Originally published 05/28/2013
Federico Finchelstein is associate professor of history and director of the Janey Program in Latin American Studies at the New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College in New York. He is the author of the forthcoming “The Ideological Origins of the Dirty War.” Jorge Rafael Videla, leader of Argentina’s dictatorial junta from 1976 to 1981, died in prison on May 17, but his historical legacy is far from settled.Although in his day he was lionized by some Cold War warriors as a savior of his nation, his crimes are no longer in question, and many young Argentines who never lived under his murderous grip regard him as a symbol of evil. The debate that persists is whether he in fact waged a “dirty war,” implying two sides, or whether, as many professional historians agree, he simply unleashed state-sponsored terrorism.Under the junta’s rule, even a five-year-old knew his name. That was my case: As far as I can remember, I never heard political discussions in the middle-class Argentine Jewish home in which I was raised, but I knew who he was....