Click Here North Star Writers Group
Syndicated Content.
Eric Baerren
Lucia de Vernai
Herman Cain
Dan Calabrese
Alan Hurwitz
Paul Ibrahim
David Karki
Llewellyn King
Nathaniel Shockey
Stephen Silver
Candace Talmadge
Jessica Vozel
Feature Page
David J. Pollay - The Happiness Answer
Cindy Droog - The Working Mom
The Laughing Chef
Mike Ball - What I've Learned So Far
Bob Batz - Senior Moments
D.F. Krause - Business Ridiculous
Stephen Silver
  Stephen's Column Archive

December 18. 2006

Pinochet’s Apologists: ‘He Was Better than Castro’!


When longtime Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet died on Dec. 10 at the age of 91, it set off clashes in the dictator’s homeland, in which 39 people were arrested.  It also set off bitter, but much less violent, brawling among American pundits, about exactly how bad Pinochet was.


A consensus soon emerged among right-wing pundits in the U.S.: Sure, Pinochet did a few bad things here and there. But at least he overthrew a socialist government, which probably would’ve done worse. And besides, when it comes to Cold War-era Latin-American dictators, Fidel Castro was much, much worse - and the media clearly won’t be nearly as tough on him when he inevitably dies.


All of this, of course, is based on pure conjecture. We’ll never know how Chile would have turned out had Salvador Allende remained in power. And not only is the hypothetical media response to Castro’s death based on conjecture as well, but it’s completely beside the point.


This once again demonstrates that large segments of the conservative punditocracy think of no event as more important than the liberal media’s “distortion” of said event. You know, the people who think of “Abu Ghraib” as “that awful time that the media made the soldiers look bad.” Therefore, the biggest story about Pinochet’s death is not that a horrible tyrant of the 20th Century is dead. It’s that they’re more negative about him than they will be about Castro.


Let’s be clear about one thing: Pinochet was a bad, bad man. He overthrew a democratically elected government in a military coup, served as a dictator for nearly two decades, murdered thousands of his own people and tortured many, many more. He also plundered his own country’s treasury and evaded numerous war-crimes tribunals at the end of his life, always suddenly coming down with an illness just when his trials were about to start.


The excuses used by the right in defense of him are totally shameful, and absolutely no worse than those on the far left who have a blind spot about Castro. They also pretend that it’s somehow a mainstream liberal Democratic position to be a supporter of communism in Cuba. I know that a handful of elected officials, Hollywood types and academics think Fidel’s just the greatest - but they’re wrong, and I think most Democrats know they’re wrong.


And besides, even if Pinochet was “better than Castro,” “better than Castro” doesn’t equal “good.”


Indeed, the excuses just keep coming. In a see-no-evil symposium on National Review’s website, various contributors took turns looking the other way. Pinochet is even given credit for putting himself up for re-election in 1990, as though this was somehow a dramatic, selfless act. You’re supposed to put yourself up for re-election!


We also hear that since Pinochet’s body count was only in the 3,000-4,000 range, he doesn’t rank as among the 20th Century’s foremost butchers. This argument is in the exact same logical realm as those who defend Hitler because after all, he killed fewer people than Stalin did.


Even the John Birch Society - which I was shocked to learn is even still in existence - came out in favor of the late dictator, calling him “very different from the media depiction of him.”


But perhaps the most ridiculous argument of all came from National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, who wrote an asinine, Swiftian column (at least, I hope it was Swiftian) arguing that “Iraq Needs a Pinochet.” Yes, after years under Saddam’s boot, I’m sure another murderous, cleptocratic dictator is exactly what the Iraqis have in mind.


Every one of these arguments is absolutely no different and no more virtuous than the oft-stated “Mussolini made the trains run on time” defense. And it’s no better than left-wing excuses for Castro, either.


Pinochet was a horrible man who killed many of his own people and crushed civil liberties in his country. Castro is as well, and did many of the same things. When Castro dies, the fact that a horrible tyrant is dead will be a far bigger story than whatever a handful of sympathetic journalists have to say about him. And, I really don’t see why we can’t all agree that tyrannical dictatorship is wrong and worthy of condemnation, whether it comes from the left or the right.


To offer feedback on this column, click here.

© 2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


Click here to talk to our writers and editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.


To e-mail feedback about this column, click here. If you enjoy this writer's work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry it.

This is Column # SS22. Request permission to publish here.