One bright, sunny day in February 1972, I walked into the headquarters of Salvador Allend's Socialist Party in the hard-line leftist, southern mining city of Conception and got one of the many surprises of my journalistic life.
The South of Chile was in utter turbulence - the first stages of revolution. Farms of two and three acres were pretentiously being "nationalized" by young "revolutionaries" all in the name of the "redistribution of wealth." A pervasive sense of terror was everywhere.
In Santiago, President Allende was publicity washing his hands of the whole business. It was not his party's doing, he said over and over, it was a group of uncontrollable young lleftists called the MIR (Movement of the Revolutionary Left).
So, as the headquarters of Allende's party there, I waded right in. "Are the Socialists leading the landovers?" I asked.
There was a moment of silence, then all of the six top leaders of the Socialist Party in Conception broke into laughter. "It would appear that we are," Rafael Merino, head of the party, said with a smile. "The position of the left and of the Socialist Party is to push the land expropriations faster."
In the following days, I interviewed many members of the MIR. To quote only one, Nelson Urgarte of Nuble: "Soon, the fight will not be for land. Now we are preparing for war. Civil war."
The next week in Santiago, I weant to visit Sen. Volodie Teiteboim, the major ideologue and head of the Communist Party, which was in uneasy alliance with Allende's far more radical Socialists.
Teitelboim, an enormous chubbiness behind heavy glasses, was disturbed and honest. He said that the Communists knew that Chile's long tradition of democracy made it necessary for socialism to come only after a long time - "maybe 50 years."
But, he said, the Socialists did not agree; they wanted revolution now. "If Allende continues to refuse to control the revolution in the south," he warned, "he will be overthrown."
When? "Oh, about 18 months," he said.
It was precisely 18 months from then that Allende was indeed overthrown. Teitelboim was in Paris; he was one of the few escape. He was even smarter than I had thought.
These are not simply curiositites of history in a pretentiously anti-history age.
Last week, former CIA Director Richard Helms's case finally was resolved on the grounds that he was beholden to two oaths and decided to protect his first: to the agency and national security.
But behind this extraordinary important case - indeed, the very reason for it - lies, still, the unsettled question of what we really did in Chile.
I am writing this because I see every day the conventional wisdom, which will soon become the "history" of the anti-history tomorrows, coagulating around the same that "the U.S. overthrew Allende."
Those of us who were in Chile in those days, those of us who knew Salvador Allende personally (and liked him), how Allende-s people themselves were leading the apocalyptic, suicidal process of revolution know that American intervention, while there, played virtually no role in Allende' downfall.
That, of course, is the cruelest cut of all for those Americans on both ends of the spectrum who sustain themselves by the assurance that America is alternately responsible for or guilty of everything, good or bad, that, that occurs in the world. isn't .
Richard Helms should be called to account - but not for lying to Congress. He should be called to account for the utter and incongrous stupidity of involving us and our national intergrity in a situation like Allende's Chile, which was already delf-destructing, and thus placing the blame in the United States for a historic process that was proceeding inexorably toward Armageddon all by itself.