The other day, I saw an Argentine movie called Cautiva on DVD. I would highly recommend it. Its a very, very good movie, and it deals with a topic I’ve touched on in a few posts, namely life in and following the South American military dictatorships of the recent past.

The story is about a teenage girl living an ordinary life who one day finds that her parents are not her real parents, and that she is actually a the child of two “subversives” who were made to disappear around the time of her birth. An interesting element about the movie is the denial by some of the characters that the overwhelming majority of “disappearances” were anything but inexcusable thuggery on the part of the military… but of course, purveyors of violence always have their excuses, and their apologists.

But who were the victims of these thugs? Who were the people who disappeared, the ones that the thugs, with their pardons in hand, refer to as communists or terrorists? Here’s the story of one of them…

My father is originally from Argentina, as was his best friend in graduate school, a fellow physicist. At some point, a neighbor of my father’s friend disappeared. The man’s wife went down to the police station to report him missing, and nothing was done. Eventually she asked my father’s friend if maybe he might go down to the police station and make inquiries. As a university professor, he was a respected member of the community, and perhaps the police would put a bit more effort into the search if he made the request.

My father’s friend wasn’t a leftist, he wasn’t political. He was a man wondering if a neighbor of his had fallen in a ditch or been hit by a truck, and who, as a result, inadvertently asked the wrong questions about the wrong person in the wrong place. And he never came back from the police station. Perhaps he was shot. Perhaps he was beaten to death. Perhaps he was pushed out of a helicopter. Maybe he just died of a heart attack in a dark cell or on a bunk in a detention center. Nobody will ever know.

And what of those who did these things? Well, on some occasion, perhaps you’ll one day find yourself talking to a nice elderly gentleman from South America. If you start talking about the region, he’ll tell you its a beautiful continent, but with a troubled past. If you press him further, if you ask about the dictatorships, perhaps he’ll tell you they were brutal. But if he tells you they were a necessary part of a war against the communists, he is an evil, evil man.