The mechanism of declassification is another component to negotiate. The very act of declassifying a document represents a potential distortion or attempt to manipulate the historical record and further obscure the disappeared histories of the Dirty War. For years the influence, if not direct involvement of the United States remained cloaked behind redacted documents and tactical silence. How historians come to articulate this chapter in Argentina s history must therefore come from many texts, as J. Patrice McSherry puts it, to 'triangulate' the story of Argentina under the junta. History is more than diplomatic telegrams and memos. History is much more than the litany of horror and statistics this series could easily become: the 30,000 missing, the thousands of restless and tangled bones under the detention center at La Plata. The hundreds of bullet holes found in the walls surrounding the pit, the bodies burned with tires. The ones who were taken, drugged, and thrown naked from planes into the ocean. And the mothers, with their endless poultice of anger, sadness, anxiety, and desire.
This is not to suggest government documents and archives aren't useful--certainly works like the The Pinochet File, the terror archives, and other materials provide readers with any number of smoking guns about United States involvement in undermining Chilean democracy. When General Pinochet ousted the Cuban-supporting President Allende, the military junta that came to power along with Pinochet on the 'other 11 September' in 1973 would influence greater Latin American states in incalculable ways. As military dictatorships rose throughout the Southern Cone, junta leadership organized Operation Condor: the state sponsored terror campaign against subversives which manifested as the Dirty War in Argentina. Essentially, oppressive governments agreed to dispose of each other's problematic citizens, subversive having a malleable, frightening quality. In Argentina, subversive became broadly defined, ranging from the arrest of leftist radicals, to the disappearance of high school students protesting the junta, to the torture of United States citizens. Southern Cone governments traded and murdered each other's prisoners, set up internment camps, and disappeared those perceived to be a threat to a militant right wing government.
Knowing where to begin presents yet another obstacle while writing a series like this and anyone who studies the more gruesome intersections of history and tragedy knows why. How far back can historians realistically trace the origins of something like genocide, slavery, or any record of systemic oppression without writing a doorstop? Anti-Semitism in Europe goes back for centuries. Would I start with the Weimar Republic or the Treaty of Versailles if I wrote about the Holocaust? Anything I compose about the Dirty War faces those same issues and interwoven textualities: the woman captured by the junta who had 'too many' Jewish friends--Argentina having a substantial Jewish community before and after the Shoah; there was after all, no better place for Nazi hunters to do their work--recalls a guard's words: Jewess, we are going to make you into soap, an unmistakable reference to the Holocaust. How to untangle these threads without omission or worse, offense?
General Pinochet's arrest in 1998, the various trials and indictments associated with the Dirty War, and the election of Pope Francis have refocused our attention to this period. Moreover, the disintegration of the Cold War structure has drawn researchers away from the contours of a bipolar system, creating more adequate space for discussion of the human costs of conflict. Henry Kissinger, not exactly a paragon of liberty and human rights, championed the junta. In declassified transcripts, Kissinger said to Argentina Foreign Minister, Admiral Guzzetti:
I have an old-fashioned view that friends ought to be supported. What is not understood in the United States is that you have a civil war. We read about human rights problems but not the context. The quicker you succeed, the better. - Henry KissingerKissinger said this as though there was ever justifiable context for systemic human rights violations, yet this was one of several operating beliefs in Cold War era US-Latin American relations. It's dissonant to think of Kissinger meeting with Guzzetti that morning, maybe over breakfast. Eggs. Perfect English muffins. Coffee. The detached and weird discussion that must have taken place. Possibly Kissinger did not know, as he sat in the Waldorf-Astoria speaking with Guzzetti, that a few months earlier Gwenda Loken Lopez, United States citizen, was thrown off a bus, arrested and tortured. Her graphic testimony confirms the arbitrary, indiscriminate and pervasive violence of the militant right, in the same way Argentine poet Nestor Perlongher's work, Corpses brings the disappeared into everyday contexts:
Beneath bushesUnder Secretary of State Charles Robinson essentially gave his support to Guzzetti, comparing the Dirty War to the unsettled, vigilante California of the 1850s. Guzzetti made his own stance known in a public statement:
There are Corpses
In the track of a train that never stops
In the wake of a ship that sinks
In a ripple that vanishes
On quaysides railway halts trampolines piers
There are Corpses
In fishermen's nets
In stumbling in crabswamps
In she whose hair is pulled
With hairclasp hanging undone
There are Corpses
The subversion and terrorism of the right is not the same thing. When the social body of the country is contaminated by a disease which devours its innards, it forms antibodies. These antibodies cannot be considered in the same way as the microbes. - César Augusto GuzzettiAlthough politicians often invoke the language of science and medicine to explain the relationship between the State and the Other, when Guzzetti engages this metaphor, he discusses people. Reading Roosevelt's 'quarantine speech' has a different sense altogether because he is advocating for the containment of a philosophy. Guzzetti's words haunt modern conflicts as much as Roosevelt's:
It seems to be unfortunately true that the epidemic of world lawlessness is spreading. When an epidemic of physical disease starts to spread, the community approves and joins in a quarantine of the patients in order to protect the health of the community against the spread of the disease. - Franklin D. RooseveltIn the course of this series, I hope to review the origins of the Dirty War in Argentina, the points of friction and resistance met by those wishing to address the disappeared, 'Othering' in state-sponsored conflict, and end the series with my own research into current class tensions, specifically in Buenos Aries. I want this to be participatory as well. If you are interested in something specific, let me know and I'll do my best to address that in an appropriate diary.
As always, thanks for reading. Next diary will publish in early August.
About Sources: In some cases I've linked to book reviews rather than a given text, to include criticism and analysis of the materials I've used as part of the discussion. These also tend to be freely accessible, and the librarian in me likes that.
McSherry, J. Patrice. Predatory states : Operation Condor and covert war in Latin America. Lanham, MD : Rowman & Littlefield. 2005. [partial preview on Google Books].
For more of Nestor Perlongher's poem, see: Gabriela Nouzeilles, Graciela Montaldo, The Argentina Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Duke University Press. 2009. [partial preview on Google Books]
Archive of Terror database. Free online, extensive digitization of Operation Condor.
The Bone People - article on group working to uncover mass graves throughout Argentina after the fall of the dictatorship.