The Mirroring of the Two 9/11s

The Mirroring of the Two 9/11s

The infamous images of hijacked airplanes hitting the World Trade Center’s twin towers are etched into the minds of every American old enough to remember the morning of September 11th, 2001. The terrorist attacks of that day spurred a decades-long war in the middle east and heightened tensions surrounding what it really meant to be an American. 9/11 is a date known all around the world, but rarely does the world talk about the first violent 9/11 that occured in Chile. Whereas the United States’ 9/11 was the doing of jihadist groups, Chile’s 9/11 was a government military coup. The morning of September 11th, 1973, the military began to bomb La Moneda, the presidential palace. By the end of the day, the president, Salvador Allende, was dead, and Chile’s government transformed from a burgeoning socialist democracy into a bloody military dictatorship that would last seventeen years. Both 9/11s have eerie similarities beyond their dates; the two events can trace their origins to the Cold War, and the United States’ desire to prevent the spread of communism.

The Cold War and the Creation of the Taliban

With the creation of the Truman Doctrine, stopping the spread of communism became one of the United States’ biggest foreign policy focuses. During the Cold War era, the United States’ geopolitical strategies throughout the world were aimed at curbing the slowly spreading reach of the Soviet Union. Beginning in the late 1970s, the Soviet Union attempted to gain control over Afghanistan, first invading the country in 1979, and later establishing a puppet regime in Kabul. Afghanistan’s complex history and ethnic diversity made it difficult for a country-wide takeover, and as a result, the Soviets’ invasion carved out pockets of the country where power was divided between the control of communist forces and Afghani rebels. The Soviets’ attempt to take over the country was met with significant resistant from locals, especially from Muslims who felt that the communists atheist beliefs threatened the practice of their religion. These resistant groups later developed into mujahideen groups, consisting of Muslim rebels. One of the largest forces supporting the mujahideen groups was the CIA.

After failing to prevent Iran’s Islamic revolution, the United States viewed Afghanistan as a key player in the middle east region, and was intent on not letting it fall into red hands. Thus, the CIA created rebel training camps in Pakistan where they trained Afghani muslim rebels, including Osama bin Laden. The United States, along with other anti-communist allies, allocated funds to help arm Afghani rebel groups in their fight against communist forces. The Reagan administration armed the mujahideen with anti-aircraft missiles, breaking previous policies against supplying rebels with American-made weapons. From the underbelly of the CIA training camps, the beginnings of what would later become the Taliban emerged . Michael Rubin of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, explained that following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States left Afghanistan, creating “a policy void in which radical elements” would flourish. The Taliban quickly conquered areas of southern Afghanistan, gaining power and support, viewed as an alternative to the conflict created by territorial control by rival mujahidin forces. The Taliban took control of the Afghan government, under a platform promising peace, disarmament, and a return to Islamic values. Later on, Osama bin Laden came to the aid of the Taliban, providing a few thousand highly trained soldiers, and creating the foundation for the alliance between al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Neoliberalism and the rise of socialism in Chile

While much of the spread of the Cold War was occuring on the eastern continents, the United States quickly became aware of a communist wave gaining momentum in South America. Prior to the rise of the Unidad Popular, Chile’s left wing party composed of socialist and communist groups, Chile had been one of the first nations to wholeheartedly embrace the neoliberal policies laid out by the Bretton Woods System and the Washington Consensus. Historically, Chile had always suffered from great classism and vast inequality gaps between socioeconomic classes. Once neoliberal policies were implemented, these inequality gap only grew larger, also widening social tensions between the wealthy American-educated upper class, and the lower class dwelling in campamentos on the outskirts of the city. Free market reform was heavily supported by the political-economic elites in Chile, whose wealth would only further increase from foreign trade, but in the long run, neoliberal policies led to high unemployment and the banking collapse of 1982.

Social and economic tensions played out across Chile’s three main political parties, the Unidad Popular, la Democracia Cristiana, and the Partido Nacional. These societal tensions took center stage during the 1970 elections, and as a result, Salvador Allende, running as the Unidad Popular’s candidate” won the presidency with 45% of the popular vote, establishing the first democratically elected socialist government. Allende promised the nationalization of Chilean resources, income distribution, and agricultural reform, all changes that appealed heavily to the lower class who suffered under neoliberal economic policies. While Allende was popular with the lower class, the Unidad Popular lacked a majority in congress, creating a major obstacle in accomplishing his administration’s policy goals. One of Allende’s first steps towards transitioning Chile from a democratic state to socialism was to nationalize the copper mines, Chile’s largest export. One year into his administration, the worldwide price of copper fell, causing the deterioration of the economy. While Allende did not come to power through a revolution, the United States saw him as a threat, due to his close friendships with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, as well as his staunch defense of the Cuban Revolution.

The morning of September 11th, 1973, Santiago woke up to the sounds of machine guns, and soldiers marching towards La Moneda, as part of an American-backed military coup. By the end of the day, General Augusto Pinochet had poised himself as the head of the new military dictatorship, and Allende had taken his own life rather than surrender himself to the military. Backed by the United States, Pinochet sought to eradicate any and all traces of socialism in the country. Under his leadership, Operation Condor was created. This alliance of right-wing dictatorships included Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Brazil. With the aid of the United States, Operation Condor launched a campaign of political repression, targeting socialist and communist leaders and sympathizers throughout the continent. Additionally, US interests in the region were represented by the Chicago Boys, a group of economists trained at the University of Chicago. While working with Pinochet’s regime, the Chicago Boys helped to once again revert the Chilean economy to its previous neoliberal practices. Throughout Pinochet’s seventeen year long military dictatorship, an estimated 1,198 people were disappeared, with hundreds more being subject to torture, and political executions.

The United States’ indifference in the face of the human rights violations committed under Pinochet’s regime is a topic rarely discussed. The United States’ involvement in the military coup reached far beyond simply supporting Pinochet in the name of preventing the spread of communism. In one of the more infamous cases, it came to light that the CIA trained the head of the DINA, Pinochet’s secret police force. Manuel Contreras oversaw the DINA, whose operations were responsible for the torture and disappearances of thousands of political enemies. Contreras also claimed that at Pinochet’s request, eight CIA agents came to Santiago with the intention of helping to organize the structure of the secret police. The United States humored the brutality of Pinochet’s dictatorship, a small price to pay for one less communist state. After evidence arose that Pinochet’s DINA was responsible for the assassination, in the middle of DC,  of a former Chilean diplomat, public outcry around the world largely condemned the actions of the military dictatorship, but the United States took no concrete steps to sever its ties with the regime During the mid 80s of the Reagan administration, foreign policy advisors and analysts began to feel frustrated at Pinochet’s refusal to return Chile to its former democratic state. Pinochet had served his purpose in eradicating communism, and in 1988 US officials pressured him to hold a plebiscite, where he was succeeded by a member of the democratic christian party.

In Chile, the implications of the military coup still resonate to this day. Under Pinochet’s regime, basic human rights were violated, and the entire country lived under a reign of terror for seventeen years. During the dictatorship, many right wing supporters praised Pinochet for his quick improvement of the economy, while the poor suffered. Pinochet’s regime focused on destroying the informal campamentos that surrounded Santiago, instead forcing the poor to move into conventillos, where multiple families were crammed into small homes. Not only did this forced migration destroy the social fabric of the campamentos, but it also decreased sanitation and nutrition standards for many of Santiago’s urban poor.

9/11’s Impact and Legacy in the United States and its Foreign Policy

Exactly 28 years after Chile’s military coup, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46am. By the end of the day, the terrorists’ actions killed 2996 people. Shortly thereafter, Osama bin Laden, founder of al-Qaeda, stepped forward to claim responsibility for the attacks, claiming that “it was confirmed to [him] that oppression and the intentional killing of innocent women and children [were] a deliberate American policy. Destruction is freedom and democracy, while resistance is terrorism and intolerance.” Thus, the American  “war on terror” was launched with the Bush administration vowing not to end until every terrorist group was defeated. Under the guise of battling terrorism, the United States invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, from 2001-2006. Now, almost two decades since the 2001 terrorist attacks, US troops still remain in both countries.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 impacted the United States in more ways than just in simple casualties and injuries. After decades of enjoying its position as the hegemonic world leader, the United States felt vulnerable for the first time, shedding the illusion that its power  was untouchable. In response, strong pro-American, nationalistic sentiments flooded the country, appearing in everything from renaming french fries to freedom fries to the increasing popularity of the American war hero movie genre. The aggression with which the United States launched its counterattack in Afghanistan was met with widespread hostility towards the west. Since 9/11, the U.S. government has spent more than $7.6 trillion on defense and homeland security, in addition to implementing policies like the Patriot Act, aiming to make America safer against the threat of terrorism.

The Two 9/11s and the Construction of Memory

In both Chile and the United States, the legacies of their respective 9/11s persist  to this day. In Chile, there still exists much social division in regards to public opinion of the dictatorship. Outside of the classroom setting, the dictatorship is a taboo subject, with most reluctant to admit their past support of Pinochet. Many Chileans still support Pinochet, emphasizing the good he did for the economy, while glossing over the atrocities committed under his regime. Other former supporters claim that they had no idea that the tortures and disappearances were anything more than rumors. In the many years since the end of the military dictatorship, relatives of the disappeared and tortured have led the human rights movement in the country. Many NGOs dedicate their time to helping to secure evidence of torture and killings, in hopes to bring forth charges against the responsible parties. While many continue fighting to know what happened to their loved ones, others have fought to repress this knowledge. The Bachelet administration fought to lift the 50 year “veil of secrecy” over the testimony heard by the National Commission on Political Prison and torture. Bachelet’s bill was hotly contested, with supporters urging the disclosing of detention sites, and the identities of over 30,000 torture victims. For family, the failure to lift the veil was devastating. Because the identities of many of those who participated in the torturings and killings are still unknown, these individuals continue to enjoy military benefits and pensions. It is undeniable that the dictatorship forever changed the landscape of Chilean society, instilling a chilling sense of terror over the entire country, that to this day still leaves its trace.

Just seventeen years after the United States’ own 9/11,  the marks of the terrorist attacks still appear on everything from pop culture to the attitudes of Americans towards foreigners, and vice versa. The surge in American nationalism unified many Americans, while at the same time gave rise to a growing sense of islamophobia throughout the western world. In 2001, 93 anti-Muslim related hate crimes were reported to the FBI. Strong nationalism gave way to strong anti-Muslim, anti-terrorist sentiments. Additionally, research showed that post-9/11, Americans’ preferences for media changed, with most movie-goes now being more likely to prefer films that do not require much cultural engagement. While xenophobic beliefs seemed to have had reduced gradually over the years, they have seen a resurgence in recent years due to anti-Muslim remarks made by then-candidate Trump throughout the duration of the 2016 election cycle. Recent studies have shown that in 2016, anti-Muslim hate crimes actually surpassed those reported in 2001.


With both the Chilean and American 9/11 events, their origins can be dated back to the Cold War and the United States’ anti-communist doctrine. While the two events may seem unrelated at first glance, their roots and aftereffects mirror each other. In both countries, many suffered human rights violations as a result of events that took place in 9/11. In the present day, both Chile and the United States have undergone political shifts towards the right, with the respective administrations of Piñera and Trump. In both countries, the younger generations have shown strong leftist tendencies, fighting to question the beliefs of the right-leaning administrations. While Chile’s 9/11 can oftentimes be mistaken as a long-ago part of the nation’s history, today people still remember that it has many consequences. Recently, the Chilean minister of culture was forced to resign after old Facebook posts of his resurfaces, where he had called the National Museum of Memory and Human Rights leftist propaganda that failed to accurately represent the dictatorship. Even now, many people within Piñera’s administration have faced criticism for their past support of Pinochet. Defenders of human rights urge the importance of preserving national memory in both countries, sparking many conversations surrounding how exactly the respective 9/11s should be remembered and represented for generations to come.

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