Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Forgotten 9/11

“That 11 September, that lethal Tuesday morning, I awoke with dread to the sound of planes flying above my house,” wrote Ariel Dorfman in the New Statesman recently. “When, an hour later, I saw smoke billowing from the centre of the city, I knew that life had changed for me, for my country, forever”.

Dorfman – contrary to popular assumption – was not writing about New York in 2001. He was describing events 28 years earlier in Chile. Chile 1973 is the forgotten 9/11.

In April 1973, the CIA circulated a memo encouraging a military coup in Chile against Salvador Allende’s democratically elected socialist government. The memorandum called for the promotion of economic chaos, political tension and affirmed that “ideally it would succeed in inducing the military to take over the government completely”.

Five months later, the Chilean armed forces – strongly encouraged by the US – bombed the Presidential Palace and Allende shot himself. In the following days, over 13,500 people were arrested. The Pinochet dictatorship – aided and abated by the US – rolled out radical neo-liberal economic policy which required violent enforcement. In total, more than 3,200 people were disappeared or executed, 80,000 were imprisoned and 200,000 fled the country for political reasons. It was an alarming foreshadow of things to come.

The Shock Doctrine

Naomi Klein – in her monumental book The Shock Doctrine – frames modern history as the evolution of disaster capitalism. Klein debunks the myth that the rise of neo-liberal hegemony was achieved democratically and contends that free-market capitalism requires – and encourages – crises to force through a corporate agenda. In Klein’s view, this whole process started with the rise of Chicago School economics following Pinochet’s coup d’état in 1973.

The grandfather of the Chicago School, Milton Friedman, was the economic guru for both General Pinochet and President Bush. In 1982 he stated:
Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.
Friedmanite economics have been applied throughout the world in response to crises since the 1970s – instigated by Pinochet’s Chile and intensified after 11 September 2001. Free-market reform – always serving American corporate interest – has required the shock therapy of torture, war and repression to subdue popular unrest and smash opposition. America’s support and advocacy of this terror has been unrelenting.

Parallels between the two 9/11s

Pinochet’s Chile was a laboratory for Chicago School economics: privatisation, deregulation and social spending cuts. In his first two years – with government companies auctioned off at a fraction of their value – unemployment increased from 3% to 20%. Inflation rose to a staggering 375% and 74% of the average household income was spent on bread. By the end of the 1980s, 45% of Chileans lived below the poverty line whilst, in contrast, the richest 10% had seen their income increase by 83%.

Whereas Pinochet’s Chile was an experiment in neo-liberalism, the War on Terror – free from the shackles of the Cold War – was private from the start. Everything – from homeland security to combat abroad – was for sale. By 2005, the homeland security industry – economically irrelevant before 9/11 – was worth $200 billion.

The function of government itself has become one of procurement. The number of security contracts handed out by the US increased from 3,512 in 2004 to 115,000 in 2006. Fighting wars abroad has become lucrative business for a variety of franchises and contractors. Iraq is not occupied by the American military, it is occupied by McDonalds in greenzones or by private security firms. This raises serious questions of accountability and transparency – not to mention government responsibility.

The US used the mass disorientation resulting from 9/11 to subdue opposition and facilitate the spread of the free market. Just as the Falklands War reignited Thatcher’s ailing Premiership, 9/11 was a panacea for Bush’s anaemic Presidency. Rapid economic growth echoed the Dotcom bubble but, to stop it bursting, the Whitehouse needed to create perpetual fear to fuel demand.

In pursuit of ubiquitous fear, the US amplified Pinochet’s brutality by employing extraordinary rendition, enhanced interrogation techniques (ETIs), water-boarding, hooding and indefinite detention. Donald Rumsfeld ensured that prisoners captured in Afghanistan were not covered by the Geneva Convention because they were classed as “enemy combatants” rather than POWs. Furthermore, according to declassified documentation, Rumsfeld authorised a number of ETIs including “deprivation of light and auditory stimuli,” “the removal of clothing” and “using detainees’ individual phobias... to induce stress”.

President Bush declared that “freedom itself” had been attacked following al-Qaeda’s assault on the Twin Towers. He vowed to ensure that “freedom will be defended”. The tragic irony is that the defence of freedom – or the War on Terror – has more often been used to curb people’s freedom in the name of counter-terrorism. This – like the support of Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship – highlights the depraved hypocrisy of a morally corrupt superpower. This is the 9/11 that shouldn’t be forgotten.

This is an extended version of an article written for Liberal Conspiracy

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