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Lincoln and His Vision
When the leadership of Malaysia, China, Singapore, Burma, Indonesia, Vietnam, [Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria,] et al speak out against democracy for their peoples, they propound racial, cultural, and economical arguments that are intelligent and make sense. But they have this in common: none of those leaders thinks of asking the disfranchised common citizen for his opinion.In the 19th century, many people favored slavery in America, citing ostensibly sound racial, economical, and religious arguments, which concluded that slavery was "good" for the black man. Abraham Lincoln readily acknowledged the sound reasoning in several of his speeches. But then he noted the fact that — for some strange reason — those who spoke in favor of slavery always happened to be the masters. They were never the slaves themselves.
Whether they concern America of yesteryear or Asia of today, whether they describe "real" slavery or another type of vassalage (although jailed dissidents Harry Wu and Wei Jingsheng would hardly agree the Chinese type is milder), Lincoln's words ring as true as ever:
"What No Man Seeks for Himself"
Father Abraham's Words Alive Today
[Letter to Foreign Affairs, February 11, 1997]
I have found that in politics there are few situations in which a Lincoln quote cannot be applied. Consider the following statement in light of your November/December 1996 (Vol 75 # 6) issue devoted to the advantages or lack thereof of democracy in other cultures, notably in Asia.
The basic conflict among human beings, the future president said in the 1850s, is and has always been
When the leadership of China, Vietnam, Singapore, Burma, Iran, Congo, [Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria,] et al speak out against democracy for their peoples, they propound racial, cultural, and economic arguments that sound intelligent and make sense. But they have this in common: none of those leaders thinks of asking the disfranchised common citizen for his opinion.
Ask the average person in China, Zaire, or the Arab countries whether, like his country's political, spiritual, and business leaders — i.e., the nomenklatura, the people in power — he also thinks that a body of personal liberties on the western model (open elections, free speech, civil rights, etc) is a thing his country and people can do without, and — provided the secret police isn't listening — the odds are that the answer would be quite different.
In the 19th century, many people favored slavery in America, citing ostensibly sound racial, economic, and religious arguments, which concluded that slavery was "good" for the black man. Lincoln readily acknowledged the sound reasoning in several of his speeches. But then he noted the fact that — for some strange reason — those who spoke in favor of black slavery always happened to be white and they somehow always were the masters. They were never the slaves themselves.
Whether they concern America of yesteryear or Asia of today, whether they describe "real" slavery or any other type of vassalage (although dissidents Harry Wu and Wei Jingsheng would hardly agree the Chinese type is milder), Lincoln's words ring as true as ever:
And in case any ambiguity remains, on another occasion (less than a month in fact before his assassination) the 16th president put it even more clearly:
In his earlier house divided speech, Lincoln predicted that America could not endure, permanently half slave and half free. It would have to, he said, become all the one or all the other. Today, that prophecy about one people in one country has expanded to envelop all of humanity on the entire planet. Let us be grateful that this has been understood from places as varied as Russia, Poland, and Romania to Sierra Leone, Ghana, and South Africa in passing by Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.
February 11, 1997 [unpublished
Let Nothing Break 'Our Bonds of Affection'The potential implosion of Canada is saddening. Its quarter-century of squabbles reminds me of the 40-year-long feud between North and South in the United States over slavery, because, in the end, neither section wanted to compromise with the other. The difference between nineteenth-century America and modern-day Canada is that the sources of conflict in the latter case appear infinitely less significant. Don't Canadians realize that the best agreement is not the one that satisfies everybody, but the one in which no one is satisfied, thereby demonstrating that each party has made a sacrifice to the other?
I would ask that Canadians, whatever their language and persuasion, consider Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural address, urging compromise by North and South:
"Let nothing break 'our bonds of affection'"
All the One Thing or All the Other
Some 130 years ago, Abraham Lincoln predicted that America could not endure permanently half slave and half free. It would have to, he said, become all the one thing or all the other. Today, that prophecy about one country has expanded to envelop the entire planet. It is to the credit of the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe that many of their leaders have come to understand this and have opted for freedom rather than the continued practice of their form of slavery.
"Collapse of Communism"
Some people have castigated NATO for being, however much indirectly, responsible for the humanitarian tragedy in Kosovo, saying that the alliance's attacks precipitated the exodus and the brutality being visited upon the Kosovar Albanians. For Slobodan Milosevic to do that is akin, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, to a murderer holding a gun to somebody's head and saying if we don't do as he says, he will shoot his hostage, and then, he warns us, we will be called the assassin. What is even more astonishing is that there are people in the West who take at face value what is nothing less than criminal blackmail.
As far as the Serbs' misinformation campaign is concerned, we should recall that during World War II, a massive effort was undertaken by the allies to provide occupied Europe with accurate news reports countering the Nazis' crude propaganda. Can't NATO do the same in the Balkans, which would include bombarding TV sets in every Yugoslav home with images of the Kosovar exodus and of weeping refugees telling of the thefts, massacres, and ethnic cleansing perpetrated upon them by Serbian troops? And while NATO is at it, couldn't they add footage from the conflict of the early 1990s, focusing on the destruction of Sarajevo and the mass graves throughout Bosnia?
Apparently, Mikhail Gorbachev thinks that "uncovering the dark spots of Soviet history" means acknowleging past "mistakes" and letting it stand at that. This is a step in the right direction, of course, but an empty-hearted one if it only involves talk. It must also be necessary to make amends. In the case of the 1940 Katyn Forest massacre, it is not sufficient that the Soviet Union admit responsibility for the slaughter of Polish officers, it must also, at the very least, pay reparations to the victims' families. As far as the annexation of the Baltic republics is concerned, admitting the illegality of the 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov pact is not enough, it must also take the next logical step and let the Baltics recover their prewar independence.
Mr. Gorbachev has warned that unless he, i.e., the Kremlin, takes drastic measures, nationalistic-minded individuals will cause a major internal conflict. President Gorbachev, it is in your hands and not in those of your dissatisfied countrymen that lies the momentous issue of civil war. You can have no conflict without being yourself the aggressor. The people will not assail you. They only wish to be left in peace. They are but men and women who have faith that might makes right; who believe that what is decided by the ballot should not be reversed by the sword; and who fervently hope that the peoples in the U.S.S.R. shall have a new birth of freedom.