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The Other 9/11

When that bunch of cheery medievalists flew their captives into the Twin Towers 13 years ago today, I think they probably weren’t expecting to have some of the impact they actually did.

We all know why they did it – to provoke the US into coming after them, in the hope that the ensuing showdown would force muslims worldwide to rally behind their banner. The results of that we could describe as, well, distinctly mixed.

However, the repercussions of that day have given birth to some weird and wonderful consequences – the continuing media career of Yvonne Ridley, or ongoing national political career of George Galloway, for instance. Or a number of Hollywood movies which destroy entire city blocks in an act of catharsis (but this time, the heroes arrive to save the day, go Tony Stark!). Help for Heroes. Etc Etc.

One of the most transparent recent manifestations, however, has been “The Other 9/11” meme.

I was raised in a left wing household. An exceedingly left wing household. And I am, as regular readers of this blog will no doubt notice, somewhat of a history nerd. Suffice to say, I was aware of Pinochet, Allende, Chile and all issues concerning 20 years prior to the more recent 9/11.

Here’s my memory of how we commemorated 11 September, 1973, on the liberal left, for the years 1974-2000:


No. Wait. There must have been some commemoration, right? On the liberal left? There must have been? I mean, I’m sure there was. The odd concert here. Maybe the odd candlelit vigil there. But I don’t remember the anniversary being, well, noted. Not really.

You know, I don’t want you to get the wrong message about what I’m saying here – in those years, we on the left were more than aware what had happened on that day. We were more than aware of the repercussions of it. And we were aware that many amongst our political elite – step forward Mrs Thatcher, step forward Mr Reagan – were happily making kissy-kissy with Pinochet (We could have a big debate here about how “complicit” the US were in the coup if we wanted, but to be honest, I’m unsure whether it’s worth the effort – the fact that this “complicity” is heavily disputed and disputable in the realms of historical fact appears to have passed much of popular culture by, and it’s taken as a given the US were behind the coup when the truth is much more complex and nuanced, even if you do accept US involvement*). But I don’t recall any call to commemorate the anniversary of that bloody and horrific act of right wing savagery prior to…well, around about 2005. Definitely after the 30th anniversary and before the 40th anniversary, the calls came to “not forget the other 9/11” quite regularly.

Why did it emerge then, do you think?

A charitable reading of the situation would be that the generation who had been radicalised by the Chilean coup had reached the age where they had an impact in media and they could then tell us about it.

Only, that’s a bit of a lie, isn’t it? The people who had been radicalised by it were in media all along. What had happened in Chile was in media all along. We all knew about it. There was no need to commemorate because we had not forgotten about it. It was a cause celebre on the left when I was 10. It remained a cause celebre on the left when I was 30.

So, you know why the “remember the other 9/11” thing came about, don’t you? Come on, liberal lefty, admit it. Be big enough to own this. It came about because you thought the US was getting too much sympathy for 3000 people dying in a terrorist attack. It came about because you didn’t like how the US responded to that. It came about because you thought the US was – essentially – a force for evil in the world. And you wanted to remind the world of the evil it had done. The evil like “the other 9/11”. It came about because you wanted to minimise the more recent one. It came about because you wanted a passive-aggressive version of ‘Death to America’.

Not pretty, when you look at it square in the face, is it?

*The reason I would have the argument, by the way, is not to defend the CIA or the USA, but because it stops us analysing properly why precisely Allende’s regime was so vulnerable to a coup. It stops us analysing where the first democratically elected Marxist government in South America failed, in favour of the Deus Ex Machina of the CIA man. Fine, if you want your world Manichean, with black hats and white hats, and noble Allende done down by the evil US (and, it goes without saying that the coup was not something I support, supported, minimised or excuse in the slightest), but not very helpful if you want to learn the actual lessons of what actually happened.


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16 thoughts on “The Other 9/11

  1. I remember people on the left mentioning the coup almost immediately after 9/11/01 – maybe a week afterwards. The impression I got is that they were trying to “balance” the attack *on* the US with an attack *by* the US – because they felt uneasy at the possibility that occasionally the US is actually a victim and deserves sympathy and support.

  2. Susan Greenberg on said:

    Your experience hikes with mine. It was the behaviour of Pinochet that motivated me to go to my first ever political demonstration, decades ago, and yet I never heard anyone talking about the date.

    It is embarrassingly transparent that the meme is way to change the subject. I find it chilling not just because it employs the principle of collective punishment, the lack of respect for human life with the wrong identity, but because it is so totalising; here is a situation where the US was a victim, and we cannot allow that to be acknowledge or remembered — ever. Not even once.

  3. Michael Ezra on said:

    There is no evidence that the US were behind the Pinochet coup. It is one of those things that sections of the left believe to be true but it is not backed up by the evidence. Indeed, it seems that while the US had no love for Allende, had been involved in an attempt to stop him coming to power, and there had been the Schneider debacle, it seems pure speculation to suggest the CIA were involved in the Pinochet coup.

    For more on this, I suggest the following reference:

    Mark Falcoff, Modern Chile 1970-1989: A Critical History, (Transaction Publishers, 1991), pp.199-250.

  4. Not everyone was “raised in an exceedingly left wing household” as a “history nerd”. A tiny fraction of the UK or US populations have ever heard of the Chilean coup. Almost everyone has heard about the attacks on New York, which still receive heavy media coverage at this time of year. Meanwhile “the other 9/11” gets barely any hits over the last couple of days in a Google news search. And you’re complaining that people are talking too much about Chile? It’s a straw man – a weak excuse for a swipe at the left.

    And anyway, why is it so important to you that the US has a monopoly on sympathy on this day? Why should the Chileans be silenced?

    • Amazing. You’ve managed to read this and ignore entirely the point of it. Here we go, big capital letters:
      (1) awareness of what happened in Chile was not lacking in the past 40 years
      (2) what happened in Chile was heavily reported on the left over the past 40 years
      (3) yet it is only specifically *after* the 9/11 attacks on New York that an issue was made about the anniversary of the coup.

      Add those three together and got begin to approach the point.

      In case you were wondering, my family and I boycotted Chilean goods for 20 years or more. I have no problem with recognising what happened in Chile. I do have a problem with a blatant attempt to distract from what happened in New York. If you can’t see how and why it was being used, then you are very naive.

      • The Chilean coup was at least as tragic and significant an event as 9/11. No one outside South America except the “exceedingly left wing” and “history nerds” knows about it. The anniversary of that event became known in the West when, following the New York attacks, Chileans and their friends naturally commented on the coincidence – just at the point when the internet was starting to facilitate this kind of knowledge spreading. Subsequently a few people a year bring it up. And you shout them down, insisting on a monopoly for “the real 9/11”. Are you really saying that the anniversary is the wrong time to be talking about it? Really? Can the Chileans talk about it then?

      • Oh, what absolute balls, Pete. You can keep repeating – in an attempt to be sarcastic – the exceedingly left-wing and history nerd thing all you want. If you are telling me that nobody outside of South America knew about the Pinochet coup until after the “other” or “later” 9/11, then you are already operating in a field of delusion way beyond my ability to save you. It was and remained a major news story for decades, and it is infantile in the extreme to pretend otherwise. My point – which you keep on ignoring – was that even amongst those who were predisposed to spend time commemorating it, we did not mark *the specific day*. And calls only emerged to do so post 9/11. That is not the same as saying it was ignored or not paid attention to. It was a major chunk of left-wing discourse in Europe and America, and informed more general news.

      • Look, I get that it’s (your idea of) the motives of the people talking about Chile that you’re criticising. My point is that raising awareness of “the other 9/11” is a positive act and 9/11 is a perfectly appropriate date to do it. And there’s no point criticising someone’s motives if they’re doing good.

    • Because it’s the wrong fucking day.

  5. Michael Ezra on said:

    I am no fan of Pinochet, but Allende was an absolute disaster. His downfall, I think, was largely his own making. His policies left lots to be desired. Consider the following. When he came to power, due to the Vietnam War, demand for copper, a natural resource for Chile, was riding high. The Chilean economy should have boomed, but Allende sent it plummeting.

  6. Pingback: The other 9/11 | The Gerasites

  7. section9 on said:

    There’s also something else: the Left’s preferred Narrative of a Chilean Coup orchestrated by the United States and Henry Kissinger collapses once one recognizes, as Pinochet and the coup plotters certainly must have, that the CIA couldn’t put the hearse in the right place in a two-car funeral.

  8. I’d only say it’s quite important to remember that people bringing up other 9/11 on the internet are an entirely different population than the left you mention that was well aware of the Chilean Coup. I think that might be the point Pete was making. There’s a whole generation who remember 2001 and maybe even read their Chomsky, but learned after the attacks in NYC that there had been another 9/11 and saw it as a conspiracy, which obviously only reinforced spreading of said meme.
    I totally agree about it being used in ugly and cynical ways, but there’s also this simple psychological mechanism when people try (in their view) to counter what they see as the US propaganda machine at work. As usual there’s probably more ignorance than malevolence behind all that.

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