Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela, Ataturk, and Mahatma Gandhi

Nelson Mandala’s mortal life ended earlier today, but his legacy is immortal. The world is pouring out its tributes for the loss of this great man. Let me look at his life from a different perspective. I love history. I love reading about great peoples and great leaders. The Twentieth Century certainly presented a long list of great leaders and tragic figures: Presidents, Prime Ministers, Kings, Queens, Sultans, and dictators. The United States alone can claim two Roosevelts, Johnson, and Reagan, England has the British American bulldog, Winston Churchill, and Margaret Thatcher. France claims Charles DeGaulle. China had Sun Yat-sen and Deng Xiaoping. The brutality of Ho Chi Ming, Chairman Mao, Stalin, and Hitler drown out their leadership. The three I would be most interested in having spent time with are Mandela, Ataturk, and Gandhi. All three led their people or nations to freedom or independence. None sought to use their powers to empower themselves as dictators. Gandhi and Mandela were both lawyers, and men of peace, whereas Ataturk was a man of war who turned to peace. All three brought democracy to their people. Mandela freed his people; Gandhi liberated his country; Ataturk gave his people a country. Mustafa Kemal was a career officer in the Ottoman armies, perhaps its greatest general. He became famous to the Turkish people by defeating the British, AnZac and French forces at Gallipoli. His military victories though could not save the Ottoman Empire from a crushing defeat in World War I. The Allies attempted not only to dismember the Ottoman Empire, but also to occupy and split up Turkey. Ataturk’s victories continued as the Turkish people in their heartland of Anatolia won the Turkish War of Independence. Mustafa became Ataturk, “The father of the Turks.” The man of war became a man of peace. A new secular Republic of Turkey was established. The Ottomans were expelled and the Caliphate abolished without the brutalities and terror of the French and Russian revolutions. His goal was to modernize, westernize, and secularize Turkey. Sharia law was abandoned while a western legal system adopted. Women were given rights unknown in much of the Mideast. The national jewel of the Hagia Sophia, the great Christian Church converted into a mosque, was turned into a museum. The history of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires is one of continuous warfare and shifting borders. Ataturk sought peace with Turkey's neighbors - once part of the Ottoman Empire. He sought peace with the West. Most of all, Ataturk wanted a country with defined borders for his people. His new Turkey eschewed ambitions to conquer neighboring lands. His legacy has continued to these days. Turkey and Israel are islands of stability and prosperity in the otherwise tumultuous Mideast. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi experienced discrimination as an attorney for 21 years in South Africa. He realized that military force could not defeat the British Empire, but a campaign of non-violence might. He led the Indian people to Independence, but foreclosed any political role in governing the country. That fell to Nehru. Sadly Gandhi could not prevent the bloody partition of India, but India has emerged as a vibrant Democracy. India, Pakistan, and Turkey have all had female leaders, an anomaly in that part of the world. Nelson Mandel spent 27 years in prison under harsh conditions for his opposition to Apartheid. His release in 1990 did not unleash a crusade of violence against the whites, but instead the creation of a black, duly elected government, which respected the rights of the whites. He emerged a man of peace. Lesser men would have sought vengeance. The transition was achieved through peace and not armed combat. As the first President of the new South Africa, he established a series of truth commissions, under which those had committed crimes, including vicious outrageous crimes, against the blacks would be forgiven if they fully confessed their wrongs. Truth commissions, not firing squads, awaited the former oppressors. Mandela’s legacy in South Africa should be compared to that of most of the post-colonial governments in Africa, characterized by corruption, genocide and dictatorships. A common, but all too uncommon in much of the world today including the United States, quality of these three great leaders is that they cared about the well being of their people. I would have wanted to know what made these leaders rise to greatness. How and where did they find their higher calling to improve the condition of their people? Others had the opportunity, but seized the spoils of victory.

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