As the world anxiously looks on at the invasion (and it seems more Putin than Russia, into the Ukraine, I think about the great amount of destruction one man can cause the rest of humanity. In the ‘90’s, I remember seeing Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s president on a 60 Minutes Special, appearing to enjoy himself as he was being filmed in the States clumsily playing a game of tennis. Unfortunately for the world, his tennis performance matched the manner in which he presided over Russia, where with the end of the Cold War, corruption and disorder was rife in Russia. This, in conjunction, with Yeltsin’s excessive alcoholism sunk the hopes and possibilities that Russia would someday become integrated with the West. The sad result was Yeltsin ceding his authority to Vladimir Putin, who formerly had served on the K.G,B., the main security system of the Soviet Union.
The world was dealt, Putin, a dictator with nefarious intentions instead of Yeltsin, the benevolent, but incompetent alcoholic, infatuated with the West. Then I reflected, what a shame that history projected on the world Hitler in Germany and Stalin in Russia, two of perhaps the most evil men that had ever lived; I wondered what the world would have been like if these two men never had existed. As charismatic as Hitler may have been, he had his enemies. In fact, there were six assassination attempts on his life, some occurring before 1939. If one of those had succeeded, the destruction and the mass murder of six million Jews in Germany and neighboring countries, I believe never would have occurred. Granted there was plenty of antisemitism throughout Europe and in the United States during the ‘30’s but, even so, few people had Hitler’s drive and insane desire to exterminate the Jewish population. It would take a leader like Hitler to create the greatest tragedy in modern history.
Ah, but what a pity history was not kind to some of the leaders, who I referred to as heroes, in an earlier blog. If Abraham Lincoln had not been assassinated, progress in race relations between Blacks and whites would have progressed at a much faster clip than it did, subsequent, to his death. Nelson Mandela, one of the few heroes I mentioned who survived, paid a huge price for his brave and outspoken beliefs against the existing apartheid in South Africa: twenty-seven years in prison.
Anwar Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin, Egyptian and Israeli respective leaders, were both assassinated because of their strong will to seek peace with the opposite side, labeled the enemy by many of their countrymen. Sadat’s assassination in 1981 put brakes on Egypt’s progress by inducing the subsequent war in Lebanon in 1982, the creation of Hezbollah and the seeds of al-Qaida. The assassination of Rabin in 1995 ended the goal of the Oslo peace accords to create a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. I always have maintained that a two-state solution is the most viable way of creating a durable peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
The common denominator here is that leaders can be either heroes or monsters. The idea of an aristocracy dates back to Plato, who as a student of Socrates, saw knowledge as virtue in which the philosopher king, and only he, was suited for leadership. Plato did not believe that the standard of scholarly attainment could ever be reached by the majority or popular opinion. But history has shown us that leaders with a great amount of knowledge could be ruthless despots. The late William F. Buckley once said he would rather entrust political leadership by randomly choosing people out of a phone book rather than to give it to Harvard professors. Albeit Harvard professors are undoubtedly very intelligent but does that make them good leaders?
In developing a system of checks and balances, America’s founding fathers understood how power could corrupt by influencing leaders to go astray. They did not want to allow any leader to serve like a king with unlimited powers. Foremost was their desire to create a government where the people were in charge and not the leader. Whereas monarchs ruled for a lifetime, the President of the United States would have to be elected every four years. No doubt democracies have had their problems but to quote Winston Churchill:
Indeed it has been said democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
I shudder to imagine what America would have become if those same founding fathers had opted for a government other than the one, they so miraculously put together.