War without end

BY THE WAY - Max V. Soliven () - April 23, 2006 - 12:00am
The world’s an unhappy place, and not just for La Presidenta, who was shocked when a graduating Masscom student of the Cavite State University suddenly stood up while GMA was delivering the commencement address, cried out "fake" and "Oust Gloria," unfurling a little banner declaring "No to Cha-cha."

It turned out the woman graduate was even the president of the university’s central student government. What’s the world coming to? Sus, it was a case of bad manners, at worst.

But GMA should consider herself lucky. Just look Nepal where hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, defying the police and security forces (who’ve shot 14 dead) are shouting the autocratic King Gyanendra, out of his throne.

I was in India in February 2005 when King Gyanendra seized absolute power, dismissed the parliamentary government, and vowed to crush a ten-year old Maoist insurgency which had killed over 13,000 people. We were all shocked by the news of this Palace coup, especially Indian officialdom who believe New Delhi has a sort of "protective" role to play over next-door Nepal (which borders, on the other side – on China).

I suspect the monarchy in Nepal is doomed, no more video nights in Kathmandu!

Gyanendra came to power in a bizarre way, it must be recalled, when his nephew the Crown Prince, in a drug-induced craze, wiped out his own family – meaning his father the King, his mother, and everybody in the Palace within gunshot range of his amok spree.

When Gyanendra took over the throne he started cracking down on everybody he considered hostile. I was asked by our organization, the International Press Institute (IPI) to be part of a mission being dispatched to negotiate with the Nepalese government for the release of 100 journalists who had been arrested and slapped into prison. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I was unable to join the six-member IPI delegation since I had another commitment in London. Nothing came of it. The King’s government hung tough. Now, the entire situation is in tatters.

What’s worrisome is that the seven-party alliance of protesters – the rampaging demonstrators have swelled in numbers to more than 200,000 – seems to be dominated by "Unified Marxist Leninist" group, waving Hammer & Sickle flags, and shouting "Hang the murderer. End the monarchy. Long live democracy.

The Maoists may, indeed, without having to fight another battle seize power in Kathmandu – and, if he doesn’t flee, conceivably hang or otherwise liquidate the King.

By the way, where does the current violent turmoil leave our Filipino mountain climbing team, preparing for an ascent up Mt. Everest? They’re there in the foothills – since Mt. Everest is, in case you forgot, in the heart of Nepal.

Does GMA think she’s got trouble? Not at all. Or at least – not yet.
* * *
Speaking of heckling, La Gloria even got off easy, even if she got insulted in Cavite.

What’s that compared to what happened to China’s President Hu Jintao, right on the White House lawn, just after he had been welcomed by a parade and review (similar to the one La Glorietta got from her former "best ally" President George W. Bush three years ago).

Just as Mr. Hu was delivering his speech, a Chinese-American woman who had managed to sneak into the Press Corps’ ranks (fully accredited as "media") started screaming, "President Bush, make him stop persecuting the Falun Gong!" By golly, that scene was captured on television, although later "blacked out" in telecasts – particularly those beamed to China.

How had that woman – later identified as Wenxi Wang – gotten in to the press group despite supposedly iron-clad security? Hu was startled, and outraged. Bush was embarrassed. It turned out Wenxi Wang belonged to the Falun Gong, the "meditation" sect whose members by the thousands have been arrested and imprisoned in China, considered as a threat to the State.

Despite their smiles, the leaders of the two powers – one the Superpower, and the other the "rising" power – had never been on the best of terms. The incident completely soured the visit. Hu must have exclaimed to himself: "This would never have happened in Beijing!" How, indeed, could the brave and bold Falun Gong member, gotten in through a tight security cordon – unless (to Hu’s natural state of mind) it had been a deliberate set-up by those nasty and treacherous Americans.

The Falug Gong are truly a formidable movement. You’ll find them in Hong Kong, even if Hong Kong is a SAR (Special Autonomous Region) of China, handing out anti-Beijing leaflets and CD Roms in the Star Ferry landing, or elsewhere in that metropolitan city. You’ll find them in London, dispensing their "protest" propaganda.

President Hu wasn’t the first Chinese president who got harassed by the Falug Gong. When this writer joined former President Joseph Estrada’s party which flew to Auckland, New Zealand, to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit there in 2000, China’s President Jiang Zemin (Mr. Hu’s predecessor) was likewise picketed there by the Falug Gong. That was a memorable trip, indeed, since the chartered Philippine Airlines flight landed in Auckland after a 10-hour journey, and was immediately boarded by NZ immigration and health officials who sprayed everybody in the plane, including President Erap himself. In good-humor, not feeling insulted (since all heads of state and their delegations got the same treatment), Erap shrugged.

"Must be spermicide," he quipped when asked about the spray.

In any event, the following night, President Jiang Zemin, furious, refused to leave his hotel unless the New Zealand police and military removed the Falug Gong demonstrators who were picketing and calling China a dictatorship.

The problem with democracies is that they are untidy and raucous. This is why it may not be such a good idea to attempt to introduce it into too many countries. I remember one of the slogans during World War II was that it had to be fought "to make the world safe for democracy."

Perhaps today’s wars are being fought to make the world safe from democracy.

Just consider poor George Bush. He sent American men and women into Iraq, he declared, to overthrow the tyrant Saddam Insane, neutralize his Weapons of Mass Destruction (still unfound) – and bring "democracy" to the Iraqis. Sad to say, it seems they don’t really want it – and the Americans either. Those brave US soldiers, marines and airmen who went into Iraq (as usual they couldn’t pronounce the names) with the best of intentions but absolutely no knowledge of Arabic, are discovering what they ought to have learned from their own history.

In a terrible Civil War which finally ended with the surrender of the South on April 12, 1865, six hundred and twenty thousand young Americans – in Blue versus Gray – died on the battlefield to preserve a Union called the United States of America. Democracy is not imposed by a simple and admirable Declaration of Independence of 1776 – it must be evolved over a long and difficult process, involving blood, sweat, tears, disappointment and discord.
* * *
One of the finest books I’ve read over the years on America’s wars was "Honor the Brave" by Victor Brooks (John Wiley & Sons, New York, 2000).

It recounts on page 127, in a chapter entitled "Union Restored" how the commander of the Confederacy, General Robert E. Lee, finally went to discuss surrender on a Saturday, April 8, 1865, at the court house of Appomatox. Lee realized his Army was trapped and starving – and this was the end.

Admitting that "I would rather die a thousand deaths," the silver-haired Virginian agreed to meet with the Union General Ulysees S. Grant (later to become President of the United States) to discuss the terms of capitulation.

Brooks describes it with unusual eloquence:

"On the chilly but clear morning of Sunday April 9, couriers from the two rival armies carried messages from the respective commanders that set up a meeting in the McClean House in the village of Appomattox Court House.

"Lee, accompanied by a single aide, entered the parlor of a house that contained over a dozen Union officers, each of whom respectfully saluted their antagonist as he moved toward a small table. Lee, dressed in his best uniform and carrying an impressive sword, made a startling contrast to Grant, who was wearing a mud-splattered uniform decorated only by the three stars on the epaulets on his shoulders."
Lee was gratified that Grant was proposing to him extremely generous terms of surrender. The terms: "The Confederate Army would be permitted to return to their homes on parole, all officers could keep their horses, pistols, and swords while enlisted cavalrymen and gunners could also keep their mounts. As a relieved and gratified Lee left McLean House to address his own army, Grant ordered a halt to Federal cheering and artillery salutes as it would embarrass men ‘who are once again our fellow countrymen.’ "

"At daybreak in the cold wet morning or April 12, 1865, units of the Federal Army of the Potomac lined up to accept the formal Confederate surrender. Union General Joshua Chamberlain, one of the heroes of Gettysburg, was given the honor of accepting the Rebel capitulation. Chamberlain placed his division in three lines to receive the surrender, and the veteran bluecoats watched the approach of General John Gordon of Georgia at the head of Stonewall Jackson’s old corps. Gordon’s ragged Confederates had no idea what treatment they would receive from their former antagonists at this moment of possible enormous humiliation. However, as Gordon rode through the ranks of bluecoats on either side with his view straight ahead, he heard Chamberlain give a single command, a bugle rang out, and the Union soldiers shifted their rifles from ‘order arms’ to ‘carry arms’, the salute of honor."

"Startled, Gordon looked up, and with almost instant realization, turned to the Union general, dipped his sword in salute and ordered his own men to ‘carry arms’ as ‘honor was answered by honor.’ As Chamberlain praised his former foes and asked ‘should not such men be welcomed back into the Union so tested and assured,’ Confederate generals responded with equal emotion. One general, insisted, pointing to the American flag waving nearby, ‘Now that is my flag, and I will prove myself as worthy as any of you."

What a moving account.

Not everything was so honorable and admirable in the aftermath of that great Civil War, but this narration shows all of us where a nation begins – in the heart.

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