- Ariel Dorfman
served as a cultural adviser to Salvador Allende from 1970 to 1973. After the coup, Dorfman went into exile. Today he is recognized as one of Latin America’s greatest writers. His essays, novels, poems and plays have been translated into more than 40 languages. In 2004 he published a collection of essays titled Other Septembers, Many Americas: Selected Provocations. His latest book is titled Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile.
“That September 11, that lethal Tuesday morning, I awoke with dread to the sound of planes flying above my house. When, an hour later, I saw smoke billowing from the center of the city, I knew that life had changed for me, for my country, forever.” Those are the words of our guest, Chilean-American author Ariel Dorfman, writing not about the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon 10 years ago this week, but another September 11. On September 11, 1973 a U.S.-backed coup in Chile led by General Augusto Pinochet ousted Chile’s democratically elected president, Salvador Allende. Allende died in the palace on that day. Ariel Dorfman served as a cultural adviser to Salvador Allende from 1970 to 1973. After the coup, he went into exile, and today he is recognized as one of Latin America’s greatest writers. “Chile reacted to the terror that was inflicted upon us with nonviolent resistance. In other words, for instance, we did not go and bomb Washington because Washington had ordered and helped to create the coup in Chile. On the contrary, we created a peaceful revolution against Pinochet,” Dorfman notes. “If you contrast that to the United States, to what Bush did as a result of this very small band of terrorists, the results have been absolutely terrible. If this was a test—and I think great catastrophes are always tests of national values and national will—alas, the United States has failed that test terribly.” [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: “Vivir en Paz,” “Live in Peace,” by Víctor Jara, the Chilean singer-songwriter tortured and executed during the Chilean coup of Salvador Allende, September 11th, 1973. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonzalez.
“That September 11, that lethal Tuesday morning, I awoke with dread to the sound of planes flying above my house. When, an hour later, I saw smoke billowing from the center of the city, I knew that life had changed for me, for my country, forever.”
Those are the words of the writer Ariel Dorfman, writing not about September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, 10 years ago, but another September 11th.
JUAN GONZALEZ: On September 11th, 1973, a U.S.-backed coup in Chile led by General Augusto Pinochet ousted Chile’s democratically elected president, Salvador Allende. Allende died in the palace on that day.
Ariel Dorfman served as a cultural adviser to Salvador Allende from 1970 to 1973. After the coup, Dorfman went into exile. Today he is recognized as one of Latin America’s greatest writers. His essays, novels, poems and plays have been translated into more than 40 languages. In 2004, he published a collection of essays titled Other Septembers, Many Americas: Selected Provocations. His latest book is titled Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile. It will be published later this month. Ariel Dorfman joins us from Duke University in North Carolina, where he’s a professor.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
ARIEL DORFMAN: It’s such a pleasure to be with you again, both of you.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Ariel, your thoughts now as the nation heads to this 10th anniversary of September 11th, 2001? And you have repeatedly, over the years now, in your writings, talked about the September 11ths and its impact on you, who was there both in 1973 in Chile and in 2001 here in the United States.
ARIEL DORFMAN: It’s very strange. It’s as if history wanted me to be in both places and to somehow bring them together, juxtapose them, and find some meaning to this. I mean, one of the meanings, of course, is that it’s very ironic that the United States should be attacked on a Tuesday, September 11th, exactly the same date when the United States fostered a coup in Chile that bombed the presidential palace on a Tuesday, from the air, and also created such havoc. It’s a very ironic sort of juxtaposition.
But I’ve gone beyond the immediate sense of United States which creates coups around the world and terror around the world and then receives terror—undeservedly, in that sense, because, you know, there’s no reasons why the United States should have these horrors happen to it. But here’s the thing that I’ve gone beyond the mere juxtaposition here. Chile reacted to the terror that was inflicted upon us with nonviolent resistance. In other words, for instance, give you an example, we did not go and bomb Washington because Washington had ordered and helped to create the coup in Chile. On the contrary, we created a peaceful revolution against Pinochet. And if you contrast that to the United States, to what Bush did as a result of this very small band of terrorists, the results have been absolutely terrible. I mean, you know, if this was a test—and I think great catastrophes are always tests of national values and national will—alas, the United States has failed that test terribly. If you look, I mean, at the results of September 11th, 2001, it has been just terrible what has happened.
AMY GOODMAN: Ariel Dorfman, describe that day, September 11th, 1973. You know, it’s interesting, on Democracy Now!, on September 11th, 2001, we were broadcasting when the second plane hit the second tower of the World Trade Center. At that time, we broadcast live at 9:00 in the morning, and the second plane hit at 9:03. We were doing a special that day. It was a special on the connection between terror and September 11th, 1973, in Chile. Now, you were there. Describe those moments.
ARIEL DORFMAN: Before the description, just let me just say, it really is very important to emphasize that you were probably the only ones who were remembering that date. In other words, that date of September 11th, 1973, was a date which was an infamous date, and yet nobody remembered it. Now they remember it sort of even less, because it’s been buried under the weight of September 11th in the most important country in the world.
But what happened to me that day was, I was working with Allende in La Moneda, the presidential palace. And because of some sort of, really, quirk of fate, my life was spared. I was supposed to have slept there the night before, and I should have been the one who would have told the president the coup was on and have died with him in La Moneda, and instead of which, I switched places with a compañero, with a friend of mine, who died in my place. And, I mean, I speak about this somewhat in the memoir Feeding on Dreams.
And there’s a sense in which I awoke that morning—and I woke late. I never—I sleep like three or four hours a night, five hours a night. And I woke—I had slept very deeply that night, and I woke to the sense of planes coming over my house, which is very strange. My house, where I was, in fact, sought refuge in my parents’ house, because I was being sought already by fascist bands before the coup. And I wondered what was happening. We immediately put on the radio, and we began listening to these communiqués from the military. And when they came to the name of Augusto Pinochet as the head of the coup, we realized that we were really in real trouble, because he was supposed to be the person—in fact, I had spoken to him just some days before, heard his voice, and he was supposed to be Allende’s sort of loyal supporter.
And then, a while later, we heard Allende say goodbye to us—in other words, a farewell address, which was one of the most beautiful speeches, I think, in the history of politics, in any century, in which he speaks about a day that will come when the anchas alamedas, the broad avenues, of freedom will come, and the men and women of tomorrow will walk through them. You know, I mean, I still get emotional when I hear that and think of that.
And then, a little while later still, smoke began to billow up from the center of the city, which was perhaps some 30 or 40 blocks from where we were living at that time. And I knew then that everything had changed—just like, in some sense, you know, many, many years later, 28 years later, when I saw the second plane hit the towers, because the first, when I was alerted to it, I saw the second one hit the tower. I thought, this is not going to only change the history of one country, as it did in Chile on September 11th, but it’s going to change the history of the world. It’s going to take us into a vortex of the worst sort of revenge, I thought.
And I was always hoping, you know, that the solidarity shown, that the wonders of how people came together that day, that that would in fact—that when people were risking their lives to save those of others, even of strangers, that that sense of what America really is, the America that’s been built by those people—those towers were built by people, they were served by people, by everyday people, right?—that that America would prevail. Alas, that has not been the case. In the case of Chile, it was, which we did manage to come out of that ordeal with a very, very strong struggle against the dictatorship. But we got rid of him through nonviolent means. We did not exercise the very acceptable and understandable desire to seek revenge, because anger only gives way to other—to more anger. I mean, you know, anger is good as a way—and outrage is good as a way to survive. It’s not a good way to live, in anger all the time.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And after that September 11th, 1973, you went on an odyssey, a long period of exile from Chile. And in your new book, the Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile, you deal with the whole exile experience, this North-South reality where you are—have roots in both the North and the South. And one of the amazing things that we’re seeing now in the world today, that the North is experiencing all this economic calamity, while the South, especially Latin America, is having an economic resurgence, and wholly unexpected by many people around the world. Your sense of that period in exile and how it’s influenced your understanding of the North-South divide?
ARIEL DORFMAN: Well, I think that one of the things that happened was that because I was brought—I mean, I speak the English I speak, because I was brought up in New York. That’s why 9/11 hurts me, as well, personally, because I was a kid in New York. I love that city. I love every corner of it. You know, I love the smells of it.
And there was a sense in which I had already been north, but I wanted to stay south. I wanted to stay there in Chile forever. And I was cast into exile, and then I made, as many of us do, the best of things, as most migrants do. In other words, they make a new life for themselves. And I said, if there’s a meaning to this, to this forced exile, this forced migration, this expatriation, this loss and distance from where I wanted to be, it is to turn that pain into some sort of a knowledge, some sort of a capacity for communicating the fact that this north and this south are in constant relationship with one another. We’re connected to one another.
I mean, you’ve just said it so eloquently. At this point, the United States is living a series of what used to be called “third world realities.” And at the same time, places like Chile or Brazil or Argentina are living a series of solutions to those third world realities, which in fact we might be able to export to you, instead of you exporting to us those things. I say “us” and “you,” though I’m on both sides of this divide. And I think that one of the things that exile gave me was a perspective, the idea that—of seeing many societies, many different solutions, and trying to understand the underlying brotherhood/sisterhood underneath these supposed differences. You know, the conflicts that there have been between the North and the South are just inherent in my own life.
At the same time, there is a possibility of understanding one another and cooperating. And if 9/11 had been a way of making most of the Americans understand that what happens in Tehran or happens in Mogadishu or happens, in fact, in Saudi Arabia is going to affect deeply their own lives, then perhaps it would have been—I’m not saying it’s worth it, but it would have woken the American people up to the fact that you cannot construct a new global order, a real order, a real order of solidarity, of compassion, of progress, unless you’re willing to understand that one child who dies in Minneapolis is as valuable as one child who dies in Santiago de Chile. And that makes us one humanity. I think exile helps one to understand this idea that we are one humanity, that we are responsible for one another, and that, in fact, one of the great tragedies, you know, when you speak about catastrophes and calamities and terrors, we should be really in terror of one major, major thing: we are in danger of becoming extinct if we do not tackle climate change, you know, and none of that has happened during the last 10 years. We’ve lost that possibility. Now, that’s real terror, not the terror of bin Laden, which can be very easily contained through criminal investigations, you know. The real terror is that one. And we should understand that we’re all in this together, and this planet is going to burn if we do not find a way to get together and solve this problem together. So, exile helps me in some ways, but, you know, you don’t have to be in exile to realize those things.
AMY GOODMAN: Ariel Dorfman, we’re going to ask you to stay with us. We’re going to go to break and come back and talk about some other September 11ths, with the Chilean-American author Ariel Dorfman, professor at Duke University. His latest book, coming out in the next few weeks, Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Back in a minute.