Greg Grandin is the author of Empire's Workshop, Fordlandia, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history and the National Book Award, and, most recently, The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World. He teaches at New York University.
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Why in 1973 did Chile's democracy, long considered the crown jewel of Latin America, turn into Augusto Pinochet's murderous regime? Why did the United States, which helped Pinochet seize power from Salvador Allende, support the violent dictator for nearly two decades? Scholars answering these questions have usually focused on the threat posed by Allende, the first elected Marxist head of state, to Chilean and US business interests and to the cold war foreign policy of the United States. But recently declassified documents, along with the reissue of Patricia Politzer's Fear in Chile: Lives Under Pinochet, suggest that the Chilean counterrevolution, however much shaped by immediate economic and political causes, was infused with a much older, more revanchist political spirit, one stretching as far back as the French Revolution.
Edward Korry, who served as US ambassador to Chile between 1967 and 1971, greeted Allende's election in 1970 as if the sans-culottes were at the gate. Before all the votes were in, he smelled the "stink of defeat" and could hear "the mounting roar of Allendistas acclaiming their victory" arising "from the street below." Although no guillotine blade had yet dropped, material declassified by the United States over the past couple of years shows that Korry fired cable after cable back to Washington, warning of "the terror" to come and citing Baudelaire to brand Allende a "devil."
It may seem bizarre that an LBJ-appointed Democrat would pepper his diplomatic missives with the overheated prose of French romanticism. After all, critics have charged cold war liberals, such as Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy, with employing a dry calculus in deciding the number of casualties needed to defeat Communism. But Korry was no bloodless bureaucrat. In fact, in both tone and content, his writings were remarkably similar to those of the illiberal Joseph de Maistre, the arch-Catholic reactionary who launched violent, intoxicated attacks on the French Revolution. By injecting medieval Catholic orgiastic mysticism with the revolutionary zealotry of his contemporaries, Maistre offered a compelling alternative to earthly promises of secular justice and political participation. He was the first who understood that if a counterrevolution was to be won, it would be necessary to win the "hearts and minds" of what would come to be known as the masses.
As fervidly as Maistre hated la secte of Jacobins and eighteenth-century rationalists, Korry disdained Allende and his Popular Unity followers, and largely for the same reason: Where Maistre rejected the idea that people could be governed by enlightened principles, Korry dismissed as "dogmatic and eschatological" those who believed that "society can be structured to create paradise on earth." And both men reserved their strongest scorn for the pillars of the old regime--church, army and state--because, either for reasons of ineptitude or corruption, they had failed to see and to confront the evil before them. Lost in a "myopia of arrogant stupidity," the elites and officials who had allowed Allende to come to power were a "troupe of fools and knaves" leading Chile to the "marxist slaughter-house." It is as if Korry saw the revolution as divine retribution against a decaying polity. "They should be given neither sympathy nor salvation," he said of the weak-willed ruling party.
Echoing Maistre's observation that republican rule is ill suited to protect society against revolutionary fanaticism, Korry complains in his cables about a gracious political culture that places no brake on Allende's determination: "Civility is the dominant characteristic of Chilean life. Civility is what controls aggressiveness, and civility is what makes almost certain the triumph of the very uncivil Allende." Neither the military nor the outgoing president, Eduardo Frei, "have the stomach for the violence they fear would be the consequence of intervention," Korry wrote to Washington. The Communist Party, in contrast, Korry warned, was "that most clear-minded and cohesive force in Chile.... Allende is their masterwork in Latin America and they do not lack for purpose or will."
Korry worked to strengthen domestic opposition to Allende's Popular Unity coalition, yet he also opposed Henry Kissinger's plot to provoke a military coup (which led to the murder of Chilean Gen. René Schneider). Instead, he advocated patience, confident that, with encouragement, internal dissent would eventually oust Allende. Again, remarkably akin to Maistre, Korry felt that restoration had to come from within rather than be imposed from without. He had faith that time favored his position; that the revolutionaries, in their effort to build a society that ran against human nature, would soon exhaust themselves; that rumor and chaos, unavoidable spawns of popular rule, would fuel an irresistible counterwave that would sweep them from power.
In fact, CIA destabilization strategies, both in Chile and in other Latin American nations, seem to draw directly from Maistre's restoration scenario, which relied on counterrevolutionary determination to generate dissension. Rumor acts as the cat's-paw for fear, poisoning commitment, corroding solidarity and forcing an acceptance of inevitable reaction. In Chile the CIA, in a cable dated September 17, 1970, set out a plan to
create the conviction that Allende must be stopped.... discredit parliamentary solution as unworkable...surface ineluctable conclusion that military coup is the only answer. This is to be carried forward until it takes place. However, we must hold firmly to the outlines or our production will be diffuse, denatured, and ineffective, not leaving the indelible residue in the mind that an accumulation of arsenic does. The key is psych war within Chile. We cannot endeavor to ignite the world if Chile itself is a placid lake. The fuel for the fire must come within Chile. Therefore, the station should employ every stratagem, every ploy, however bizarre, to create this internal resistance.
After the end of World War II, when demands for social democratic reform swept the continent, a series of coups and political betrayals successively radicalized and polarized social movements. The Old Left gave way to the New, and calls for reform climaxed into cries for revolution. By the late 1960s, Latin American military elites and their US allies knew, as Maistre knew two centuries earlier, that a simple changing of the guard would no longer be enough to contain this rising tide: "We are talking about mass public feeling as opposed to the private feeling of the elite," wrote the CIA about the intended audience of its "psych war" in Chile. The Latin American military regimes that came into power starting in the late 1960s combined terror and anti-Communist Catholic nationalism to silence this revolutionary roar. As Gen. Oscar Bonilla, who helped Pinochet install his seventeen-year dictatorship, put it, "What this country needs is political silence. We'll return to the barracks when we have changed the mentality of the people."
Patricia Politzer's Fear in Chile: Lives Under Pinochet recounts, through fifteen first-person testimonies gathered in the mid-1980s, while Pinochet was still in power, how his dictatorship did just that. By 1973, the United States had succeeded in its stated goal of extinguishing Chilean civility and igniting political passions. It seemed to many that their country had become ungovernable. Chronic shortages of basic goods, violent conflicts, political impasses and swirling rumors of coups and invasions wore Chileans down.
Nearly all of Fear in Chile's witnesses begin their accounts with the coup, and they all convey the exhaustion and confusion of the moment. Andrés Chadwick Piñera recounts his lonely sadness at hearing of Allende's death while his middle-class family, wife and neighbors celebrated. Sympathetic to the revolution, he burned his books and eventually made peace with the regime. Even the most committed became disoriented. Raquel, a student member of the Communist Party, recalls the uncertainty of revolutionary leadership, which told members to first do one thing, then another. Blanca Ibarra Abarca, a shantytown community leader, became "furious" after listening to Allende's radio message broadcasting news of the coup. She wanted "to do something, to fight," but was paralyzed by "pain and impotence." Manuel Bustos Huerta, president of his union, called a meeting but "no one knew anything...some people said we should go home, and others said we should take over the factory. Finally, after much discussion, we decided that people should go home." (Maistre wrote, nearly 200 years earlier, of how confusion would replace revolutionary resolve with resignation: "Everywhere prudence inhibits audacity.... On the one side there are terrible risks, on the other certain amnesty and probable favors. In addition, where are the means to resist? And where are the leaders to be trusted? There is no danger in repose.")
At times the polarization described by Politzer's witnesses seems absolute. While many wept upon hearing news of Allende's death, others bonded in anti-Communist solidarity: "Everyone from the block got together in a neighbor's house to celebrate.... Everyone brought something and it was a very joyous occasion."
But it is where the testimonies intersect, often at unexpected junctures, that Fear in Chile reveals just how deep and popular both the revolution and counterrevolution were. Blanca Ester Valderas and Elena Tesser de Villaseca recount radically different experiences and backgrounds. Valderas is a poorly educated rural woman whose husband was murdered in Pinochet's coup. Under Allende, after growing weary of following her husband through a series of dead-end jobs, Valderas joined the Socialist Party and was appointed mayor of her town. Even after the coup, when she was forced to change her name and go into hiding, she continued in politics, working with Chile's nascent human rights organizations. Tesser de Villaseca is a well-to-do "Pinochet diehard" who untiringly organized women to bring Allende down, even though she denies that either she or her husband is "political." Nor did she return home after Pinochet took power; instead Tesser de Villaseca and her friends threw themselves into myriad social welfare organizations aimed at making Chileans "a sound race again, to make the country healthy." Despite the different historical consequences of their actions, both women used politics as an avenue of upward human mobility, to escape the restraints of family and to influence civic life.
In Costa-Gavras's movie Missing, which, while not mentioning Chile specifically, depicts Pinochet's coup, the first repressive act shown is of soldiers pulling a woman off a bus queue and cutting off her slacks, warning her that in the new nation, women do not wear pants. Many of the voices in Fear in Chile recall similar acts of violence: men who had their long hair shorn; women who were ordered to wear skirts; a worker who was arrested and tortured for being "an asshole" and not acting sufficiently submissive to authority. Notwithstanding Allende's supposed alignment with the Soviet Union and his threat to economic interests, acts like these illustrate that the real danger of the Chilean left was not that it undermined secular liberal democracy but that it promised to fulfill it, to sweep away the privilege and deference of patriarchy and class. "It was as if we had suddenly returned to a past era," recalls the wife of an Allende functionary in recounting her dealings with male military officers who, prior to the coup, she'd treated as friends and equals.
For many, Pinochet realigned a world that had spun out of control, and the power of Politzer's book is that it takes seriously the concerns of his supporters. Pinochet remained popular because he satiated the desire of many Chileans for both order and freedom. He haunts the pages of Fear in Chile like Maistre's powerful but distant sovereign, who "restrains without enslaving." As one of Pinochet's supporters put it, "I believe in a democracy in which certain general objectives are submitted to a vote; after that, each matter should be handed over to experts capable of realizing those objectives. In a family, for instance, where there is a health problem, you don't have a democratic vote about what steps to take."
It is this image of a family that is constantly invoked by followers of the regime to symbolize a just society, a family with Pinochet as the wise and strong father ("I adore Pinochet," says Tesser de Villaseca. "I adore him because he is a superhuman person who is also sensible and worthy") and his wife, Lucía, as the empathetic mother ("an extraordinary woman," says a Pinochet colonel, "who has created a volunteer corps in Chile that should be an example to the world. She's like a diligent little ant who works in different areas and also collaborates well with her husband").
Pinochet's success in generating a degree of popular legitimacy ultimately rested on violence and terror. By the time he left office, in 1990, his regime had arrested 130,000 people, tortured 20,000 others and, if the killing that took place during the coup is included, murdered between 5,000 and 10,000 Chileans. Fear not only led people to burn their books, drop out of politics, go into hiding and exile and switch allegiances, but allowed those who supported the government and dreaded a return to anarchy and conflict to justify murder: "I don't have any special knowledge about DINA [Pinochet's intelligence agency, responsible for a good deal of the terror], but if they were really out to find people working against democracy, people who didn't hesitate to kill to achieve their goals, I think what they were doing was good. I'm not one of those who don't believe that there were disappeared persons," says Carlos Paut Ugarte, an economist who returned to Chile following Allende's overthrow to work in Pinochet's government.
From Edmund Burke to Jeane Kirkpatrick, it has been the lie of modern counterrevolutionary thinkers that, against totalitarian abstractions, they defended historical actuality. The status quo is what should be, they say, and any effort otherwise leads straight to the guillotine or the gulag. But Pinochet's god, father and homeland were no less utopian and intangible than the just nation that Allende and Popular Unity hoped to build--the difference being that Pinochet had guns and the United States.
In his day Maistre was optimistic that restoration could be brought about with little violence. "Would it be argued," he asked, "that the return from sickness to health must be as painful as the passage from health to sickness?" Writing before the great counterinsurgency terrors of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, he can be excused his sanguinity. But Korry, too, liked to draw on historical analogies to make his case, and he has no such excuse. "There is a graveyard smell to Chile," he wrote immediately after Allende's election, "the fumes of a democracy in decomposition. They stank in my nostrils in Czechoslovakia in 1948 and they are no less sickening today."
It is too bad Korry couldn't escape the prison of his own abstractions and draw a lesson from a more relevant historical referent: Indonesia in 1965, where anti-Communist government agents slaughtered, as the United States watched, hundreds of thousands of its citizens. After all, the analogy was not lost on the CIA, which dubbed Pinochet's coup "Operation Jakarta."
At the close of every great and violent social conflict comes due a bill of rights. Following the barbarism of World War II, the United Nations' 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, along with the Nuremberg trials, overturned the doctrine, which held sway among Western nations, that there are no rights
other than those conferred by states. Individual liberty and the guarantee of a decent and secure life, the declaration proclaimed, were rights bestowed not by blood or borders but by universal human dignity.
From the terrors of the cold war came the hope that the promise of the UN declaration would be fulfilled, that resources consumed by the superpower contest would be put toward human needs and that repression would no longer be tolerated in the name of national security or sovereignty. But more than a decade into our post-cold war world, these hopes remain largely unrealized. While politicians who commit atrocities within their own borders can no longer confidently hide behind diplomatic immunities, the declaration's hope for the "advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want" remains a compelling but nonetheless chimerical ideal in light of deepening global poverty and inequality and concentrating corporate and military power.
In A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Mary Ann Glendon argues for a new, post-cold war interpretation of the declaration's vision and unfulfilled potential. While stressing the declaration's ongoing relevance--calling it the "parent document" of all subsequent international human rights treaties--Glendon believes that we have lost sight of the charter's true significance. The declaration did more than simply add social entitlements to the individual freedoms found in the US Bill of Rights and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. By synthesizing individual and social rights in a way that made them mutually dependent, the declaration presented a "vision of freedom as linked to social security, balanced by responsibilities, grounded in respect for equal human dignity, and guarded by the rule of law. That vision was meant to protect liberty from degenerating into license and to repel the excesses of individualism and collectivism alike."
But the cold war drove a wedge through the declaration's "organic unity." The two superpowers "could not resist treating the Declaration as an arsenal of political weapons: each yanked its favorite provisions out of context and ignored the rest." The United States and its allies stressed political freedoms, while the USSR and other socialist nations emphasized guarantees to education and healthcare. "What began as expediency hardened into habit, until the sense of an integrated body of principles was lost." The task at hand, Glendon writes,is to "reunite the sundered halves of the Declaration" and to re-establish the link between liberty and social security.
Glendon centers her story around Eleanor Roosevelt, whose longstanding support for social justice made her a compelling envoy of New Deal hopes abroad. Following FDR's death in 1945, she was appointed as a delegate to the newly established United Nations (considering that she probably would not be confirmed by today's Senate, it is remarkable that then only one senator voted against her) and was elected chairwoman of its Commission on Human Rights, whose first task was to draft an international bill of rights.
As the commission raced against the dawning cold war, Roosevelt's ability to disarm potentially deal-breaking political and philosophical conflicts proved indispensable. One of her major contributions to the declaration's passage was to argue for the deferment of enforcement mechanisms, thus giving countries unwilling to compromise national sovereignty an opportunity to support a broad, nonbinding proclamation. Roosevelt's domestic and international prestige served to contain an increasingly hostile State Department, and she repeatedly used her syndicated "My Day" column to make her case directly to Americans, often strategically evoking FDR's memory to shore up wavering US support for social and economic rights: "My husband always said that freedom from want and freedom from aggression were twin freedoms which had to go hand in hand."
A Harvard law professor, Glendon too believes in the interdependence of political freedom and economic security, but unlike the Roosevelts, who knew that the extension of equality would always require conflict, she argues that the best way to achieve both is through consensus.
Glendon is best known as the author of the previous Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse, a sharp critique of a legal culture that frames interests and identities in individualistic terms at the expense of community and civic responsibility. She reserves her harshest criticisms for the kind of politics, like that of the pro-choice feminist movement, that is based on the right to privacy, which, in her view, exalts individualism at the expense of community. For Glendon, rights are best achieved when they resonate, rather than clash with, common social values: "Our rights talk," she has argued elsewhere, "in its absoluteness, promotes unrealistic expectations, heightens social conflict, and inhibits dialogue that might lead toward consensus, accommodations, or at least the discovery of common ground."
Considering that Glendon has devoted her career to defusing the explosive potential of "rights talk," it is curious that she would now choose to celebrate Eleanor Roosevelt. Roosevelt firmly believed that the best way to achieve justice was through the expansion and strengthening of the New Deal state. While she may have often used the cant of compromise favored by many of today's communitarians, she did not shy away from confrontation, according to her biographer Blanche Wiesen Cook (Roosevelt was fond of repeating that if you "have to compromise, be sure to compromise UP"). Cook writes that Roosevelt, closely connected to and influenced by the great early-twentieth-century feminist, antiracist and working-class movements, held an "abiding conviction" that "nothing good would happen to promote the people's interest unless the people themselves organized to demand government responses."
A World Made New claims Eleanor as the mother of all third-wayers. Far from the politically and emotionally passionate writer, politician and activist who emerges from the pages of Cook's biography, Glendon's portrayal stresses Roosevelt's pragmatism and her willingness to temper demands for equality out of concerns for a greater social good. While Glendon acknowledges Eleanor's intelligence and political commitment, she often depicts Roosevelt as a cross between Dale Carnegie and Lucille Ball, whose "legendary people skills" permitted "cross cultural understanding" while her equally notorious cooking ability cemented male bonding among the commission's draftees:
It was not the food that made her salon a popular gathering place.... John Humphrey [a Canadian member of the commission] recalled one evening when she served "the toughest roast beef I have ever eaten." On another occasion she beamingly asked [the French delegate] René Cassin to uncork a musty bottle of wine that had been in the cellar of her uncle Theodore Roosevelt. Humphrey... recounted that Cassin "opened it with great ceremony, proposed a toast and we all lifted our glasses. The wine had turned to vinegar. But none of us flickered an eyelash--and Mrs. Roosevelt never knew what she had given us."
All that's missing is Desi Arnaz rolling his eyes.
The refusal of Glendon, like many communitarians, to pay attention to power has led her to provide an incomplete account of the origins and limitations of the declaration. Most of the action in her book takes place behind closed doors,amid the bons mots and philosophical sparring of the delegates. Despite references to the fact that following World War II "soldiers and civilians alike had become aware that the way things had been was not necessarily the way they had to be," Glendon gives no sense that the declaration's draftees--nearly all of them social democrats of one stripe or another--were responding to real political and economic demands made by threatening social movements.
For instance, while Glendon acknowledges the influence of the Chilean Hernán Santa Cruz, a friend and colleague of Salvador Allende, on the drafting of the declaration, she makes no reference to the fact that he was influenced by one of the strongest union movements in Latin America, a movement led by Communists and Socialists that forced successive governments to create one of Latin America's most democratic social welfare states. Neither does Glendon mention that between 1944 and 1946, Communist and non-Communist trade union leaders from fifty-three countries held a series of conferences to help secure a role for labor in the new postwar international system. They not only demanded that the UN incorporate economic rights into its charter but requested, yet did not receive, a union delegate in the UN's Economic and Social Commission.
Glendon's criticism of both the cultural and moral relativism of a handful of academics and Third World despots, which she identifies as the chief threat to the declaration's universalism, obscures the real obstacles arrayed against the fulfillment of its promise. While she notes in passing that Santa Cruz fled Chile in 1973, Glendon ignores the role of the United States in the destruction of Chile's welfare system and the installation that year of dictator Augusto Pinochet. Nor does she note the failure of the United States to support fully the prosecution of Pinochet. (Although Glendon's book was written before George W. Bush's assault on internationalism, the installation of John Negroponte as ambassador to the United Nations--as US ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s, Negroponte coordinated contra activities and covered up the murderous activity of a Honduran death squad--underscores the shallowness of Glendon's analysis as to why the declaration's promise has not been realized.)
In A World Made New, Glendon finds corroborating evidence among traditional societies to support her case against an excessively disputatious understanding of rights. She points out that the UN declaration was more influenced by the social democratic rights tradition of continental Europe and Latin America than by "the more individualistic documents of Anglo-American lineage." The declaration also better reflects the values of traditional, non-Western societies, with their purported emphasis on reciprocity and obligation, than it does those of the anomic United States. The subject of the declaration, according to Glendon, is not the autonomous individual of Hobbes, Mill and Locke but a person enmeshed in a web of "mutual dependency: families, communities, religious groups, workplaces, associations, societies, cultures, nations, and an emerging international order." It is "perhaps regrettable," Glendon suggests, that the declaration framed economic security in the language of entitlements rather than "in terms of a common responsibility," which "might have resonated better than rights in most of the world's cultures."
Richard Wilson's The Politics of Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa: Legitimizing the Post-Apartheid State provides a needed contrast to Glendon's argument that the potential of the declaration could best be achieved through compromise and harmonization with traditional cultures.
Like the story of Cain and Abel, the history of the UN declaration and South African apartheid are inseparable. Months prior to the commencement of work on the declaration, a multiracial South African delegation led by the African National Congress joined Indian delegates in 1946 to push the UN to condemn white rule in South Africa, resulting in one of the General Assembly's first decisions limiting the inviolability of national sovereignty. Just months after South Africa abstained from ratifying the declaration in 1948, it passed the first in a series of laws that institutionalized racial rule. In the following decades, South Africa, with its brutal mining economy, white supremacist government and vicious anti-Communism, came to represent the antithesis of the declaration.
After decades of national resistance and international pressure, as the Berlin wall fell, apartheid crumbled. Nelson Mandela left prison in 1990 and, in 1994, became the country's first president elected by a multiracial vote. The new South African Constitution is a direct descendant of the UN declaration, adding environmental and cultural protections to political and social rights, and extending them to all citizens, regardless not only of race and gender but of sexual orientation as well. Yet the radical vision of the Constitution was dampened when, in negotiations with the outgoing National Party, the ANC settled on a transition strategy that emphasized national reconciliation and amnesty for political crimes committed during apartheid and left largely untouched an economic system that was designed to benefit the white minority.
Like Glendon, Wilson is highly critical of "rights talk." But where she believes that an inordinate attention to individual rights frays the social ties that are best able to provide humans with security and dignity, Wilson argues the opposite: that the subordination of individual claims to justice in the name of reconciliation cheapens the value of liberal rhetoric. Many political leaders of fledgling democracies, Wilson writes, found in "human rights talk" a way to "create a fully-blown moral-ethical code, to forge a moral unity and to legitimate the new democratic order." But when it was used to justify not only amnesty for war criminals but also the silencing of demands for economic redistribution, as it was in South Africa, this talk came to represent for many a retreat from the promise of social equality that fueled the ANC's struggle against apartheid.
Wilson focuses primarily on the work and impact of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Established in 1995 to investigate human rights abuses committed under apartheid, the TRC, in its public hearings and its published final report, told the story of political violence through a narrative of struggle and liberation. Yet it tempered the radical potential of this story with a Christian ethos that both demanded a forsaking of vengeance and insisted on national reconciliation through collective acts of forgiveness. In the absence of either prosecutions or economic redistribution, writes Wilson, this "religious-redemptive" approach, embodied in the persona of the TRC's chairman, former Archbishop Desmond Tutu, was the only one that had any hope of "reshaping popular legal and political consciousness" among the majority of South Africa's disfranchised population.
Not unlike Glendon's attempt to move our understanding of rights away from conflict toward notions of reciprocity, obligation and community, Tutu repeatedly invoked the African word Ubuntu , which refers to values that supposedly governed African communal life, to argue against prosecutions: "Retributive justice," says Tutu, "is largely Western. The African understanding is far more restorative--not so much to punish as to redress or restore a balance that has been knocked askew."
Wilson describes a notion of community at play in the townships that contrasts with Tutu's Ubuntu , one that is "male and martial, and committed to the values of valor, honor and revenge." Local courts, armed gangs and activists from the ANC Youth League and African nationalist parties advocate a different, rougher notion of justice, "less concerned with restoration of social bonds than it is with the punishment of wrongdoers who have violated correct values as defined by the community." The TRC, with its uncompromising language of compromise, proved utterly incapable of working with these local authorities, of establishing mechanisms of conflict resolution that could lead to meaningful reconciliation. In response, many dismissed the TRC as hollow and continued to pursue vengeful, not retributive, justice.
The failure of the South African state, Wilson writes, to take seriously popular demands for justice, to move a desire for revenge toward an acceptance of proportional retribution, has greatly delegitimized human rights in the eyes of many, often the most marginalized, South Africans. There is evidence that soaring crime rates in places like Sharpeville are related to the state's failure to prosecute human rights violations that took place under apartheid.
A story that appeared last year in the Wall Street Journal supports Wilson's argument that true reconciliation can come about only through retributive and redistributive justice enacted by a strong state. In the mid-1980s, at the height of the antiapartheid movement, the police shot, tortured and blinded Lucas Sekwepere. After finding some emotional relief in telling his story to the TRC in 1996, Sekwepere, unemployed, impoverished and still blind, believed, wrongly, that the state would pay to remove the bullet fragments he still carries in his face and provide him with job training. Instead he received a check for $700. "Not much," Sekwepere says, "for someone who has been hungry for 15 years." "It is easy for me to get cross these days," he goes on. "Since the commission opened up my wounds, I haven't heard anything more. Is that justice?"
It is one thing to admit that the ancien régime is still au courant and therefore that it is impossible to prosecute violations conducted in its name, and, as Wilson points out, another thing to mask its persisting power with the language of reconciliation and national unity. But in the case of South Africa, what is the ancien régime? Unlike in Argentina and Chile, where the military still exercised a formidable influence and threat following the restoration of democracy, the ANC had control of the government, the military and the police, and was wildly popular among the vast majority of South Africa's population. Why could it not execute a legal strategy that was more attuned to the desire of the majority and to the norms of international jurisprudence?
The answer lies to a large degree with the ancien international régime. With the end of the cold war, Third World political and economic nationalism was no longer a viable development strategy. In many countries undergoing a transition from repressive cold war regimes to democratic rule, the primary threat of instability came not from the barracks but from the markets. In South Africa, the ANC and, to a lesser degree, the Communist Party were quick to adjust their strategies and expectations to a post-cold war world, embracing liberal democracy and suppressing larger challenges to the economic system. Whites remain in firm control of the national economy, subject more to the pressures of international capital than to the dictates of the new government.
Tracing the history between the UN's declaration and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission reveals the ambivalent legacy of the cold war vis-à-vis human rights, a legacy more complex than Glendon describes. While throughout much of the non-Communist world entrenched interests used anti-Communism to beat back threats to their power, in many cases superpower rivalry actually allowed for the fulfillment of many of the rights embedded in the declaration. The civil and economic reforms promoted by the United States, both at home and abroad, can be understood only in relation to its struggle against the Soviet Union. It was not until after the Soviet threat had been eliminated that we saw a full-scale retreat from the declaration's economic and social provisions, as witnessed by the dismantling of the welfare system in the United States, the weakening of social democracies in Europe and the demise of autonomous models of Third World development. South Africa may have the most progressive constitution in human history, but half of its population--19 million people--lives in poverty and has little recourse to the justice system or other state institutions. Pinochet may now be subject to democratic justice, but the economic system he helped install is as unassailable as was Louis XIV behind the walls of Versailles.
Or is it? The promise of the declaration continues to resonate, not in the flat timbre of transitional governments but in the diverse and vibrant chords of the anti-corporate globalization movement. While having multiple agendas and interests, the groups that make up this movement share all the values Glendon rightly finds in the declaration: human dignity, social responsibility, local autonomy, a vision of individual freedom rooted in social solidarity. Glendon, who hopes the declaration could be an "entryway to a better world," would perhaps be dismayed to realize how much she sounds like that favorite of WTO protesters, Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos, who believes that the task currently at hand is to "create a world in which a better world can be imagined." If the UN declaration's promise is to be fulfilled, then Davos may well be our Bastille.
This review was written before September 11. Its optimism has now been drowned by cries for an avenging war against terrorism. It seems as if we have been suddenly hurtled back to a world prior to the Universal Declaration, a world turned old with hatred, militarism and xenophobia. If Pearl Harbor begat Hiroshima, one shudders to think what terrifying deeds the attack on the World Trade Center will provoke. But in the midst of rising blood lust, the declaration's vision of economic justice, tolerance and freedom is, as we fight for a sane foreign policy, more urgent than ever.
A few years back, critics of postmodernism, both left and right, chuckled at the academic sting pulled on the journal Social Text when it published Alan Sokal's bogus article on the socially constructed nature of nature. For conservatives, that the journal ran Sokal's fuzzy call for a progressive postmodern science confirmed the fundamental divide between the politicized humanities and the objective sciences--proof positive of cultural studies run amok. In all the discussion that followed, however, little notice was paid to the origins of post-World War II radical critiques of science. In the shadow of Hitler and Stalin and in the wake of the Vietnam War, theorists from Theodor Adorno to Donna Haraway have been concerned with the ways in which science has colluded with acts of barbarism.
Patrick Tierney's Darkness in El Dorado examines the tragic consequences of medical and social science research on the Venezuelan Yanomami and reminds us why scientific practices and theories should indeed be the domain of social critics. White scientists in the jungle have long been central characters in the stories the West tells about itself. Alongside Humboldt and Mengele, Tierney's book now adds to the tropical pantheon James Neel, founder of the University of Michigan's human genetics department, and Napoleon Chagnon, perhaps the world's most infamous living anthropologist.
Well before Darkness's publication, Tierney's most damning charge--that Neel and Chagnon provoked, perhaps knowingly, a fatal 1968 measles epidemic responsible for "hundreds, perhaps thousands" of deaths--has created a scandal that threatens to distract from the real significance of his research. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the book may create a crisis "unparalleled in the history of anthropology." At a special American Anthropological Association forum in mid-November, defenders of Neel charged libel and politicized agendas. One panelist proclaimed that Tierney's "anti-science views" would jeopardize future vaccine efforts and lead to more deaths from disease. Chagnon, evoking the terms of the Sokal affair, has responded that only "cultural anthropologists from the Academic Left" who "despise the words 'empirical evidence' would take Tierney's claims seriously."
Empirical evidence is not lacking in Tierney's copiously footnoted book. Like all good chronicles of Western rationalists who lose their mind among primitives, Darkness in El Dorado is filled with absurd and disgraceful behavior: a French anthropologist who loses himself for decades in a sexual Eden; the world's wealthy holding a tuxedo dinner catered by helicopters on a jungle mountain; researchers who try to kill one another with machetes or commit suicide after being spurned by a Yanomami lover. But aside from his Joseph Conrad-like musings as to what it is about the Yanomami that made white people crazy, Tierney has written a fascinating, but also frustrating, ethnography of the practices and beliefs of cold war medical and social science researchers.
Tierney focuses primarily on the long and strange career of Napoleon Chagnon, who originated the myth of Yanomami aggression in his book The Fierce People, the all-time-bestselling ethnography. Chagnon portrayed the Yanomami as one of the most violent cultures on earth, where villages went to war to procure women and serial murderers bred at a higher rate than men who did not kill.
Tierney convincingly demonstrates his charge that unethical methodology and false science produced this myth. He also describes its often fatal consequences.
Most cultural anthropologists now believe that the wars Chagnon witnessed were provoked by Chagnon himself. He offered axes, machetes, fishhooks and pots in exchange for ethnographic information, creating tensions among villages that vied for monopoly control of his wares. Within months of Chagnon's arrival in 1964, three different fights broke out between villages that had previously been at peace for decades. Anthropologist Brian Ferguson reports that Chagnon was "very much involved in the fighting and the wars. Chagnon becomes a central figure in determining battles over trade goods and machetes."A Yanomami reports that Chagnon offered him an outboard motor in exchange for help, including the procurement of a Yanomami wife. Shotguns, a seemingly unlimited supply of trade goods and willingness to don feathers, face paint and a loincloth allowed Chagnon to transform himself from an "impoverished Ph.D. student at the bottom of the totem pole to being a figure of preternatural power."
Tierney argues that many of Chagnon's data are simply false. The Yanomami do not have a particularly high murder rate, nor do men who kill reproduce more than those who don't. Neither are the Yanomami particularly well-nourished--a claim that Chagnon uses to argue that men fight over women and not food.
In the United States, Chagnon and his sociobiologist allies continue to portray the Yanomami as an untainted relic of our past--a handy control group used to prove the biological basis of a range of aggressive human traits. In Latin America, the endurance of the myth of Yanomami aggression has reinforced racism and justified indifference. Both the Venezuelan and Brazilian governments have used unfavorable images of the Yanomami to justify their failure to protect them from migrants, who, starting in the late 1980s, increasingly entered the region, resulting in the death from disease and violence of untold numbers of Yanomami.
Tierney is at his best when he discusses Chagnon's career within the cultural history of the cold war. Born poor in Michigan, Chagnon used the expanding university system to climb out of poverty. Like many at the time who through discipline and hard work improved their class standing, Chagnon developed a visceral antipathy toward communism. It manifested itself in an intense masculine persona that earned Chagnon a reputation for barfighting and academic brawling. One of Tierney's insights is that Chagnon's theories had their "genesis during the Vietnam War and its cultural equivalent on the University of Michigan's Ann Arbor campus, where hippies in tepees chanted slogans like 'Make love, not war.' The whole point...was that you had to make war in order to make love--that violence was part of the natural order.... As a cold war metaphor, the Yanomami's 'ceaseless warfare' over women proved, that even in a society without property, hierarchies prevailed."
Tierney is on to something important here. The Fierce People was published in 1968, a particularly tough year for the United States abroad. American officials justified counterinsurgency campaigns that were taking place in the jungles of Latin America, Africa and Asia in decidedly Chagnonian terms. As one 1968 dissenting State Department memo put it: "We have condoned counter-terror.... We suspected that maybe it is a good tactic, and that... murder, torture, and mutilation are alright if our side is doing it and the victims are communists. After all hasn't man been a savage from the beginning of time so let us not be too queasy about terror. I have literally heard these arguments from our people."
Tierney rightly reads The Fierce People as a piece of home-front propaganda. To counter those who argued that war was caused by struggles over resources (a central claim of New Left interpretations of both the cold war and the Vietnam War), Chagnon "engineered a bold creation myth, a ferocious Garden of Eden, where the healthy, well-fed Yanomami fought for... sexual pleasure.... It was not the Yanomami but Chagnon's fellow Americans who belonged, in reality, to one of the best-fed, healthiest societies in history. America enjoyed abundance so delirious that it seemed, for a short time in the 1960s, that its citizens would not agree to the stress of world combat against Communism.... At that critical moment, The Fierce People... came to reverse a dangerous complacency, proof that the battle is never won, that the fight can never be abandoned."
By the late 1980s Chagnon was in trouble. Tierney misses an important opportunity to discuss how the decline in Chagnon's fortunes was tied to the end of superpower tensions. At home, a generation of anthropologists critical of its discipline's role in justifying US foreign policy came into professional power. In Venezuela his former research subjects were demanding that he be barred from entering their territory. And reflecting the post-cold war extension of economic activity into areas previously off-limits, gold miners poured into the Amazon, causing widespread ecological destruction and social dislocation. Challenged by his liberal colleagues, harangued by feminists, threatened by dark-skinned peoples and adrift in the new post-cold war economy, Chagnon became an international version of the angry white man.
Chagnon did what many did at the end of the cold war--he went private. He teamed up with a flamboyant Venezuelan industrial gold miner, who turned "tracts of forest into mud soup," and the mistress of the Venezuelan president, who has since fled the country following indictments for corruption and fraud. The three came close to establishing a private biosphere in Yanomami territory that would have given them political authority over the Yanomami and monopoly rights over mineral and scientific claims. In order to muster international support for their scheme, they shuttled journalists and scientists in and out of remote Yanomami communities on lightning helicopter tours, without providing protection against possible contagion. Newspapers and television news ran stories of recently discovered "lost villages," while "foreign scientists carried out huge amounts of plant and animal samples."
When Venezuelan and international opposition scuttled his plan to set up a fiefdom in his former field site, Chagnon, now largely shut out of anthropology journals, stepped up efforts to disseminate his theories in the popular press. Although Chagnon often casts himself as an embattled truth-seeker--the preferred role of most biological determinists, no matter how much funding or open access to the media they have--Tierney points out the "abject admiration many male journalists apparently felt for the great anthropologist." He cites a fax that Matt Ridley, the science reporter at The Economist, sent to Chagnon apologizing for not writing a more sympathetic piece: "I have written it in the way that the International Editor wanted, which means 'impartially.' (She is a bit PC, herself.) So you may find it less unambiguously sympathetic to you than you might have hoped, but it is about as far as I dare go.... I do hope you like it."
What will make and, unfortunately, probably break Darkness in El Dorado is its description of the deadly 1968 outbreak of measles that coincided with the arrival of an expedition, funded by the Atomic Energy Commission and headed by Neel and Chagnon, to collect Yanomami blood samples.
Tierney's speculation that Neel may have been responsible for the epidemic is based on Neel's decision to use what was by 1968 an antiquated vaccine, Edmonston B, which was contraindicated for isolated populations such as the Yanomami. Tierney suggests that Neel chose this vaccine to prove that American Indians were not genetically vulnerable to European germs. Since Edmonston B produced the same level of antibodies as an infection of real measles, follow-up antibody tests would allow for a comparison of European and Yanomami immune systems. This may be why, according to Tierney, Neel opted for Edmonston B even though it was known to cause measleslike symptoms among isolated groups and even though a cheaper, safer vaccine (but one that did not produce antibodies comparable to the disease) was available. Tierney argues that because Edmonston B produces symptoms similar to measles, its use may have ignited the outbreak; he goes even further by proxy, citing a medical historian who ventures that Neel may have intentionally started the epidemic.
Tierney unfortunately has presented his case in a way that allows for easy dismissal. He provides compelling evidence that Neel and Chagnon did indeed treat the vaccination campaign as an experiment. For instance, by Neel's own telling, in the first village, before the epidemic, the team inexplicably vaccinated only forty Yanomami out of a total population of seventy-six, even though it had enough doses for all. Combined with the fact that most in this village had been tested for measles antibodies two years earlier, the inoculation of half the village created a fortuitous control group for Neel's published findings. It also seems that the vaccine did induce fevers and rashes in many Yanomami. Nevertheless, the fact that Tierney gives no direct evidence to back up his most serious conjecture--that the measles epidemic was caused by the vaccine--threatens to discredit his entire study. (Also, in response to the pre-publication controversy, most medical experts insist that it is impossible for a vaccine, no matter what symptoms it may bring on in the inoculated, to spread as an epidemic.)
Tierney's missteps here speak to a larger problem with his book, which draws its inspiration more from The X-Files than from the Frankfurt School. Tierney tries too hard to link the actions and motives of the individuals involved in a tight net of intrigue, misrepresenting cold war social science as a secret society of an elected few.
Of course, for many, the actions of the United States during the cold war don't make sense any other way. Consider this history: Neel, who did research on Hiroshima survivors, was funded by the Atomic Energy Commission to collect thousands of samples of Yanomami blood because it was thought it could be used as a baseline to measure degrees of genetic mutation. In 1958 the AEC, which in other instances engaged in deadly human radiation experiments, paid Marcel Roche, a Venezuelan doctor who worked on Neel's 1968 expedition, to inject the Yanomami, without their knowledge, of course, with radioactive iodine to study why they did not suffer from goiters. Tierney should not be entirely blamed if he didn't have a theory, other than conspiracy, to explain this.
Darkness in El Dorado unconvincingly attempts to trace this shameful history directly to Neel ("I felt that Neel was the key"), unfairly describing him as an extreme eugenicist. This is unfortunate, for Tierney could have written a more powerful book by demonstrating how the cold war produced acts of barbarism regardless of individual motive.
This is not to let Neel and Chagnon off the hook. They were instrumental in the creation of a body of knowledge that valued the Yanomami not for their own sake but for what they could provide cold war science. Their blood was believed to contain answers to questions raised by the new post-Hiroshima world, while their culture was thought to be a distilled version of what the West once was and, for some, should be again.
In the documentary made of the 1968 expedition, Neel and others are shown professionally inoculating Yanomami, who are presented as pictures of vibrant health. Sound outtakes reveal a different story. The team was exhausted, sick and panicked as the epidemic escaped their control and ravaged the Yanomami. Neel can be heard ordering the cameraman to stop filming a sick Yanomami. Whatever the cause of the measles outbreak, it is probable that the research team exposed the Yanomami to respiratory infections and other illnesses. The outtakes also reveal that Neel and Chagnon were much more concerned with making the documentary and collecting blood samples than with containing the epidemic. They broke quarantine lines to procure donors and quickly abandoned the area so that their blood would not be ruined in the tropical heat.
Tierney's effort to pin the tragic history of the Yanomami on Neel speaks to a larger problem, both in his book and in current ways of thinking about colonialism. With the failure of socialism and the discrediting of revolutionary movements and governments, many First World activists have thrown their energy into advocating on behalf of the cultural rights of native peoples. Much of this work is profoundly apolitical, justified more by appeals to Indian virtue than by critical analysis. This kind of activism too easily sets itself up for dismissal when it is revealed that Indians may have their own interests and may not be as innocent as portrayed.
This problem is reproduced in Tierney's book. It speaks to the poverty of our political culture that Tierney, an experienced investigative reporter, refuses, either out of ignorance or bias, to discuss the history of the Amazon in reference to colonialism, capitalism or racism. Instead, he searches for the mastermind behind the mayhem. Tierney creates a kitschy Heart of Darkness-like tale and casts himself as Marlow and Chagnon as Kurtz (Neel, perhaps, could be King Leopold). Well before we hear any Yanomami voices, we learn of Tierney's battles against jungle thieves and malaria, heroically rescuing Yanomami children and fending off evil gold miners.
Tierney's narrative rightly demonstrates how objective scientists can be implicated in a history of atrocity--and his gaffes should not distract from this history--but it can't account for the fact that while the AEC was paying for Neel's and Chagnon's jungle excursions, it was also funding the work of Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin, along with other progressive scientists and anthropologists. These scholars became powerful critics of how the supposed objective research of their colleagues served not-so-objective agendas and had not-so-benign consequences. These politicized scholars have served science well--proof positive that Adorno was right, that "science needs those who disobey it."
In the early eighties,
I, Rigoberta Menchú
became an international bestseller.