Media Beat

Special to The Putnam Pit
How important is the pain of the past? Should people strive
to confront it or try to forget it?
Such questions routinely underlie news stories and media
debates. Depending on the spin, history can seem crucial or
irrelevant to the present. In deep ways, the past is far from
over. But commentators often claim that we should just move on
and let bygones be bygones.
Lately, world attention has been riveted on former Chilean
dictator Augusto Pinochet and the possibility that -- a quarter
of a century after he seized power from Chile's democratically
elected government -- the general may face prosecution for his
Since Pinochet's arrest, news outlets in Chile have been
delving into horrible truths about the 17 years of his brutal
regime. Meanwhile, the media discussions in the United States
have been more restrained.
The political repression overseen by Gen. Pinochet --
including widespread torture and the murders of more than 3,000
Chilean people -- did not only result from the policies of the
junta in Santiago. Top officials in Washington were also directly
A recent New York Times article mentioned "some uneasiness
in Washington with the idea that former government leaders can be
held responsible by foreign courts." According to the news
account, a Boston-based law professor worried aloud: "What's to
prevent Spain from extraditing Henry Kissinger, who was involved
in the coup?"
A few days later, Times reporter Barbara Crossette observed
that "efforts to subordinate national sovereignty to
internationalist notions of universal crimes are especially
tricky for the United States." She added: "Suppose Cambodians
decided to indict Henry Kissinger on charges of ordering the
bombing of their country during the Vietnam War?"
Those kinds of scenarios are far-fetched nightmares for many
in the U.S. media elite -- such as Ted Koppel, who long ago
declared himself "proud to be a friend of Henry Kissinger." The
ABC newsman has ranked his pal as "certainly one of the two or
three great secretaries of state of our century."
Likewise, for the past three decades, Washington Post
Company owner Katharine Graham has counted Kissinger among her
closest friends. Any detention of Kissinger on charges of war
crimes would probably also distress the movers and shakers at
CBS, where he has served on the board of directors.
It's easy to toss off platitudes about people in another
society -- how they should face up to their past. But it's always
much more difficult to implement such principles closer to home.
So, Kissinger has never been compelled to answer for his role as
a key architect of policies that caused a total of more than 1
million deaths in Chile, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, East Timor and
Kissinger, of course, remains free to live in luxury and
travel as he pleases.
Shortly after Pinochet's arrest, the Chilean writer Ariel
Dorfman penned an open letter to him that appeared in the Spanish
newspaper El Pais and has now been excerpted in the December
issue of The Progressive magazine.
"What I have wanted to see for 25 years now -- and I still
have a hard time believing that it might be about to happen -- is
that before your death you will be forced to look with your blue
eyes into the dark and light eyes of the women whose sons and
husbands and fathers and brothers you made disappear, one woman
after another," Dorfman wrote. "I want for them to have the
chance to tell you how their lives were fractured and torn apart
by an order that you gave, or by the `action' of the secret
police that you chose not to stop. I have asked myself what would
happen to you if you were forced to hear day after day the
multiple stories of your victims and to acknowledge their
Here at home, in the United States, we may cheer about
Pinochet's belated legal difficulties. But we could render a
valuable service by demanding that the news media finally expose
a wide range of deceptions that have never been given a proper
Norman Solomon is co-author of "Wizards of Media Oz: Behind the
Curtain of Mainstream News" and author of "The Trouble With
Dilbert: How Corporate Culture Gets the Last Laugh."
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