The Character of Nelson Mandela

tags: South Africa, Nelson Mandela



Max Boot is a leading military historian and foreign-policy analyst. The Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, he is the author of the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller "Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present."

While traveling around the country promoting my last book, Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present, I was often asked which insurgents I admired the most. The answer is those insurgents who have fought relatively humanely and, most important of all, once they have seized power have governed wisely and democratically and shown a willingness to give up power when the time came to do so.

This is not, needless to say, the norm. Much more common are insurgents like Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Mugabe, Kim Il Sung, and (fill in the blank) who, while posturing as freedom fighters battling an evil dictatorship, swiftly become dictators in turn as soon as they seize power. The exceptions to that rule are some of the greatest figures of modern history–the likes of George Washington, Michael Collins, David Ben-Gurion, and, most recently, Nelson Mandela....

[T]he largest part of the explanation for why South Africa is light years ahead of most African nations–why, for all its struggles with high unemployment, crime, corruption, and other woes, it is freer and more prosperous than most of its neighbors–is the character of Nelson Mandela. Had he turned out to be another Mugabe, there is every likelihood that South Africa would now be on the same road to ruin as Zimbabwe. But that did not happen because Mandela turned out to be, quite simply, a great man–someone who could spend 27 years in jail and emerge with no evident bitterness to make a deal with his jailers that allowed them to give up power peacefully and to avoid persecution....



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