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Gordon Cucullu- Contributor

Former Green 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, Separated 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. [website] [go to Cucullu index]


Separated at Birth : How North Korea Became the Evil Twin
Gordon Cucullu

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Transition of Power
Democracy is precious
[Gordon Cucullu] 11/3/04

"The orderly 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

Democracy 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.

America 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 quite empirical.

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?’

Similar 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

copyright Gordon Cucullu 2004




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