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Beret lieutenant colonel, Gordon Cucullu is now an editorialist,
author and a popular speaker. Born into a military
family, he lived and served for more than thirteen years in East
Asia, including eight years in Korea. For his Special Forces
service in Vietnam he was awarded a Bronze Star, Vietnamese Cross
of Gallantry, and the Presidential Unit Commendation. After separation
from the Army, he worked on Korea and East Asian affairs at both
the Pentagon and Department of State as well as an executive
for General Electric in Korea. His first major non-fiction work,
at Birth: How North Korea became the Evil Twin, is
based in large part on his extensive experience in
Korea and East Asia as a governmental insider and businessman.
[go to Cucullu index]
Democracy is precious...
[Gordon Cucullu] 11/3/04
transfer of authority as called for in the Constitution routinely
takes place as it has for almost two centuries and few of
us stop to think how unique we really are. In the eyes of
many in the world, this every-four-year ceremony we accept
as normal is nothing less than a miracle.” Ronald Reagan
can be defined in many ways. Essential to any definition is
peaceful transition of power. Can power
change hands from one opposition group to another - groups that
up to that moment have campaigned hard, usually saying some harsh
things about each other? Or do the losers protest, fight the
results, go to the streets, demonstrate, riot, and make every
attempt to disrupt or nullify the election? If such is the norm,
then it produces a ‘one man, one vote, one time’ system, and
that is not democracy. Nor are the rigged elections that are
so common in authoritarian states across the political spectrum.
The old joke about the dictator receiving 100% of the vote until
absentee ballots are counted - then he’ll get 105%, applies.
has been an excellent source of democracy for oppressed peoples.
Despite billionaire king-maker George
Soros’ odd comment [odd in that he grew up under Nazi occupation]
that ‘democracy cannot be imposed by force,’ exactly that happened
in Germany, Italy and Japan post-WWII. Rather successfully it
turns out, despite strong internal radical elements that tried
to rip them apart. We have continued to this day to overcome,
liberate and assist countries toward this ultimate goal. Sometimes
quickly, more often slowly.
But we Americans have entered an age of instant
gratification and demand immediate results or we seek to assign
blame and extricate ourselves. Before we rush to judgment on
success we need, over time, to observe recently liberated countries
torn by civil strife, military dictatorships, communist rule
or Islamist-fascism to see how well real democracy takes hold.
The recent first-ever election in Afghanistan, for example, was
a great thing. Only time and repetition will verify that democracy
has taken root. One free election was held successfully. Can
they hold another? Can opposition parties realistically expect
to run the government if they win the vote? The process becomes
Planting democracy is like planting a tree.
The actual planting is simply a necessary first step. Once in
the ground it will certainly suffer setbacks. Like the tree democracy
needs to be shaped, pruned and tended in order to fit the particular
environmental conditions within which it lives. For that reason
democratic governments may be structured quite differently from
one another, but still meet the needs of freedom and representation
for their people. A good example is South Korea.
It took until 1987 for democracy to really take
hold in South Korea. In that year the people went to the streets
in mostly peaceful but huge demonstrations. Their security needs
had been met, their survival needs had been met, they were economically
prosperous but they were overdue for political freedom that went
hand in glove with these other things. They forced the resignation
of the incumbent authoritarian ruler and within months the first
of several elections were held. Peaceful transitions of power
every five years since have demonstrated the staying power of
democracy in that particular republic.
Central America in the mid-1980s was a hotbed
of military juntas fighting communist guerrillas. When elections
were finally held in El Salvador they were threatened even more
than the recent ones in Afghanistan. The communist insurgents
fired on polling places, deliberately trying to kill civilians
in an effort to close down the electoral process. Campesinos and their families lay face down in the dirt under
a sun as hot as the gunfire from the hillsides, waiting patiently
for their time to vote. Asked why he was doing such a dangerous
thing a farmer replied ‘because it is our only chance to have
freedom to choose our leaders. How can I miss the opportunity
of my lifetime because of mere physical danger?’
sentiments were echoed across Afghanistan. One elderly man
under fire at a polling place exclaimed ‘Because
we are Afghans we will defend our rights.’ In other cases women,
having been given equality for the first time, were lining up
by the millions to cast ballots. Many wept tears of joy in their
newfound freedom. This exemplary behavior came from a rough,
tribally divided culture that many wrote off as entirely unsuitable
for democracy. Regardless of how the elite distain a culture
as being ‘unfit’ or ‘unable’ to accept democracy the will of
the ordinary people triumphs when given a chance.
By the time this piece is being written our
US election is yet to take place. We do not know the outcome,
nor do we have an idea of how many will actually exercise their
right to vote. There are already battalions of lawyers, briefcases
locked and loaded, prepared to dispute the nits of the electoral
process. Such has the desire for power become among some particular
politicians that they will stop at nothing to grasp it. Such
naked ambition is a human vanity but it is unfortunate that in
excess it jeopardizes the freedoms we enjoy.
Despite the raging hostility that still smolders
for former President Richard Nixon among the elite and the mass
media, he had a sense of the priceless quality of the democratic
system that transcended his yearning for power. In the highly
disputed 1960 election against John Kennedy, voter fraud in Illinois
and Texas reached all-time obscene proportions. The number of
deceased voters in both states whose names were added to the
voting rolls by Democrat ward heelers was enough to tilt the
election to Kennedy.
Nixon was urged by his advisors to lodge a protest,
to take the fraud to the courts for settlement. He demurred,
saying that for the good of the country he would step aside for
the moment. That decision had huge impact on the course of this
country and the world, but that story is for another time. One
hopes that the candidates involved in this election and in future
American contests would have the ability to rise above self as
did the often-derided Nixon.
The essential strength of our democracy is our
willingness to accept defeat in good grace, confident that in
time after acting in good faith as a loyal opposition that we
will again hold the reins of power. Regardless of who wins this
presidential election that must be the code we live by. Democracy
is a gift far too precious to be squandered. CRO
Gordon Cucullu 2004