Today is a day of remembrance. It’s the 72nd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. While this is an important day from our history, I’ve decided to write about man who greatly changed the course of history.
Nelson Mandela, an amazing leader and history changer, has died, and we take the time to reflect on what he did and what perhaps we could learn from his life. There are many obvious lessons — a smart leader learns and changes with the times as he did going from radical to rational, from proposing violence to bringing all sides together to create a new country without massive blood shed when the first black president was elected. He certainly had some help, as he himself has said, in making the transition from political prisoner to President to an icon. But he is mostly responsible for his transformative leadership.
America technically always was anti-apartheid, but as history shows us, America was not very active in supporting Mandela throughout his imprisonment. There was great fear that he was a Marxist, and if he was released and led his nation, South Africa would end up in the Soviet column. The U.S. was totally concerned with the Cold War and it took until the gradual cracking of the Soviet sphere that the U.S. started moving toward black rule in South Africa. Is there a lesson we should learn?
The U.S. has “led from behind” throughout the changes that have been taking place in the Arab world. There has been great fear that if we supported the new movements, that part of the world would fall into the wrong hands. I fear that the result in the Middle East will not be as wonderful as that of South Africa. Does anyone see a compromise civilian government appearing in Egypt? Syria? Lebanon, Jordan, and Saudi are all nervous about the spillover from the jihadists that are now flooding Syria. We didn’t help the moderates in Egypt who started the revolution this time. We have not helped the Syrian opposition who have been fighting a government that commits murder on a daily basis.
Perhaps if we had supported seriously — not with guns and ammunition — but politically earlier, the transition might have happened earlier? Who knows but by the U.S. staying at a distance, we certainly didn’t help the democratic process and eventually it happened anyway. Mandela did not lead South Africa down a Marxist path. Perhaps we can learn from this experience that the U.S. cannot stop the forward movement of any nation, and, perhaps, by helping like-minded groups and individuals who are willing to risk their own lives in their home countries, we can help the world move forward more rationally and with less violence. We certainly haven’t tried that approach recently. We’ve just buried our heads in the sand or hidden behind international organizations that have rarely proven to be effective.
Another lesson that Nelson Mandela can teach us is right here at home. He managed to hide the pain and bitterness that his biographers say he had, and instead presented a face to the world in order to get his countrymen working with each other to help their country move forward. Do you think Democrats and Republicans, the President and Congress, might learn this lesson now? We actually have fewer problems in America than Mandela faced in his country. I can but hope that as we all remember the life of Mandela, we try to learn from him and apply the lessons each day of our lives.