An initial disclaimer: I know this post is a bit of a mess, but I can't figure out how to put everything I want to talk about today into a coherent essay.
The Chilean presidential palace in Santiago on Sept. 11, 1973, when President Salvador Allende was overthrown.
September 11 is an anniversary for more than people who experienced the one in 2001. Today is the 30th anniversary of the US-backed coup which overthrew the democratically-elected President of Chile, Salvador Allende. Of course, one is more likely to see coverage of this fact in foreign media than in our own. I grabbed the photo above from a rather dismissive article in yesterday's NY Times, which spends a great deal of time blaming Allende for trying to move too quickly to the left. The article fails to mention the US involvement in the coup.
I was reminded of the unfortunate coincidence by a death that occurred this week -- that of Leni Riefenstahl.
What do you mean by that?" she asked, clearly surprised. "Where is my guilt? I can regret. I can regret that I made the party film, 'Triumph of the Will,' in 1934. But I cannot regret that I lived in that time. No anti-Semitic word has ever crossed my lips. I was never anti-Semitic. I did not join the party. So where then is my guilt? You tell me. I have thrown no atomic bombs. I have never betrayed anyone. What am I guilty of?"
The quote comes from an amazing film I watched earlier this year, The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl, when the film maker confronted her over whether she should feel guilty.
It is an interesting question. She has been vilified for making films for the Third Reich, but people like Henry Kissinger who planned the Chile coup, and used our tax dollars to help pay for it, happily attend charity functions, serve on corporate boards, and get mentioned in the gossip columns. Henry Kissinger is as much of a war criminal as anyone alive in America, but no one attacks him -- I mean verbally or with some red paint -- when he arrives for lunch at The Four Seasons. I worked in 2 WTC on the 100th floor when I first moved to NYC in 1989. I remember seeing Kissinger in the lobby of my building one afternoon and the horror I felt at being in the same (albeit large) space.
I will admit I have never seen Olympia, but I recently watched Triumph of the Will. The latter is horribly brilliant. Seventy years later, one can be horrified by the regime it glorifies while at the same time being moved by the artistry of it. Also, this being 1934, the war had not begun, and seeing the faces of young men you knew would be dead within 10 years, or cities that were bombed to rubble when they still were masterpieces of centuries-old architecture, is chilling. As someone who cares deeply about art, it is... searching for words here... disturbing to see how art can make a vile regime appear heroic and virtuous.
Leni Riefenstahl was an artist, and in the 1930s she used her art for invidious purposes. Let's remember she did so in a regime that killed its opponents. Dachau, which I have visited, was built as soon as the Nazis achieved power, and was used to imprison political prisoners. Americans today say they don't understand how something like Nazi Germany could happen, but they can't even be bothered to pay enough attention to know that Iraq wasn't involved in 9/11, or to read newspapers, or to vote. I am no longer interested in hearing from Americans how the Germans didn't do enough to resist Hitler and the Nazis. No, they didn't do enough, but we as a people are in no position to talk about resistance to a regime that betrays the will of the people and commits atrocities in their name. The Bush regime doesn't have to put people in camps -- the "opposition" party runs screaming away as soon as their patriotism is questioned -- and the media rarely challenges any of its statements.
Being an artist doesn't absolve her of any responsibility, but I suspect that as a woman she took a chance to have the kind of money and opportunities that would have been quite rare for someone like her in the 1930s. Can someone explain to me what the mitigating circumstances might be for the likes of Nixon and Kissinger? What ends justified the means? Why we had to kill 55,000 Americans and millions of Viet Namese? Why we supported the people that killed an opponent of Pinochet with a car bomb in central Washington DC?
Someone asked me today if I felt sad about the anniversary. No, I don't. I am pissed off! Where is the independent investigation into 9/11? Where is the investigation into the anthrax mailings? Who is going to explain to us why we had to attack Iraq when Saudi Arabia provided the support and money for the 9/11 hijackers? There are questions that need to be answered if we're going to be anything other than a banana republic with the world's largest military.
Are Americans suckers? Is all they care about a chance to sit at home and watch another stupid reality show?
I think the majority of Americans have the government and the leaders they deserve, but those of us with some brains, a little common sense, and a sense of decency do not deserve to live under this regime.