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Opening Our Eyes to What Is Missing

By Terry Su, with comment by Travis Statham

Greater Implications

[1] How I came to choose Missing as the focus of my project is as a result of the learning experience I have been engaged in during my college career. Having first seen the film for a class, I thought of it as nothing more than a movie about something monumental that happened in Chile more than two decades ago. I watched it, unhappily, thinking about all the other things I could be doing, and even falling asleep during some of it. In the time between my first viewing of Missing and embarking on this most recent project, I have learned a great deal about history, politics, and people. My views on all three of those subjects are constantly changing, with each new piece of information I receive further complicating my thoughts. Missing has gone from a movie, the title of which I had difficulty recalling, to being a thought provoking exposition that has forced me to examine, evaluate, and reevaluate almost everything that had once been certain in my own mind.

[2] Missing is a rather confusing film to follow at first. Admittedly, I had to view it a few times to understand what was happening. Perhaps the initial feeling after seeing this film is confusion. However, after having watched it a second, fourth, eighth time, what I really felt was anger. Each time I watched the film, the anger and disgust would grow, so much so that it pained me to watch it again. However, in identifying the cause of my anger, I began to realize many things.

[3] The United States government denied having knowledge of Charles Horman's disappearance. It denied any accusations, especially those of U.S. complicity in the coup. U.S. government officials seemed accommodating and willing to help. But Charles was still nowhere to be found. Perhaps he was hiding from the government because of his political views. Perhaps he was scared that his activities would cause him harm of some sort. Impossible, his family said. Charlie had nothing to hide and no one to hide from. He was captured and no doubt in a great deal of trouble. The onus was then on the United States to find one of their missing, to come through and protect its citizens from mistreatment by foreign nations. The assurances that all that could be done was indeed being done and all the resources available to the government were being tapped, soon became the "song and dance" that one quickly grew tired of being presented. Tell me something new. Where could he be? Have you really searched everywhere? And these were just questions I, as a member of the audience, was asking myself as the drama unfolded. How did the family feel experiencing this awful time firsthand?

[4] The questions of misconduct and a possible cover up are dismissed, as I believe the officials to be simply unhelpful. There is no doubt that their replies to questions are well rehearsed, perhaps spoken verbatim from some guide to Politically Sound Responses. Delay tactics were employed, in hopes of satisfying the Horman family until they could scrape together something more acceptable for their next encounter.

Drawing Conclusions

[5] However, the U.S. Ambassador, Consul, and various officials quickly graduate from being incompetent bureaucrats to suspicious men in suits. The callousness I mistook for professionalism is actually anything but that. The reason nothing is being disclosed is because the information the Hormans are seeking is something that is not meant for their ears. One begins to think that they United States has knowledge of Charlie's whereabouts. More horrific is the growing realization that not only does the U.S. know, more accurately, it is responsible for his disappearance. The details of his disappearance are not unknown. In fact, his abduction was very deliberate--calculated and executed, almost flawlessly. Charlie, who is no where to be found, left behind enough information to lead his family to the truth, the truth that the American government hoped to bury with his body. How did the U.S. think that it was going to get away with conspiring to eliminate another country's president? More baffling, did it really think that no one would piece together the events and implicate the American government?

[6] Charles Horman died because he knew too much. He found out things that no one was supposed to know and paid for this information with his life. The Charles Horman depicted in the film was described as being nosy--poking around in the affairs of others, and uncovering extremely confidential information, the validity of which the United States government vehemently denied. One seems to get the sense that if he had just walked with his head down like the rest of the people, if he had just been content in surviving from day to day, he would be alive today.

[7] The book, The Execution of Charles Horman, upon which the movie is based, describes a person just a bit different than the one pictured in Missing. The author, Thomas Hauser, discloses some disturbing facts about the murder of Charles, not so much who was responsible, but the manner in which it happened. Hauser seems to suggest that Charles did not seek out this information, but rather just happened to be in the wrong places at the right times. The U.S. officials are described as being loose lipped, telling people (Charles) freely that indeed, the United States government had been involved in the toppling of Allende's presidency. It seemed as though each time Charles encountered an American in Chile, the American not only had knowledge of the coup, but was involved in some aspect of its implementation. If Charles was not being tossed crumbs of information by Navy officials, he was being fed full of information by other American military heads, even foreign embassies. All Charles really desired in the wake of the coup was to get home to his wife Joyce (called Beth in the film). His inquisitive side no doubt, forced him to record all that he heard and was told. However, Charles was far from being the meddling young American that he was labeled.


[8] For me, the most disturbing thought is not one in which the government is negligent or mistaken, but rather one in which the government acts on behalf of its people under the premise that it is doing what is in the best interest of the country. Charles was able to find out so much information because the people in possession of those secrets told them freely. They would tell Charles that they had important missions and assignments they were called to complete, believing that he would show them support, maybe even praise them for what they have done. The book makes it clear that he did not ask for the information, but rather was handed it quite easily by people on the inside. What Charles was able to uncover was not through deliberate use of sleuth tactics. He merely pieced together information that he received from all directions and figures out that the United States government was the mastermind behind the coup.

[9] In watching the film and reading outside sources about the events depicted, I was completely astounded that in the days that followed the coup, and even the days preceding, most people knew of the U.S' involvement. Closed roads and curfews prevented Charles and Terry from leaving Vina del Mar where they were sightseeing. All that Charlie wanted to do was get home to his wife. Instead, he was forced to speak with any and all government officials available. His pleas for help in returning home bring him to the British Consulate, where he is turned away and advised to pay a visit to the American Embassy. "If you need money, I'll be glad to help you along, but as far as your getting back to Santiago, the Americans are the people to talk with. I'm told that they even had prior knowledge of the coup" (Hauser 71).

[10] Was the United States government really that careless as to not prevent the spread of rumors? Was no effort made to conceal its involvement? How could so many people know something in the little time before and after the coup? The greatest realization I had in reading The Execution of Charles Horman was not so much that the United States was involved. As declassified government documents and first-hand testimony would later reveal, the U.S. was instrumental in the success of the military junta that would not only oust Allende, but install Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet would go on to commit some of the most appalling crimes against humanity the modern world has witnessed. There is no disputing these facts. I was left wondering why Charles would be told so much confidential information if the U.S. did not want to be linked to the coup. All of the men that Charles encountered seemed to be proud of what the country had done, almost boasting of their incredible accomplishments. I concluded that the United States was not concerned with concealing its involvement because it was not ashamed, nor was it worried about hiding incriminating evidence. The reason for such unsubtle telling of their actions was that the United States assumed its decision would be backed by its citizens. The United States really and truly believed it was doing the "right" thing. It was ridding the world of Communism by any measures necessary.

The Way it Used to Be

[11] Salvador Allende saw the pain and suffering that his fellow countrymen were forced to endure. Short on food, jobs, and hope, the Chilean people were too tired to cry for help. Allende came to power and gave his people the relief they had been seeking. Wages increased, healthcare was finally available to everyone and children and pregnant women were given free milk daily. Chile underwent some incredible changes and life was improving dramatically for the people. Everyone, it seemed was content. The United States, however, viewed Allende's presidency and policy measures as a threat to its own condition. Allende concluded that in order for his country to reach its full potential, the many natural resources and industries it boasted must be controlled entirely by Chile. The process of nationalizing areas of business affected the U.S. in that its Chilean based businesses could no longer reap the rewards of a free market. Allende asserted the claim that this approach was taken, not as action against foreign investments, but to give the people what is rightfully theirs.

[12] Conceiving the coup provided the United States with a means in which to remove a man they viewed as anti-capitalist and anti-American. The more legitimate routes to getting rid of Allende were unsupported by the men approached to undertake the task. They had much more respect for the democratic process and the legitimacy of the Presidency than to tamper with the people's spoken will. The U.S. was desperate and finally resolved to do everything it could to get Allende out.

Priority -- U.S. Interests

[13] Towards the end of the film (1:48:00), the United States Ambassador says to Charles' father that the mission of the government is "a pledge to protect American interests, our interests." Ed responds by saying, "well, they're not mine." Sadly enough, he is wrong. The American businesses operating in Chile are indeed everyone's interest. The right for American businesses to thrive in foreign arenas benefits everyone. "I'm concerned with the preservation of a way of life," the U.S. Ambassador says. The kind of life everyone enjoys here in the United States is made possible by all the arm-twisting and deal-making abroad. Actions taken that we never see. Exchanges that we never hear about. Those are what preserve our way of life. A life characterized by material wealth beyond our wildest imaginations. A life dedicated to getting us what we want, how much we want, and when we want it. A life dedicated to greed. We measure the success of life in terms of property, cars, and bond portfolios. Things that we have always had and now come to believe we are entitled to. U.S. foreign policy makes it possible for all of these privileges to be rights.

[14] Concern for the "preservation of a way of life" is indeed a tremendous one for the United States. This way of life excludes patriotism, honor, and equality. It is founded entirely on the principle that Americans are entitled to anything and everything under the sun. We see no limits; we acknowledge no deterrents. We have come to believe that this is American culture. Seldom do we ever question how it is that our dreams become reality, how our goals are made easier to achieve, and how this is not true for most other countries. If I can praise the United States government, it is unquestionably for providing us with this jaded perception of reality. The U.S. provides for its big businesses and important corporations and protects their interests. There is no doubt that we benefit from the prosperity of those corporations--not as much as the CEOs and shareholders but benefit nevertheless. We do not have to stand for hours in a food line not knowing if there will be anything remaining once we finally reach the front of the line. We do not have to worry about tanks being driven over our white picket fences and government agents dragging us out of our homes in the middle of the night for questioning. We do not have to worry about religious persecution. But there is something greater that we should be worried about.

With the People's Consent

[15] As the citizens of this country, we empower the U.S. government to act in our best interest, represent our will. We, as the enabling force, need to make it our duty to know how this responsibility is being managed and manipulated. We need to know what the government does in other nations in the name of its people--us.

[16] The U.S. disrupted Chile's way of operating and forever altered the lives of its people. We assassinated a man who was trying to better the lives of his fellow countrymen and put in his place a ruthless, savage murderer. We had no concern for the consequences of this political maneuvering or the people who would no doubt suffer under this new regime. Our interest in Chile was approached politically so that our real interests could be addressed. We were angry that Allende was taking valuable copper mines and nationalizing them. We did not believe he had a right to assume government control over those resources. We wanted our profits up and soaring and those resources were key.

[17] How can I sit here and say that we wanted this to happen? How can I insinuate that we as Americans ordered this animal named Pinochet to power? How can I say that we caused this turmoil? I can use the collective "we" because the U.S. government does so everyday. "Our people," it will say, "Our citizens…"; the government never says, "the President and his closest advisors feel that this is what should be done and that's what we're doing." The American people are given credit for making decisions. Consequently, we should shoulder some responsibility.

[18] We gasp in horror at the atrocities committed in Chile and thank a higher power that it is not an American problem. We are wrong. The government is fallible, no matter how much we reassure ourselves that it is not. It is responsible for all of those dead Chilean men, women, and children. It is responsible for the death of Chile's way of life. It is responsible for the murder of Charles Horman. (see comment by Travis Statham)

Personalizing the Tragedy

[19] Charles Horman's story has helped me to identify a conflict of interest. We want to ensure a prosperous future for ourselves and live comfortable lives. We want government to safeguard these critical demands. We want government to do as we tell it and to act in accordance with the will of its citizens. We claim power over the government, but do not fully accept the responsibility that comes with democracy. We say it should be government by the people and give this power to a select group who then parade around with our consent and do what they please. Perhaps I am guilty of that "anti-establishment paranoia" that Ed hated about Beth. Perhaps I am overly critical of the U.S. government. But one must ask if this faultfinding is unwarranted. I surmise that if more of us knew and were aware of what is being done in our names, the pool of angry opposition would not be so small.

[20] The Ambassador says to Ed Horman in the film that if he were not personally involved in "this unfortunate incident" in Chile, he would probably be "sitting at home complacent, and more or less oblivious to all of this." The Ambassador is right. But it is this sort of inattention to their actions that government officials are counting on. Ignorance further enables them to act as they see fit. If this does not anger anyone, it should. It should also be insulting for Americans to know that their elected officials believe them to be so foolish that they could easily have the wool pulled over their eyes.

[21] Charles' death was ordered because he knew too much, there is no disputing this fact. I believe he was killed because he disagreed with the government's position. Charles received information that any one of us could have been given. But how many people would have proceeded to document everything he had heard so that he could accurately preserve the facts, just in case. In case of what, we will never quite know. Charles' background and personal experiences made it impossible for him to turn a deaf ear to what was going on. What his intentions were for keeping the journal is irrelevant. The fact remains that Charles's inquisitiveness was mistaken for nosiness and the government believed his nosiness to be a sign of disapproval. To them, Charles was a dissenter and needed to be eliminated.

Charles is You and I

[22] What should scare people is that this seems less like the American way of life and more like those totalitarian regimes that characterize other countries. We as Americans never truly believe that we can lose our lives for objecting to what the government is doing. The case of Charles Horman proves otherwise. Charles' story is our worst nightmare come true. If we do not care about being portrayed as aggressors in other countries or meddling in their affairs, we should care about this. Freedom of speech and thought are our Constitutional rights, but we are never completely safe from oppression. The more closely one examines this situation, the more he will begin to see that in many ways, we are very much like other tyrannized countries. The danger lies in that we do not yet realize the possibility.

[23] Thomas Hauser's book about the disappearance of Charles Horman has been titled many different things. Missing: The Execution of Charles Horman and simply The Execution of Charles Horman have been some of the titles. The book is also printed under another title--The Execution of Charles Horman: An American Sacrifice. This one I find to be the most fitting of them all. I wonder how many people view Charles' death as a sacrifice. What kind of sacrifice? The kind offered to spare others from giving up the lifestyles they enjoy. The men we think of as responsible for preserving our right to freedom, our right to choose, and our right to democracy are most likely the men of yesterday who drafted the Declaration of Independence and the men and women of today in the armed forces. We glorify those that go to war, that lay their lives on the line, all to ensure that the red, white, and blue flies high for all of posterity to see. We call our heroes the soldiers in the battlefields, the men in command who are able to bring them home safely, and give credit to the president for "his" victories. We call ourselves patriotic because we are willing to display that flag on our porches and observe holidays that honor our country's veterans. We honor those whose actions and contributions to the country are easy to identify. We honor those who allow us to remain detached from the dirtiness of maintaining the American way of life. In this process of identifying heroes, we martyr those who have died fighting, but ignore those who have lost their lives in less glorious ways.

[24] Charles died to "preserve a way of life" for us all. Charles was not actively fighting to seek truth and justice. But in dying, he brought those issues to the forefront. Charles' death was a tragedy for his family and greatly tarnishes the reputation of the U.S. in my eyes. More importantly, his execution should serve as a wake up call to all those people who think bad things could never happen to an American. The purpose and pledge of American Embassies abroad is to protect American citizens. In the case of Charles Horman, the U.S. Embassy in Chile not only failed to meet its mission, it essentially sanctioned his death.

[25] What is one dead American in the great scheme of things? I argue the Horman family would not view it that way. They lost a son and a husband. They lost hope in a government that had lied, concealed, misrepresented, and failed them in the end. One death is one too many and the American people should be outraged. Charles Horman's story is only well known because his family took a stand and would not tolerate excuses and lies. How many more stories are out there just like Charles'? How many families decided not to make a stink and retreated to their homes to mourn? I wonder.


Travis Statham 8/14/10

I feel like the radical nature of the movie caused Terry to believe that the Chilean government before Pinochet was just peachy. However, major problems were being faced by all Chileans under the socialist rule of Allende. Yes, Allende was working to make his country better and believed his changes were helping, but his socialist policies were doing major harm to the country. "We had no concern for the consequences of this political maneuvering or the people who would no doubt suffer under this regime" is a statement that is hard to fathom. The people were already suffering under Allende's power; the country's wealth was not only being spread out but also being lost.

The history of the country before the coup follows as such. Allende managed to win the presidency in 1970 with 36.6% of the vote despite the US promoting anti-Allende propaganda. Allende immediately started to nationalize banks and US copper companies and spread the land out to the peasants. He also increased spending on social programs; however, the per capita production fell by 28%. Allende's continued disruptions in the economic policies of his country continued to degrade the economy, causing exports to fall dramatically, while increasing imports of staples such as food. Such an imbalance caused huge economic problems and led to the doubling of inflation. Eventually, strikes became commonplace and the judicial system began to intercede on Allende's policies, saying that the government was unable to uphold justice. The US government stepped up efforts to end the elected party's reign and injected money into right-wing opposition groups. This fight was taking place during the Cold War, and the US couldn't afford another stronghold of socialism in South America. The crisis had to be diverted.

Although the coup d'etat took many lives and put in Allende's place a powerful General, it was a necessary evil. Chile's economic system was reaching a cataclysmic point and who knows how many lives the US might have saved had the coup not have worked. We can blame the American government as much as we want; they were the guiding force at work in the background. But the Chilean coup was a dilemma that had to be resolved before the country was turned to dust at the hands of a socialist regime. To say that the Chileans were perfectly happy before the coup is to promote ignorance. For instance, "in late August 1973, 100,000 Chilean women congregated at Plaza de la Constitución to vent their rage against the rising cost and increasing shortages of food, but they were dispersed with tear gas" (Time Magazine). Did the United States help take out a failing government to replace it with a worse one? That is the question, and it remains deeply rooted in our sense of identity as a capitalist society.