The semantic twist:
Terrorism, Subversion, Dissent, Innocence
In the name of national security, thousands upon thousands of human beings, usually young adults or even adolecents, fell into the sinister, ghostly category of the desaparecidos ...
Seized by force against their will, the victims no longer existed as citizens. Who exactly was responsible for their abduction? Why had they been abducted? Where were they? There were no precise answers to these questions: the authorities had no record of them; they were not being held in jail; justice was unaware of their existence. Silence was the only reply to all the habeas corpus writs, an omnious silence that engulfed them. No kidnapper was ever arrested, not a single detention centre was ever located, there was never news of those responsible being punished for any of the crimes. Days, weeks, months, years went by, full of uncertainty and anguish for fathers, mothers, and children, all of them at the mercy of rumors and desperate hopes. They spent their time in countless attempts at wringing information from those in authority: whether officers in the armed forces who were recommended to them, bishops, military chaplains, or police inspectors, they received no help.
A feeling of complete vulnerability spread throughout Argentine society, coupled with the fear that anyone, however innocent, might become a victim of the never-ending witch-hunt. Some people reacted with alarm. Others tended, consciously or unconsciously, to justify the horror. "There must be some reason for it," they would whisper, as though trying to propitate awesome and inscrutable gods, regarding the children or parents of the disappeared as plague-bearers. Yet such feelings could never be wholehearted as so many cases were known of people who had been sucked into that bottomless pit who were obviously not guilty of anything. It was simply that the `anti-subversive' struggle, like all hunts against witches or those possessed, had become a demented generalized repression, and the word `subversive' itself came to be used with a vast and vague range of meaning. In the semantic delirium where labels such as: Marxist-Leninist, traitors to the fatherland, materialists and atheists, enemies of Western, Christian values, abounded, anyone was at risk - from those who were proposing a social revolution, to aware adolescents who merely went out to the shanty towns to help the people living there.
All sectors fell into the net: trade union leaders fighting for better wages; youngsters in student unions; journalists who did not support the regime; psychologists and sociologists simply for belonging to suspicious professions; young pacifists, nuns and priests who had taken the teaching of Christ to shanty areas; the friends of these people, too, and the friends of friends, plus others whose names were given out of motives of personal vengeance, or by the kidnapped under torture ...
[excerpt from the prologue to the
report of the Nacional Commission on the Disappeared,
by Ernesto Sabato]
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