• Thomas A. Wilson

Slick Willy Had Nothing on Tricky Dicky

The Watergate Scandal in 1972 was ugly. President Nixon’s culpability in undermining the Office of the Presidency will forever stand as a cultural turning point in the history of the United States. We didn’t know it at the time, but we would never be the same.

On the heels of the travesty, the American people have been subjected to a steady stream of presidential controversies. A short list (for mercy’s sake) follows:

Contragate: a clandestine operation during the Reagan administration to carry out unauthorized foreign policy.

Travelgate: the firing of White House Travel Office employees at the start of the Clinton administration.

Whitewatergate: a real-estate controversy involving Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Plamegate: during the Bush administration, a political scandal concerning the public identification of Valerie Plame as a covert CIA agent.

IRSgate: accusations of political targeting by the IRS during the Obama administration.

Russiagate: allegations of foreign meddling and collusion with the Trump presidential campaign during the 2016 presidential election.

Undoubtedly, these, and the myriads of other -gate controversies, are a mix of political opportunism along with real malfeasance. But few of them rise to the level of insidiousness displayed in the Chilean Coup of 1973—Watergate wasn’t Nixon’s dirtiest trick.

From Wikipedia, “The 1973 Chilean coup d'état was a watershed moment in… the history of Chile...” Their watershed moment played out simultaneously with our Watergate affair, and when it comes to the putrid stench of the Washington swamp, few histories reek as badly as these two. The nation of Chile, a successful democracy for decades and the most stable democracy in South America at the time, elected a socialist president. Nixon, and others on his team, didn’t like that—not at all.

Democracies get to do that, though. They get to have constitutions and processes that allow everyone to have a voice and a vote. That’s kind of the point. So, the legitimate process in Chile produced a socialist president, Salvador Allende. This is important to note, Allende was the legally elected President of Chile!

With Nixon’s approval, the CIA channeled millions of dollars into Chile to destabilize the government, gave weapons to the opposition, and approved of the coup where Allende (supposedly) committed suicide. In 1970, the CIA set the stage for the coup by empowering the group that assassinated the head of the Chilean Army (General René Schneider Chereau) in a botched kidnapping attempt. (Like the Watergate burglars, these weren’t the brightest bulbs in the treasonous box of malcontents.) Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte became the CIA-backed dictator of Chile, and he tormented his people for 17 years.

The Washington Post reported that, “According to a government commission report that included testimony from more than 30,000 people, Pinochet's government killed at least 3,197 people and tortured about 29,000. Two-thirds of the cases listed in the report happened in 1973.” Tens of thousands murdered or maimed—that’s the sick legacy of men who have more power than integrity.

But Nixon and company didn’t operate in a vacuum. Good ol’ American robber baron politics played a part, too. You see, the Chilean government (unanimously, not just leftist Allende) was poised, at the time, to nationalize the nation’s copper mines. American corporations were shaking in their boots. The Chilean government worked out a preliminary compensation agreement with the affected companies, but Allende held that the grotesque profits secreted out of the country by the Anaconda Copper Mining Company (and others) amounted to little more that legalized pilfering. He didn’t think they deserved a red cent.

During all of this drama, Allende worked with some of the leading thinkers in the world in an attempt to establish a state-of-the-art decision support system to manage the nation’s economy. (He died before the effort was completed.) The project was called Cybersyn, and it was based on viable system model theory and a neural network approach to organizational design. Stafford Beer, protégé of Norbert Wiener, led the effort. Allende wanted to create a new system to manage productivity and wealth—one that didn’t depend on backroom deals by high-dollar shot-callers. Right or wrong, he believed that the people doing the work should reap the benefit of the wealth the work created. Both socialist and capitalist can agree on that point—if you work smart and hard, it should pay off, right?

That’s how Anaconda Copper got its name. A veteran Union soldier, prospector Michael Hickey, went west to find his fortune. He worked hard and laid claim to a silver mine in Butte, Montana. He named the mine Anaconda after reading Horace Greeley’s account of Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant’s army surrounding General Robert E. Lee’s forces, “like an anaconda.” When future Copper King Marcus Daly bought the mine from Hickey, the name stuck—and the story of Butte, Anaconda, and Deer Lodge, Montana, started to careen right into the history and pocketbook of a South American nation.

The Chilean government did nationalize the mines. Dictator Pinochet didn’t reverse that decision while he was busy killing and torturing his citizenry. It’s not that he wasn’t grateful to Nixon’s spooks, but let’s face it, money talks and BS walks. The Anaconda Company, devastated by the nationalization, never recovered and went bankrupt. Hundreds were left unemployed in Montana.

Some of those unemployed men went to work at Montana State Prison in the Deer Lodge valley. There, they tried to scrape out a living working for low wages in a traditionally underfunded endeavor: corrections. And their sons and daughters now mind the store, so to speak, where they desperately hope that those in government have enough vision to look beyond partisanship to create a process where underliving is eradicated by good science. Man School was born at Montana State Prison.

Someone once said that hope deferred makes the heart sick. True said. So, will the sons and daughters of Anaconda Copper realize their hopes? Or will their project—like Allende’s—find itself crumpled under the boots of arrogant and selfish people who just happen to have a whole lot of power?


Failed cultures forget to build tomorrow; they focus instead on destroying today. A stroll through parts of Syria, Libya, Mexico, and Venezuela provides an object lesson in failed government. Real men help their city, county, state, and nation.

Affirmation of the Week: I fully participate in the redemptive culture of my home, workplace, and nation. I work patiently and diligently, with the heart of a marathon runner, to ensure that my ceiling becomes the floor for my children in their pursuit of next-level living.

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