"Dictatorships poison everything in their grasp, from political institutions right down to relationships between fathers and sons," a WSJ reporter notes re the I-was-there message of Peruvian dissident Mario Vargas Llosa. Above, Goomp's keeping-room table in the early-morning light on Father's Day.
"The woman is almost always the first victim of a dictatorship," novelist Mario Vargas Llosa told WSJ's Emily Parker when she visited his home in Lima recently [subscription only]:
Mr. Vargas Llosa discovered that this phenomenon was hardly limited to Latin America. "I went to Iraq after the invasion," he tells me. "When I heard stories about the sons of Saddam Hussein, it seemed like I was in the Dominican Republic, hearing stories about the sons of Trujillo! That women would be taken from the street, put in automobiles and simply presented like objects . . . The phenomenon was very similar, even with such different cultures and religions." He concludes: "Brutality takes the same form in dictatorial regimes."
"Did this mean that Mr. Vargas Llosa supported the invasion of Iraq?" Parker wondered:
"I was against it at the beginning," he says. But then he went to Iraq and heard accounts of life under Saddam Hussein. "Because there has been so much opposition to the war, already one forgets that this was one of the most monstrous dictatorships that humanity has ever seen, comparable to that of Hitler, or Stalin." He changed his mind about the invasion: "Iraq is better without Saddam Hussein than with Saddam Hussein. Without a doubt."
There's nothing like having lived under the jackboot to keep things in perspective:
"This is a story that often repeated itself," Mario Vargas Llosa says. "If a father was a businessman, he was a man who had to be complicit with the dictatorship. It was the only way to prosper, right? And what happens is that the son discovers it, the son is young, restless, idealistic, believes in justice and liberty, and he finds out that his vile father is serving a dictatorship that assassinates, incarcerates, censors and is corrupted to the bone."
Mr. Vargas Llosa could have plucked this scenario from his personal recollections of living under dictatorial rule in Peru. But he tells this story to make a more universal point: Dictatorships poison everything in their grasp, from political institutions right down to relationships between fathers and sons.
Father's Day sunrise looking out over the mouth of the river down Goomp's last weekend.
Vargas Llosa himself believes "that literature has the important effect of creating free, independent, critical citizens who cannot be manipulated":
If you live in a country where there is nothing comparable to free information, often literature becomes the only way to be more or less informed about what's going on.
Unfortunately, it doesn't always work so well in jackboot-free nations like our own, where the careless assumption of freedom as a given leaves a comfortable, intellectually lazy citizenry all too ripe for manipulation.