The Challenges For Democracy
Article 3: Ensure the safety of all people
A message of peace? You decide.
Copyright © 2004 Dorian Scott Cole
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To see word meanings or definitions, hold cursor over words in blue text . The primary reference used for word meanings is the WordNet lexical database, developed by the Cognitive Science Laboratory at Princeton University. WordNet 2.0 Copyright © 2003 by Princeton University. All rights reserved. Other definition sources are identified. Bracketed "" meanings are my own descriptions of word meanings.
Will there ever be a war to end all wars, as those who endured WWII hoped? I hate every aspect of war. God save us. Even the US military tries to do everything possible to advise Presidents not to go to war. Using the military to ensure the peace is one thing - going to war is another. War mires people in horrible suffering and conflict for years. Nearly any action is preferable to war. Is war ever justified?
Ensuring the peace is one of the biggest challenges that democracy faces. But we know that actions like
sanctions can hurt the people of a country more than those actions influence the leader of that country. As a world, we have not yet developed enough effective ways to prevent the slaughter of innocent people by ruthless leaders. We should try harder.
The good news is that with few exceptions, such as Saddam Hussein, since WWII nations have resisted attacking each other, and those who did, have been quickly put in their place, such as the Argentine attack over the Falklands. Even
ideological movements that encouraged internal revolution (toward Communist governments) have largely died down as Communism has been discredited as a panacea, or even as a viable method of government.
The bad news is that there remain considerable justifiably discontented people in many countries where conditions breed the now favored method of revolution, terrorist actions. Leaders are another problem. Leaders like Hitler (such as Saddam Hussein) continue to rise and kill their own people. The excuse given by these leaders typically draws on historical conflict and controlling the opposition, yet there is little excuse for keeping the hatred and conflict going, rather than working toward peace.
As the entire world rushes toward capitalist change, often leaving job destruction and economic inequality in its wake, even in economic strongholds like the US, the discontent spreads. There seems always to be forces that plunge people and governments into problems and conflict.
It seems like the easiest solution to just to pick up a club and start swinging at those who seem to be a problem. But that is the mark of
civilizations. How can barbarian actions be stopped? Typically not with war.
Civilized countries rightly have strong
aversions. to war as a remedy to problems; and many countries, such as European countries, have strongly held, historically based doctrines about not interfering in the affairs of other nations, especially in a military capacity... not to mention that most of them have suffered immensely from the horrors of many wars, and can't stomach any more of it.
Who would be for war?
When countries find themselves at war, they often expect greater support from those in the public eye than what they get. Rather than embracing war, idealists, intellectuals, the news media, and religious leaders,
eschew war. Their position is sometimes difficult to understand - it's as if they somehow don't support their own nations when embroiled in a war.
Although I attempt to be knowledgeable about all of these groups, I speak for none of them. This is a
commentary site about writing and the human condition. My adopted role is to explore issues in some depth so that we understand better what we write about, typically without taking a position. But when a position seems clear and prudent, I take one. Many in the news media do have positions, often supporting the war in Iraq, but try to remain objective in their reporting.
Umberto Eco had a keen insight on this, saying of intellectuals that:
"...the intellectual function... consists of identifying critically what one considers a satisfactory approximation of one's own concept of truth... it may be betrayed by writers who react emotionally to events, without subjecting themselves to the purification of thought.
"...intellectuals must not 'play the piper to revolution.' Not in order to shirk the responsibility of a choice (which they can make as individuals), but because the moment of action requires the elimination of nuances and ambiguities (and this is the irreplaceable function of the 'decision maker' in every institution), whereas the intellectual function lies in delving for ambiguities and bringing them to light."*1
I strongly support the role of the idealists, intellectuals, the news media, and religious leaders, in refraining from asserting their biases in their statements or coverage, or making decisions through
advocacy. They must hold fast to their
truths and their roles. Their role must be to point out the
ambiguities in our actions so that they safeguard our honesty. When only
passions rule, the result is
quagmires like the historical conflicts all over the world whose smoldering embers are so deep that even the entire world can't smother them out.
No one wants war. Everyone wants to live in safety, especially the people of every nation. The people in Northern Ireland want to live in safety, and finally the battles between Catholics and Protestants seem to be easing. The people in Israel and Palestine want to live in safety, and perhaps at this hour there is a chance. The people in Darfur want to live in safety, and they plead with the nations of the world to protect them from their own government.
Everyone responds differently to the threat of war. The people in Spain want to live in safety, so in response to a terrorist attack they voted out a President who gave support to the war in Iraq... and the people of Spain were recently attacked again by a Basque separatist group (ETA) which wants independence from Spain. The people in the US want to live in safety, and in response to a terrorist attack that destroyed the World Trade Center, they fortified all of their defenses and took the war against terrorists to the terrorists.
In the face of insurgent attacks, the people in Iraq turn to the US and ask, "Where is our safety?" The streets are not safe. They are not safe in their homes. Insurgents seemingly strike at will anywhere in the country, even in the middle of a US military base. There seemed to be no safety with Saddam in power, and now no safety anywhere with the terrorists exercising their power.
It is easy to pick up a club, or a grenade launcher, or a nuclear weapon and strike at those who frustrate you. It is easy to bow to terrorists and hope they go away. Either choice, it is not easy to endure the misery that leaders like Saddam Hussein, and the terrorists, bring to your door. The Pope and many others feared that US involvement in Iraq would stir up a mess of insurgent attacks. Should the US and others have not interfered? Where is safety?
What is our role?
It isn't up to me to decide the role of any individual, or that of our world. That is a decision of conscience. But it is up to me, and all of us, to be part of the dialogue. Many have spoken against the war, and many for it. Many intellectuals and religious leaders have even spoken against the war, or for it.
The religious leader who is perhaps the most influential in our time, the Pope, pleaded with the US not to go to war in Iraq. The Pope speaks a Truth. War is wrong. Of course the Pope, and many intellectuals are right about this. The Pope even moved beyond saying what he is obliged to say, a statement against war in general, and got down to the particulars. Stirring up violence in Iraq, he signaled, would likely embroil the region in insurgent violence. The Roman Catholic religion has much experience in understanding the nature of violence in parts of the world in which extremism and fanaticism reigns, as we will see later in this article.
It is in many religions, after all, more important that the eternal soul be perfect and blameless, while much less important that the flesh be preserved. And there is also a laissez-faire attitude in religious thought that "what will be, will be." Man is simply an actor in a script, following a destiny designed by God, and all things are happening as they should. The journey is not important - it is the end, the judgment, that is of paramount importance. Note that the focus is not on this present time, but a time beyond.
I have always been puzzled by the thinking behind this historically very prevalent view. To view one's relationship with God in this way is a bit like having the following conversation with a fire department:
"My house is on fire!"
"OK, so what do you want us to do about it?"
"Come and put out the fire!"
"Uh, this is Sunday. We don't put out fires on Sunday. On Sundays, we train on how to put out fires."
"Uhhhh..... well, Monday, could you at least come and put out the smoldering embers?"
"No, actually, we don't work on week days either. We watch films on fires and examine the damage that fire does, and create reports on the best way to put out fires."
"That's ridiculous! I'm losing my house and possessions. I'm calling the Mayor."
"Our leader, the Mayor commissioned us to do this. We study fire, we don't actually get involved in them. After all, they are dangerous and messy. The best we can do is send a film crew to add to our library of fire evidence."
Christ said of the experience that looks at form (religious practices) rather than real behavior: "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life,..." and then he continued his statement, pointing out how much they were overlooking the entire point: "...it is they [the Scriptures] that bear witness to me." The life of Christ is an example of being humble, and being involved in a positive way in the lives of others.
The idea that one bears no responsibility toward the world makes no sense to me. I could not be a dispassionate reporter or an intellectual who simply observes and tells the story, although I do that often enough by choice, not that I am critical of the reporter, intellectual, or secluded and contemplative religious person - I am supportive - I just could not do that. My nature is to reach out a hand and "fix it." It is the trials of this life that offer proof of the condition of the soul, and through such encounters, molds the soul into what it will be.
To illustrate, I once saved a man in Morocco from dying. It didn't matter to me that He was a Muslim and I a Christian (although I was searching for truth at that point in my life - and often still am). It didn't matter that he was Moroccan, and lived under a monarchy (King), while I lived in a democracy. It didn't matter that his customs and housing were different than mine (although I longed to see any house constructed from wood). It didn't matter that I was military and he was civilian. It didn't even matter that I wasn't a physician, nor did he ask me to be one.
I entered a club, and he was tending bar. He and I were the only two there. He appeared to be in pain, and as he sat there, he often doubled up. I asked him what was wrong, and in broken English he got across the point that he had pain in his abdomen. I knew how physicians diagnose appendicitis, and knew where the appendix was. I had him do a simple test, and knew immediately that he most likely had acute appendicitis. With my knowledge, I couldn't diagnose appendicitis, but I could say with more authority than simple uninformed guesswork that immediate physician's attention was critical. I arranged for him to leave so that he could go home.
Months later he returned and thanked me. Although he apparently lost his job, he was alive. He had gone immediately to a physician and his appendix was removed just in time before it ruptured. A few minutes or hours would have brought a different outcome.
I suppose that I could have excused myself from action, thinking that all things will happen as they should, and that I wasn't a physician and shouldn't interfere, and that I could justify taking the role of an observer. I have seen Forrest Service naturalists refuse to rescue a drowning deer trapped in a stream, when they had the equipment to do so, in the belief that nature should take its course - never mind that man had already changed that course for the worse a thousand fold.
Perhaps the man would have died, had I overlooked my proximity to the situation and then not exercised the knowledge that I had. If there is some judgment of the soul, would it go well for me that I acted to help the man, or would it have been better to let the man die? In my own judgement of what I become, it seems to me of far greater value that I treat others well. To me, this is the primary message of religion: our allegiance to God influences our thinking about how we should treat all other people.
As I continue to compose this article, a very destructive tsunami struck Southern Asia and Indonesia the past weekend, leaving thousands of people in dire need of water, food, shelter... I am wondering, what is Usama bin Laden, and his band of Al Qaeda thugs, and the insurgents in Iraq, doing for these people? They claim religious motivation. But what is in their hearts regarding their fellow man? They kill their fellow man without reservation.
Are situations in this world some kind of destiny? Can one leave the course of history to fatalism, and believe that all things will work out in the end? In the overall history of the world, leaders do come and go. We remember the names of Attila the Hun, Ivan The Terrible, Alexander the Great, Stalin, Hitler, the Knights Templar, the Egyptian Kings, the rulers of Babylonia and Persia, and the Roman Empire. They were conquerors of their worlds.
Through military force, these leaders compelled other civilizations to live as they wanted them to, sometimes for better, often for worse. As we know from the Roman Empire, empires don't last, and what these men built crumbled and faded into history. As Dunne aptly put it in his book, The Way of All The Earth,*2 the stories about wars in ancient times were tales of mutual destruction. One can't do violence without becoming violent. After a war, the crime rate increases as soldiers commit violence in their own land and homes, and many soldiers suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Why do war? Did world wide Communism not fall without a gigantic world wide armed conflict? I have seen the demise of several leaders that I wished were gone. Surely, sooner or later when terrible leaders have brought atrocities and misery to a people, the time will pass and the people will be free, or subject to some new ruler. Won't they?
We know from history that this is not so. The fighting between countries and nations creates a permanent state of animosity and violent conflict whose flames never die. These become the trouble spots of the world. We know these spots and their intractable problems by heart - they are in the news every day, and it isn't even necessary to name them. Even if we could justify overlooking the suffering, and bondage to fear, in countries such as Iraq, we would overlook a cancer on the human spirit and the future of our world.
Elusive truth - proven only by experience
In pointing out the ambiguities in our actions, which is appropriate, and singular Truths that should guide us, which is appropriate, our vision is often obscured by a forest of ambiguities in complex issues, and what is often overlooked are other truths, or Truths, that apply to the whole of human behavior.
The frontiers of idealism, science, intellectualism, journalism, and religion, are like search lights into the vastness of human experience, often noting the events, questions, and ambiguities, but never able to illuminate the fullness of truth in such a way that humans can fully grasp it. The grasping is in the collective experience, a flash that suddenly changes the view of many in a common culture - a change in a collective conscience, so to speak, or cultural attitude as civilization advances one grueling step at a time.
We need to keep looking at the ambiguities, but those who watch are tempted to become biased, especially when their personal truth is the one in favor. All of these disciplines watch human events and raise issues. As has become apparent in the towers of these disciplines in many countries, there is a question of who watches these disciplines, lest they slip down the slope of becoming a biased version of human experience that can't see beyond their own biases, thinking that they are sufficient unto themselves. They need not delve into human experience, but can stand outside and judge it, or guide it through biased comments.
As individuals, we must all be involved in order to understand humanity. As observers, we must stand outside the fray in order to question our actions.
We can look for and find some truths through the lens of science, through intellectual inquiry, through religious study and practices, and through minute examination of every human event, and yet find that we are walking in the endless circles of a narrow trail in a large forest - being firemen who study fire but never put one out. For example, scientists, biologists, intellectuals (philosophers, linguists), and psychologists, can't find adequate reasons to justify altruism and philanthropy, without straining to point to some supposed underlying selfish motive. Yet altruism exists.
One would be hard pressed to find selfishness or neurosis in so many generous people. Unless one walks the journey of human experience, the truth of it eludes us. But the person who ignores the lessons of history and abhors intellectual rumination, is destined to a course of needless tragedies.
Most of mainland Europe turns away from problems like Iraq. To most Europeans, Iraq and similar situations are just another road to endless suffering and anguish: another unanswered prayer for rescue, of which Europeans are all too familiar from their long history of conflicts that continuously devastated their own homes, economies, people, and spirit. The US is more inclined to see these conflicts as moral and noble causes.
Perhaps it is because the US has seen more success with war, and less mutual devastation. The US began in a war of liberation; fought the War of 1812 over land; the crippling internal Civil War over secession and slavery; fought the repugnant armed conflicts with Native Americans over land; WWI and WWII over foreign aggression; Korea over Communism that South Korea did not want; Viet Nam - a religiously ideological conflict over Communism VS Democracy that ended up being in vain as history nullified Communism; Gulf War over foreign aggression; the War on Terrorism; and the war in Iraq - I'm sure I have overlooked many. Whether fought for good reasons, or bad, the US wars have been purposeful, growing steadily more reactive than anticipatory, and have typically been victorious.
Military confrontation inevitably means death to many people on both sides. Life is important, and the continuation of individual lives should be revered and preserved - sacrificed only in the highest moral cause. But it is important not just that we remain alive, and live and have pleasure - it is most important what we become through our contributions to the world from our beliefs.
Whether this be by the leadership of God, or through the influence of the opinions of others with whom we live and respect, most of us recognize strongly held ideals that we expect ourselves to live up to. This includes things as seemingly mundane as raising a family (a high value), being considerate of others in our daily affairs, or possibly enduring unmet dreams and needs so that others can have... and sometimes even being willing to give your life so that many can live without oppression.
Even those who lead, or observe and report on ambiguities, are sometimes required to sacrifice as they pursue their truth or personal experience. Religious leaders and followers are often the targets of rogue leaders and terrorists. Intellectuals and journalists are often killed to remove them from leadership in societies. News reporters are often captured or killed as they put themselves in harm's way to tell us the events they feel compelled to observe. They often have to overlook their own feelings to report dispassionately on the human suffering that surrounds them.
Sometimes we are called on to become what we will be through great sacrifice, and we preserve others through great sacrifice - not because we wish to gain something through sacrifice (as do many terrorists), but because we can't accept the suffering of others and remain true to the greater truth. When others lose respect for lives and take innocent life, then the world must take a stand. Sometimes that stand means military confrontation.
Does history provide an answer for Iraq?
Should the world ignore the Iraqi (and greater Middle East) problems and let the Iraqis handle it? those same people who could not topple Saddam Hussein, and in later years would have been subject to the whims and accomplished cruelty of his gentlemen sons? It is as if the bloody lessons of past centuries have not been learned. It is the crucible of vast human experience that proves, or possibly disproves, the ideas and ideals, the truths, that we believe. Time has validated, and continues to validate those truths held by many religions, such as love.
Don't take my word for it - consider some representative samples from relatively recent history, of why the world can't simply stand by as leaders like Saddam Hussein, and terrorists, slaughter their own people and then reach out to destroy other nations to impose their will on them.
In reading these samples, keep in mind that conflicts usually don't occur in a vacuum, but in the historical context of years to centuries of two groups slugging each other over God knows what... hate and suspicion saturate both sides to the point that dehumanization occurs. At that point the conflict is self-sustaining, and leads to ethnic cleansing. The conflicts in Serbia, Northern Ireland, and the Middle East come quickly to mind.
Saddam Hussein and his sons were headed in a similar direction: conquer the Muslim world and rid it of people they didn't like. Hussein still (while incarcerated) shows no remorse - only contempt - for the people whom he slaughtered. Pointedly missing is any sense of respect for others.
Saddam follows in the footsteps of leaders like Stalin and Hitler, who slaughtered innocent people in campaigns to restructure their own societies and conquered lands over whimsical ideals. While the extermination of 6 million Jews across Europe is the most visible symbol of their atrocities, they were just one example in a string of similar slaughters. Even later Communists (Soviet leader Khrushchev's deStalinization) eventually turned their backs on Stalin.
Armenian and Turk Genocides
Just West of Iraq and Iran lies Turkey, an Islamic country. To the West of Turkey lies Greece. So Turkey is between areas that are predominantly Muslim and Christian. Historically, within the country, there had been tension and violence between the two groups: Turks and Armenians. The tension goes back centuries.
The Russian army occupied the country, which provided some containment for the conflict. The Armenians occupied a substantial portion of Turkey. The Russians pulled out, leaving the country to the rule of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire.
Seeing the Christians as a potential threat, in 1894-1896, Sultan Abdul Hamid ordered the massacre of over 200,000 Armenians.
The Armenians later retaliated. During 1914-1921, a million Muslims were killed, and another 900,000 became refugees in eastern Anatolia. Ethnic warfare engulfed the Armenian, Turkish, and Kurdish communities. The majority of the Muslims were killed by bands of Armenian irregulars or by Armenians serving in the Russian army. The massacres indiscriminately targeted men, women, and children, using gruesome methods to terrorize them and destroy their communities.
When the Armenians attacked, Muslims fled with whatever moveable property they could carry. As they fled, the Armenians robbed them, raped the women, and killed the men, often killing women and children. The survivors traveled to safety without food, clothing, or defense.
The government of Constantinople decided to crush the Christian Armenians and their threat to power. During WWI, to 1923, the Turkish government carried on a genocide against the entire Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire, including women and children. They were deported, abducted, tortured, massacred, and starved. Their entire wealth was taken. They were deported to Syria, where they were sent into the desert to die of thirst and hunger.
One and a half million Armenians perished between 1915 and 1923. A million were deported in 1915. Hundreds of thousands were butchered. Many others died of starvation, exhaustion, and epidemics that ravaged the concentration camps. Thousands fled to the Russian border to live as refugees. By 1923 the entire landmass of Asia Minor and historic West Armenia had been cleared entirely of its Armenian population and their communities totally destroyed. This was declared a crime against humanity and the leaders were tried, mostly in absentia, for their crimes.
Like barbarians, these two sides had no respect for each other and fought over the control of the land. The conflict raged for years, if not centuries, and millions of innocent people died on both sides. Eventually the Turks won, and the Armenian population was no more. Since that day, the Turks have had no better relations with the Kurds, with conflicts and ethnic cleansing breaking out periodically.
The holocaust in Poland
Hitler's plan was simply to take over all of Europe, and then the entire world, and exterminate every population that he didn't like or he felt was a threat to his control. Ethnic cleansing was applied to the extreme. His goal in Poland was to terrorize the Polish people into subservience. He used every terrorizing tool he could devise.
At the same time, the Soviet Union expanded into eastern Poland, bringing with it their usual terrorizing techniques that appropriated wealth, removed leaders, and changed the culture.
Poland was the first to be struck by Hitler's campaign of terror. Poland's educated class was purposely targeted because the Nazis knew that this would make it easier to control the country. The first mass execution of World War II took place in a town near Warsaw, Poland in 1939: 107 non-Jewish men were taken from their homes in the middle of the night and shot. Much of the rest of the Polish leading class died later in concentration camps.
Mass executions continued throughout the war. Hundreds of Polish community leaders, mayors, local officials, priests, teachers, lawyers, judges, senators, and doctors were executed in public. The educated and professionals feared to appear in public because they knew they would be picked up and shot, or taken to work camps. Relatives would never know what had happened to them, unless they heard a story from a witness.
The Soviets took over Polish businesses and factories, and destroyed religious buildings. All Polish banks were closed, denying access to savings.
During the period of the Holocaust of World War II, Poland lost:
- 45% of her doctors
- 57% of her attorneys
- 40% of her professors
- 30% of her technicians
- more than 18% of her clergy
- most of her journalists
For the first 21 months after it began in 1940, Auschwitz was inhabited almost exclusively by Polish non-Jews. Over 100,000 died there. The Nazis deported 2,000,000 non-Jews into slave labor for the Third Reich, and 1,700,000 Poles to Siberia. Men, women, and children were forced from their homes with no warning, and transferred in cattle cars in freezing weather. Many died on the way. Additionally they destroyed books, monuments, and historical inscriptions. When Hitler turned his destructive notions toward the Jews, he used the exact same techniques, and 6,000,000 Jews endured horrible suffering and perished.
When people like Hitler are allowed to rule, the idealists, intellectuals, the news media, and religious leaders, are the first to die. Hitler's campaign was based on such stupid notions as the superiority of those with Aryan characteristics (and others' supposed inferiority), and the hatred of Jews. In a systematic plan, he conquered a country and then killed the leaders, deported useful people into work camps, and terrorized the rest into subservience. Eventually the allied nations won. There was mutual destruction, but it meant survival.
Politics and social engineering - Stalin
Stalin was an ideologist whose goal was to make the world Communist. In trying to achieve his idealism, and in smashing any perceived opposition, Stalin created a holocaust greater than Hitler's.
In trying to make collective farming work in Stalin's five year plan, twenty million people died of starvation. In his paranoia, he sent 20,000,000 people into his murderous forced labor camps, and millions died from 1939 to 1953. In building one canal in 1933, people were forced to work until they dropped from exhaustion. When the canal was completed, the remaining workers were drowned in the canal.
When an internal party vote yielded 3 votes against him, out of 300, Stalin had his opponent murdered, as well as 1000 out of 1966 committee members, and 98 out of 139 central committee members. Stalin maintained an iron grip on the Soviet Union that other politicians dared not oppose.
Like Saddam Hussein's hold later in Iraq, the people in the Soviet Union had no chance of ridding themselves of Stalin's oppression. Only when Stalin died did this type of attack on the people slow down. It wasn't until the fall of Communism and the collapse of the Soviet Empire that all of this type of oppression stopped.
Wars and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans:
Many nations comprise the Balkans area, and again the Christians and Ottoman Empire (Turks, Muslim) have been major religious and political players in an area connected to Western Turkey by an isthmus. Refugees from one power or another have moved back and forth across this isthmus, and into nearby areas like Southern Russia, seeking peace... and not found much of it.
The Ottoman Turks invaded the Balkans region in the 14th century and ruled for 500 years. In the 17th. Century, Austria and Hungary grew strong and began wresting control from the Turks. This brought new political boundaries: Serbia, Montenegro, and Romania became independent, and the principality of Bulgaria was created. Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina were under the rule of Austria-Hungary. The Southern Balkans remained under Ottoman control.
In the 20th century, a wave of nationalism swept through the Balkans. In 1912, Montenegrin troops attacked the Ottoman empire, and then was joined in the war by Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece. They freed Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania.
Infighting soon began, and the Serbs occupied Kosovo and Macedonia. The 1914 attempt to restore balance and peace, triggered WWI, which plunged all of Europe, and even the US, into conflict.
Following the defeat of Austria-Hungary, in World War I, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was created to incorporate the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. But since the Serbs still dominated the government, under an authoritarian monarchy, an anti-Serb movement began. The King was killed in 1934.
During WWII, many of the Croats welcomed Hitler, and they were given political power over Bosnia. The area spiraled into civil wars featuring atrocities by both sides. Croatian concentration camps killed Serbs, Jews, gypsies and even Croats. Each land in the region was invaded by foreign political powers.
Beginning in 1945, the Communists split the region into six republics: Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia, and the area remained stable.
By 1992, with Communism gone, nationalism again flared, and Croatia was again in conflict with Serbia. Hundreds of thousands of Croats became refugees, and old memories of the atrocities in the 1940s were reawakened. More conflict began in Bosnia. The Serbs drove Muslims from their homes in a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
UN peacekeepers were unable to control the conflict that threatened to exterminate the remaining Muslim government. As a settlement was imposed on the region, the Croats took back their territory from the Serbs in rapid attacks, causing 200,000 Serbs to flee Croatia.
In Kosovo, the Albanians rebelled against Serbian rule, and violence escalated, again with tens of thousands of refugees as the Serbs killed, committed atrocities, and forced the Albanians out. This led to the first military action against a European nation since the NATO alliance began. Once again escalating ethnic violence in the Balkans brought the world into their conflict.
Even as the Albanians returned to their home, they killed and committed atrocities on the Serbs, driving many of them into exile.
Since 1999, the UN peacekeeping presence, and NATO pressure, has prevented violence from escalating, and effectively resolved conflicts by negotiations. It is a tinder box that could easily flare up if the military was not present.
In a land fought over by Christian forces (Austria, Hungary, and the Macedonia area) and Muslim forces (Ottoman Empire - Turkey), the people in the Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Montenegran (all formerly loosely comprising Yugoslovia) area have moved back and forth as exiles in these countries and into Western Turkey, depending on the ethnic and political winds, since the late 14th. Century. The result is blind ethnic tension established by long history of conflict, and feeds on itself.
At one time, Balkan conflict was the match that ignited a world wide war. Much of the world had to step in again in the late 1990s, with violent and destructive military intervention required to stop the violence. Negotiations by UN Peacekeeping forces are resolving disputes between ethnic groups in the area and keeping the violence at bay. The cycle of violence required military intervention to stop, and requires it to prevent violence from again flaring up.
Chile - Pinochet atrocities
The Chilean National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation reported that 3,197 people were killed or disappeared between 1973 and 1990 when Pinochet was in power. Tens of thousands were tortured or exiled.
In addition, Pinochet took part in Operation Condor - a joint effort by South American dictators to wipe out dissidents across the dictatorships of South America.
Pinochet is charged with consistently applying a conspiracy of horror against anyone who he felt was a threat to him. The plan was that people would be abducted; subjected to severe pain, suffering, and serious bodily harm; and murdered, disappearing to terrorize others into not opposing him.
Torture centers were established to carry out Pinochet's plan, including a torture ship. His victims were continuously beaten, often to near death, and then doctors revived them so that they could suffer even more.
Prisoners were tied up and placed in tiny cages, and denied food, water, and clothing. Some were tied to a metal rack and given electric shocks to all parts of their body. Rape and sodomy were common. Even pregnant women and young children were killed.
- 'Kidnapped' Pinochet shrugs off atrocities; http://www.guardian.co.uk/pinochet/Story/0,11993,205054,00.html
- What they said about ... Pinochet; http://www.guardian.co.uk/pinochet/Story/0,11993,1292653,00.html
- Victims of a brutal regime - Pinochet on trial: special report; http://www.guardian.co.uk/pinochet/Story/0,11993,190571,00.html
- The charges against Pinochet; http://www.guardian.co.uk/pinochet/Story/0,11993,194680,00.html
Central and South America, and the Caribbean, have long been dominated by corrupt dictators who use the tactics of organized torture, murder, and terror, to maintain their rule and suppress any opposition. They have not been much different than Hitler or Saddam Hussein. When one dictator loses power, a similar one simply takes over. The leaders of these various countries band together to eliminate opposition. It is almost impossible for the people to overthrow these corrupt regimes.
In the name of God
Sadly, from antiquity to the present people have attacked each other in the name of God. The Romans considered religious uprisings a threat to the power of their "immortal" leaders, and either disbanded them at the point of a spear, or fed followers to the lions as a public spectacle - certainly terror inspired a lesson to others. Military action and terrorism were used to suppress opposition.
The Roman Catholic Church married into power early. Religion could not be suppressed, and many of them competed for the public's attention, often creating conflict. Emperor Constantine I wanted to eliminate the conflict, and directed that there would be one religion - the one that was the most popular - the Christian religion - and it would consolidate into it the more representative practices of them all. He then promoted the organization, internal consistency (Scriptures), and domination of Christianity across the empire.
Much of what happened over succeeding Centuries were power struggles between religion and politics in the empire. With the demise of the Roman empire, religious authority and control emanated from Rome. The Eastern Orthodox (Russia), and North African branches remained independent of Rome. Each country across the region of Western Europe and the Middle East, lived in an uneasy tension between the power of the Church and the power of Kings.
Inspired by those original members within the Knights Templar, the Church began military occupation of the Holy Land (Jerusalem and surrounding areas) that led to conflicts with the majority Muslims who lived there. The idea seemed to be to secure the area for Christianity. Eventually this led to wars (Crusades) against the Muslims.
There were various political power struggles across Europe. The Knights Templar were a military organization commissioned by the Church to protect (and then claim) the Holy Land. It grew in power and wealth in all the areas in which Rome exerted power, and beyond. Eventually the King of France turned against it (obviously threatened by the organizations power) and convinced the Pope that it was evil. Since it was a secretive and very powerful organization, it invited suspicion.
The Inquisition was happening during this time. The Pope had the entire Templar organization across all of Europe arrested, tortured for confessions, and many were burned at the stake or imprisoned. The organization lost its charter. Yet there is evidence that the Pope lacked strength in his conviction that the organization was evil and the confessions true.
The Inquisition was and is a judicial commission of the Pope to instill purity in the Church by "inquiring" into "heresy." A heresy is any belief that the Church does not feel is consistent with the Church's doctrine, such as alchemy, witchcraft, and sorcery. Alchemy (magic) is today's chemistry, and together with astronomy was considered as black an art as devil worship. After all, everyone knows that the world is flat, and the universe rotates around the earth - if you even think differently, then you should be tortured and killed. The ridiculousness of that stance, and the harm done, is too obvious today.
The Inquisition went through several incarnations over the centuries, often at the request and control of ruling kings. Its victims included men, women, and children. Tortures and punishments were left to the imagination of the king and inquisitor, and included public evisceration, impalement, drowning/dunking, burning at the stake, and life imprisonment.
Thousands of people were accused, with little or no evidence, of being witches or worshipping Satan, or not acknowledging Christ as their Lord. Most who were accused were tortured until they confessed, and then killed in some excruciatingly painful way. Tomás de Torquemada alone burned nearly 2000 at the stake. The Inquisition was used unsuccessfully against Protestantism in some countries. Inquisition activity eventually reached as far as America, including Peru and the North American Colonies (Salem Witch Trials).
Southern France contained an independent branch of the Christian religion more akin to gnosis, which was considered a heresy by the Roman Catholic Church. The Church had the entire area wiped clean of its population - men, women, children - killing thousands, and controlled the movement across Europe by the Inquisition. (The Cathari believed that matter is evil, and they must renounce matter and reunite their spirit with God. They renounced even sex. Similar separatist teachings resonate in Catholicism and other religions, but not to this degree.)*3
The printing press threatened the power of the Church. Although the early Church had letters that they passed among Churches and the people were knowledgeable about them, the Roman Church held these (the Bible) in Latin, a language which died, and did not translate the Latin verse into any other language. The Church leaders then would tell the people anything, and borrowed ideas like "Purgatory" and imaginative horrors of hell, and making penance with money or actions, or even buying the right in advance to sin.
Some realized that the religion was becoming corrupt. Martin Luther, and others, began to go in a different direction, translated the Bible into native languages, and the wrath of the Church came down on them. The Church became at war with Luther and the other dissenters. The war lasted 30 years, involved several countries, and killed thousands of people across Northern Europe. Eventually a political settlement was reached that divided geographical areas between the two parties.
With the history of the Church as its model for how to treat people, various countries in Europe began exploring the American continent in the 14th. and 15th. Centuries. The "Conquistadors" and explorers often ravaged the new lands, stole the wealth, put the native people into slavery to harvest their wealth, and often killed them. They did this in the name of God.
The Roman Catholic Church has changed dramatically since those centuries, as has the civilized world, and the comments here are not meant to disparage the Church.
Where does this leave us?
What the history of the Roman Catholic Church has shown is that it lost respect for the individual, usurped the individual's right to chose beliefs and to self govern, and in its depravity it perverted religion for the people and itself. It loved and misused political power and wealth, and reduced the level of its approved actions to torture and mass killing. If organized religion can dehumanize and mistreat others to such depraved and wicked extremes, how much more so can any other religion, government, or people do the same?
The atrocities of the Ottoman Empire (Muslim), Roman Catholic Church and Christians, ideologists and reformers (Stalin), Conquerors and ideologists (Hitler), Conquerors and dictators (Saddam Hussein and many others), terrorists (Communist revolutionaries in the mid to late 20th. Century; Usama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in the late 20th. and early 21st. Centuries) show that from ancient to recent history, respect for people is lost and atrocities are done repeatedly by these for centuries.
Various religious movements have been no different in their tactics than Hitler or Saddam Hussein. Institutional laws that guarantee respect for people, and self-determination by the people, have to be in place to prevent recurrences of the tragedies delivered by political leaders, people, and religion throughout history.
Perhaps the larger question this poses is, "Who is watching the Church?" One of my primary contentions is that never can any one of us give up the responsibility for our own fate or the fate of the world. Subscribing to a religion that offers truths, and being committed to it for our own benefit and that of the world, is one thing. Giving it the power of God is another.
Even religion gets out of control. Governments get out of control. Idealists, intellectuals, and the news media get out of control. Every one of us as individuals and organizations are part of the dialogue, and control, that make our world work. Religion is two halves, the leaders and the people. Governments have four branches, the Legislative, Executive, Judicial, and the people. Sometimes governments get convinced that there are only three. The news media can't be influenced by the government or the trends, but it must be watched by the people. Intellectual ideas are tested in the real world of people.
I tried to tell my children that we learn by experience, but the experience doesn't necessarily have to be our own mistakes if we will just look. Some of my children were determined to learn everything the hard way. I suppose this applies to the world as well. We live in a world made up of both advanced civilizations and barbarians.
Today, the good news is that the people of Iraq have a strong will to govern themselves. The bad news is that too many lack the experience to avoid the pitfalls of freedom. One persuasion wants to go this way, and backs up their desired direction with a gun. Another group wants to go that way... The result is small armies and loosely connected insurgencies who are willing to kill innocent people to force their will on others. The US is a prime target: They say, "Get out so we can rule ourselves!"
Sadly, the inexperienced people in these groups lack the wisdom to know where forcing their will on others will take them. It is, and would be, Saddam Hussein, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Stalin, Hitler, Idi Amin, and Pinochet all over again.
Too many of these people are fanatics, with a sociopathically destructive temperament. Fanaticism is simply ignorance on a self-indulgence spree. It excludes the wider picture, preoccupied with its own warped needs.
All through history governments have degenerated into family quarrels and death. Mesopotamian history is full of such events. Even the governors of Rome, and their families, killed each other to set up one person's idea of rule and power. Most of these have been despots.
Unfortunately, the record is clear that when groups such as these try to win their way at the point of a gun, as did Hussein and the other horror leaders of the world, the only remedy is to wait until they die and hope against bad odds that the successor is better, or remove them - and this job falls to the Iraqi people, with the support of the US, its allies, and those nations willing to lend other support.
The US is not in Iraq to govern Iraq, but to turn the government over to experienced people so that the Iraqi people can govern and defend themselves and help keep the fanatics from destroying us all.
The freedom to govern themselves is the only shelter from the tyranny of barbarians, and protection of the entire world from barbarian attacks.
Democracy respects all people. Central to the core of democracy is the acceptance of diversity. When people lose respect for others, they become dehumanized, and horrible atrocities occur. The people, the government, religious groups, the news media, and the intelligentsia must be free to observe and assess the actions and intentions of all to prevent mistreatment of others.
Perhaps in the dawning hours, that we are now in, of the 21st. Century, the collective conscience of our cultures, and the world, will harbor and embrace this important lesson taught by our experience through history. We must each respect each other, being tolerant of our diversity, and not try to force our truth on others, whether religious or political. As Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini stated as the golden rule set forth by the Church Court: "Truth does not impose itself except by its own truth, which suffuses the mind in a simultaneous softness and strength."*4
If a truth has to be forced on people, then it is not worth having. Religion and governance must be the choice of the people. Unfortunately in Iraq, there was not the ability to be free of Saddam Hussein, neither is there the ability to make an informed decision on a type of governance. A rescue, and establishment of conditions in which the people can ultimately make a choice, was and is necessary.
Every country has its rogues. Extreme radicals in the US, such as the KKK and neo-Nazis often pervert religion for their cause, and poison their member's minds. Even religions tend to become narrow in their view of who is acceptable in this world. Religions fail in their mission to lead. They don't place enough emphasis on peace, and on respect for individuals who are different.
Some who claim to be Muslim are teaching hate. People like Usama bin Laden and some clerics are inciting people to kill innocent people. Islam is being used as a perversion of religious truth. Muslim leaders need to assert leadership and clean the air of those who pervert the religion for their own use.
Let there be no more war. It is an easy thing to say. The answer is up to us. It is we who must find ways to resolve conflicts without war, and preclude the conditions that propel people into war.
If we can't respect each other as people, including other's customs, ethnicities, and religions, then what kind of people and world are we? It is those who have no respect for others and slaughter and kill, who get an army on their doorstep. Let there be peace, and let it begin within each individual.
1. Eco, Umberto. Five Moral Pieces. (Harcourt, Inc., 1997), p. 3.
(Note that while I quote Eco, whom I respect, my overall contentions run counter to those in his book.)
2. Dunne, John S. The Way Of All The Earth. (University of Notre Dame Press, 1978), p. 6, 8.
3. You can read more about the Cathari in Encyclopedia Britannica. The subject is also popular in current fiction and nonfiction literature, but some of it is subject to much speculation.
4. Eco, Umberto and Martini, Cardinal Carlo Maria. Belief or Nonbelief. (Arcade Publishing, Inc., 1997), p. 70. (Anthology of a public exchange of letters on views, in the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera.)
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