Allende-Pinochet, the Debate Continued

On 15 February 2012, Jeremy, having read my article on PBS's Allende-Pinochet documentary (, wrote the following:

nonymousI know this is old, but I have to vehemently disagree with this exercise in Pinochet apologetics.

Pinochet secured his power by engaging in widespread, systematic mass murder and human rights violations; Allende did not. It is simply not valid to draw a parallel between the two in terms of "crimes against humanity."

Your argument for Allende's campaign of "torture and murder" is based on a series of fallacious appeals to authority. You can't use the contemporary accusations of opposition figures like Aylwin and Frei as sufficient evidence. All you've proven with your response to Mr. Letelier is that Allende's opposition opposed him. For what it's worth, Aylwin was grossly exaggerating Allende's military power (armed groups in the rural areas were weak, and largely outside of Allende's control), and I don't see how Frei's call for a military coup supports your argument. Again, it tells us about the polarization of the time, but what of Allende's supposed torture and murder? Pinochet's brutality, on the other hand, is beyond dispute.

And do you really believe, based on the testimony of a single disillusioned guerilla, that Allende and co. were planning to export violent revolution, in the Western Hemisphere, during the Cold War, with the US already hostile to them? It doesn't take Henry Kissinger to figure out that's suicidal. Again, the evidence provided is insufficient to support your claim. One accusation of a supposed future conspiracy does not put Allende any closer to the level of Pinochet.

Finally, your assertion that "whereas Allende left Chile in shambles, Pinochet—unlike any other dictator who comes readily to mind—left his country much better off for his tenure" is a gross oversimplification. Could you make a serious argument for this? Yes, it's a complex topic. Can you do it in one sentence? No.

Of course it's true that Allende's administration was an economic and political disaster after the first year. But you can't just ignore Pinochet's brutality when declaring that he made Chile a better place. You're discounting the lasting effects on Chilean society, politics, culture, and victims' families. Even if, for the sake of argument, you leave that aside and consider only economics, the situation is not that clear-cut. Pinochet did effect a large increase in GDP. But that's only one indicator. Under Pinochet, real wages remained stagnant for almost twenty years, and unemployment and poverty skyrocketed. These situations only improved when Pinochet loosened his grip and allowed Aylwin to claw back the most extreme neoliberal policies. So Pinochet and the Chicago Boys facilitated economic growth; but I think if you asked the average worker, peasant, or Mapuche, they'd have a different take on Pinochet's economic policy.

If you want to make a serious historical comparison here, you need to find some sources that are more balanced and credible than the accusations of Allende's opposition. I suggest Collier and Sater's "A History of Chile," as well as the following article from The Economist:

February 15, 2012 3:03 AM

Here is the Economist article Jeremy directs us to

The Pinochet affair
Blackwashing Allende
Jan 28th 1999 | from the print edition
WHILE the Law Lords in Britain pore over the disputed legalities of extraditing Augusto Pinochet, the allegations of atrocities by his regime are—unsurprisingly—little disputed there. So his supporters have adopted a new tactic: whitewash the general by blackening the president he overthrew in 1973, Salvador Allende.
General Pinochet’s first notable British supporter was Margaret Thatcher. Soon after his arrest in October, she argued—indisputably—that he had been a good friend to Britain in its 1982 Falklands war with Argentina. But right-wing support, exemplified in a pamphlet by one of her former aides that was put out on the Internet last week, has since gone much further.
The Pinochet campaigners argue that Allende, who died (probably by his own hand) in the coup, was at least presiding over, and more likely conspiring in, preparations for a Marxist seizure of total power. A sub-text has Allende, in conspiracy with Fidel Castro, training terrorists for revolution not just in Chile but in Latin America. So General Pinochet, who seized power first, had to be tough, didn’t he?
That’s the mild version. There is a much fiercer one: as one apologist wrote to the conservative Daily Telegraph, the general’s methods “were regrettably harsh, but no worse than Allende’s”. That is a big claim: in Chile, only the furthest right seriously questions the conclusions of the truth commission set up after the general left power in 1990 that under his regime—mainly in its early years—some 2,000 political opponents were killed and thousands more tortured. Was Allende really just as bad?
In law, neither version could exonerate General Pinochet. A regime fully in control—as his was within months of seizing power—cannot excuse its atrocities on the ground that its predecessors were equally ruthless. But politically such arguments carry weight. If they are true.
Are they? Is it true, for instance, that:
Allende, elected in 1970 with only 36.5% of the vote, and unable to impose total Marxism legally, was actively preparing a left-wing coup, conspiring to train guerrillas and letting them stockpile arms even in presidential buildings for the purpose?
He had set up terrorist training camps, under KGB, Cuban and North Korean experts, that would have made Chile “the major terrorist base for Latin America”?
There were—as a former minister under Lady Thatcher wrote last month in Britain’s Times—17,000 Cubans in Chile?
“As the media seem to have forgotten,” according to the spin-doctor masterminding the pro-Pinochet campaign in Britain, “there were atrocities on both sides”? Were the torture and killing of opponents, certainly practised by the Pinochet regime, also used by Allende’s government?
The main, though not only, source of the new pro-Pinochet pamphlet is a “white book on the change of government” rushed together by the general’s regime in the weeks after his coup. Both works paint a Chile awash with foreign—notably, Cuban—extremists and their Marxist followers with large stocks of Soviet-block weaponry. (Not least in the presidential palace and residence. The white book details a veritable armoury, of everything up to anti-tank guns, allegedly found there. It is a fearsome list—if it is genuine.)
The book also includes “Plan Z”, a document supposedly found in the desk of a communist former under-secretary for the interior. It sets out a plan for the murder of the armed forces’ high command at a presidential banquet, a left-wing seizure of power and then the elimination of opposition figures. But did “Plan Z” really exist? The pamphlet says “its authenticity has not been disputed.” That is untrue.
A disenchanted ex-CIA agent, Philip Agee, was soon to argue that the document might have been a CIA fake. In Chile today many question it, even some admirers of the Pinochet regime. How come, they wonder, that little more was heard of such a monstrous conspiracy, once “Plan Z” had played its part in discrediting Allende?
The “terrorist training camps”—though, surprisingly, not their Soviet or North Korean instructors—figure large in the pamphlet. So they did in the white book. One such, allegedly, was sited at an out-of-town presidential residence. Chileans from the left of the spectrum this week told The Economist there were more than half-a-dozen camps, of varying quality: two run by the MIR, a revolutionary-left movement, were serious enough. Chile’s ex-president (and the father of its present one), Eduardo Frei, thinking of these and the alleged weapons stocks, wrote, after the Pinochet coup, of “the creation of a parallel army”. The training, says one ex-trainee, was less military (and pretty basic at that) than ideological. Whether “terrorist” is fair is uncertain; that the aim was to export terror not even the pamphlet claims.
The 17,000 Cubans—in one popular version, 17,000 armed Cubans—remind one of the soldiers allegedly sent by tsarist Russia to Britain during the first world war: no one saw them land, no one saw them sail away, but they were seen marching through Scotland, their Russian origin betrayed by the snow on their boots. Certainly these Cubans must have slid away craftily, their boots doubtless crusted with tobacco: the military regime just after seizing power claimed there had been 13,000 foreigners (by now they have become “foreign extremists”) illegally in the country when it took over. Of that total, 9,600 were from Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay.
The real sting of the Pinochet-Allende comparison, though, is that of political torture and murder. Grant that people get beaten up in police stations, under all regimes, worldwide, did Allende’s regime use political torture? The Economist has spoken to people who say it happened to them. But no records, or even claims, suggest anything like the scale proven against the military regime.
As to killings, any comparison of Allende to that regime is quite simply false. The new pamphlet, citing the old white book, records 96 “political” deaths, on right and left, during the Allende years. Hardly any, except a few during a minor mutiny in mid-1973, can be (or were) blamed on the official forces. In contrast, the pamphlet admits 1,261 such deaths—82 among the armed forces—in the few months after the coup. The pamphlet ascribes this to “bitter and brutal” fighting during a left-wing revolt. The 1,261 died, it says, “in the course of the struggle.”
They did not. It would be an odd urban struggle in which “well trained, highly armed” extremists lose more than a dozen men for every one they kill. In fact, as many have related who were merely held or tortured there, most of the deaths occurred in the national stadium in Santiago, where real or alleged enemies of the new order were held, to be singled out by masked informers, often for immediate execution. And that still leaves at least 800 later deaths under the regime, when it was in total control, to be accounted for. Or whitewashed?
For further evidence, go to a source of the time: The Economist, non-Chilean but firmly critical of Allende and what its then Chile specialist was later to entitle his savagely critical book, “Chile’s Marxist Experiment”. That title was in fact overblown. Allende’s economics were, approximately, Marxist and certainly disastrous. Not so the political system he ran. The opposition press and parties carried on. So did elections, and even in March 1973 the regime could win only 44% of the vote for Congress. Still, this paper was deeply suspicious, and the more so—in those days of raging cold war—because of Allende’s friendship with Fidel Castro.
Twice it sent its specialist for long visits. He wrote a six-page report in March 1972, one of five pages in October 1973, a month after the coup. The second time, our man clearly had free access to the regime and its evidence against Allende. But even in 1972 he talked widely to enemies of the Allende government. Both his reports damned it. Both produced mild versions of some charges now laid against Allende: for instance (1973), of Cubans training his personal guard, or guerrillas “tolerated” by the government, (though the actual ones our reporter met were a fairly hopeless, partly Amerindian group, more like Mexico’s Zapatists than the strike force of revolution). But what did this ferocious critic of Allende’s regime say of its now alleged political tortures or killings? Not a word.

Now Bill Stott again:
I am grateful to Jeremy, as earlier I was to Renato Letelier, for his civil comment. We are going to disagree, Jeremy, but without invective.
The Economist's anti-Allende correspondent to which the 1999 article alludes with such distaste is Robert Moss (if you're going to give us the title of a book he wrote, Economist writers, why not give his name?). Moss wrote for the Economist of Sept 15, 1973, just days after the Pinochet coup:
“What happened in Santiago is not a typical Latin American coup. The armed forces tolerated Allende for almost three years. In this period he figured out how to drown the country in the worst economic and social crisis in its modern history. But the Allende government went even further than destroying the economy -- it violated the letter and the spirit of the Constitution. The form in which he crudely bypassed Congress and the judiciary weakened faith in the country’s democratic institutions. . . . The temporary death of democracy in Chile will be lamented, but the responsibility clearly lies with Dr. Allende and those of his followers who constantly rode roughshod over the Constitution.” 

Middle-of-the-road Chileans of the time certainly believed this: only see the quotes I've given from the Christian Democratic former national president, Eduardo Frei, and Christian Democratic party president--and, after Pinochet--the country's first democratically elected president, Patricio Aylwin. (Jeremy, you can't get away with pretending that these men or the Christian Democrat party they headed were far-right; its leaders came to oppose Allende, whose accession to the presidency they had supported (in the interest of fair play: he'd won the most votes), because of what he had done in the office. That's the claim I'm making about the majority of the Chilean people; they came to hate and fear Allende because of his incompetence and the threatening chaos he created and tolerated.)
Specific points.
+ I didn't say Allende killed or tortured as many people as Pinochet and his henchmen did. He did strip hundreds of farmers and ranchers and factory and business owners of their property. Hundreds of people went into exile, many never to return. If only 96 people died, that, with his other acts, was enough to cause panic and the belief that there was going to be a huge class-based bloodletting.
A prominent leftist who apparently called for exactly this in a speech in the National Stadium two days before Pinochet's coup was the senator and secretary of the Socialist Party, Carlos Altamirano, a collaborator with the MIR, a terrorist group that still bombs and burns in Chile.

 + Cubans didn't train Allende's presidential guard; they were his guard--Cuban security men provided by Fidel Castro. Allende apparently didn't trust Chileans. A rumor was floated several years ago that the head of Allende's security was told by Castro that, in the event of a coup, he, the security man, should shoot Allende, making it look like suicide, because dead martyrs are more appealing than living ex-leaders. In fact, Allende killed himself with a rifle Castro had given him.
+ I hadn't heard of 17,000 Cubans. The belief in Chile is that there were over 10,000 communist agitators from Cuba, the Soviet Union, and the Warsaw Block countries. So far as I know, after the coup, all were allowed to leave.
+ Plan Z. Who knows? I have met a doctor who says that after the coup he found a list in a drawer of his hospital giving the names of the physicians and staff who were to be killed by Allende's thugs.
+ If they are old enough, the "average Chileans" I come in contact with--taxi drivers, maids, and sales people--generally remember the Pinochet years with nostalgia because there was far less crime then in the poorer sections of Santiago. Also, because--but here's a whole new theme--Pinochet permitted private universities to come into being, thus opening new possibilities for the bright and ambitious, even if they were poor.
But, as I said at the start, those who admire Allende, overlook his human rights violations, and regret his overthrow, and we who find much to admire in Pinochet's regime, all the while rejecting its human rights violations, aren't going to agree. It's obvious that the Allende-Pinochet confrontation will always be the central dramatic focus of Chilean 20th century historical studies, just as the American Civil War and the events leading up to it and flowing from it are the central focus of 19th century US history. A generation or two from now Chilean historians may have come to consensus on the issue. Or they may still be as far apart as Letelier and Jeremy and I are.

Why There Are No Great Soviet (or New Deal) Novels

In The Liberal Tradition (1950), the critic Lionel Trilling called attention to the “fatal separation” he saw between

the ideas of our educated liberal class and the deep places of the imagination. . . . Our educated class has a ready if mild suspiciousness of the profit motive, a belief in progress, science, social legislation, planning and international cooperation. . . . Those beliefs do great credit to those who hold them. Yet it is a comment, if not on our beliefs, then on our way of holding them, that not a single first-rate writer has emerged to deal with these ideas, and the emotions that are consonant with them, in a great literary way.

Trilling believed there was no great novel celebrating the New Deal, in the first instance, or, more broadly, the Welfare State or Mixed Economy or Keynesian Interventionism or “People’s Capitalism” (a term President Eisenhower tried to popularize) or Centralized Planning or, at the extreme, coercive socialism or Communism.

I think he is right. There are great anti-collectivist, anti-Communist novels, but no great pro ones. John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath (1939) may be the closest thing to an exception. It argues in favor of both government intervention (when the hero, Tom Joad, learns that the U.S. government migrant labor camp he’s driven into has not only toilets, showers, and democratic elections, but dance nights, he cries out, “Well, for Christ’s sake! Why ain’t they more places like this?”) and self-sacrifice to build a better world for others (Tom responds to his mother’s worry that, if he works to organize the poor, she may never see him again:

Well, maybe . . . a fella ain’t got a soul of his own, but on’y a piece of a big one -- an’ then . . . it don’ matter. Then I’ll be all aroun’ in the dark. I’ll be ever’where -- wherever you look. Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. . . . I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the house they build -- why I’ll be there.)

But novel-lovers--apparently even Steinbeck himself, who said he didn’t deserve his 1962 Nobel Prize for Literature--would not rank Grapes of Wrath as the equal of, say, Moby Dick, Middlemarch, Crime and Punishment, The Sun Also Rises, Light in August.

One way to understand why there are no great communist/communitarian novels is to look at what I take to be the central paradox of the American character: Americans’ ideas about people as social beings come from the Enlightenment; Americans’ ideas about people as individuals come from our conservative (read: Calvinist/Counterreformation Catholic) religious heritage, from the Romantics, and from Sigmund Freud.

In our public lives we believe in reason, pragmatism, science, equality based on natural rights and the rule of law, soft-edged utilitarianism, co-operation, democracy, quantification, and, certainly not least, a free market where cream rises to the top. At the same time, we believe that the private self is radically unknowable, rich, perverse (“Every inclination of the human heart is evil” -- Genesis 8:21), self-indulgent, spontaneous, emotion-driven ("In our innermost soul we are children and remain so for the rest of our lives" -- Freud), tortured, alienated from others and dismissive of them.

There are no great collectivist or socialist or Soviet novels because the novel is a Romantic art form. Novels focus on individual experience. In a novel, nothing is more important than personal life and relationships -- certainly not such vague, utilitarian things as the welfare of the state or Other People. It was, after all, a novelist (E.M. Forster, a favorite of Trilling’s) who wrote that splendid-sounding, stupid credo, “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” (But, Mr. Forster, say your friend was going to blow up an airplane or Parliament or pass an A-bomb to al-Qaeda, surely you’d do something.) It is inconceivable that a good novel could end with an admirable hero sincerely announcing to his beloved or a crowd, “I can’t tell you how great it is to be alive in a caring welfare state where I know I’ll never want for food, shelter, and decent medical care.”

Trilling wanted a great New Deal novel, which, like a square circle, can’t exist. If one wants to see the Enlightenment triumphant in great art, one must look to other arts. To music, for example, and not only to composers of the Enlightenment like Haydn and Mozart but to the Beethoven of the Eroica, the Tchaikovsky of The 1812 Overture, practically all of Prokofiev, some Shostakovich, and, of course, John Philip Sousa. The New Deal can claim at least one great composer: the Aaron Copland of El salón México, Billy the Kid, An Outdoor Overture, Our Town, Rodeo, Fanfare for the Common Man, Appalachian Spring, The Red Pony. (Copland knew he wasn’t a Romantic. “Agony I don't connect with,” he said. “Not even alienation.”)

The contemporary German novelist and sometime politician Günter Grass understands the different requirements of Enlightenment politics and Romantic art. He has said, “What is deadly dangerous to literature is that in politics you have to repeat yourself, and literature and art are about the new and the innovative, about the undiscovered and the unvoiced. We must find ways to show responsibility to both.”

Hal Sheets dies: former student and great friend

Dear University of Texas at Austin American Studies community member,

Hal Sheets, who received his Ph.D. from our graduate program back when it was still called the American Civilization Program and who was a dear friend to all who knew him, died on October 27. His wife, Ladd
Frisby Sheets, writes of his death, then five of his colleagues remember him.

Dear Friends-

I am sorry to have to be bringing you this news via email rather than a personal call.  Hal passed away peacefully in his sleep at home early today with family around him.  He had been battling cancer for several years.  His recent decline was much more rapid than we expected, and that is a blessing for him.  The one fear he had was that he would linger in some depleted state.

We are dealing with this loss as best we can, and I am very fortunate to have a wonderfully supportive family and friends.

Love to you all,


Bill Stott:

Hal and I began at UT the same fall, 1971, he as a graduate student, I as an assistant instructor who hadn't finished his dissertation. The next fall I taught an introduction to American civilization course in which Hal, Suzanne Buckley, and Mark Smith were class discussion leaders. Preparing the course Hal and I bonded big time. He taught me how to make slides for classroom use; as important, he got me interested in architecture, which continued to be an interest and may be reflected in my son having become an architect. We confided in each other about our fears and concerns about the program and his progress in it. I felt him then and after to be the brother or close male cousin I never had. Though I didn't say it then --as I should have and would (and do!) now--I loved him and hope he felt much the same toward me.
Later, I was flattered but felt it entirely appropriate that I got to write the most important letter I ever wrote: to the Edna Gladney Center, accompanying the successful adoption application Ladd and he made. When they adopted a second child, I got to write a follow-up letter praising them both and meaning every word of it.
Not having known of Hal's illness, I'll never believe him gone; he'll always be in my heart, as positive, energetic, manly, ruminative, and suddenly funny as I knew him to be. His immense kindness and concern are visible in the photo of him below.

Suzanne Buckley:

Hal and I shared an office when we were graduate students, and my day often started with a big smile from the teddy bear of a man I came to know as Hal. He was generous, warm-hearted, fair, and humble, and often very funny. He had integrity and a deep commitment to his family, which I respected, and a great interest in ideas in those days of Goetzomania. When it came time for PhD orals, Hal and Steve Pyne and I studied together. Because architecture was one of my fields, I inhaled everything I could from Hal's vast store of knowledge, and from Steve, well, I just held my breath and tried to keep up! Together we were the first "SOS" class. We had tee-shirts made--I remember mine said "Art for art's sake," we were so idealistic then!--and passed on shirts to the orals candidates after us. Those were beautiful days, and Hal's friendship is something I will always treasure.

Jeff Meikle:

I'm saddened to learn only today of Hal's death.  I was out of the country and not checking email.  He was a great person.  Bill's story of the copy stand reminds me that Hal inadvertently taught dozens of later students how to use it--by teaching me.

Emily Cutrer:

Hal was among a group of much-admired "elder" graduate students when I first joined the American Studies program, first as an undergraduate and then a graduate student myself in the early 70s. Our "younger" generation looked up to him as someone with deep knowledge about American culture, a commitment to living a scholar's life, and the savvy to make his way through a challenging--and often mysterious--program. While I'm saddened by news of his loss, I'm also gratified to learn from colleagues about the good life that he led.

Mark Smith:

The first time I encountered Hal was in the initial class of a graduate seminar at the University of Texas in 1971.  Scarily enough, it was with Bill Goetzmann, who after a very few pleasantries asked us first years why we were in grad school and what we had to offer.  Luckily for us, Suzanne was first and she spoke of dance, modernism, and creativity and, if memory recalls, threw in a couple of dance movements as a bonus.  Bill was overjoyed.  I felt sorry for the next guy, who turned out to be Hal, who, in turn, launched a ten-minute brilliant overview of the historic, cultural, and even aesthetic history of American architecture.  (I could be wrong, though Hal never said anything in ten minutes or less.) Bill Goetzmann stared at him and said, “Vincent Scully.  Yale.”  Hal grinned and stared back.

And at that moment two questions entered my mind as I crouched in a far corner: “What the hell am I going to say?”  (Those who know me know that “hell” was not the operative word.)  And ”How the hell am I going to pick up my game so I can hang with these people and stay in graduate school?”   And, although our meetings were infrequent after grad school, Hal always reminded me of those questions every time he opened his mouth.  Except, of course, those many times when he launched his booming and infectious laugh and you happily joined in.

Go in peace, my friend.


Harold Frank Sheets III

Harold Frank Sheets III, died peacefully with family around him on Wednesday, October 27, 2010, age 67. He is survived by his wife, Ladd Frisby Sheets, and his children, Abigail Sheets Gibson and Jacob Austin Sheets. He is also survived by his sister, Ferne Elizabeth Sheets-Archibald; his brother, George Archibald Sheets; and his grandson, David Philip Gibson. In addition he is survived by his nephews: Ben Sheets and Nicholas (Pelu) Sheets; and niece, Penny Sheets.

Dr. Hal Sheets was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and lived in Argentina and Venezuela until his family moved back to the States in 1957. He graduated from The Gunnery in 1961 and earned a B.A. in Architecture from Yale University in 1965, and a Master's and PhD. in American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 1975. He taught U.S. History and Spanish in several private schools over the years ending up his career at Isidore Newman School in New Orleans, where he taught U.S. History and was chair of the History Department for 12 years. Writing novels and building ship models were his favorite ways to spend time when not involved with his students and classes. In addition, there were many home remodeling projects over the years that he took great pride in.

The family wishes to express deep appreciation to Isidore Newman School's staff and students for their continued support over the last few years. Thanks also go to St. Catherine's Hospice for their care and concern for our every need. In lieu of flowers, donations to the Tulane Cancer Center with a designation for "Sartor-Cancer Research" on the memo line: Dr. Oliver Sartor, 1430 Tulane Avenue, SL-78, New Orleans, LA 70112. Arrangements are being handled by LAKE LAWN METAIRIE FUNERAL HOME. To view and sign the guestbook go to

Published in The Times-Picayune on October 31, 2010

The writer Mark Dow pays eloquent tribute to Hal as a teacher at

On the Rescue of the 33 Chilean Miners

The hope of Lazarus
now bedazzles us.

The Death of My UT Austin Mentor, Bill Goetzmann, Is Something I Won't Get Over.

I was Bill's assistant director in American Studies from 1971 till 1980, hired because it was thought that having been a propagandizing diplomat in Third World nations, I would be able to help American Studies – which was to say (at that time) help Bill – make peace with the English department. He and I meshed as a team because, though he was hundreds of times better read, more imaginative, and more energetic than I, and loyal and funny to boot, he also had complexities of character that reminded me of my father. I had spent 30 years learning how to get along with my father and had a head start working with Bill.

In the fall of 1971, among the dozens of ideas Bill put forward was one I thought I could carry out: making a pamphlet about our graduate program. I wrote it and had UT designer Tom Johnson prepare a mock-up. Bill glanced at it and said, "It's so dull!" And he transformed the pamphlet into the first of our once-notorious grad posters, with a huge photo of well-upholstered matrons dressed in black in a Model T with a pennant calling for "Votes for Women." Down at the bottom of the poster Bill had us add an armadillo, a salute to the Armadillo World Headquarters, then at apogee.

From Bill I learned the question every inquirer needs to answer (though most don't), "So what?" Or, put more expansively: "What do we know when we know that?" Or, again briefly: "Why does that matter?" From him I learned most of what I know about academic politics and the wisdom of knowing when to stop playing them and start, as Bill would say, "banging on your cereal bowl."

Bill's fear always was that the state was going to turn UT into a monumental junior college. "They don't know what education is," he'd often say about people running the university (The University, as it styles itself). He stood on the bridge to keep the philistines at bay and taught an uncountable number of students who now carry on his crusade.

The crusade is conservative, as was Bill – in most matters outspokenly. In his last years he despaired about America. And yet, just to show his complexity, his 2009 book, Beyond the Revolution, has as its central generative intellectual the despised revolutionary “atheist” Tom Paine, whom Bill salutes for embodying just what is so needed now: “the spirit of revival, constant regeneration, and future-oriented habits of pragmatic thinking.” America has gotten through rough times before, and it is in our character, the scholar William H. Goetzmann tells us, to do it always again.

The photo of Bill accompanying the Austin American-Statesman obituary notice below shows him at his most affable. Likely as not, he was then cooking up one of his sudden, terrifying questions. "What painter would agree with Faulkner's definition of culture?" say. We who were fortunate enough to know him well will never be free of his way of thinking.

William M. Stott, Professor Emeritus, American Studies and English  8 September 2010

William H. Goetzmann, 1964 Founder of American Studies at UT, Dies

Historian William H. Goetzmann, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1967 and emeritus professor of American Studies and History at the University of Texas, died on September 7, 2010. His book Exploration and Empire, a study of the 19th century scientific exploration of the American West, won both the Pulitzer and Parkman prizes in history in 1967. His book on the art of the American West, The West of the Imagination, co-authored with son William N. Goetzmann, was the subject of a PBS television series by the same name in 1985. His most recent work, Beyond the Revolution (2009), traced the development of post-Revolutionary American thought. His writings and scholarly interests ranged widely over his career, from ribald historical memoirs (My Confession: The Recollections of a Rogue: Sam Chamberlain, 1993) to definitive contributions in American intellectual history (The American Hegelians, 1973). A consistent theme of his work was the variety and vitality of the American experience.

Bill Goetzmann taught History and American Studies for fifty years, first at Yale University and then at the University of Texas. As the chairman of the University of Texas History department in 1968-9 and as director of the American Studies Program from 1964 to 1980, he played a key role in the racial integration of the university's faculty and in the development of multicultural studies in the humanities. In 1968, he recruited the College of Arts and Sciences' first African-American faculty members, Dr. Henry Bullock and Dr. George Washington, and instituted the university's first women's studies course, "The Intellectual Woman in America," taught by Prof. Susan Conrad. In 1969, he instituted a course in Hispanic-American studies taught by Prof. Raymund Paredes, now Commissioner of Higher Education in the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. He continued his vocal advocacy for minority recruiting until shortly before his retirement from the university. As an educator, Bill Goetzmann chaired more than 60 doctoral committees and taught 83 different undergraduate and graduate courses over the course of his career. He held the Jack S. Blanton Sr. Professorship in History and American Studies at the University of Texas until his retirement 2005.

The son of Viola and Harry Goetzmann, Bill Goetzmann was born in Washington, D.C., in 1930 and passed away in his home in Austin, Texas. An only child, he is survived by his wife Mewes Goetzmann, three children: William N. Goetzmann, professor of finance at Yale School of Management; Anne Goetzmann Kelley, co-executive director and founder of the Austin School of Film; and Stephen R. Goetzmann, an attorney in Dallas; and five grandchildren, Brooks Kelley, Jr., of Austin, Texas, Zoe Goetzmann of New Haven, and Griffin Goetzmann, Sophie Goetzmann, and Wells Goetzmann of Dallas. 

The Austin American-Statesman 8 September 2010 

In summer 2011, Bill's widow, Mewes, and their children, Will, Anne, and Stephen added this  monument to his grave in New Haven's Grove Street Cemetery.

Discussing Documentary; Visiting Elqui*

My dears,

Two internet postings you may want to visit.

First, the filmmaker Errol Morris and I discuss Walker Evans' documentary ethics:

Second, Irene, her daughter, Nettie, and I visit Elqui Valley with Brooke Gregory, with whom Irene and I visited it in 2007 (see*), and Angela Harnish, a U.S. "Elf" (English-language fellow) assigned to teach preparing English-teachers here in Santiago. Brooke works for the Tololo telescope (, and among Angela's wonderful pictures you'll see some of the installation and of the memorable international lunch we had with Tololo astronomers--would that we had a recording of it!

Donald Barthelme and the Death of Fiction

The attached article changed my life. I wrote it in April-May 1969 as the final paper in a graduate course on recent American literature taught by Benjamin DeMott at Yale. DeMott had mentioned Barthelme among a group a writers we weren't reading in the course but who deserved our attention. DeMott gave me an A- on the paper, adding in a note to the other teachers in American Studies that the minus was entirely deserved.

In December 1970, when the American Studies Program at the University of Texas at Austin recruited me and asked for a talk, I offered them this paper, knowing it was in much better shape than the dissertation I'd begun on documentary in the 1930s. Bill Goetzmann, the Director of American Studies, accepted a talk on Barthelme, a Texas writer, because he judged it would draw a bigger audience. "You said it would take an hour," he told me after the talk. "I thought that was too long. But it was too short!" The paper got me the job I enjoyed for the rest of my teaching career.

In the summer of 1972 or 1973, I gave a copy of the article to my friend Jane Kramer, Barthelme's fellow
New Yorker writer, and I assume she did as she said she would and passed it on to him. His fiction after this time largely drops the theme I spotlight here--and is, I find, less interesting than the fiction I discuss.

In 1975 I revised the article slightly, and my friend Jack Salzman put it in the first issue of his annual magazine,
Prospects (I:369-86). In 1992, Richard F. Patteson, put the article, probably again minimally revised, in his Critical Essays on Donald Barthelme (G.K. Hall & Co. pp. 70-84). It is the Prospects version I reprint here: