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The Daily Tar Heel

Foreign theories while abroad

My host dad has a penchant for conspiracy theories. Most are passed on to me at the dinner table and seem to come at just the right moment for me to nearly choke every time.

Some are pretty mundane and, to be honest, not very original. He insisted that the moon landing was faked. This little heresy can easily be attributed to an excess of History Channel and is not that shocking.

Some are just flat out ridiculous. No matter how much I tried, I could not convince him that Ronald Reagan was in fact the governor of California in 1973 and, as much as he may have wanted to, had no role in the coup d’état in Chile that year.

Some are annoying, but I can at least appreciate how powerful the illogic of 9/11 truthers is if the claim has made its way here. A sigh and, “Yes, Osama Bin Laden is a real person,” is about all I can manage to that tiresome nonsense.

One gave me pause though. I happened to walk by while he was watching a television program about the Guerra Sucia — Dirty War — perpetrated by Argentina’s own military government between 1976 and 1983. Ostensibly a crackdown of civil rights targeting leftist terrorists, thousands of Argentines — terrorists, criminals, activists and innocents — were tortured, killed and “disappeared.” This atrocity has cast a dark shadow on the country ever since: popular movements have been born, the institution of the military has been disgraced and a whole generation of Argentines has been scarred. That is why what he said next affected me more than any of his other crazy ideas.

“It wasn’t all like that,” he said, proceeding to explain to me how unstable and uncertain the country was at the time. He contends that the real number is lower, consisted almost completely of legitimate terrorists and is being manipulated by the leftist government for political gain.

I was speechless.

Somehow, hearing a lunatic world leader contend that the Holocaust did not happen does not affect me as much. As wrong and evil as that idea is, he was not there to see it himself. Not so in this case. This dirty war happened right here. He was there.

I do not think that he is an apologist for dictatorship or atrocity. I have seen him crying over this.

What this does represent, though, is when contemporary struggles trump the real story. The president exploits the past atrocities, even exaggerating the already hideous truth, for political gain. The opposition distances itself from the facts in the opposite direction, minimizing in order to save face and counter the president. The truth loses, and we have a nation full of problems now that lives 30 years in the past.

A lot of the time, people care less about solving or understanding the past than about how they can use it to get what they want today. But this is not just Argentina’s problem, and it does not just apply to nations either. On the personal level, we all have done this, characterizing people today based on what they did to us then, rather than living in the here and now. The truth gets buried in the pain.

In my book, there is room for some forgiveness in this life. And I am not just talking about on the national scale.

Kyle Olson is a columnist from The Daily Tar Heel. He is a junior international studies major from Stafford, VA. Contact him at

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