A Cruel History Lesson In Argentina's Vanishing Submarine
The recent disappearance of a navy submarine reveals some persistent traits from Argentina's dictatorial past: lessons from the ocean's victims and Jungian wisdom.
BUENOS AIRES — We are enslaved by what we deny, and transformed by what we are able to truly accept. This wise reflection was made by someone who had closely observed the deepest recesses of the human mind, Carl Jung. The Swiss-born pioneer of analytical psychology believed one of the great existential tests is to manage to learn from all that is hurtful and disagreeable in our lives.
If we do not grow from such experiences and learn from the pains they inflict, we risk reproducing such regrettable situations over and over again, as if some cosmic force were testing us continuously. That is how I see two very different tragedies that share one source: the Argentine Navy.
Like an instructive coincidence, just as reports spread that 44 crew members of the San Juan submarine had disappeared, verdicts arrived in the ESMA trials investigating the Argentine armed forces' role in the "Death Flights," in the 1970s — when leftist prisoners were thrown from planes into the sea. The courts gave 29 Navy officials life sentences for their collusion in the flights and ensuing deaths of prisoners taken from the notorious ESMA or Navy Mechanical School. My brother and sister, Néstor and Cristina, were two of those killed this way. They too have disappeared in the depth of the ocean.
There is a disturbing symbolism here, as if an invisible, underground current were linking their destinies and those of the 44 crew members. It is not a forced comparison.
We duly pin the blame somewhere else, and postpone solutions.
Those of us who lost loved ones back then haven't had any trouble in forcing our minds to comprehend their deaths without ceremony or goodbyes. The ESMA trials have renewed in us a pain now also felt by relatives of the San Juan crew.
If Jung is right, we Argentines seem doggedly determined to ignore the deeper causes of our ills and thus are condemned to repeat the periodic deaths of our youth, which should warn us of the things we want to ignore. We duly pin the blame somewhere else, and postpone solutions, hiding them deep beneath falsehoods and ideological prejudices without seeing the humanity that explodes in such overwhelming and painfully didactic moments.
Forty years separate the old Navy of Eduardo Massera, that arrogant admiral who stated at the trial of Junta chiefs, "I am responsible but do not feel guilty," and this Navy, subordinated like all the armed forces to the laws of democracy.
The San Juan submarine at the Mar del Plata naval base — Photo: Martin Otero
And yet our attitudes and our hearts have not democratized. The uniforms still convey the distrust and secrecy that were the hallmarks of the dictatorship and have survived into the democracy.
Instead of experiencing the ills of our time with a sense of civic responsibility — from corruption to violence, poverty and authoritarian methods — we shift the blame and remain unable to build within our democratic pact, a new society free of the stains of the past. Likewise, our fondness for symbolic acts and ideology links younger generations to a dark past of violence, rather than to a truly democratic education that will turn them into citizens who feel responsible for their country's destiny.
End-of-year barbecues have been held at the ESMA school, where they also commemorate the Death Flights. Nearby is the Malvinas (Falklands) Museum where they glorify the same planes that had thrown prisoners into the ocean. Such frivolity ties us to the past, and impedes a real relationship with our pains. There is no moral superiority in suffering. The Falklands War did not absolve the horrors of the military dictatorship — how could it, when more youngsters, sailors of the General Belgrano battleship, sacrificed themselves in the cold waters of the South Atlantic?
Since modern history has taught us that the end does not justify the means, and a killing is not rectified with another, it might be time now for us to learn from the past and transform ourselves into a society freed of the hate, distrust and concealment that characterize the authoritarian identity. Justice prevents vengeance and allows us to live together more humanely. That is when we will have learned from the teachings of Jung, who believed that knowledge may be born from our mistakes, but is carried in the heart.
*Argentine journalist Norma Morandini is a former senator.