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In Chilean history, saber noise or saber rattling (Spanish: ruido de sables) was an incident that took place on September 3, 1924, when a group of young military officers protested against the political class and the postponement of social measures by rattling the scabbards (chapes) of their sabers against the floor.
The term is now applied generally to cover any indication of military aggressiveness. In a sense, strategically timed military exercises can serve as an explicit form of saber rattling, in that the extent of a country's military muscle is put up on display for other countries (namely, adversaries) to see.
In 1924, Chile was in the throes of an economic and political crisis. The economy, heavily dependent on the export of nitrates, was suffering the effects of the discovery of artificial nitrates during World War I. At the same time, Chile was politically paralyzed by a conflict between President Arturo Alessandri and the conservatively controlled congress, who refused to discuss any of the drafts that he sent them.
On February 1, 1924, the political parties signed an agreement to change the parliamentary procedures in order to limit the censure votes (a procedure used to force cabinet ministers to resign), to allow the closure of debates by simple majority and in general to eliminate all dilatory tactics, especially those dealing with the national budget. As an additional measure, they agreed to create a parliamentary stipend (30.000 pesos for the senators, 15.000 pesos for the deputies). This program was received with public outcry, mainly because it was the only law that had been produced by the governing coalition while the social measures prepared by President Alessandri had been postponed time and again. In the Army, the news was especially bitter since they had been waiting for a salary increase for a long time.
On September 3, 1924, a group of 56 young military officers (mostly lieutenants and sub-lieutenants coming from middle classes or working classes), led by Colonel Marmaduke Grove and Major Carlos Ibáñez del Campo, attended the session where the congressional salary discussion was to take place. They quietly sat in the public tribunes, and waited for the topic to be broached. At that point the president of the chamber, feeling intimidated, demanded that the public be cleared, as the discussion was to be secret. As the officers silently started to leave, they began to rattle the scabbards (chapes) of the sabers they wore as part of their dress uniform against the floor, as a way to indicate their discontent with the political class in general, and in sign of support to Alessandri's social agenda.
This event was the culmination of a process that marked the increasing desire by the military corps of a more active participation in Chilean politics. Since the 1891 Chilean Civil War, the military had been excluded although they were very dependent from all political groups for their advancement. It is also one of the events that mark the end of the so-called "Parliamentary Republic" (1891-1925), also known as the "pseudo-parliamentary period" because the executive was subject to the legislative but checks and balances of executive over legislative were weakened.
The very next day the same group of young military officers involved led by Colonel Marmaduke Grove and Major Carlos Ibáñez del Campo, created a "military committee" to defend themselves from possible punishments by the government. On September 5, the "military committee" demanded that President Arturo Alessandri dismiss three of his ministers, including the minister of War and Navy Gaspar Mora; the enactment of a labor code, the passage of an income tax law, and the improvement of the military salaries.
Faced with almost open military insurrection, Alessandri had no option but to appoint General Luis Altamirano, the Army Inspector General (Chief of the Army), as head of a new cabinet. On September 8, General Altamirano appeared in front of Congress to demand the passage of eight laws, including Alessandri's labor code. Congress dared not to protest, and the laws, which had been languishing for years, were passed in a matter of hours. These included the Eight-hour day, suppression of child labour, clear rules for collective bargaining, legislation on occupational safety, legalization of trade unions, a law on cooperatives and the creation of courts of conciliation and labour arbitrage.
At that point Alessandri felt that he had become just a pawn of the military, and, on September 9, he resigned and requested asylum at the US Embassy. Congress refused to accept his resignation, and instead granted him a six-months constitutional leave of absence. He left the country immediately for Italy. General Altamirano assumed power as Vice President, and on the 11th, a military Junta was established to rule the country on the absence of the titular president, Alessandri.