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Remember when the unions could take on a dictator? These three do...

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11.11.2018

On only one occasion did I feel moved to apply a censor’s red pen through a line of copy by another writer for political reasons. It happened around 20 years ago when I held an executive position at a national newspaper. Our resident rightwing commentator, probably the brightest of them all, had chosen to open his column with this punchy, three-word salutation: “Viva General Pinochet”.

The following is a rough approximation of the short and indecorous conversation that unfolded between us.

“Viva General Pinochet? Viva General fuckin’ Pinochet? I’ll give you General fuckin’ Pinochet somewhere painful.” (It should be said here that I enjoyed an otherwise convivial working relationship with this gent, one that included drinking sessions.)

“He brought stability to Chile and halted the communist tide that would have plunged the country into chaos.”

“He dropped political opponents out of helicopters from great heights into rivers.”

“That’s where some of the blighters deserved to be.”

“That’s where you’ll soon be. That line’s coming out.”

This wasn’t an act of retrospective defiance by me in solidarity with the tens of thousands of Chileans who were tortured, murdered and oppressed by Augusto Pinochet’s evil military regime between 1973 and 1990. The line “Viva General Pinochet” simply undermined an otherwise well-argued column analysing why Margaret Thatcher felt she had a duty to defend the dictator when he was arrested on British soil in 1998. It was a cartoon slogan, I........

© The Guardian