Let me tell you, America,
of the hopes I had for you.
As the smoke was
swallowing Manhattan and the buildings fell and the terror spread into the
farthest recesses of your land and your hearts, my hopes for you, America.
While around the world
many of the past victims of your own terror, your own attacks, were thinking
and often saying, saying and more often thinking, they deserve it, serves them
right, it's about time they knew what it's like to be on the receiving end.
Not true, I thought, I said. Nobody deserves terror. Justice. What we deserve,
all of us, is some measure of justice.
My hopes for America: not
that this was good for you. No, not that. But I have seen suffering before, I
have seen widows wandering remote streets with the photos of their loved ones
asking if anybody knows if they are alive or dead, I have watched men and
women and even countries turn their deepest sorrows into a source of strength,
a form of self-knowledge, a chance to grow.
A chance to grow, America,
that was my hope.
Loss turned into maturity.
A chance to understand.
Not alone, America, not alone in your grief. A perpetual valley of terror,
that is what most of humanity is born into day after faraway day. Ignoring if
tomorrow we will once again be assaulted and bombed, humiliated and tormented.
America suddenly living what almost everyone else on this planet has
experienced at some point yesterday or today: the precarious pit of everyday
My hope for America:
empathy, compassion, the capacity to imagine that you are not unique. Yes,
America, if this dreadful destruction were only to teach you that your
citizens and your dead are not the only ones who matter on this planet, if
that experience were to lead you to wage a resolute war on the multiple
terrors that haunt our already murderous new century.
to be. What did not happen.
country, hijacked. Your panic, used to take you on a journey of violence from
which it is hard to return, the men at the controls not worried about crashing
America into the world.
not just the fault of the men who misgovern you.
can only do what you have allowed them, responding, those men, to some of your
all, this: to be innocent again, to feel good about yourselves, after Vietnam.
Vietnam? That country you turned into a mass graveyard?
handed back to you, America, on 11 September 2001. A terrible price to pay,
but there it is. Those atrocities, that devastation, finally making you all
into victims. No ifs, no buts, no listening to the naysayers, no patience for
those who suggest you look at your own history, your own interventions across
the globe, to understand why so many out there in the crazed world might
detest you. No more self-doubt, America.
the plague of victimhood, America.
finger I point at you, pointed back at my own self. I know that thrill, I have
sweetly sucked it in, I have felt the surge of self-righteousness that comes
from being unfairly hurt. Anything we do, justified. Any criticism against us,
the plague of fear and rage, America.
more dangerous: a giant who is afraid. Projecting power and terror so the
demons within and without will not devour him, so the traumas of the past will
not repeat themselves.
the plague of amnesia, America.
have you forgotten Chile? Not just a name. Chile? Democratic Chile? Demonized,
destabilised by your government in 1973? Chile? That country misruled for 17
years by a dictator you helped to install?
other countries, other names. Iran, Nicaragua, the Congo, Indonesia, South
Africa, Laos, Guatemala. Just names? Just footnotes in history books, your
I do not speak to you only from afar.
could I not wish you well? You gave me, an Americano from the Latino South,
this language of love that I return to you. You gave me the hot summer
afternoons of my childhood in Queens when my starkest choice was whether to
buy a Popsicle from the Good Humor Man or the fat driver of the Bungalow Bar
truck. And then back to calculating Jackie Robinson's batting average. How
could I not wish you well? You gave me refuge when I was barely a toddler, my
family fleeing the fascist thugs in Argentina in the mid-Forties. One of you
then. Still one of you now. How could I not wish you well? Years later, again
it was to America I came with my own family, an exile from the Chile of
Pinochet you helped to spawn into existence on precisely an 11 September,
another Tuesday of doom. And yet, still wishing you well, America: you offered
me the freedom to speak out that I did not have in Santiago, you gave me the
opportunity to write and teach, you gave me a gringa grand-daughter, how could
I not love the house she lives in?
is that America of mine? Where is that other America? Where is the America of
'as I would not be a slave so would I not be a master', the America of this
'land is our land this land was meant for you and me', the America of all men,
and all women, everyone of us on this ravaged, glorious earth of ours, all of
us, created equal? Created equal: one baby in Afghanistan or Iraq as sacred as
one baby in Minneapolis. Where is my America? The America that taught me
tolerance of every race and every religion, that filled me with pioneer
energy, that is generous to a fault when catastrophes strike?
was I wrong?
I hoped you would rise to the challenge as death visited you from the sky?
When I believed America the just, the rebellious, the unselfish, was still
alive? Not entirely spoiled by excessive wealth? With the courage to conquer
learning the lesson of Vietnam.
More, many more than 3,000 dead. More, many more, than two cities bombed.
More, more, more than one day of terror.
yet, they do not hate you, America.
enduring lesson of Vietnam. Not, next time obliterate the enemy. Not, next
time satanise those who dissent.
the Vietnamese are whispering to you: they remember and yet they do not hate.
Not that easy, America, to forgive the pain. Or can you forget your own 11
September that easily?
that easy, America.
was I wrong? Have I become contaminated myself with your innocence, lived too
long among you? Do you need 50,000 body bags coming home before you start to
listen to your own voices of peace and dissent?
I wrong to believe that the country that gave the world jazz and Faulkner and
Eleanor Roosevelt will be able to look at itself in the cracked mirror of
history and join the rest of humanity, not as a city on a separate hill, but
as one more city in the shining valleys of sorrow and uncertainty and hope
where we all dwell?
Sunday September 8, 2002
(Ariel Dorfman has
just published Exorcising Terror: The Incredible Unending Trial of General
Augusto Pinochet [Seven Stories Press] and a book of poems, In Case of Fire in
a Foreign Land, Duke University Press. This article will also appear in the
next issue of the US magazine, The Nation)