Saturday, July 5, 2008

George Washington and Zimbabwe

Reading on Independence Day the increasingly sad events from Zimbabwe, makes me, as an American, realize how lucky we are that our first president and leader of the revolution was named George Washington. Most revolutions start out with stirring rhetoric about liberty and freedom but turn into bloody caricatures.

The French Revolution started out with "The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen" which were followed by the Terror and increasingly autocratic government, until finishing up with Napoleon.

The Russian Revolution began with calls for parliamentary government and ended up with the Gulag and the Holodomor.

The Chinese Revolution began with call for land, but ended with the famine and the Cultural Revolution.

Our revolution avoided most of those horrors. True, many Tories lost their land and left for Canada, but we avoided the horrors that accompanied other earth shattering revolutions. There were no mass executions. A big reason for that lies in the character of George Washington. He could have grabbed for absolute power. He did no. Rather, after doing his duty, he laid down the honors of office and retired to his plow -- a modern day Cincinnatus. (When told Washington would return to his farm after the Revolution, George III remarked that if Washington did "he will be the greatest man in the world).

Looking at the sad spectacle of Robert Mugabe from afar, you wonder what George Washington would have done. Like Washington, Mugabe was a rebel general who did not so much win a war, but kept an army in the field long enough not to lose it. When he finally forced a settlement, he was the natural man to lead the country. But he could not give up power. And now his thirst for power has so poisoned his country that even if he manages to stay on, you have to wonder, why? There is nothing left of an economy that was once the breadbasket of Africa.

And one should compare Mugabe not just with Washington but with Nelson Mandela. Mandela is a true hero of human liberty. Yet unlike Mugabe, he did not turn South Africa into a one party state. And most important of all, Mandela did not view power as his personal birthright, but rather something entrusted him by the people of his country. And when his term ended, he gladly took that power, and handed it off.

If only Mugabe had half the character of Washington or Mandela.

1 comment:

Platypus5 said...

I am not what you would call a Libertarian, but I agree with this post. Indeed, many historians have stated that the American Revolution was "not a revolution at all" and that "that title should go to those which failed in their ideals" It is also true that men and women around the world revere the Founding Father nearly as much as us Americans do. In fact, one of the highest honors a man can recieve is to be called the "George Washington" of his nation.

That being said, though, this has become a twisted mockery in Africa. The land has been cursed with corrupt leaders. To the people there, anyone who can put food on their table and keep the warlords away is a great man, regardless of civil liberties or corruption. As a result, dictators such as those in Zimbabwe and Somolia have had the George Washington title bestowed on them. Something Washington would take as a major insult.