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Una historia de lo político en Chile contemporáneo: discursos, conceptos y memorias – Coord. Manuel Gárate, Elvira López y Nicolás Ocaranza
Leith Passmore

Apolitical Memory of Political Conflict : Remembering compulsory military service under Pinochet (1973-1990)

[10/10/2016]

Résumés

From the mid-2000s, advocacy groups representing ex-conscripts who served during the Pinochet dictatorship began to emerge. These groups grew and formed a loose movement that demanded recognition as victims and reparations for its members. A common sense of victimhood and a shared way of remembering military service evolved that was able to unite the cohort of nearly 100,000 former recruits that had mobilized by the end of 2013. This paper examines the challenge to Chile’s politicized memoryscape posed by a collective memory of military service under Pinochet that is apolitical. The context of its emergence, the memory politics of Chile’s post-transition decade, the political categories of victim and perpetrator, and the depoliticization of Chilean society more broadly meant ex-conscripts as individuals and as a movement had incentives to silence politics when they began to talk about their experiences. More fundamentally, however, ex-conscript memory is shaped less by Cold War rivalries or local political struggle than by ideas of patriotism, masculine identity, work, family values, and poverty that remained relatively constant throughout the twentieth-century and independent of trajectory of political and ideological conflict. Historicizing twenty-first-century memory of military service under Pinochet therefore requires turning to the apolitical.

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Notes de l’auteur

The research for this article was supported by the Chilean Fondo Nacional de Desarrollo Científico y Tecnológico (FONDECYT) as part of a postdoctoral fellowship (project number 3120033). Elements of the argument presented here, were advanced in Leith Passmore, “The Apolitics of Memory : Remembering military service under Pinochet through and alongside transitional justice, truth, and reconciliation,” Memory Studies, 2016, vol. 9, no. 2, p. 173-186.

Texte intégral

  • 1 The manifesto was composed on 25 January 1999 and first published in the La Segunda newspaper on 2 (...)

1In early 1999, a group of Chilean historians produced a manifesto in response to an open letter by former dictator Augusto Pinochet and newspaper supplements by historian Gonzalo Vial. Pinochet’s “Letter to Chileans”, written following his arrest in London in October 1998, and Vial’s supplements that appeared shortly after in the La Segunda newspaper, both set out a vision of recent history that anchored the need for military intervention in 1973 in the economic crisis, ideological tension, violence, and the institutional failures of the preceding decade. The historians’ manifesto rejected this narrow perspective of Chile’s coup as a short-term political conflict initiated by the political left. Such a limited examination of the crisis and the events of 11 September not only implicitly shifted the blame for human rights abuses subsequently committed under military rule to the victims, it missed the larger picture. The signatories to the manifesto argued that the appropriate context for understanding the political conflict of the early 1970s stretched back to 1900, if not further. It was necessary to place agrarian reform and the Popular Unity years in the context of long-term historical processes, long-term tensions between oligarchic rule and political movements since the turn of the century, and the repeated frustration and repression of those movements.1 This paper argues that a similarly long-term perspective is needed to historicize twenty-first-century memory of military service under Pinochet (1973-1990), but it must go beyond the logic of political conflict that shapes the historiography of military rule. A shared and apolitical memory of victimhood and personal rupture began to emerge in the first decade of the twenty-first century as ex-conscript advocacy groups began to form. Understanding this sense of victimhood requires attention to apolitical experiences of daily life and elements of identity that remained both relatively constant throughout the twentieth-century and independent of the trajectory of political and ideological conflict. Patriotisms, military traditions, ideas about masculine identity, work, family values, and the experience of poverty that stretch back into the nineteenth century, and forward into the twenty-first, shaped how men drafted into the Armed Forces under Pinochet recalled their military service in the context of the ex-conscript movement.

  • 2 Figures correspond to information provided to the author by the Director General de Movilización Na (...)
  • 3 William F. Sater and Holger H. Herwig, The Grand Illusion : The Prussianization of the Chilean Army(...)
  • 4 For published accounts that denounce mistreatments and torture as part of training see testimonies (...)

2Between 1973 and 1990, approximately 370,000 young men were called up to complete their compulsory military service.2 As they had done since the inception of the draft at the beginning of the century, conscripts under Pinochet came overwhelming from impoverished backgrounds, as young men of means made use of the various exemptions to avoid service.3 Conscripts under Pinochet were at times complicit in, witnesses to, or victims of human rights abuses committed during military rule, and their experiences differed enormously between regions, yearly cohorts, and individual regiments. The “class of ’54” was already inside the barracks when the military took control of the country. Some recruits took part on the “battle of Santiago”, and in the weeks that followed they guarded infrastructure and prisoners, enforced the curfew, raided homes, and, in rarer cases, shot at or killed civilians. In regional centers, recruits carried out similar tasks : guard duty, curfew enforcement, and often-violent raids. In the first, most brutal years of the repression, many witnessed the torture of prisoners carried out by the intelligence services, and some were made complicit to varying degrees : listening to torture sessions, or transporting and guarding prisoners, holding them in place, or beating them. Political persecution also cut through the barracks, with politicized conscripts, or those denounced as politically active, suffering abuse. Beyond the “internal war”, the Armed Forces also feared open conflict with Chile’s neighbors – Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina – and recruits from all classes testify to brutal physical and psychological mistreatment as part of their training to prepare them for all four “wars”.4 Despite the range of experiences across classes and regions, a shared way of remembering military service under Pinochet emerged as ex-recruits formed groups throughout Chile in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

  • 5 The most important factors were : former recruits’ persistent financial difficulty in the context o (...)
  • 6 The timing and size of the mobilization are based on figures provided by the Army’s General Archive (...)
  • 7 Luis Seguel Mora (ed.), Al otro lado de las metralletas. Testimonios inéditos del Servicio Militar (...)
  • 8 The author was given access to written testimonies on file in Temuco, Chillán, and Iquique, and a c (...)
  • 9 Fernando Monsalve, Aburto Pereira Raul y otros / Fisco de Chile. C-25272, 2009 (in possession of th (...)
  • 10 Germán Becker et al, Proyecto de Acuerdo No 842, 2009 ; Víctor Calderón Díaz et al, Conceptos Repar (...)
  • 11 In additional to published and unpublished ex-conscript testimonies, the research for the postdocto (...)

3Memory of conscription for a long time was hidden behind fear, confusion, shame, anger, alcohol and drugs, with many former recruits keeping their stories even from their own families. However, from the mid-2000s a convergence of social, cultural, and economic factors saw ex-conscripts begin to mobilize.5 From 2006, in particular, groups formalized their demands for recognition as victims and for reparations. They began to cooperate within one of several national level coalitions, and by 2013, nearly 100,000 ex-recruits along Chile had joined the movement.6 It was, however, a fractured movement. Groups differed in strategy : some lobbied the government, two launched civil cases for damages, and one launched a criminal case. Coalition efforts were splintered, too, by leaders’ personal differences and mutual accusations of profiteering, which saw levels of practical cooperation constantly in flux. Despite the fractures, groups and their members had a common way of talking about military service that evolved through the processes of sharing stories and crafting demands. This shared narrative gave meaning to their past experience as well as their current circumstances, including continued poverty, poor education, and worsening health complaints. In published testimonies and memoirs,7 unpublished written and audiovisual testimonies gathered by groups in Chillán, Temuco, Talcahuano and Iquique,8 in the text of civil suits and the criminal case,9 in documents produced as part of the lobby effort,10 in conversations at meetings, in interviews and during oral histories between late 2011 and the end of 2013, ex-conscripts – as individuals and as groups – frame service as a fundamental rupture in their lives.11 They left the barracks changed, disillusioned, physically or psychologically broken, depressed, afraid, unable to work, unable to find work, socially ostracized, or emotionally damaged. It is a narrative of aggregate personal rupture more than an individual prism to a national story, and in this sense is uniquely apolitical.

The Apolitics of Memory

  • 12 Interview, 24 April 2012.
  • 13 Conversation, 26 April 2012.
  • 14 For notable examples of studies that examine the “politics of memory” in the Latin American context (...)
  • 15 For important examples of studies that examine the “politics of memory” in the Chilean context see  (...)
  • 16 Elizabeth Lira, “Chile : Dilemmas of Memory”, in Francesca Lessa and Vicent Druliolle (eds), The Me (...)

4In Temuco, southern Chile, in 2012, ex-conscript Daniel Gómez (1978-1980, Punta Arenas) emphasized that recruits “were very young, we didn’t know anything about politics, many of us were from the countryside, without any political knowledge”.12 He later conceded, as an aside, that those conscripts who had been politically active would probably not mention it.13 And there are good reasons not to mention it. As in other post-dictatorship societies, Chile’s memoryscape is understood as a contest. “Memory struggles” across the continent have pitted political interpretations of conflict against one another in a contest to install one truth over another, or others. These narratives give meaning to individual lived experience, they exist in a competitive and antagonistic relationship with each other, are mutually exclusive, and they include a rejection or rebuttal of other memories.14 Memory of the military regime in post-dictatorship Chile was shaped by similar “politics of memory”.15 Remembering military service within the binary logic of this politicized memory contest leaves ex-conscripts who identify victims stranded between opposing narratives. In her work on the Rettig Report, Lira notes a similar tendency among the families of the disappeared and murdered to underplay political affiliations. It was as if, she writes, “recognizing the reality of the conflict reactivated political polarization, ideological differences, and hatred, and hindered memorialization”.16 While some former conscripts feel politically persecuted for beliefs they held or beliefs attributed to them by suspicious superiors or fellow conscripts who denounced them, mistreatment was most often not interpreted as political, either due to the recruit’s own ignorance or because the abuse in question was framed as part of training. Former recruits are therefore are not concerned about re-activating the context of their experience. They are instead concerned about activating the context of their narrative’s reception : the contemporary politics of memory. This individual tendency to avoid the political can be seen, too, in the movement more broadly.

  • 17 Comisión Nacional sobre Prisión Política y Tortura, Informe de la Comisión Nacional sobre Prisión P (...)
  • 18 Fuad Chahín et al, Proyecto de Acuerdo No 606, 2012, p. 4.

5The lobby coalition that represents the majority of Chile’s mobilized ex-conscripts, for example, began to use the Antuco tragedy of 2005 as a reference point for conscript suffering instead of, for example, the well-known case of the communist conscript Michel Nash who was disappeared in 1973. The deaths of recruits during a poorly managed exercise on the side of the Antuco volcano produced an outpouring of public grief as bodies of recruits were recovered in the weeks following the incident. Ex-conscripts who served under Pinochet related to the sense suffering of recruits and their families in 2005. Moreover, the Antuco case resonated with Chilean society more broadly, without activating the memory contest and the rigid assumptions about dictatorship-era victimhood. Shortly prior to the Antuco tragedy, the mandate of the Valech Commission (Chile’s second truth and reconciliation commission) had reflected the politicized nature of the victim status and excluded one hundred and two former conscripts who testified before the Commission from consideration in its 2004 report. The commission determined that “it was not possible to declare as victims persons who denounced imprisonment or torture while completing their compulsory military service, as it was not possible to clearly determine the political motivations for the events described.”17 While the human rights movement and the truth and reconciliation process in Chile had provided a catalyst for ex-conscript mobilization, it also imposed limits, and these limits were recognized by the movement’s leaders. In May 2012, for example, the latest in a series of bills was passed in the congress regarding ex-conscript demands. As with previous efforts, it was largely a gesture of support from sympathetic members of congress and not realistically expected to deliver results. Unlike previous bills, however, bill 606 makes no mention of human rights. The wording of the text that it suggests be made law instead advocates for : “The recognition of conscripts as victims of illegal and arbitrary act by the State of Chile, via the conduct of the Armed Forces”.18 Lobby leaders understood the difficulty of engaging the framework of victimhood that had shaped the truth and reconciliation process. As individuals, ex-conscripts continued to draw private meaning from the language of human rights and believe that their rights had been violated, but collectively, an important segment of the movement shifted away from the political category of human rights and towards rights guaranteed in the constitution and the laws governing military service.

6Beyond instinctive or strategic depoliticization that silenced politics, the collective narrative of victimhood that emerged with the movement simply could not participate in the politicized memory contest as former recruits did not share a common and unifying political identity. In line with what Daniel insisted in 2012, most former recruits argue that they were not politically aware or interested in politics before their service. Many left school to work from a young age to support the family unit and economic survival took precedence over political or ideological concerns. Under the dictatorship, too, politics was both dangerous and taboo. Others internalized history as it was taught in schools under the military government, or absorbed the military interpretation of history during their service. Politics remains “dirty” for many while others became politically engaged as older men. For some the ex-conscript lobby itself represents their first political engagement. As a group in the first decades of the twenty-first century, therefore, former recruits hold opinions across the political spectrum.

  • 19 Field notes, 8 July 2012.

7The range of political positions was evident when leaders of local groups and representatives from Santiago gathered for a lunch after a large regional meeting in the Bio-Bio region in July 2012. At one point, the conversation in a Nacimiento restaurant drifted to the legacy of military rule. Those touting the triumph of the Chilean economy disagreed with those highlighting the abuses of human rights before the discussion was steered back to their common cause.19 The moment of disagreement reveals how, as a matter of practicality, any shared conscript narrative could not have its basis in a shared political identity, and could cannot compete in the memory contest on that basis. Conscript victimhood does not imply any particular political interpretation of the coup, the dictatorship, or understanding of its legacy, and it is able to co-exist with other memory narratives of military rule. Ex-conscripts are able to participate in the movement and identify with its narrative of victimhood while holding a variety of positions on the recent past. While it is important to understand the tendency and incentives to silence politics, it is also necessary to make clear that the apolitical nature of ex-conscript memory is not primarily built on this silence. It is instead grounded in former recruits’ ruptured sense of patriotism and masculinity. These ruptures have long histories that, while not completely disconnected from political processes, move to a different rhythm than histories of political and social conflict.

Becoming a man

  • 20 Luis Seguel Mora (ed.), Al otro lado de las metralletas. Testimonios inéditos del Servicio Militar (...)
  • 21 Vicaría Pastoral Juvenil, Documento de Trabajo para Asesores de Pastoral Juvenil Zona Rural Costa, (...)

8“We were just boys,” wrote C.D.C.A. (1982, Punta Arenas).20 An insistence on youth runs through ex-conscript testimony, with former recruits routinely recalling themselves during their service as “just boys.” Decades prior to C.D.C.A.’s 2007 testimony, and only shortly before he entered the barracks in Chile’s southern ninth region, the Vicaría Pastoral Juvenil produced a working document arguing that males in rural Chile were, in fact, never boys for very long : “If for young working-class people in urban settings, the period of ‘being young’ is usually very short, in the case of the countryside, it practically does not exist.”21 Despite the apparent contradiction, both C.D.C.A.’s testimony and the Vicaría’s report describe the same thing : a world defined by poverty, subsistence, little and poor education, work, and familial responsibility. The Vicaría assessors saw a childhood cut short, often very short, while former conscripts recall a boyhood far removed from the political polarization that split Chilean society. For significant segments of young people the horizon of their daily lives and future hopes never extended to geopolitical struggles, hemispheric conflict, or critiques of Chilean society.

  • 22 For examples of sociological studies see : Armand Mattelart and Michèle Mattelart, Juventud chilena (...)
  • 23 Mario Marcel, “Juventud y empleo : drama en tres actos y un epilogo”, in Irene Agurto, Gonzalo de l (...)
  • 24 Víctor Muñoz Tamayo, “Imágenes y estudios cuantitativos en la construcción social de “la juventud” (...)

9Sociological work from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s reveals a picture of family life in those sectors of Chilean society that filled the ranks of conscripts that had changed little since the beginning of the twentieth century.22 The nuclear family was the primary unit of production and consumption, and boys – particularly the eldest sons – made an important contribution to household income. Subsistence, little and poor education, and familial responsibility shaped boyhood through the agrarian reform under Frei and under the Unidad Popular, as well as in the countryside and cities’ poor neighborhoods throughout the economic crises of the mid 1970s and the early 1980s. Mario Marcel, for example, diagnosed the political apathy of the 1980s, as well as an associated withdrawal to music, drinking, drugs, sex, and crime, while cautioning against ignoring the heterogeneous nature of the experience of being young in popular urban sectors.23 This heterogeneity is often overshadowed by politicized, instrumental, and totalizing constructions of “the youth”. The regime conceived of Chile’s youth as united and patriotic, and later, amid the 1980s protests, it defined this youthful patriotism in contradistinction to the “danger” and “anti-patriotism” of youthful activists. On the political left, the understanding of youth was shaped by a radical and revolutionary romanticism as well as targeted political activism. Nevertheless, parallel to the emblematic role young people played in the junta’s nation-building narrative, the Popular Unity’s revolutionary discourse, and the political protests against military rule, an important segment of young people’s links to public life were filtered through their everyday experiences, the most important of which remained finding a job in the context of high rates of youth unemployment.24 A pattern of school abandonment, disinterest in politics, and emphasis on local and immediate needs remained relatively constant despite the political conflicts and fluctuations of the twentieth century. These same concerns that shaped boyhood also forged ideas of manhood as well as societal and individual attitudes towards military service.

  • 25 For work as a specific threshold to manhood see : José Weinstein, “Juventud urbano-popular y famili (...)
  • 26 Juan Eduardo García-Huidobro and José Weinstein (eds), “Diez entrevistas sobre la juventud chilena (...)

10The most definitive of the staggered thresholds to manhood was work. Becoming a man meant assuming, or being in the position to assume, economic responsibility for others as the head of a nuclear family.25 The pressures of poverty and family that shaped the experience of boyhood and ideas of manhood for a large proportion of the sectors of Chilean society that filled the conscript ranks, had, since the first decades of the century, also forged their expectations of military service as a way to “become a man”. Parents sent their boys away and awaited educated, responsible, and disciplined young men capable of managing the demands of adulthood, and conscripts entered expecting to leave strong, tested, bearing the prestige of the institution, and with training and education that would help them carve out a better future for themselves and their families : the army would make them men. This nexus of manhood, family, and military service emerged in the early twentieth century and it ensured that military service remained an attractive option under Pinochet, and decades after the transition it is still the primary motivation for thousands volunteers who enter the barracks each year.26

  • 27 For more on the twentieth-century intersection of work, family, and masculinity, see Thomas Miller (...)

11Ex-conscript memory frames the experience of service as undermining civilian notions of masculinity and societal expectations of service. Inside the barracks, recruits’ ideas of what it meant to be and become and man were undone by the military project to make “hard men”. They describe a training regime defined by brutal physical training and psychological degradation. Moreover, after leaving the barracks, the physical and mental effects of what they experienced in training, what they witnessed, or what they were made to do to fellow conscripts or to political prisoners, haunted them and undermined their ability to assume their societal role as men. The masculinity that had informed recruits’ expectations of service, and standard that they measured themselves against as reservists after their discharge, was forged in the industrialization and the emergence of the modern welfare state in the first decades of the twentieth century. The basic unit of new economy was the nuclear family with a sole, male breadwinner. The ideal of the patriarchal family unit was subsumed into competing political programs. “Traditional” gender roles went unchallenged by Frei’s reformist program in the late 1960s and the revolutionary agenda of Allende in the 1970s, and they remained in place under the military junta. This model only began being questioned at the beginning of the twenty-first century. It was this dominant, twentieth-century masculinity and the responsibilities of being provider, protector, husband, and father that reservists often had difficulty living up to.27

  • 28 Diego C.* (1983-1985, Tierra del Fuego), for example, had only a primary education when he was draf (...)
  • 29 Comisión Nacional D.D.H.H. de ex Soldados Conscriptos 1973-1990, Informe. Violación de Derechos Hum (...)
  • 30 Comisión Nacional D.D.H.H. de ex Soldados Conscriptos 1973-1990, Informe. Violación de Derechos Hum (...)

12Decades after their discharge, many ex-conscripts recall their service in light of damage that they attribute – at times improbably – to their service : infertility due to blows to the genitals or the consumption of piedra alumbre (a food additive that according to ex-conscript lore was used to dull their sex drive), broken relationships, domestic violence against their wives and children as a result of traumatic experiences as a conscripts, years of unemployment or underemployment in poorly paid and physically demanding work, or the inability to properly provide for their families “like they should”.28 A 2012 psychological report on 123 members of the Agrupación de Reservistas de las Fuerzas Armadas de Osorno articulated this rupture. At the time of their call-up, wrote psychologist Cristián Jiménez, many were attending school or working to maintain their siblings. They envisaged continuing their schooling inside the barracks, a possible career in the Army, or the chance to have a career on the outside. The report reproduces the conscript narrative, describing these ambitions as “false hopes” that “generated a high level of frustration”. They returned home, it continues, damaged, with no studies or training, and with no way to support their families.29 This report was part of the larger Ex-Conscript Commission report that described how the “shame” of former recruits who were mistreated was “accentuated” by the contrast between their experiences and the “cultural significance” of military service : “To this day, the belief exists that as a soldier a young man will be manlier, more upstanding, better qualified, etc. To say the opposite is embarrassing.”30 It is this lived rupture in a cultural notion of masculinity that dominated the twentieth century that informs the way many former recruits in the first decade of the twenty-first century remember their military service under Pinochet.

Defending la patria

  • 31 Luis Seguel Mora (ed.), Al otro lado de las metralletas. Testimonios inéditos del Servicio Militar (...)
  • 32 For published testimonies by ex-conscript that revolve around a sense of disillusionment and a thei (...)

13Many former recruits recall their enthusiasm at being called up to do their national duty, and others eagerly volunteered to serve and defend la patria (fatherland). The experience of military service is often remembered, however, as a betrayal of the patriotism that they carried with them into barracks. In October 1977, J.D.S.M.N. reported to the regiment in Lautaro in the southern region of Araucanía to begin what would be two years of compulsory military service. Thirty years later, his memories of his conscription are framed by disenchantment. “Throughout my ‘service to la patria’,” he writes, “I learned a new concept and a new patria.31 Understanding the gap between youthful enthusiasm and what J.D.S.M.N. describes as a “new concept and a new patria” in the barracks is central to the disillusionment that defines the memories of many ex-conscripts.32 It also requires understanding ideas of patria that diverged from one another at the beginning of the century, as well as the historical role of military service as part of the military project to defend and define la patria.

  • 33 For more on the evolution of the military mission see Frederick M. Nunn, “Emil Körner and the Pruss (...)

14Military service in Chile was born out of the “Prussianization” of the Armed Forces at end of the nineteenth century. A review of the War of the Pacific, additional defensive requirements that resulted from the victory, and a failed mobilization to face an Argentine threat in the years following the war were used to justify conscription. Military service also became central to the Army’s twentieth-century mission. The Armed Forces inherited from the previous century a “glorious” tradition of military victories and built on it by self-identifying as the moral reserve, disciplinarian, and unifying force of the nation. Defending la patria was not only a question of protecting the borders, it increasingly meant educating and moralizing the people, driving modernization and economic progress, and instilling patriotic values in the citizenry. In this context, military service was to produce good citizens capable of returning home, proselytizing the masses, and guarding against “foreign”, leftist ideologies that were taking hold among Chile’s poor. It was also intended to drive development by improving literacy, imparting technical skills, and, later, completing public works via the Cuerpo Militar de Trabajo (an army section, incorporating conscripts, dedicated to construction projects). The nation-building role of the draft served to legitimize the Armed Forces in the face of significant opposition in the early decades of the twentieth century.33

  • 34 See, for example, Quilapayún’s interpretation of the Spanish Civil War song “Dicen que la Patria es (...)

15By the 1960s, the Armed Forces’ established assumptions about poverty and leftist politics as well as their developist attitude to national progress had been compounded by Cold War politics. The same theory that increased living standards would reduce the communist threat also drove the US-led Alliance for Progress. In the lead up to the coup in Chile and particularly under Pinochet, however, a tension emerged between seeing conscription as way to combat communism and viewing conscripts as a threat. The Doctrine of National Security and the imported conception of the “internal enemy” built on a longer, local military tradition of anti-communism. Recruits were typically drawn from the same sectors of society that were increasingly, and increasingly violently, excluded from the Armed Forces’ notion of la patria. Under Allende, the developist and repressive threads of military thought evolved against the background of increased politicization among the officer ranks as golpistas and “constitutionalists” wrestled for control of the institution. While outside the barracks Nueva Canción groups such as Quilapayún and Tiempo Nuevo, for example, identified conscripts and lowly ranked soldiers with the pueblo of Allende’s revolutionary project, officers focused on defeating the internal enemy saw impoverished young men who entered the barracks as potential, or even likely, communist enemies.34

  • 35 Luis Seguel Mora (ed.), Al otro lado de las metralletas. Testimonios inéditos del Servicio Militar (...)
  • 36 Figures provided by the Director General de Movilización Nacional in 2013 show that the “class of ’ (...)

16R.A.S.V. was born in 1962, and he was motivated by his love of his country and the army to enter the barracks voluntarily as a conscript under military rule when the internal political struggle for the Armed Forces had been fought and won, and the institution portrayed itself externally as being above politics. His testimony sets out the clash of patrias inside the barracks. Recalling his service three decades after his discharge, he lamented that “the military command was ‘Pinochetified’, the army was politicized with the class struggle and the doctrine of national security. Because they were civilians and in the vast majority came from the clases populares, (because the rich never did military service), conscripts were viewed as potential traitors to patria, to this concept of patria that no one clarified for us.”35 This attitude produced suspicion and fuelled persecution of conscripts in Chile’s barracks. Beyond cases of individual persecution, conscript lore suggests that the “class of ’55” that entered the barracks in 1974 was smaller than usual. Many who served in 1973 suspect that the fear of drawing conscripts from low socio-economic areas resulted in a smaller than usual draft, their own service being extended beyond the mandated period, and reservists who had completed their service in the years prior to the coup being recalled.36

  • 37 See, for example, Howard Handelman, “The Political Mobilization of Urban Squatter Settlements : San (...)

17While the correlation between poverty, communism, and political radicalization was framing aid efforts throughout Latin America as well as institutional fears of infiltration in Chile’s barracks, the contemporaneous historiography undermined the assumption at its core. From the 1960s, research on politicization in urban slums increasingly found that no necessary relationship existed between poverty and radical politics. Instead they revealed a much more complex mix of leftist politics, radical politics, rural conservatism, and political activity rooted not in ideology but pragmatic and integrationist, not revolutionary, concerns.37 This is not to deny the obvious ideological differences that split Chile, nor the important political activity and protests that grew on the poor periphery of Santiago, in particular, but it does acknowledge significant room for apolitical experience of poverty and political conflict. Moreover, the Army’s twentieth-century idea of la patria with its fears of infiltration clashed with recruits’ apolitical patriotism.

  • 38 Oral history, 3 September 2012.

18While the Armed Forces’ idea of la patria, what it meant to defend it, and the role of conscripts and conscription evolved in the relative isolation of the barracks and was informed by anti-communism and Cold War politics, prospective recruits’ patriotism was instead rooted in the nineteenth century. The patriotic passion that fuelled boys’ enthusiasm when called up to serve, or compelled them to volunteer, tended to be rooted in a love of tasseled uniforms, military parades, and tales of old wars. The class of ’54 grew up on the outer limits of living memory of the War of the Pacific, and Mario Navarro (1973, Arica), for example, recalled a veteran who lived around the corner from his childhood home. The elderly man used to wear his medals and march in the parades alongside the other veterans. When the veterans of the “War of ’79” passed by, he explained, everyone stood to applaud them. “It was a tradition,” said Mario.38 These traditions shaped generations of boys’ relationship to la patria. They watched the parades of 18 September and 21 May, they marched in war bands as schoolchildren, and they participated in the pre-military brigades. They absorbed an expression of patria that was locked in a commemorative cycle that continually looped back to the glories of the nineteenth century : independence from Spain (1810-1823) and victory in the War of the Pacific (1879-1883). Service provided the Armed Forces with an important link to civil society, but relatively few civilians passed through the barracks. The most vital connection civilians had with the military was via the calendar of commemorative rituals. From the beginning of the century, a gap emerged and widened between the patria of the military’s nation building project and the timeless patria of myth, ritual, and monuments that recruits took with them into the barracks. It is this rupture in a non-partisan cultural construction of la patria that both long predated the coup and survived the seventeen years of dictatorship that gives structure to memories of many former recruits.

Conclusion

  • 39 As cited in Pamela Constable and Arturo Valenzuela, A Nation of Enemies. Chile under Pinochet, New (...)

19In 1985, shortly after the 1983 protests and in the context of persistent and high unemployment, thirty-year-old street vendor Pedro selling knives in downtown Santiago conceded : “I’d rather load ten trucks than do this […]. If there were work, I wouldn’t care who the president was.”39 The apolitical experience of life under military rule is often acknowledged, but usually sidelined. However, to understand military service under Pinochet and the twenty-first century ex-conscript memory of political conflict, it needs to take center stage. Conscripts were at times at the frontline of a political divide that split Chile. They were involved in political repression, they witnessed violations of detainees’ human rights, and they describe both political repression and degrading training methods inside the barracks. However, the shared narrative that emerged decades later is neither politicized nor political. It is not shaped by ideology, political repression, the Cold War context, US foreign policy, or the merits or legacies of military rule. It is instead shaped by much longer histories of military thought, masculinity, poverty, family, and national identity. The history of the memory of military service therefore offers an important opportunity to rethink the historiography of political conflict, not only going beyond the narrow temporal focus on the political conflict of the 1960s and 1970s, but going beyond politics.

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Bibliographie

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Notes

1 The manifesto was composed on 25 January 1999 and first published in the La Segunda newspaper on 2 February. It was subsequently republished in La Nación, El Siglo, and Punto Final. The text of the manifesto (7-26) was later published in book form alongside a text by the same authors (29-37) responding to Vial’s response to the manifesto – “Réplica a las ‘Reflexiones sobre un Manifiesto’” – and individual commentaries on, and contributions to, the debate, see Sergio Grez and Gabriel Salazar (eds), Manifiesto de Historiadores, Santiago, LOM, 1999. For discussion on Pinochet’s letter, Vial’s supplements, and the manifesto in the context of the 1999 “dialogue table”, see Steve J. Stern, Reckoning with Pinochet : The Memory Question in Democratic Chile, 1989-2006, Durham and London, Duke University Press, 2010, p. 238-242.

2 Figures correspond to information provided to the author by the Director General de Movilización Nacional in December 2013 and January 2014.

3 William F. Sater and Holger H. Herwig, The Grand Illusion : The Prussianization of the Chilean Army, Lincoln and London, University of Nebraska Press, 1999, p. 102-108 ; and Mary Helen Spooner, Soldiers in a Narrow Land : The Pinochet Regime in Chile, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1999, 13.

4 For published accounts that denounce mistreatments and torture as part of training see testimonies in Luis Seguel Mora (ed.), Al otro lado de las metralletas. Testimonios inéditos del Servicio Militar en Chile periodo 1973-1990, Temuco, Out Sourcing Chile, 2007 ; Leopoldo Gutiérrez (dir.), El soldado que no fue, Polo Communications, 2010 ; César Rivas Vergara, Las Baguales de Manantiales. Mi Servicio Militar en los ochenta, Santiago, Dhiyo, 2011 ; Miguel A. Saavedra G., Mi Propia Guerra, San Bernardo, Imp. Roberto Vidal, 2012.

5 The most important factors were : former recruits’ persistent financial difficulty in the context of wider disenchantment at the turn of the century with democracy after many Chileans saw no benefit from the economic boom of 1990s ; former recruits’ ailing bodies ; and the state-led truth and reconciliation processes, transitional justice.

6 The timing and size of the mobilization are based on figures provided by the Army’s General Archive regarding the increase in applications for certificates of service, which ex-conscript groups, almost universally, made a prerequisite of membership (field notes, 2 December 2013).

7 Luis Seguel Mora (ed.), Al otro lado de las metralletas. Testimonios inéditos del Servicio Militar en Chile periodo 1973-1990, Temuco, Out Sourcing Chile, 2007 ; Leopoldo Gutiérrez (dir.), El soldado que no fue, Polo Communications, 2010 ; César Rivas Vergara, Las Baguales de Manantiales. Mi Servicio Militar en los ochenta, Santiago, Dhiyo, 2011 ; Miguel A. Saavedra G., Mi Propia Guerra, San Bernardo, Imp. Roberto Vidal, 2012.

8 The author was given access to written testimonies on file in Temuco, Chillán, and Iquique, and a copy of two collections of audiovisual statements prepared in Temuco and Talcahuano.

9 Fernando Monsalve, Aburto Pereira Raul y otros / Fisco de Chile. C-25272, 2009 (in possession of the author) ; Hernán Montealegre, Querella criminal. Rol No 3356-2009, 2009 (in possession of the author) ; Washington Lizana Ormazábal, Gabriel Alejandro Avello Astete y otros / Fisco de Chile. C-1443, 2010 (in possession of the author).

10 Germán Becker et al, Proyecto de Acuerdo No 842, 2009 ; Víctor Calderón Díaz et al, Conceptos Reparatorios por Derechos Humanos Vulnerados a Personal Servicio Militar Obligatorio Período 1973-1990 : Antecedentes y Fundamentos, 2011-2012 (in possession of the author) ; Fuad Chahín et al, Proyecto de Acuerdo No 606, 2012 ; Comisión Nacional D.D.H.H. de ex Soldados Conscriptos 1973-1990, Informe. Violación de Derechos Humanos y hechos de violencia vinculados con el Servicio Militar Obligatorio en Chile entre los años 1973 a 1990, 2012 (in possession of the author) ; and Fuad Chahín et al, Proyecto de Acuerdo No 965, 2013.

11 In additional to published and unpublished ex-conscript testimonies, the research for the postdoctoral project, of which this article forms a part, is based on 20 oral histories with ex-conscripts conducted in 2012 and 2013 ; around forty informal conversations with ex-conscripts held between 2012 and 2014 ; twenty-seven interviews with representatives of ex-conscript groups and professionals working with ex-conscripts groups conducted between 2011 and 2015 ; and field notes of twenty ex-conscript events, protests or meetings I attended between late 2011 and mid-2015. Oral histories are semi-structured life-history interviews that were recorded and lasted between thirty minutes and two hours. Conversations are unplanned, spontaneous encounters before or after events, on the edges of events or in ex-conscript group offices. These conversations were unstructured and followed the initiative of the ex-conscript in question. Where former conscripts are cited, their names are followed by the years marking their entrance into, and discharge from, the barracks, as well as the location they spent the majority of the their service, if this information is known. The names of recruits cited from published sources are kept as they appear in those sources. A pseudonym, denoted with an asterisk, has been used if conversations or field notes of encounters with ex-conscripts are cited, or if the interviewee requested it.

12 Interview, 24 April 2012.

13 Conversation, 26 April 2012.

14 For notable examples of studies that examine the “politics of memory” in the Latin American context see : Elizabeth Jelin, Los trabajos de la memoria, Madrid, Siglo XXI de España Editores, 2002 ; Paulo Drinot, “For whom the eye cries : memory, monumentality, and the ontologies of violence in Peru”, Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies : Travesia, vol. 18-1, 2009, p. 15-32 ; the edited collection Francesca Lessa and Vincent Druliolle (eds), The Memory of State Terrorism in the Southern Cone. Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011 ; Ana Ros, The Post-Dictatorship Generation in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay : Collective Memory and Cultural Production, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012 ; Francesca Lessa, Memory and Transitional Justice in Argentina and Uruguay : Against Impunity, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

15 For important examples of studies that examine the “politics of memory” in the Chilean context see : Alexander Wilde, “Irruptions of Memory : Expressive Politics in Chile’s Transition to Democracy”, Journal of Latin American Studies, vol. 31-2, 1999, p. 473-500 ; Steve J. Stern, Remembering Pinochet’s Chile : On the Eve on London 1998, Durham and London, Duke University Press, 2006 ; Steve J. Stern, Battling for Hearts and Minds : Memory Struggles in Pinochet’s Chile, 1973-1988, Durham and London, Duke University Press, 2006 ; Steve J. Stern, Reckoning with Pinochet : The Memory Question in Democratic Chile, 1989-2006, Durham and London, Duke University Press, 2010 ; the edited collection Cath Collins, Katherine Hite, and Alfredo Joignant (eds), The Politics of Memory in Chile : From Pinochet to Bachelet, Boulder, Lynne Rienner, 2013.

16 Elizabeth Lira, “Chile : Dilemmas of Memory”, in Francesca Lessa and Vicent Druliolle (eds), The Memory of State Terrorism in the Southern Cone : Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, p. 124.

17 Comisión Nacional sobre Prisión Política y Tortura, Informe de la Comisión Nacional sobre Prisión Política y Tortura, Santiago, La Nación, 2004, p. 543.

18 Fuad Chahín et al, Proyecto de Acuerdo No 606, 2012, p. 4.

19 Field notes, 8 July 2012.

20 Luis Seguel Mora (ed.), Al otro lado de las metralletas. Testimonios inéditos del Servicio Militar en Chile periodo 1973-1990, Temuco, Out Sourcing Chile, 2007, p. 33.

21 Vicaría Pastoral Juvenil, Documento de Trabajo para Asesores de Pastoral Juvenil Zona Rural Costa, Vicaría Pastoral Juvenil, file “CAMPESINOS, POBLADORES, A.T.N. : 65 B, held in the Fundación de Documentación y Archivo de la Vicaría de la Solidaridad.

22 For examples of sociological studies see : Armand Mattelart and Michèle Mattelart, Juventud chilena : rebeldía y conformismo, Santiago, Editorial Universitaria, 1970 ; the edited collections Irene Agurto, Gonzalo de la Maza, Manuel Canales (eds), Juventud chilena : razones y subversiones, Santiago, ECO, FOLICO, sepade, 1985 ; Juan Eduardo García-Huidobro and José Weinstein (eds), “Diez entrevistas sobre la juventud chilena actual”, Documentos de Trabajo. Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de la Educación, 1983, vol. 10 ; Cecilia Díaz and Esteban Durán, “Los jóvenes del campo Chileno : una identidad fragmentada”, Documentos de Trabajo del Grupo de Investigaciones Agrarias, 1986, vol. 29 ; José Weinstein C., Los Jóvenes pobladores en las protestas nacionales (1983-1984). Una visión sociopolítica, Santiago, CIDE, 1989 ; Paulo Hidalgo, “Los jóvenes y la política : una relación conflictiva”, in Generaciones (ed.), Los jóvenes en Chile hoy, Santiago, CIDE, CIEPLAN, INCH, PSI PIRQUE, SUR, 1990, p. 230-241.

23 Mario Marcel, “Juventud y empleo : drama en tres actos y un epilogo”, in Irene Agurto, Gonzalo de la Maza, Manuel Canales (eds), Juventud chilena : razones y subversiones, Santiago, ECO, FOLICO, sepade, 1985, p. 23.

24 Víctor Muñoz Tamayo, “Imágenes y estudios cuantitativos en la construcción social de “la juventud” chilena. Un acercamiento histórico (2003-1967)”, Última Década, 2004, vol. 20, p. 71-94 ; Steve J. Stern, Battling for Hearts and Minds. Memory Struggles in Pinochet’s Chile, 1973-1988, Durham and London, Duke University Press, 2006, p. 261-270.

25 For work as a specific threshold to manhood see : José Weinstein, “Juventud urbano-popular y familia”, in Irene Agurto, Gonzalo de la Maza, Manuel Canales (eds), Juventud chilena : razones y subversiones, Santiago, ECO, FOLICO, sepade, 1985, p. 83 ; Irene Agurto and Gonzalo de la Maza, “Ser joven poblador en Chile hoy”, in Irene Agurto, Gonzalo de la Maza, Manuel Canales (eds), Juventud chilena : razones y subversiones, Santiago, ECO, FOLICO, sepade, 1985, p. 65 ; Alejandra Serrano and Gonzalo Vío, “Capacitación de los jóvenes rurales : algo más que un problema de empleo”, in Generaciones (ed.), Los jóvenes en Chile hoy, Santiago, CIDE, CIEPLAN, INCH, PSI PIRQUE, SUR, 1990, p. 93.

26 Juan Eduardo García-Huidobro and José Weinstein (eds), “Diez entrevistas sobre la juventud chilena actual”, Documentos de Trabajo. Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de la Educación, 1983, vol. 10, p. 27 ; Leonor Cariola and Cristián Cox, “La educación de los jóvenes : crisis de la relevancia y calidad de la Enseñanza Media”, in Generaciones (ed.), Los jóvenes en Chile hoy, Santiago, CIDE, CIEPLAN, INCH, PSI PIRQUE, SUR, 1990, p. 27-28 ; José Weinstein, “Víctimas y beneficiarios de la modernización. Inventario (incompleto) de cambios en la juventud pobladora (1965-1990)”, Proposiciones, 1991, vol. 20, p. 261 ; Rosella Baronti Barella, “Servicio Militar Obligatorio : una mirada psicológica”, in Opinión y Perspectivas, vol. 2, Santiago, LOM, 1997, p. 28 ; Rosella Baronti and Alvaro Toro, Derechos de los jóvenes frente al Servicio Militar Obligatorio : sistematización de una experiencia de trabajo, Santiago, LOM, 1999, p. 11 ; Jorge Poblete, “Servicio militar : gobierno activa plan para evitar llamado obligatorio”, La Tercera 11 March 2012, accessed 23 March 2012. URL : http://diario.latercera.com/2012/03/11/01/contenido/pais/31-103452-9-servicio-militar-gobierno-activa-plan-para-evitar-llamado-obligatorio.shtml.

27 For more on the twentieth-century intersection of work, family, and masculinity, see Thomas Miller Klubock, “Working-Class Masculinity, Middle-Class Morality, and Labor Politics in the Chilean Copper Mines”, Journal of Social History, 1996, vol. 30-2, p. 436-440 ; Karin Rosemblatt, “Masculinidad y trabajo : el salario familiar y el estado de compromiso, 1930-1950”, Proposiciones, 1995, vol. 26, p. 70-75 ; Karin Alejandra Rosemblatt, Gendered Compromises. Political Cultures and the State in Chile, 1920-1950, Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press, 2000, p. 59-71 and 150 ; Heidi Tinsman, “Wife-Beating and Sexual Control in Rural Chile, 1964-1988”, in John D. French and Daniel James (eds), The Gendered Worlds of Latin American Women Workers, Durham : Duke University Press, 1997, p. 273-282 ; José Olavarría, “Ser padre en Santiago de Chile”, in Norma Fuller (ed.), Paternidades en América Latina, San Miguel, Fondo Editorial, 2000, p. 130-131 ; Heidi Tinsman, Partners in Conflict : The Politics of Gender, Sexuality, and Labor in the Chilean Agrarian Reform, 1950-1973, Durham and London, Duke University Press, 2002, p. 132-146 ; José Olavarría, “Masculinidades, poderes y vulnerabilidades”, in FLACSO (ed.), Chile 2003-2004. Los nuevos escenarios (inter)nacionales, Santiago, FLACSO, 2004, 227-244 ; Heidi Tinsman, “More than Victims : Women Agricultural Workers and Social Change in Rural Chile”, in Peter Winn (ed.), Victims of the Chilean Miracle. Workers Neoliberalism in the Pinochet Era, 1973-2002, Durham : Duke University Press, 2004, p. 267-276 ; Eugenio Gutiérrez and Paulina Osorio, “Modernización y transformaciones de las familias como procesos del condicionamiento social de dos generaciones”, Ultima Década, 2008, vol. 29, 106-109.

28 Diego C.* (1983-1985, Tierra del Fuego), for example, had only a primary education when he was drafted. His 2010 testimony (on file in Temuco) and his 2012 description of service during a conversation (24 April 2012) were structured around his lost opportunities to study due to his service. Moreover, his situation was compounded by an old injury sustained during his time in the barracks that inhibited his ability to work and, as he explained, provide for his family “as he should.”

29 Comisión Nacional D.D.H.H. de ex Soldados Conscriptos 1973-1990, Informe. Violación de Derechos Humanos y hechos de violencia vinculados con el Servicio Militar Obligatorio en Chile entre los años 1973 a 1990, 2012 (in possession of the author), p. 141.

30 Comisión Nacional D.D.H.H. de ex Soldados Conscriptos 1973-1990, Informe. Violación de Derechos Humanos y hechos de violencia vinculados con el Servicio Militar Obligatorio en Chile entre los años 1973 a 1990, 2012 (in possession of the author), p. 93.

31 Luis Seguel Mora (ed.), Al otro lado de las metralletas. Testimonios inéditos del Servicio Militar en Chile periodo 1973-1990, Temuco, Out Sourcing Chile, 2007, p. 113.

32 For published testimonies by ex-conscript that revolve around a sense of disillusionment and a their patriotic enthusiasm betrayed by their experiences or a different notion of la patria, see Luis Seguel Mora (ed.), Al otro lado de las metralletas. Testimonios inéditos del Servicio Militar en Chile periodo 1973-1990, Temuco, Out Sourcing Chile, 2007, p. 37, 45-46, 61-62, 76, 86, 91, 153-154, 159, 222, 256.

33 For more on the evolution of the military mission see Frederick M. Nunn, “Emil Körner and the Prussianization of the Chilean Army : Origins, Process, and Consequences, 1885-1920”, The Hispanic American Historical Review, 1970, vol. 50-2, p. 300-322 ; Patricio Quiroga and Carlos Maldonado, El prusianismo el las Fuerzas Armadas chilenas. Un estudio histórico 1885-1945, Santiago, Ediciones Documentas, 1988 ; Enrique Brahm García, “Del Soldado Romántico al Soldado Profesional. Revolución en el pensamiento militar chileno, 1885-1940”, Historia, 1990, vol. 25, 1990, p. 5-37 ; Luis Barros Lezaeta, “La profesionalización del ejército y su conversión en un sector innovador hacia comienzos del siglo xx”, in Luis Ortega (ed), La Guerra Civil de 1891 : 100 años hoy, Santiago, Universidad de Santiago de Chile, 1991, p. 49-63 ; Frederick Nunn, “The South American Military and (Re) Democratization : Professional Thought and Self-Perception”, Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affair, 1995, 37-2, p. 1-56 ; Verónica Valdivia Ortiz de Zárate, “Fuerzas Armadas e integración social : Una Mirada histórica”, Mapocho, 2000, vol. 48, p. 295-311 ; Enrique Brahm García, Preparados para la guerra. Pensamiento militar chileno bajo influencia alemana 1885-1930, Santiago, Ediciones Universidad Católica de Chile, 2003) ; Verónica Valdivia Ortiz de Zárate, El golpe después del golpe : Leigh vs Pinochet. Chile 1960-1980, Santiago, LOM, 2003.

34 See, for example, Quilapayún’s interpretation of the Spanish Civil War song “Dicen que la Patria es,” the group’s song “El soldado,” and the song “Polka infantil” by Tiempo Nuevo. The author is grateful to an anonymous reviewer of the article for this reference.

35 Luis Seguel Mora (ed.), Al otro lado de las metralletas. Testimonios inéditos del Servicio Militar en Chile periodo 1973-1990, Temuco, Out Sourcing Chile, 2007, p. 163.

36 Figures provided by the Director General de Movilización Nacional in 2013 show that the “class of ’55” was smaller than both the preceding and subsequent class, and it was also one of the smallest groups in the seventeen years of military rule. However, the difference, while clear, was not enormous. In 1973 across all branches of the Armed Forces 17,358 recruits entered the barracks and slightly more – 17,494 – entered in 1975. The 1974 figure was 15,963.

37 See, for example, Howard Handelman, “The Political Mobilization of Urban Squatter Settlements : Santiago’s Recent Experience and Its Implications for Urban Research”, Latin American Research Review 1975, vol. 10-2, p. 35-72 ; Peter Winn, “Loosing the Chains : Labor and the Chilean Revolutionary Process, 1970-1973”, Latin American Perspectives 3-1, p. 70-84 ; Eugenio Tironi, “Pobladores e Integración Social”, Proposiciones 1987, vol. 14, p. 64-84 ; Ton Salman, “The Diffident Movement : Generation and Gender in the Vicissitudes of the Chilean Shantytown Organizations, 1973-1990”, Latin American Perspectives, 1994, vol. 21-8, p. 8-31 ; Cathy Lisa Schneider, Shantytown Protest in Pinochet’s Chile, Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1995.

38 Oral history, 3 September 2012.

39 As cited in Pamela Constable and Arturo Valenzuela, A Nation of Enemies. Chile under Pinochet, New York, W.W. Norton & Company, 1993, p. 225.

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Leith Passmore, « Apolitical Memory of Political Conflict : Remembering compulsory military service under Pinochet (1973-1990) », Nuevo Mundo Mundos Nuevos [En ligne], Débats, mis en ligne le 10 octobre 2016, consulté le 22 mai 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/nuevomundo/69713 ; DOI : 10.4000/nuevomundo.69713

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Leith Passmore

Universidad Andres Bello, Departamento de Humanidades, Sazié 2325, Santiago, Chile
leith.passmore@unab.cl

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