by Philip Wohlstetter

The Pinochet File
by Peter Kornbluh
(New Press) $29.95

Latin Americans refer to it as "the first September 11." On that day in 1973, the Chilean military overthrew the government of Salvador Allende and put a bloody end to a long tradition of democracy. Peter Kornbluh's engrossing new book, The Pinochet File, is the definitive account of the U.S. role in fomenting that coup. Kornbluh, who teaches at George Washington University, is director of the National Security Archive's Chile Documentation Project. Drawing extensively on recently declassified cables, situation reports, scribbled notes, strategy papers, and memorandums from the CIA, the National Security Council, and the White House, he conducts us into the dark heart of a national security culture that has asphyxiated our democracy for the last 50 years and which now, in the age of Wolfowitz and Ashcroft, has reached its apotheosis.

The three-year covert war against Chile, according to Kornbluh, was conceived by its architects, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, as a preventive war. There was nothing to prevent, however. "That son of a bitch Allende," as Nixon refers to him in one of Kornbluh's documents, sought good relations with the United States. Viron Vaky, Kissinger's top aide on Latin America, had the temerity to point this out before the operation was greenlighted. "What we propose," he wrote to his boss in a memorandum reproduced in Kornbluh's book, "is patently a violation of our own principles and policy tenets." (One can imagine Kissinger's reaction. Principles?) "If these principles have any meaning," continues Vaky, "we normally depart from them only to meet the gravest threat to us, e.g., to our survival. Is Allende a mortal threat to our survival? It is hard to argue this."

Indeed, but as Kornbluh's timely book confirms, it's even harder to argue our leaders into kicking their addiction to discovering "mortal threats" that justify extreme measures. See under: Iraq.