels emerge. We have declared a day of mourning for the victims of the terrorist attacks as a symbolic homage to human losses, to the many lives taken, to the pain endured. While I agree and participate in this expression of feelings, I wonder why it was not as appropriate to do something similar when the Rwanda atrocities occurred in 1994. Why hasn't such a gesture followe the many other horrible tragedies our world has endured?Perhaps Osama bin Laden and his followers are behind last Tuesday's attacks. If that is the case, they should be taken to justice. Should it not also be the case for the participation of Ariel Sharon in the massacres of Sabra and Shatilla? There is also substantial evidence to prove the involvement of Henry Kissinger and other U.S. government officials in terrorist actions in Latin America over the past thirty years. Will President Bush's war against terrorism include state terrorism as well, and will he be willing to open up cases that have been covered up so tightly as to prevent real answers for thousands of us in the Americas whose lives have been destroyed? If he is serious about this commitment, he must. My September 11 is not much different this year as it has been for years. Only now, my anger against a nation is coupled with an immense sadness and great sympathy for its innocent citizens.

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