BARCELONA -- The fateful Sept. 11, 2001, was a holiday in the Catalan capital. News about the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington spread like gunpowder through the city. Since then, it became a double commemoration because the date coincides with the national day of Catalonia.
However, Catalans must be one of the few people on earth who have elected as a national holiday not a glorious independence or successful revolutionary date -- such as the Fourth or the 14th of July in the United States and France. By a strange, tragic sense of life, or a masochistic inclination, Catalans commemorate instead the loss of minimal home-rule liberties enjoyed until Sept. 11, 1714, when the troops of Philip V entered Barcelona.
With this bloody ending to the War of Secession, Catalans were punished for siding with the claimer, Archduke Charles. A regimentalist French Bourbon regime was imposed, autonomy was terminated, and a ban on the use of the Catalan language was imposed.
Far from Barcelona and Manhattan, at the end of South America, Sept. 11 also shows tragic connotations. Thirty years ago, a bloody coup in Chile, staged by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, terminated the Socialist experiment implemented by President Salvador Allende, imposing one of the harshest dictatorships that Latin Americans have endured.
Thousands of dead, missing, tortured and exiled were the result of a sorry regime guaranteed by the U.S. global strategy of containment of the Marxist threat, by which any means justified the end. By virtue of what later became known as the (Jeane) Kirkpatrick Doctrine (named for its author, President Reagan's U.N. ambassador), a distinction was made between totalitarian regimes (unrecoverable for democracy) and authoritarian (still useful, and therefore worthy of courting). At stake was the Cuban model, not to be repeated at any price.
In any event, by supporting Southern Cone and Central American dictatorships, while Middle East medieval monarchies were tolerated, the United States was progressively losing the little political innocence still left after Vietnam. The victory in the Cold War, however, in a way cleansed the past abuses. Vanished the Soviet Union, the United States languished in taking a long nap at ''the end of history,'' satisfied from the triumph of a global liberalism, with no challenges or threats in sight. On Sept. 11, 2001, America woke up all of a sudden, as Chileans did in 1973.
BARCELONA AND CHILE
The three Sept. 11s have, despite their time and space differences, striking similarities. The three cases share an extreme intolerance for others and a messianic sense of a starring role.
• In Barcelona in 1714, the Bourbon regime considered its Cartesian French system of erasing ''regions'' and old kingdoms and replacing them with ''provinces'' to be perfect and practical.
• In Chile in 1973, Pinochet and the interests backing him were convinced of the goodness of their actions to impose their goals.
• In New York and Washington, D.C., terrorists were impelled by a sacrilegious mission against whom they consider the enemy. They acted at any cost, including their own lives, believed to be of insignificant value compared with eternal glory.
In the first two cases, culprits received opposite results to the ones expected.
In Catalonia, the centralizing experiment was systematically implemented by Generalissimo Francisco Franco, but he only accomplished harvesting the stubborn survival of the language and a continuing demand for political autonomy.
In Chile, the recovery of democracy was obtained thanks to great effort by the opposition and hard lessons for the military not to repeat the abuses. The result has been one of the most solid democracies on the continent.
FEARFUL OF U.S. POWER
Paradoxically, the firm reaction of the political and social system of the United States, sustained by international solidarity that initially was unconditional (''We are all Americans,'' said France's Le Monde), has been followed by erratic, contradictory and confusing leadership in the White House. World public opinion is currently divided, confused, irritated and fearful of the actions coming from the only superpower.
In most other countries, the United States is now perceived as irresponsible and incapable of solidifying peaceful conditions after winning a war.
Joaquín Roy is Jean Monnet professor and director of the European Union Center at the University of Miami.
Copyright 1996-2003 Knight Ridder.