Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Disappeared: Part Two

From James

A couple of weeks ago I posted comments about the death of Chile's Pinochet, and I talked a little bit about "the Disappeared." I promised more on that topic from the Argentine perpsective, because it relates to my upcoming release, "When Darkness Falls," which will be published next week. I'm a man of my word, so here you go . . .

When Darkness Falls: Terrorism, “The Disappeared” . . . and Blindness
© Copyright James Grippando 2006. All rights reserved.

What should we do about terrorism? You hear that question asked every day. History provides some very bad answers. One of the worst answers ever conceived inspired me to write When Darkness Falls.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of an event that most of world knows nothing about but that should be remembered forever. At 3:30 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon in April 1977, fourteen mothers—in defiance of a ruthless military dictatorship—gathered in a plaza in Buenos Aires to demand an answer to this chilling question: What has the government done with our disappeared children?

Between 1975 and 1983, thousands of people “disappeared” in Argentina, with estimates as high as 30,000 victims. Among them were dissidents and even some left-wing terrorists. But they also included innocents—teachers, students, journalists, lawyers, intellectuals, laborers, priests, nuns, mothers, sons, fathers and daughters—whose only crime was opposition or suspected opposition to the military junta that seized power in Argentina on March 27, 1976. They were abducted from their homes, the street, or their place of work. They were blindfolded and taken to one of over 300 secret military detention centers around the country. They were stripped of their identity, beaten, and tortured by some of the most sadistic state-sponsored “interrogators” the world has ever known. Many were tortured to death by electric shock or submersion in water. Others were shot and buried in mass graves. Some were even pushed out of airplanes alive, disappearing into the ocean. Thousands were never heard from again.

At the time, Argentina was a country torn by terrorism. However, as a special commission found after the fall of the dictatorship, “[t]he armed forces responded to the terrorists’ crimes with a terrorism far worse than the one they were combating.” The government gave relatives of the disappeared no information about their loved ones. As neighbors and co-workers vanished in the night, ordinary citizens gave in to their fears and refused to ask questions. Many continued to give their government the benefit of the doubt, telling themselves that the military wouldn’t haul people away without good reason. And some just looked the other way—literally. One of the most disturbing photographs I uncovered in my research shows a young man on the sidewalk being beaten and hauled away by soldiers in broad daylight. If you look closely, you can also see a woman seated by the window inside a restaurant, just a few feet away from the military abduction. She is shielding her eyes.

So it was a few brave women marching in a plaza who became the eyes of a nation, and ultimately of the world. They continued to meet every Thursday at the same time, wearing symbolic white nappies on their heads, carrying poster-sized photographs of their missing children, and asking “Where are the Disappeared?” They came to be known as “The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo,” named for their meeting place. They found a way to bring attention to the plight of their families, and they channeled despair into action.

I hate novels that preach, and I would never write one that does. But hopefully this background will give you some understanding of how a writer gets his inspiration—and how, at least in this book, it’s no coincidence that one of the characters is blind.


  1. James, I just wanted to pass along my season`s greetings to you and yours. I just finished Last to Die, and am re-reading The Informant now. Some Xmas gifts are still on their way in the mail from other family members, and I`m hoping Got the Look will be among them. I enjoy your books, and I`ve even got my father into them now.
    - Dave.

  2. Thanks Dave! Books make great gifts . . . and if your'e careful, you can even read them before you give them. Have a happy 2007.

  3. Uh-oh, you found me out about that reading before giving stuff. I bought a lot of books this year as gifts but didn't have time to even thumb through any of them. The good news is that the bookstore was PACKED and the clerk told me that sales were up 40% from the previous year. People ARE still reading. Look forward to reading your next book, James. Re those heroic Argentine mothers: Women Rule!

  4. Powerful thematic material, James. Obviously, this is a subject that has grabbed you. Can't wait to read "When Darkness Falls."

  5. Dear James, I am new to this web site (I'm a fan of Ridley Pearson and he mentioned possibly posting here) and was interested to see your post. I read a book back in the late 80's called "Imagining Argentina" by Lawrence Thornton, and it always haunted me. I was wondering if you read it? I look forward to reading your books and your fellow writers here. Is there a book you recommend starting with? I bought "Beyond Suspicion" today and wondered if that was a good place to start.

  6. Pam, I have not read Thornton's book, but perhaps now Patty will give it to me as a gift (after reading it herself, of course)! I write each book in the series as if it were a stand alone thriller, so starting anywhere is OK. But Beyond Suspicion is a great starting point. Enjoy . . . and check out the back of the NY Times Arts section on Jan. 2.

  7. James, the book is on its way to FL. It's a great read...believe me, I know.