IF the test of a good book is that it somehow makes us better
able to understand ourselves, then the latest recounting of Chile's
16-year travail under the iron-fisted military regime of Gen.
Augusto Pinochet Ugarte is sure to be judged first-rate.
"A Nation of Enemies: Chile Under Pinochet" is the story of how
a country with a 150-year democratic tradition does a turnabout to
welcome the violent military overthrow of its elected government.
Reaching beyond a mere recounting of life under an all-powerful
military, the book dissects the reasons why dictatorship appealed
to so many Chileans - even in a society with strong democratic
Boston Globe Latin America reporter Pamela Constable and
Georgetown University Professor Arturo Valenzuela manage to layer -
like a multilevel chess board - the actions and motives of the
Army, the dictator, the secret police, and the technocrats, showing
their impact on individuals, families, and children. Yet, the
strength of the book is not so much its careful organization and
documentation of a very complex scene, but its ability to expose
the essentially mental nature of dictatorship with its roots in
extreme societal fear and hatred.
The military coup that killed leftist President Salvadore
Allende Gossens in Santiago on Sept. 11, 1973, ended quickly. The
process of subduing a populace educated in the democratic tradition
began immediately afterward.
"If you walked on the grass, they would blow whistles at you.
But people didn't resist; they complained among themselves, but
they obeyed. That's how it happens.... You accept things little by
little, and finally you end up submitted to them."
That is how Josiane Bonnefoy, a Chilean student, described to
Constable life on a college campus not long after General
Pinochet's military began to assert control over every aspect of
life in an effort to "purify" it of socialist or communist
Civilians, as well as key players, explain their sense of how
Chile became ensnared in a fascist system, imparting to readers why
ordinary people - perhaps even readers - might under a certain
climate of fear do things they would never otherwise consider.
Near the end of a chapter entitled "The Culture of Fear," the
authors quote a villager who says simply that "Fear was a sickness
we all caught." A page later, the authors reinforce how fear can be
contagious in society and illustrate its frequently destructive
effect on moral self-government.
"I worry more about the fascist within than the fascist
without," says Marco Antonio de la Parra. An ordinary Chilean, Mr.
de la Parra recounts his belief that it was evasion of moral choice
that made dictatorship possible. "How many of us could become
torturers? Pinochet could not have happened if the society were not
There are eerie parallels between Chile's experience and Nazi
Germany's. One example is the Chilean Army, which was trained by
Prussian advisers starting in 1885, laying the foundation for an
elitism that disdained civilian authority. …