Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Authoritarian terminology in Chile

A controversy is brewing in Chile because of a decision to replace the word "dictatorship" with "military government" in primary school textbooks.

When I was interviewing military officers in the late 1990s, I quickly realized how much language mattered. They used "military government" exclusively. It is in fact strictly accurate, since the president was an army general and many government positions were held by military officers, but of course it is much more generic than "dictatorship" and does not convey the same obvious image of repression.

Also important to the military was use of the word "pronunciamiento" rather than "golpe." From their perspective, there was a constitutional removal of a government, not an illegal coup, since the Chamber of Deputies had declared Salvador Allende to be violating the constitution and asked the military to take action.* Again, it is the use of a fairly bland term instead of one that immediately conjures up certain negative images.

More generally, it is a reminder of how much textbooks matter in every country, and certainly we hear about this pretty much constantly in the United States. Even if children don't bother reading them, their teachers will be using them to frame their own discussions in the classroom. They are a critical part of the construction of national identity, so revisions--subtle or otherwise--are a high-stake endeavor.

*The rationale of the Honduran military in 2009 was very similar.


Randy Paul 1:59 PM  

Pinochet used to refer to it as a “dictablanda” not a “dictadura.” Given the institutionalization of torture, the disappearances and the extraterritorial murder plots, one wonders what his idea of a “dictadura” would have been . . .

Kind of like referring to torture as "enhanced interrogation techniques."

Anonymous,  12:19 AM  

that is very interesting to read since that is the case with Turkey's past military coups and dictatorships.

First off, army always found/formed a legal background in the constitution for the coups in 60, 71, and 1980. It was just a couple years ago when the current AKP government removed that part of the constitution so that there would be no legal(!) base for a military takeover.

small world, but the authoritarian minds work similarly.

Greg Weeks 8:28 AM  

Actually, I know that there a number of academic articles comparing Turkish and Latin American civil-military relations because of such similarities.

Latin Americans 2:22 AM  

You made some good points there. I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree with your blog. Thanks

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