O.k. I think what obscured the intent of the OP's conversation was the the example used to kick it off. Military organizations are a whole different social animal, for better or worse.
Let's set aside the issues of military, and deal with the issue of class systems in Chile.
First, the class issue in Chile is pretty much the same as any other country in Latin America. We can likely squarely blame Spain for that cultural gift. So that is where it came from. Essentially European culture is to blame for starting it, and Europe is still struggling with it on all kinds of levels. The U.S., for all the movie propaganda pushed, also has it its class system of that top 1% or so, just more cut down economic lines now than family name. Still it is there. However you define it, it is safe to say it is at least the group in any society with a disproportionate influence over the society relative to their numbers (regardless if it is driven by name or money ).
The difference is in Chile and much of Latin America the "French revolutions" only occurred recently, are still underway, and sometimes have not occurred at all. Why it continues in Chile, is perhaps particular to Chile, but the middle class is really less than about 40 years old in Chile. It is still not defined by money for the most part. There are many very wealthy, but still considered lower class in Chile. They are the "new rich" of Chile.
What foreigners fail to often grasp is that in Chile this class system has been perpetuated not only by the "elite" but by the new rich. There is class mobility, there just is not the blurring of classes as you might find in other countries. Those are the Chileans that have rose above their station through education or simply bought their way in one form or another (e.g. political success, economic success, even marriage). Chile has a very big middle class, that once they do make it, are many times far more brutal in their discrimination against the "lower" classes in an attempt to emulate the "upper" classes. They are generally more inclined to reinforce the class distinctions, than somehow try to mix and blend them in to a new class.
The lower classes have also embedded for whatever reason a sense of social right or class warfare that reinforces that class system , and I would tend to blame the political left for exploiting that unrest. Generally, those that represent the left politically, are not from the lower classes. They are themselves from the elite, just perhaps their middle to lower ranks have certain mix from the lower classes. So, for many reasons the lower classes are enforcing these cultural folkways and moras in Chile, regarding the mixing of the classes.
The image that sticks in my mind is the news clip of the father and son on the streets of Concepcion after the earthquake stopping to talk to a reporter as they exit a store they had just looted. They were both smiling and happy like it was a family outing, and there was nothing wrong with the idea that they were steeling or that the father teaching his son it was o.k. It was his right to steel from the rich, and he was passing that on to his son with a smile.
I was talking to a friend before the election about why he was voting Pinera (even though he does not like the Right in Chile) and that comes from a family that tended to vote left, and he blatantly said, "I am tired of being blamed by the media and the left for every little problem in the country simply because I have money".
That is why the left lost the last election. They cannibalized their young. That is, they raised people from the lower classes and created a new middle to upper class, then vilinized them with the traditional right elite in order gain votes from the lower classes. Unfortunately for them, they lost long-standing supporters that tipped the scale just sufficiently to loose the government.
Here is another illustration of this class conflicts and lack of willingness on all sides to really end it, comes from little Frutillar where we live. In fact on the 28th I literally have tickets for front row seats to this local class conflict at its best and worse, and I will explain in a moment.
Frutillar has been divided for generations between Frutillar Alto (upper) and Frutillar Bajo (lower). The first thing out of many peoples mouth when you meet them is they ask if you live in alto or bajo. Frutillar was first settled by Germans around 150 years ago. The German families occupied the best land on the lake front, that is now referred to as Frutillar Bajo. Later, when the train came through, another almost separate community of Chileans was built up around the train tracks on the hill, that we refer to as Alto. They were workers that came with the train at first, and now the community is built around the highway as it replaced the train. That community of lower class Chileans earns much of its income on the old and new money that now owns the tourism businesses, the retirement and vacation homes, and so on in Frutillar Bajo. They are symbiotic communities.
Over the years, the distinction has become much more formalized. For example, the city has very carefully blocked the construction of low income housing in frutillar bajo, as the political idiots in Santiago seem to think it is a good idea to drop tin shacked box houses in to the middle of tourism sites across southern Chile in attempts to win a few votes at the polls. Many, many, otherwise perfect little tourism towns, have had their tourism industry ruined by such lack of planning or even caring from Santiago. On the local radio you will hear public service messages saying things like do not discriminate against children for their economic class, and so on. In Frutillar, it is very out in the open and discussed. It is not something simmering under the surface that is whispered about.
Well, recently they finished the theater del lago on the lake. It is a privately funded international concert hall project. (more here: http://www.allsouthernchile.com/frutill ... chile.html
) The theater has made some efforts to reach out to the community, both alto and bajo. That includes offering many performances at affordable prices of say 1,000 pesos, having community performances, and so on. Even the more expensive international performances tend to start at around 5,000 pesos a ticket. expensive for someone that makes 10,000 pesos a day, but not impossible.
Recently my wife was talking to someone in Frutillar alto about why people did not get more involved with the theater or take advantage of the opportunity of having such a venue in the town, the response was "it was for the rich people, and they did not want anything to do with it". So rather than grasp the opportunity to better themselves with art and music, they would rather boycott the theater. That is not the whole story.
Now on the 28th of December there is a concert scheduled at the theater that is the kids in the music program from Frutillar alto. It is suppose to be really good from what people have told me about last years performance. It is the annual holiday concert, in which all the parents and families get dressed up, relatives from the campo come in for the event. This will be our first time attending, and I am curious about how this very split town, recombines for such an event ( I'll report back).
So, the kids program will be held in the theater, but it was not deemed sufficiently important to hold in the main hall. Granted the place it will be held will be spectacular, it is the smaller concert hall inside the theater that looks outside and over the lake. The reasons why they are not being given use of the grand hall for this is not clear, but those involved want to get them in there for next year. Suspicion is that the class system has come in to play in terms of what and who is viewed as "worthy" of performing in the main hall.
Now I am not defending the class system in any way, I am just trying to describe it. What foreigners need to understand is that they are not going to change it. In fact you are in another class all together. You are neither here nor there, and for the most part have the mobility to move between them with in certain limitations. Just do not expect the same of native Chileans born in to them, to view the class system the way you do. It might seem easy from a distance for people to do something about it, but you must remember they are looking at it from the inside out (same with your own culture in many things also).
I have seen foreigner after foreigner get themselves in big trouble, trying to some how inject their foreign sense of social justice in to personal and business relationships, and get their hand bit off in Chile. For example, the most common case is the foreigners trying to take employees and make them best friends. Guess what happens? The employee from the lower class more times than naught will read that as a sign of stupidity and weakness, and take full advantage of the dumb Gringo. The Gringo goes walking away thinking all Chileans are thieves or dishonest. Most of the time that is not so much the case, as they put gas on an old social fire and did not realize that the stove was hot before touching it. Employees and workers from the lower social classes have certain expectations, and very different life experiences, and most of the time unless a foreigner has been here for many, many, years will not be able to judge those motivations correctly. My advice has been and still is, to all foreigners, is stay the hell out of it. By a fluke of where you were born, you lack the cultural experience to play in that cultural pond. Not to say you can not, just it will take a long time and you will be surprised years later about how little you understand it, even when you think you do. In any case, you are not going to fix it or change it.