First Response: Dead Memories

In the late 90’s, Chile found itself in an awkward position of having just come out of  a dictatorship, but all of the members of the previous regime were still in positions of power.  Teresa Meade discusses the uncomfortable reality of post-Pinochet Chile where the government was unwilling to fully commit to recognizing the full atrocities of the previous government.

Meade argues that Ricardo Lagos, who was president after Pinochet attempted to maintain aspects of his Neoliberal ideals, along with the socialist ideals of Lagos’ own party.  Although public monuments were erected, Meade argues that Chile had not fully recognized the past atrocities.  This can be related to Temma Kaplan’s argument that Pinochet’s regime attempted to silence those that they tortured through their own shame.

A combination of an unstable political situation as well as the attempts by Pinochet’s government to silence their victims seem to have created an uneasy acknowledgement, but not a true acceptance of their past crimes.  This creates the question of how it is best to acknowledge the tragedy of ones own past.  There is a conflict in Chile between accepting the atrocities of Pinochet’s government and attempting to hide their shame in not prosecuting Pinochet nor fully acknowledging the mistakes made by his government.

This is perhaps best encapsulated by Meade’s description of one of these public monuments remembering the victims.  While the monument remains not vandalized around it do not seem to fully grasp the scale of the atrocities the monument represents.

Who should be punished?

Much of the conversation surrounding the aftermath of the oppressive dictatorial regime of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, at least among academics if not among the Chilean people, is about how the members of regime should, if at all, be prosecuted.

Following similar atrocities, such as the Holocaust, people who participated in the Nazi regime in Germany were prosecuted for their actions. But in Chile, this largely has not been the case. Clearly many Chileans just wished to move on from the memories of the regime, not bothering to push for the prosecution of many people who likely deserved to be. Many others, clearly did not feel the same way, arguing that many of the members of the regime, such as the men who tortured prisoners in the secret bases, should not be allowed to continue their lives as if nothing happened.

But if the decision is made to prosecute offenders, the question then become, who and how many people should be prosecuted. Some may argue that just the highest ranking officials should be targeted, as all other merely followed what their superior told them to do. Others would likely argue that following horrendous orders, such as repeatedly torturing several people, would justify prosecution, while others may argue that supporting a clearly oppressive and tyrannical regime in any sense is worthy of prosecution.

The opinion on where the line should be drawn likely varies from person to person, but most would argue that at least some people should face punishment.

First Response: Chile’s Lazy Denial

I will admit that I did not enter this week’s reading with much knowledge of fascism and populism in Chile or South America generally. My knowledge mostly focused on the so-called “global north.” Therefore, I assumed that most countries dealt with past human rights violations a similar way. At a most simplistic level, they either attempted to deny it like the Armenian genocide, downplay it like slavery in the US, or build monuments and learn from it like in Germany.

However, Chile did none of these. In Teresa Meade’s article, she spoke of how the mass torture and killings in Chile have partly been swept under the rug. The right-wing party does not want to mention them so as not to need to take credit for the deaths, and the left-wing parties would like to govern without confrontation and admitting torture and murders without prosecuting them would be untenable. Thus, they have simply disregarded it, like a story that is neither good not bad, simply forgotten after reading it. It was unbelievable to me that this could be swept under the rug for convenience. How will Chile and the world learn from its past if it is not mentioned? If they had actively been denied like the Armenian genocide, then there would be a public discourse about them. This could be used as a method of education.

Luckily, It is true that some groups have attempted to bring these actions into the spotlight. However, they do not have the funding or the institutional aid in Chile for them to be very successful. For example, I had never heard of them before this week’s reading.

It is essential for us to know there past so that we do not make the same mistakes twice. Hopefully, Chile will continue moving in the correct direction. Yet, there is still much work to do. Chile is a demonstration that we cannot be ambivalent in the search for truth. We must actively educate ourselves and others about the past so that we may have a better future.

OP-ED: An American Renaissance

We all know the slogan: “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN”. But where’s the appeal? Why the slogan hits home with so many people is the call to a ‘greater’ past. It’s the idea that America was once perfect but this was lost over time.

Anyone with a smartphone can Google ‘American history’ and find out that this past isn’t golden. But Trump’s call to a greater past implies that America lost something it used to have. “Looking back” is a strategy used in all kinds of places. Most notably in politics, but even subtly in places like malls and TV. It’s a trend that’s been used globally for centuries as a way to appeal to individuals on large scales.

In a way, Trump’s signature slogan is a call for an American renaissance. Renaissance is French for ‘rebirth’. It’s been mainly used to describe the years during the 14th-16th centuries when Europe saw a great burst of cultural, economical, and scientific change. This rebirth was sparked by the same nostalgia that Trump appeals to. Europe looked back at ancient Greece and Rome as their ‘great past’. The Europeans wanted to “MAKE EUROPE GREAT AGAIN”.

But Trump never labels a specific era that was the American great, and he doesn’t need to. When Trump tells people to “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN”, he’s not addressing American history. He’s appealing to each person with a past that they miss. Many people want to think that they would never be swayed by such vague promises. But it happens everyday, whether we know it or not.

Older generations are nostalgic for their youth. Many think that our current generation has ‘lost’ something that is making us act unruly. Author Svetlana Boym says in her book The Future of Nostalgia that “nostalgia appears to be a longing for a place but is actually a yearning for a different time – the time of our childhood, the slower rhythms of our dreams.”

Boym also states “the fantasies of the past determined by the needs of the present have a direct impact on the realities of the future.” Pride for the past is a powerful emotion, and people will filter out the bad parts in favour of the good. Maybe a person hates ripped jeans. In their mind, making America great again would be to ban them. Trump doesn’t need to give specific examples. We fill in the rest ourselves.

Trump is first and foremost a businessman. His gut tells him that the past sells. If you’ve watched the Netflix show Stranger Things or been to Urban Outfitters then you’ve been attacked by nostalgic propaganda. Steve Olenski, a writer for Forbes magazine, explains in his article Nostalgia Sells that we live in a fast-paced world and “many people have looked back to simpler times and been attracted to products from that past that remind them of when life wasn’t so complicated.” In other words, the past is safe and predictable. Trump promises a future that is exactly that. He uses nostalgia to sell himself and his promises to his customers, who in this case are the American people.

Where Trump falls short is his lack of connection to the much younger generation. If we guess that America’s ‘downfall’ began on 9/11 then we need to account for everyone born after that. The “MAKE AMERICAN GREAT” business falls flat with his audience who can’t remember 9/11 because they were too young and weren’t around to know a better America. This smaller generation is mostly filled with people who can’t vote yet, including the children who were born into the Trump presidency. We can’t deny that how these kids are raised will have an effect on their opinions of him. Trump, however, will need to begin changing his selling tactics if he wants this generation on his side. It will be nearly impossible to demand people remember a past that wasn’t theirs.

Trump’s American renaissance is already going down in history but it’s too early to tell what the long-term effects will be. Since these next few years will one day be our past, it raises the question of exactly how many of us will be nostalgic for it in the future.

 

 

Torture and the Media

From my reading of the texts, the main conflicts arise from how torture and uncomfortable topics are handled in the media. From Ayress’ public account of her rape and torture to the archived methods of torment in Villa Grimaldi.

It’s clear that the media was not afraid to publicize these stories (although the articles are too short to fully explore this idea). I want to know more about the publication problems that were encountered. Were there oppressive censorship laws? Did journalists seek out victims or were they too afraid of the regime to bother?

Finchelsten’s chapter What is Populism in History talks about how populism governments make themselves appear to be outside the regular government, and that those who opposed to the “real” nation were the “real” bad guys. What was the journalistic opinion? Were the South American journalists targeted? Or were non-latin journalists the only ones available? Like how Ines Antunez snuck out Ayress’ memories and sought the help of foreigners.

Finally, who’s choice is it to publicize the discussions of rape? These stories do not hold back on garish details when it comes to how the prisoners were tormented, but what did they omit (if anything). It was talked about in the readings how there were potentially pornographic responses to the instances of rape. Were journalists within their right to ask about these stories if they knew they had happened? Victim’s were tortured through physical and verbal abuse regarding their sexuality, so is it ok to ask them to relive these tortures for the sake of a complete narrative?

After Authoritarianism

Tactics an authoritarian regime, such as the one in Chile under Augusto Pinochet, often employ are those that are oppressive. Not only disallowing choice in the government but also the way the people have to be kept from expressing those choices. With all the atrocities that take place in a regime like the one mentioned above, there is the question of what happens after. In the case of Chile a democratic government was put in place so that is one arguably good outcome in the aftermath but what happens to the perpetrators of crimes against the people is also important.

The memory of the past does not go away as soon as a dictator is out of power and thus some sort of action is taken after to prosecute the criminals. However, when this does not happen and the criminals go free to live lives that are in many cases better than their victims the past is really not the past because there is was no punishment. The people who perpetrated that past are continuing to be rewarded for the crimes they committed and the people they hurt to continue to suffer. What can happen to a country that is not able to leave the past behind or if they can forget/forgive even if the criminals are not punished are questions that come to mind when thinking about a situation such as the one in Chile. Another question is what would happen to a country’s relationship with a county that has been liberated from a dictatorship if that country has been affected by the past doctor negatively and he is still living freely. These questions may only be answered as time goes on and in different ways by different people.

Remembering in Order to Resist

 

One of the key components of fascist, totalitarian regimes is the deep-seated element of masculinity. Fascist regimes are rooted in a particular belief about masculinity and male superiority. While some regimes, such as the Nazi regime give women the opportunity to participate, their role is limited and they are still seen as different and lesser because of their femininity.

Weakness and submission were characteristics associated with women, but they could also be applied to men. Male prisoners in war camps were often subjected to the same types of submissive exploitation and humiliation and degradation as women were. As Kaplan’s article points out, this type of degradation was dehumanizing and ripped people out of their usual social statuses and contexts. This is significant because by refusing to back down, by refusing to be reduced to a victim, by refusing to stay silent about the abuse, people are resisting authoritarian power. Simply maintaining your identity and self-worth in the face of horrific authoritarianism is a form of resistance.

        Another form or resistance is the seemingly simple act of remembering and informing. As Meade discusses, providing locals and tourists with the necessary context for sites of memory is crucial to gaining historical understanding. Once that understanding gained, we are able to use the past as a form of resistance against the future. When they acknowledge past wrongs and hold the authoritarian powers accountable, it is a type of resistance.

Authoritarianism is interesting in the way that it can be found on any end of the political spectrum. Populism can also be found on both ends. It is interesting that populism, authoritarianism, and fascism all appear to be very reactionary regimes, chiefly based on some skewed sense of heightened and dangerous nationalism. This misplaced desire to preserve or save their idea of “the nation” often escalated into large scale and inhumane violence, as seen in Stalin’s Russia, the Nazi concentration camps, and the Chilean prison camps.

How should we remember Tragedy?

What struck me most from the readings on Chile and the torture state created by the military taking power was that there is no right way to deal with tragedy.

In Germany, they have decided to commemorate the deceased by maintaining concentration camps and administering tours to teach people of their tumultuous past. They have chosen to remember to ensure that it never happens again. In Chile, however, the government have tried to minimalize the commemoration of those who disappeared, who were tortured and raped, and murdered by the police regime. But the people have gone about commemorating themselves by the writing of books, publishing newspaper articles and making sure there witness accounts are published to show the world what actually happened in the 1970s in Chile. This struck me particularly when reading about the ‘Peace Park’ in Santiago at the old Villa Grimaldi, which was a torture site for activists and Socialist/democratic sympathisers. Meade noted that without Matta, an ex-prisoner, as a tour guide, she would have been able to gain little insight into what once lay inside Villa Grimaldi. This was because the ‘Peace park’ was marked vaguely and had no intent to teach when it was established. Originally they tried to convert the site into condos, and it was only when the media picked up on its heritage were they stopped. Matta received no institutional funding and  no government assistance, but decided to commit his life to ensuring people know about Chilean torture.

Why Chile has decided to react in this way to the debaucheries of their past? Even when a socialist, Ricardo Lagos, returned to power in 2001, the war criminals remained unprosecuted and the ‘disappeared’ was contained to a wall of mausoleums.

In reading about Nieves Ayress and the documentation of her torture in Chile, I also thought it was interesting how it was not until her story was published in the Washington Post that it gained importance. Her story got refused in Chile. This makes me question the corruption that must exist within Chile- the leader of the military coup, Pinochet, got disposed by referendum rather than overthrown by force, making the prosecution of war criminals less prolific. However, now there has been so much literature published surrounding Chilean atrocities, I do not understand how these villains still walk free.

What is stopping Chile from exposing its past and its war criminals? Is there still tension in the country surrounding the decade of the disappearing people?

Olympics and Nationalism: Is North Korea another example? Op-ed

Recent headlines for the Olympic games have North Korea as their subject. What will happen to the Athletes that have failed to win medals is in question. It seems that in the past, North Korea has sent athletes who represented their country and failed to win medals to what has been termed “gulag” like places. There the athletes are to be to be punished for their poor performance and thus a poor representation of North Korea at the Games. Along with a large number of cheerleaders that accompanied the athletes to the Games, there is something to be said for how important it is for authoritarian regimes to project a certain appearance of unity and nationalism which is what will be seen here.

 

It appears that participating in the Olympic Games is certainly a way to create nationalism as many countries experience the excitement behind cheering for one’s own country while their representatives compete. Social media battles ensue and everyone is talking about their country and how well they are doing or how well they should have done. However, The Olympics have had a historical connection to being propaganda for countries with authoritarian regimes as was seen in 1930’s Germany as well as in the 2008 games held in China (although technically a communist regime has many similarities to a fascist regime) and now with North Korea as examples.

 

For many countries, this is a fun and exciting time but when a fascist regime looks at something like the Olympics there is a much more serious tone put over the event. Nationalism can be seen through fascist history has an important component to keeping the support of the people and creating a feeling of unity. Many efforts can be seen in Nazi Germany, for example, to keep the people unified and promote nationalism.The 1936 Olympics is just one of the many ways this was done. Nationalism was promoted in Nazi Germany sports as they were seen to create unity among the youth. Another way the Olympics were used at that time was, as these games were the first ever to be televised, to show German ideals to the world and certainly how great Germany was including a stadium that was built with 100 000 seats to top the last Olympic games that were held in another country. North Korea, on the other hand, may not have been successful at winning metals but it did certainly show signs of its attempt to display unity and nationalism with its large number of cheerleaders.

 

The Olympics in China, (although not exactly a fascist regime it shares many similaterites to one) had some very negative headlines as well when it hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. There have been many controversies over whether it had open media as it had pledged and not to mention the many human rights violations that have been reported as a result of the games. The cost of the games is high, along with controversies that usually ensue but for a resume like China, it can be understood there is an importance of the nation wanting to portray itself as powerful and unified for its own citizens and the world to maintain control of the country. As a result, bringing home no metals to North Korea in this years Olympics can be devastating to the image of power North Korea has been trying to build certainly in the last few months with the missile controversy between it and the US.

 

In short, the Olympics have proven throughout history up until today to be a platform for countries to not only strengthen nationalism within their borders but to display strength to other countries. This does not manifest itself more strongly than in those countries that have authoritarian regimes such as in 1930’s Germany, China or currently in the competing North Korea. For most people, the Olympics are a fun way to have national pride and competition with neighboring countries, albeit at times with some issues over things like doping and corruption, but the thought of the use of the Olympics as propaganda is usually far from the minds of people just having fun.

Sweeper: Authoritarianism’s New Man

My discussion group and I mainly focused on the article regarding Japanese athletes and the Olympics. We discussed the implications of gender norms, particularly masculinity. We also discussed. This discussion came in a context of looking at expressions of homoeroticism and feelings about homosexuality in class.

I think that one of the major points that we discussed was the relationship between masculinity and sports. We touched on the fact that sports highlight examples of virile and powerful masculinity. In relation to homosexuality, this figured in the fact that from what we saw in the readings and in class it was more okay to be gay so long as that person was assertive and virile, and not passive.

This weeks topics really emphasized that a perception of a man or woman as more feminine meant that they were seen as weak. We talked about the women’s volleyball team as being required to overcome their feminine bodies in order to be successful. In general there was an idea that it was necessary to overcome the limits of your body in order to be seen as strong. We saw this as correlating with a sense of honour or duty. In relation to the Olympics, these expressions of loyalty to the state are a way to reaffirm older ideals in a new context. One of my classmates made the assertion that athletes and soldiers are similar in that their bodies are controlled by the state in these matters. Overall, this weeks discussion reflected on ideas about gender, sexual orientation, and how these related to the power and ideals of the state.