Monday, September 12, 2005

The America-Bashers' Use of Symbolism on September 11

When confronted with the tragedy that occurred on September 11, 2001, it has become a tradition for some to recall another event that occurred on another September 11.

On that date, in 1973, General Pinochet overthrew Chile's President Allende.

This is supposed to make us think. Hard.

The problem with this, of course, is that there have occurred 500 September 11s in the past 500 years (to take the first round number that came to my mind), with varying occurrences on various continents, in various countries, in various regions, in various cities, in various neighborhoods, and in various personal homes around the world, and just about any one of those occurrences could have been picked to make a comparison with (and provide matter for reflection on, and some kind of metaphysical lesson for) September 11, 2001 (or September 11, 1973, for that matter).

As I have written elsewhere,

If looking down their noses, [America-bashers] ask "Do you know what other event occurred on September 11?", answer "Yes, a terrible tragedy." Pause while they nod approvingly, then add "George Washington lost the battle of Brandywine" (in 1777) or even "Brian De Palma was born on that date" (so was Ferdinand Marcos, by the way), although I'm not sure to what extent that counts as a tragedy. If they object that they are referring to something more recent and more tragic than that, agree and say "you must be talking of Hitler ordering reinforcements to Romania" (1940) or "FDR ordering any Axis ships in U.S. waters shot on sight" (1941) or even "wasn't it the first TV broadcast of a Miss America beauty contest?" (1954). How about, "that was the date (in 1962) that the Beatles recorded their first single at EMI Studios (you know, 'Love Love Me Do')".
This symbolism makes as much sense as noting with alarm that our 40th president sported three names with six letters each, supposedly marking the alleged number of the beast.

(If any association with September 11 should be made — with regards to the 2001 attacks, that is, not the 1973 coup — as several readers have pointed out to me, it would perhaps make more sense to call up the 1669 defeat of the Muslim armies besieging Vienna, bringing an end to the Ottoman advance into Europe.)

But what it all boils down to this: for symbolism to have any kind of meaning, it needs to stay close to its subject and, in my opinion, reflect on the better angels of our nature. What it should especially avoid is collective guilt, not least because that collective guilt is necessarily one-sided, i.e., used exclusively against Americans and their allies (or, historically, by any group against any group's alleged enemies).

For instance, it would probably not be too difficult to search through Chilean history and find some kind of tragedy (nation-wide or otherwise) on a September 11 that proved that the 1973 coup d'état was the Chileans' punishment for the earlier disaster (notwithstanding the fact that many believe that Pinochet's coup averted a far worse catastrophe for the country). In another example, which is actually far more coherent than simply noting a similarity of dates, many state that every setback by Bush or by a Bush ally amounts to (well-deserved) punishment for sending troops to Iraq, but because members of the Coalition of the Willing keep winning elections, this symbolism is discretely ignored. (I call this the wait, wait, wait syndrome.)

The use of symbolism says far more about those who wield it than about those the symbolism is meant to describe (and judge).

So, anyway: we know the date that Pinochet grabbed power in 1973.


But what was the date that he relinquished power?

What was the date in 1990 that Pinochet handed power back to a civilian government?

The answer is: March 11.

Now, we all remember what happened in Madrid on March 11, 2004, don't we?

So what is that supposed to mean? What is that supposed to symbolize?

Somehow, we are led to believe, the wholescale murder of 3,000 people in New York and Washington would not, or might not, have occurred had a strongman with no link to (and probably wholly unknown to) the perpetrators not grabbed power on that same date 28 years earlier.

What is the wholescale murder of 191 people in Madrid supposed to mean? That it would not have occurred had that same strongman not handed power back and had he remained in power 14 years earlier?

Your guess is as good as mine…

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