Book Review: A Nation Of Enemies

A Nation Of Enemies: Chile Under Pinochet, by Pamela Constable and Arturo Valenzuela

On the one hand, this is a book I would have liked to have read while I was writing my capstone paper for my Master’s of Military History [1], given that it would have greatly aided the closing argument I made about Chile’s army being isolated from its civil culture, which was a major element in the coup of 1973. While this is by no means a straightforward chronological history, its discussion of an army that had a great view of its own competence and a deliberately Prussian style and approach but was socially disrespected and marginalized by a succession of disrespectful civilian regimes gave me a bit of a chill for the future, given I can easily see how the same problem of a military coup in the midst of a bitter culture war could happen in the United States with growing feelings of disrespect towards veterans and the military over the course of the last few decades.

As might be at least somewhat evident by the title of the book, the authors divide Chile into a variety of classes (this is certainly what may be termed a leftist or even Marxist interpretation of social theory in Chile’s society, which is a sign of its deeply problematic and even illegitimate approach) and then fill the pages with speculations, giving far more legitimacy to leftist guerrillas and terrorists than to conservative, as well as carefully crafted primary accounts that are included in order to support the authors’ thesis that Pinochet’s coup was a horrible aberration from Chile’s normal society and unnecessary because Allende’s socialism wasn’t really all that bad, it’s just that he and his supporters were a bit too doctrinaire about it. If one is a leftist, this is an appealing sort of history, in that it seeks to present Chilean socialists and even Communists as being legitimate politicians with an acceptable worldview, and as victims of a cruel regime. Pinochet is painted here almost as a cardboard villain, subtly scheming, not particularly intellectually competent, blinded by his own ego, almost devoid of humanity. This view cuts against the goals of the authors to present all people as being human beings worthy of being treated with respect, a respect that apparently the authors feel unwilling to give to Chilean officers or a large span of conservatives, making this book highly suspect and more than a little hypocritical. The way in which this book openly favors the incompetent Carter over Reagan ought to please those readers with anti-American biases, who ought to be pleased by the authors’ discussion of the funding and support of anti-Allende efforts as well as the politics of loans and economic aid.

In many ways, this book is a grim tale of a nation in the grip of dictatorship because its political class had largely shown itself unable to behave as statesmen. Blame for this, as is generally the case, must fall mostly on the side of the left. This book demonstrates how the legitimacy of the Chilean republic was sabotaged from within by growing left-wing radicalism and populism, until a Marxist president elected with a narrow plurality thought that ruling by decree was a way to solve the impasse created by his intransigence and by the corrupt nature of his worldview. Furthermore, this book demonstrates that even when a military dictator has the desire to undo that sort of history, that it is extremely difficult to undo the intrusion of a corrupt and massive state into the lives of citizens when the base of civic virtue upon which freedom depends has been steadily eroded for decades through Gramscist socialist propaganda and the inculcation in the youth of the messianic role of the state in solving social issues. Chile paid dearly for its belief in the false messiah of big government, but it is a lesson that the nations of the world are slow in learning.

The book also demonstrates the role of the Roman Catholic Church in undermining Pinochet’s regime through the shielding of those who appeared to follow a corrupt liberation theology. While Pinochet is certainly shown as being brutal and heavy-handed, the book almost grudgingly presents the evidence of massive arms smuggling and Soviet-directed propaganda to Chilean leftists, as well as the attempt by Chile’s communists to act like those of Italy and France in various “Popular Front” efforts to have provided ample justification for Pinochet’s thuggery. In fact, the most obvious and just reply to reading this book’s tortured attempts to condemn Pinochet while justifying his opponents would be to call for a pox on both of their houses, to consider Pinochet and his left-wing opponents from Allende to his less well-known successors, as being equal (if opposite) evils, and to find comfort only in the relative moderates of the Christian Democrats (who even seem a bit too left-wing and too willing to cozy up to Communists) and moderate conservatives. In Chile’s disaster, we see a fate that befalls many nations, as the steady erosion of virtue and the rise of left-wing demagoguery leads to a divisive political culture, the massive and expensive increase of a corrupt and bloated bureaucracy and the dependence of middle-class on government sinecures, and the response of the most militaristic tendencies of the right to the obvious social malaise, with tragic consequences, including painful and brutal economic austerity as well as the more obvious brutality of military coups and their punishment of outspoken critics [2]. This book chronicles that fate through its look at the rich, the poor, the young, the military, the politicians, and other classes, but by placing its blame on Pinochet it misdiagnoses the roots of the problem or the culpability of the left-wing ideology that the authors themselves represent.


[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Book Review: A Nation Of Enemies

  1. Pingback: In The Nick Of Time | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Superpower | Edge Induced Cohesion

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