In the course of my career, I have met a number of people who have lived through unspeakable horrors. I have always realised that I had little to offer other than a willingness to listen, but of course, most people who have actually been in Hell are unwilling or unable to “talk about it”. They can at best use the words that have subsequently been fed to them by psychotherapists, but they will not be able to find words of their own to convey what they saw and felt; not even – least of all – to their spouses and children. That’s how serious traumatic experiences work: They isolate the victim, often for life.
I find myself wondering what the psychological effects will be for survivors and witnesses of what has just happened in Libya. I can’t help thinking that at least they know that their distress is shared. The community of survivors will be on its knees in grief, together. Bereaved, but not alone, I think. But then again – what about anger? There will surely be anger. Will that be shared too?
When you’re being tortured or threatened with torture, you eventually tell them… lies to begin with, lies they are prepared for and crack in the course of a few hours … lies for which they “punish” you, making you out to be an exceptionally deviant, i.e. bad, person. That’s how it works. Believe me, you tell them what they want to hear, if you know, that is. And if you don’t, you make up things, lots of things, anything. Again, that’s how it works and has always worked: During the Catholic Inquisition, during the Protestant witch purges, and throughout the so-called Pax Americana.
If you survive … you wish you were dead.
Either way, in Chile, they ended up literally throwing disfigured corpses into the sea. The spouses, parents and children had to learn to live with not knowing what happened. Many still have no idea where/when/how a loved one was put to death. They have had to learn to get on with their lives.
After the dictatorship, polite society agreed to start afresh. No talk about the past. Same as in Spain. Those who complained were defined as cranks. We all want to belong to polite society, don’t we.
Please note that what I am writing does not – repeat NOT – apply only, or even mainly, to Chile. Chile is my topic now because the country has has just commemorated the murder in 1973 – 50 years ago – of the country’s democratically elected then president. (And the Congress’s far-right majority has just admitted it still justifies the 1973 coup.)
What also happened on 9/11 this year, was that some people started talking: Some people started asking themselves: Where was I on 9/11?
One woman’s story:
We had just moved to a flat the day before, on September 10. We had not foreseen there would be a coup the following morning, so I counted on being able to get hold of some foodstuffs the next day. My son was two years old and needed milk. Milk was rationed due to political tensions. My husband had to leave the house at 6 am. By 8 am, when I would normally go to work and leave my son at the workplace nursery, where he would be given milk, I saw there was something afoot, but I set off, because the shops were closed and my son needed milk.
Some people were on their way to work like me, but there were no buses. I had to walk quite a long way. A military vehicle came charging past me, full of soldiers, and they shot at people! I saw people fall to the ground, but the vehicle sped on. I didn’t know if the people who fell to the ground had been shot or had just hurled themselves down. I was of course terrified and I hurried on with my son in my arms. I passed people lying on the street. I hurried on. I saw a lorry from which blood seemed to drip. I saw another lorry stop and pick up what appeared to be a corpse in the street.
I told you all this back then, but you didn’t believe me.
Another woman’s story:
My mother was a very inquisitive person and when she heard shooting in the street, she ran to the window to see what was going on. My husband, who was with us just then, roughly grabbed hold of her dress and dragged her harshly back: “Stay away from the window, you fool, they’ll shoot you!
Just then, a bullet did hit the wall just beside the window.
For decades, we refrained from repairing the hole in the wall; it was a souvenir.
A rigorously non-political outlet had the the courage to publish, on 11 September this year, an article that commemorates those who were indiscriminately shot dead in Santiago during the first hours of the coup. The victims were:
…. just ordinary people on their way to work or school, people who never returned home because they met death in the form of bullets from the security forces who shot indiscriminately right and left in order to instil terror. These people were men and women on their way to work, students, pensioners, housewives and young children, in all of Santiago’s districts.
A list follows of the couple dozens of known victims in Santiago alone, during the first hours. Not until 4 PM, was a two-day curfew announced in Santiago.
I don’t know about you, but just the idea of a “two-day curfew”… Yes, we had Covid, but at least you could buy milk! And you could go see a doctor if you had to. During fascist coups, you just get shot.
Most people stayed at home, locking their doors, most of them thinking “we are law-abiding citizens, so no harm will come to us, if we just do as we are told.”
I shall not continue this sad tale. You have surely seen what fascists are capable of on film.
I insist: Chile is just a very small, but telling example. Please read (or listen to) The Jakarta Method for the real stuff.