Another Symposium of Denial

While Holocaust deniers from all over the world are enjoying the hospitality of Tehran, National Review Online is having its own symposium of denial, only here they’re whitewashing the terrorist regime of Augusto Pinochet. Of the six participants, only one person, Thor Halvorssen, actually had the strength of character to condemn Pinochet for his crimes. The rest praise him for, basically, not being as bad as Fidel Castro. Talk about the bigotry of low expectations. Apparently as far as National Review is concerned, a regime characterized by despotism and international terrorism is a successful one for Latinos, so long as there are a few market reforms thrown in.

Personally, I think that this statement by Otto Reich is the most morally reprehensible of the lot:

Augusto Pinochet was a tragic figure. Instead of being remembered for saving Chilean democracy from a communist takeover, and starting the country on the longest-lasting economic expansion in Latin America, which he did, he will be remembered mostly for carrying out a brutal campaign of human-rights abuses.

Yes, because god forbid that a torturer, despot, and state sponsor of terrorism be remembered as a bad guy. I mean, he did lower taxes, after all!

Reich goes on to comment that Pinochet’s coup and subsequent military dictatorship were okay, since the Chilean public at the time supported the coup. Which is roughly akin to saying that Hitler wasn’t all that bad, since the Nazi Party was the largest party in the Reichstag.

Indeed, most of the comments in this symposium are akin to defending Hitler on the grounds that (a) he wasn’t as bad as Stalin, (b) resisted Communist rule, and (c) his Nazi Party was democratically elected. Oh, and he made the trains run on time, too!

Was Pinochet as bad as Hitler, or Stalin, or even Castro? I suppose that on the scale of such things–no, he wasn’t. But that doesn’t make him any less a despot, any less a torturer, any less a terrorist, or any less a murderer.

(For further reading, check out Christopher Hitchens’ scathing obituary of Pinochet, as well as some excellent commentary by Matthew Yglesias here and here.)

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Democracy, Latin America, Media, Terrorism, World Politics, , , , , ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.


  1. cian says:

    Being interested in all sides of any argument, I was a regular visitor to NRO, but as the realities on the ground in Iraq make it harder and harder for war apologists to construct a sane case for their initial cheer leading of the Bush admin, they resort to defending the indefensible and thus become increasingly irrelevant to the ongoing discussion on what is needed to salvage the little that is left of America’s prestige.

    To their way of thinking torture is justified when used against terrorists, therefore, those America has tortured must be terrorists. For this warped worldview to be sustained the 3000 tortured and murdered by Pinochet must also have been terrorists (or communists, which in their eyes is the same thing).

    Thanks for a great post Alex.

  2. Anderson says:

    I doubt anyone at NRO knows jack about Pinochet. He’s just another playing card in their partisan pastime. The sissy liberals loathed him, so they eulogize him.

    The actual suffering of Chile, the fact that no one at NRO (I hope) would’ve cared to live one day under Pinochet … not even on the radar for ’em.

  3. Barry says:

    There’s one thing that’s been well illustrated by this stuff. There are a number of people in the US who aren’t just conservative, or right-wing, but simply fascist. Not Nazi-level (although stuff like that gets out of control, as many Germans thought in 1932), but ‘petit fascist’ – a few thousands killed, a few tens of thousands tortured.

  4. Anthony C says:

    Gee, a crummy NRO symposium. Whodathunkit?

    Anyway, well said, Alex.

  5. Steven Plunk says:

    I see a good amount of NRO bashing but a lack of good arguments against their position.

    From what I could read it was more of a “why does the left excuse lefty dictators while hammering right wingers like Pinochet?”. It seems to be a worthy question without praising Pinochet too much.

    Normally I agree with much of what Mr. Knapp says but running afoul of Godwin’s law causes me to discount the post.

  6. The other side of the coin is looking at the choices available as opposed to the perfect choice. Is there any reason to see Allende as not causing the same or more harm ala Castro than Pinochet?

    A balanced view includes the good with the bad. Hitler did stop the political chaos and runaway inflation, but at the cost of 10% of Germans killed in the war and millions more outside of Germany killed. On balance its clear Hitler was a net loss to Germany and the world.

    Pinochet was responsible for killing thousands, but it is arguable that on a net misery index he has a positive balance. On can look at the abject economic and human rights failures of Cuba, North Korea and the soviet union to see how bad things could have been under Allende.

    To counterpoise Anderson’s arguments, would he rather live in South or North Korea. That is probably the most controlled human experience experiment that has ever been conducted to compare the paths of Allende and Pinochet for Chile.

  7. Alex Knapp says:


    Under Allende, Chile was still a democracy, and the Chilean parliament pretty much deadlocked a lot of his proposals by the time of the coup. I’d say that the odds of Chile going down the road of Cuba were pretty much nil. Had Chile continued as a liberal democracy, it’s likely that a lot of the socialist initiatives of Allende would have been reversed.

    Also, unlike Castro or other Latin American socialists, Allende did not murder or torture his political opponents. Pinochet did.

  8. Alex,

    We may have to agree to disagree here. I see Allende moving down the path of Castro. It is historical fact that the “people movement” regimes of his era and before started with lofty words and good intentions, but were sustained by repression and crippling economic policies. We are talking about alternate histories, so we can conjecture but will never know.

    What would histories position be on Hitler if he had died in February of 1933? Likewise, speculating on what would have happened under Allende is just that, speculation. And I agree that reasonable people can differ on that speculation.