Above all, we must realize that no arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today's world do not have.
-- Ronald Reagan
Thursday, June 19, 2003
Sowell on Hoffer part II
The whole thing is worth reading.
Wednesday, June 18, 2003
Sowell on Hoffer
What Hoffer was describing was the political busybody, the zealot for a cause -- the "true believer," who filled the ranks of ideological movements that created the totalitarian tyrannies of the 20th century.
In a comment very relevant to the later disintegration of the Soviet bloc in Eastern Europe and the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union itself, he observed that totalitarian governments' "moment of greatest danger is when they begin to reform, that is to say, when they begin to show liberal tendencies."
Mikhail Gorbachev's place in history was secured by his failure to understand that and his willingness to believe that a decent and humane Communist society was possible. But, once the people in Eastern Europe no longer had to fear tanks or the gulags, the statues of Lenin and Stalin began being toppled from their pedestals, like the governments they represented.
Contrary to the prevailing assumptions of his time, Eric Hoffer did not believe that revolutionary movements were based on the sufferings of the downtrodden. "Where people toil from sunrise to sunset for a bare living, they nurse no grievances and dream no dreams," he said. He had spent years living among such people and being one of them.
Hoffer's insights may help explain something that many of us have found very puzzling -- the offspring of wealthy families spending their lives and their inherited money backing radical movements. He said: "Unlimited opportunities can be as potent a cause of frustration as a paucity or lack of opportunities."
What can people with inherited fortunes do that is at all commensurate with their unlimited opportunities, much less what their parents or grandparents did to create the fortune in the first place, starting from far fewer opportunities?
Like the frustrated artists and failed intellectuals who turn to mass movements for fulfillment, rich heirs cannot win the game of comparison of individual achievements. So they must change the game. As zealots for radical movements, they often attack the very things that made their own good fortune possible, as well as undermining the freedom and well-being of other people.
Speaking of Belgium, you may have read, and been sickened by, reports of slaughter in Congo. A French-led EU force is supposed to be preventing the murder there. In the Daily Telegraph, Adrian Blomfield wrote of a Congolese — Dieu Donne — who was to be executed along with his family and friends:
"They wanted to shoot us but were afraid they would be heard," Dieu Donne said. "They said, 'We are not going to waste our blitz on people without value like you. We are going to kill you with knives.'" The six were then forced to a former Ugandan army trench just outside the camp . . . and ordered to lie head-to-toe.
"There were other bodies in the hole covered with a little soil," he said. "We saw their feet sticking out." Dieu Donne was last in line, lying face down in the dirt. "There were ten soldiers. They took their bayonets and stabbed my father in every part of his body," he said. "Then they moved on to my neighbor, then the two boys, and then my friend."
As they went down the line, they mocked the prisoners, all members of the Bira tribe, until now not directly involved in Bunia's bloody war. "They were shouting, 'Call the French, tell them to set you free,'" he said.
So, "when they got to Dieu Donne, they stabbed him through his chin, throat, hands, chest, and torso, and he lost consciousness. But while the soldiers were away finding clothes to cover the bodies, he came to and managed to crawl into the nearby bushes, then fled."
Friends, I have no comment to make. I just think, I suppose, that this kind of thing ought to be known.
Tuesday, June 17, 2003
The NYT has an article on newly-released prisoners from Gitmo who are upset about the conditions there.
According to accounts in the last three months from some of the 32 Afghans and three Pakistanis in the weeks since their release, it was above all the uncertainty of their fate, combined with confinement in very small cells, sometimes only with Arabic speakers, that caused inmates to attempt suicide. One Pakistani interviewed this month said he tried to kill himself four times in 18 months.
An Afghan prisoner who spent 14 months at the camp, at the American naval base at Guantánamo, described in April what he called the uncertainty and fear. "Some were saying this is a prison for 150 years," said Suleiman Shah, 30, a former Taliban fighter from Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan.
This "uncertainity and fear" is the major complaint, along with confinement. It's repeated again and again:
"But it was the uncertainty and fear that they would be there forever that drove many of them to despair, prisoners said."
Jamie Fellner, director of the United States program for Human Rights Watch, said in an interview ... "These conditions of confinement by themselves over a prolonged period are enormously psychologically stressful," she said. "Added to that is the uncertainty as to the future."
So, here's my question. What the hell kind of certainty about the future did these guys have over in the caves of Afghanistan? What they had was religious zeal, not economic security, not promises of good health in their old age, and certainly not a secure food supply. They did have purpose
though, praying every day for Allah to smite the infidels and make Islam supreme. Well I'm glad we ripped away the false hopes they had, to be honest. I'm glad they saw that they were powerless and impotent. Welcome to planet Earth.
And at least when they go home, they can tell their friends and family that the great hope of the Islamic revolution, the sense of glorious purpose in the service of Allah's will, leads to a small cage in the hot sun.