‘Silence Is Health’: How Totalitarianism Arrives

One day, in 1974, I found myself frozen in my steps. On the broad 9 de Julio Avenue that divides Buenos Aires rises a tall white obelisk that is the city’s most conspicuous landmark. In those days, a revolving billboard had been suspended around it: inscribed upon it in large blue letters on a white background was the slogan “Silence Is Health.” Two years later, the slogan made a macabre reappearance. In the basement of the military dictatorship’s death camp based at the Navy School of Mechanics, where some five thousand people were exterminated, officers hung two banners along the corridor that opened onto its torture cells. One read “Avenue of Happiness,” the other “Silence Is Health.”

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