March 13, 2006

The Need for the Hard Men

The death of Slobodan Milosevic sent me back into the Slate archives to find this Dispach that Peter Maas filed from the middle democratic revolution that brought down Milosevic in October of 2000. Its tell the story of the men of Cacak, miners who brought a bulldozer and absolute commitment to Belgrade. These men go to the policemen who are protecting Milosevic's government and say

"This morning I kissed my family farewell. I hope you kissed your family farewell, too."

It turns out that the police weren't prepared to die. They flee and the regime falls, Serbia is now a democracy, and Milosevic spent the rest of his days rotting away in a cell. And it happened because of the presence of Hard Men, men willing to go all the way:

Who were these people? They were not the students and middle-class professionals who had marched against Milosevic, fruitlessly, for much of the past 10 years. Those protesters were out on the streets again last Thursday, of course, blowing their whistles and shaking their baby rattles and wearing their irreverent stickers ("Suck my dick, Slobo"). In the last decade, they had been the most well-behaved of protesters, so Gandhi-like in their nonviolent opposition that they might as well have worn sarongs. I do not want to suggest that they should have been violent or threatened violence; I just think it is interesting to note that they are a breed apart from the angry men of Cacak, who entered Belgrade as though entering the Colosseum in Rome. They even brought a bulldozer to crash through police roadblocks (which it did) and barrel into barricaded buildings (such as the headquarters of Radio-Television Serbia). The opposition movement had found its vanguard.

We always hold up Gandhi and Martin Luther King as the way to change societies non-violently. But there are societies that are brutal enough to remain immune to non-violent pressure. The Dali Lama's campaign to free Tibet, while inspirational, has been completely futile. Non-violent protest will not save Darfur. Some situations call for Hard Men. Men like Michael Collins:

Irish nationalism had always had a surplus of dreamers, poets, visionaries, rhetoricians, and idealists. What it lacked was bureaucrats. Collins became the indispensable man of the Irish revolution because he knew how to run things.
Romantic rhetoric might sanitize or even substitute for violence, but Collins intended to get on with the dirty business itself. This time there would be no heroic and dramatic failures, just cold instrumental killing.
"But what is your point, Mr. Russell?" It was a question that previous Irish nationalist leaders had tended not to ask. The struggle was its own point--merely to have fought was, in some mystical sense, to have won. For Collins, the point was simple enough: to force the British to negotiate their withdrawal from Ireland by any means necessary.

Expect a fresh round of looking at political violence this week. The movie V for Vendetta is coming out this week. The movie is the story of a future totalitarian Britain and the man working to destroy that system. Let's just say he's not taking Gandhi as his model.

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