Readers’ Voices: An American in Cuba

Published March 3, 2015

USA Today features Tom Millington, a U.S educator in Cuba USA Today
Tom Millington wanted to be a diplomat. Instead, he’s an educator in Cuba. But he acts as an ambassador of sorts, coordinating a study abroad program that helps American students learn more about the island nation. And with the historic shift to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations announced Dec. 17, he is eager to see firsthand what happens next.

What do the U.S. and Cuba have in common? And what do Cuban students teach their American peers? Listen to this installment of Readers’ Voices.

Tom Millington teaches in Cuba.

Tom Millington teaches in Cuba.

NYT: Time for U.S. to engage with Cuba

Published December 15, 2014

Ernesto Londoño from the New York Times tells Amanpour why the newspaper thinks the U.S. should end its Cuba embargo



Click to view video.


President Obama fostering human rights and partnership with Myanmar

Published November 14, 2014

Obama meets Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi at home where she was kept under arrest.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi following the conclusion of their joint news conference

U.S. President Barack Obama and Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi following the conclusion of their joint news conference









Image:  Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press


15 hours ago
President Barack Obama gave a blunt assessment Friday of the need for further reform in Myanmar’s move toward democracy, weighing into sensitive controversies over the treatment of religious minorities and a prohibition keeping opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from running for president.

Suu Kyi, released four years ago from more than two decades of confinement, is now a member of Myanmar’s Parliament but is unable to run in next year’s presidential election because of a constitutional rule barring anyone with strong allegiances to a foreign national from standing for the presidency. Suu Kyi’s sons are British, as was her late husband.

SEE ALSO: Isolated for half a century, Myanmar is a struggling beauty

“I don’t understand a provision that would bar somebody from running for president because of who their children are,” Obama said, with Suu Kyi by his side. “That doesn’t make much sense to me.”

Obama and Suu Kyi took questions from reporters from the back patio of the house where she spent much of her time under house arrest. The two were warm and affectionate in their interactions, sharing a long embrace after their opening statements and joking with each other throughout their remarks.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's residence where she was kept under house arrest.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s residence where she was kept under house arrest.













Obama has been pressing Myanmar’s leaders to amend the Constitution, but has been careful to not directly endorse his fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate as the country’s next president. He also raised an issue that has led to criticism for the opposition icon — her reluctance to address the abuse of minority Rohingya Muslims who are deeply disdained by most people in Myanmar.

“Discrimination against the Rohingya or any other religious minority I think does not express the kind of country that Burma over the long term wants to be,” Obama said. “Ultimately that is destabilizing to a democracy.” Myanmar is also known as Burma.

Obama and Suu Kyi met briefly Thursday on the sidelines of a regional summit in the capital city of Naypyitaw. On Friday, Obama flew to the city of Yangon to hold more substantial talks with Suu Kyi and also toured the Secretariat Building, where Suu Kyi’s father, independence hero Gen. Aung San, was assassinated by political rivals in 1947.

Obama in Myanmar: President’s motorcade blasts through Yangon Friday morning.

Obama in Myanmar: President’s motorcade blasts through Yangon Friday morning.










Obama had broadly embraced Myanmar’s move away from a half-century of military rule, suspending U.S. sanctions and rewarding the country with high-level visits from American officials. But Myanmar has stalled in fulfilling its promises of political and economic reforms, and in some cases has lost ground.

“We shouldn’t deny that Burma today is not the same as Burma five years ago,” Obama said. “But the process is still incomplete.” “We shouldn’t deny that Burma today is not the same as Burma five years ago,” Obama said. “But the process is still incomplete.”

Both Obama and Suu Kyi warned against complacency in the move toward democracy. Suu Kyi described the process as going through “a bumpy patch.”

Suu Kyi opened the press conference by addressing reports of tension between the U.S. and those working for democratic reforms in Myanmar. “We may view things differently from time to time but that will in no way affect our relationship,” she said.

Obama notably held his news conference on his visit to the Southeast Asian nation with Suu Kyi , not the country’s president. Obama said he told President Thein Sein that he will be judging whether reforms are being fully realized first off by whether next year’s election is held on time and whether the constitutional amendment process reflects inclusion.

Obama touring the Secretariat, site of Myanmar's first parliament and where ASSK's father was assassinated.

Obama touring the Secretariat, site of Myanmar’s first parliament and where ASSK’s father was assassinated.














Suu Kyi said it’s flattering to have a constitutional provision written with her in mind but it’s not how the law should be written. The 69-year-old said she and her supporters are working to change it and welcome Obama’s support.

“The Constitution says all citizens should be treated as equals and this is discrimination on the grounds of my children,” she said.

Fred Branfman, Who Exposed Bombing of Laos, Dies at 72

Published October 8, 2014




The Vietnam War was raging when Fred Branfman went to Laos in 1967 as an international aid worker. Determined to immerse himself in the society, he lived with an elderly villager, learned to speak Laotian and became a translator. In time, he met Laotians who told him something startling: There was a second war in their country, a secret American bombing campaign, that was devastating remote villages.

The revelation led him to take up a new mission when his term as an aid worker, for the nonprofit organization International Voluntary Services, ended in the summer of 1969: to bring attention to what became known as the “Secret War.”

It had gone on for years — Air Force bombers attacked parts of Laos controlled by the Communist North Vietnamese, killing thousands of Laotian civilians — but it had been invisible to most Americans.

Mr. Branfman, who was 72 when he died on Sept. 24, in Budapest, became one of the first to expose the air war, publicly challenging accounts by United States officials who had initially denied the bombing campaign and later insisted that it did not target civilian areas.

In Laos, Mr. Branfman took foreign officials and journalists into bombed villages and wrote freelance articles about the campaign. In 1971, he returned to the United States, where he helped start two influential antiwar groups, Project Air War and the Indochina Resource Center, which lobbied Congress to stop financing the war. The same year, he testified before Congress opposite William H. Sullivan, the American ambassador to Laos from 1964 to 1969 and one of the overseers of the bombing campaign.

Mr. Sullivan, who died last year, told Congress that Mr. Branfman and others had exaggerated the issue. Mr. Branfman and another opponent of the war, Representative Paul N. McCloskey Jr., a Republican from California, testified that Mr. Sullivan and the government had concealed the campaign.

The next year, Mr. Branfman provided stark documentation in a book he edited, “Voices From the Plain of Jars: Life Under an Air War.” The book — its title refers to the hard-hit farming region of northern Laos — included 16 Laotian “autobiographies” drawn from interviews by Mr. Branfman. Some included rudimentary line drawings by villagers depicting family members and neighbors being killed. It told of people fleeing the bombardment and hiding in caves for years.

According to reports at the time, at least two million tons of bombs were dropped from 1964 to 1973, nearly a ton for every person in Laos.

“No American should be able to read that book without weeping at his country’s arrogance,” the columnist Anthony Lewis wrote in The New York Times in 1973.

Jerome J. Brown, an Air Force captain who had helped identify targets for the bombing campaign in the late 1960s, said in 1972 that Mr. Branfman’s work had motivated him to discuss the campaign in detail publicly.

In 1976, Graham A. Martin, the last American ambassador to South Vietnam, bitterly blamed antiwar groups for the United States’s failure to prevent the fall of Saigon. Calling the antiwar campaign “one of the best propaganda and pressure organizations the world has ever seen,” he singled out one in particular, the Indochina Resource Center.

Fredric Robert Branfman was born on March 18, 1942, in Manhattan and grew up on Long Island, in Great Neck. His father, Ivan, was a textile executive, and his mother, Helen, was a homemaker. He received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Chicago in 1964 and a master’s in education from Harvard in 1965.

Mr. Branfman taught English in Tanzania before going to work in Laos.

His wife, Zsuzsanna Berkovits Branfman, said he had died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as A.L.S. or Lou Gehrig’s disease. The couple had been living in Budapest for several years. Besides his wife, he is survived by three brothers, Alan, Yaakov and David.

After the war, Mr. Branfman worked in Democratic politics, spending four years in the early 1980s as a senior staff member for Gov. Jerry Brown of California running the California Public Policy Center, a research arm. He was also an adviser to Senator Gary Hart of Colorado, helping to write policy papers for the senator’s 1988 presidential campaign before Mr. Hart dropped out of the race.

Mr. Branfman was later an activist on environmental issues, particularly climate change. He returned to Laos several times, including once to be interviewed for a documentary about the bombing campaign called “The Most Secret Place on Earth.” Last year, a new paperback edition of “Voices From the Plain of Jars” was published.





Nixon reframes Watergate scandal in rereleased 1983 interviews

Published August 7, 2014

President Nixon’s farewell on Aug. 9, 1974, as he boards a helicopter at the White House. (Associated Press)


On the eve of Richard Nixon’s resignation 40 years ago, he could hear protesters chanting outside the White House as he retired to the Lincoln Sitting Room to make calls.

The distant shouting reminded him of the height of the Vietnam War protests. “Except this time,” he recalled during the more than 30 hours of interviews that he did with his former aide Frank Gannon in 1983, “the chant was ‘Jail the Chief! Jail the Chief!'”

But the 37th president was unmoved. “It didn’t bother me,” he said, smiling in his conversation with Gannon nearly a decade later. “You know, after all, I’d been heckled by experts.”

 Click here to view video

Click to view video


It was that brazen side of Nixon — impervious to criticism and casting himself as a victim even as he stepped down — that infuriated millions of Americans during what became a moment of national shame. Nixon’s deception and abuse of executive power stunned the nation.

The Gannon-Nixon tapes, part of Nixon’s post-presidency attempt to rehabilitate his reputation, are being rereleased this week for a new generation by the Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum and the Richard Nixon Foundation to mark the 40th anniversary of his resignation and the presidential scandal known as Watergate.

The clips in the series are appearing day by day through Saturday on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Sitting down with his longtime aide in a nonconfrontational setting — markedly different from the contentious Frost/Nixon interviews of 1977 — the former president frames one of the most famous political scandals in his own words.

The tapes are being billed by the library as revealing the former president’s more emotional, candid and reflective side. They are at varying times maudlin, craven, emotional; even in 1983, Nixon appears to see himself as a man wronged, saying that he had resisted resigning because it would be an “admission of guilt” that would have set a bad example for future presidents.

While they do not provide new revelations about the Watergate affair, which began as a 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, they do provide intimate details of the Nixon family’s last hours at the White House and a powerful leader’s gradual submission to the politically inevitable.

The damning revelations of his involvement in the Watergate coverup by then were rolling into public view. He had lost the three votes he was counting on in the House Judiciary Committee to protect him from impeachment. Key supporters were abandoning him. And he could not bear the spectacle of going on trial before the Senate as “a crippled, half-time president.”


But in Nixon’s mind, he was still a victim, the tapes indicate. Even in those final White House days, he was still defiant about what had “happened” to him, basking in the adulation of loyal aides, and nurturing his lingering hesitation with a note left in his bedroom by his daughter Julie, who begged him to “go through the fire,” noting that millions still supported him.

Click to view video

“I’m a fighter; I just didn’t want to quit,” Nixon said. “Also, I thought it would be an admission of guilt, which of course it was,” he added. “And … it would set a terribly bad precedent for the future.”

But the damning tape of the “smoking gun” conversation, recorded in the Oval Office only a few days after the break-in and firmly establishing his knowledge of the burglary and coverup, “was the final blow, the final nail in the coffin. Although you didn’t need another nail if you were already in the coffin, which we were.”

Nixon recalled calling his family together and bringing with him a transcript of the tape to convince them he had to resign.


After his televised address to the nation on the night of Aug. 8, 1974, Nixon walked back to the residence with top advisor Henry Kissinger. “He said, ‘Mr. President, history is going to record that you were a great president.”

“I thought it would be an admission of guilt, which of course it was,” former President Nixon said in a 1983 interview of his reluctance to resign. (Raiford Communications)

Nixon’s version of events is once again stirring debate among historians, some of whom say it represents a misleading view of a crucial chapter in American history. Watergate historian Stanley Kutler described the videos as a desperate attempt to “rewrite history” and said he had urged the library to create a more informative exhibit. “This was Nixon carefully programmed…. This was Nixon in the middle of his last campaign.”

Nixon asserted, for example, that he had already made up his mind to resign before the incriminating “smoking gun” tape was revealed.

“That’s not true,” said Kutler, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “He was still trying that day to stay in office — and finally one Republican congressman after another told him he had to quit.”


In Yorba Linda on Tuesday, there was no rush of visitors to see the excerpts on display, selected from the interviews and played in a loop in a darkened theater.

For much of the day, the theater was nearly empty as a few older couples and the occasional family trickled in to watch them. Many visitors seemed oblivious to the anniversary and said they did not know that the tapes were new. Some said they were too young to remember Nixon’s resignation; others said they had become more fond of him over the years.

For 81-year-old Nancy Jerdee of Chandler, Ariz., there was not much new, but it brought back her sadness from that day. “I lived through all of that,” she said, describing Nixon as a great president. “It was such a stupid thing to have to resign over…. Presidents have done a lot worse than that.”

Nixon recalled that he did not sleep much the night before his last day in the White House. When he awoke, he realized that the battery had worn out on his watch — it had stopped at 4 p.m. on his last day as president. “By that time,” he said, “I was worn out too.”


Nixon recalled how he closed his eyes as he stepped aboard the helicopter for the last time. “I heard Mrs. Nixon speaking to no one in particular, but to everyone,” he said. “It’s so sad,” he remembered her saying. “It’s so sad.”

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

Don’t Know Much About History

Published August 1, 2014

The architects of our foreign-policy disasters would prefer we simply forget the past.

Clockwise from top left: Elliott Abrams, Henry Kissinger, Bill Kristol, Dick Cheney
(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta; Reuteres/Pascal Lauener; Gage Skidmore
AP Photo/Richard Drew)

I recently happened to be in the audience for a discussion on the legacy of World War I, held at the Thompson/Reuters headquarters in New York City, when Henry Kissinger made an amazing observation: of the five major wars that the United States has fought since World War II, all were entered on behalf of “idealistic principles.” No less surprising to me was the fact that nobody else in the crowded room of media and policy bigwigs appeared to find anything odd about that statement. Given what we now know about the lies, deception and corruption that preceded the most catastrophic of these wars—Vietnam and the second Iraq War—to call them “idealistic” is to purposely evade history at best, or (more accurately) to rewrite it purely on the basis of ideology rather than evidence.

Now Kissinger, at 91, may be pretty old and famously amoral, but he is not senile and has never been stupid. He offered his blinkered version of recent events before a room full of knowledgeable people because he figured nobody really cared one way or another. After all, it was “history”—which, in contemporary American political culture, is another word for “irrelevant.” And it is this contempt for history, as the cliché correctly advises, that condemns our nation to continually repeat it. The circumstances may differ, but the pathology remains unchanged.

Neocons are surpremely aware of this tendency and exploit it to the fullest. In fact, most of their careers would be impossible without it. Would Elliott Abrams be able to mouth off as a respected Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, attacking Barack Obama in a recent Politico piece as “The Man Who Broke the Middle East,” if his patrons took the time to consider that Abrams both enabled and ran political interference for what the Guatemalan Supreme Court of Justice has deemed a genocidal dictatorship? (Abrams also got himself disbarred in the District of Columbia for his lies to Congress about these and other crimes in which he participated while serving in the Reagan administration, both before and after the Iran/Contra affair.) Should that stretch American memory muscles beyond their breaking point, how about the fact that this criminal, while serving on the National Security Council during Bush II, himself helped to “break” the Middle East by undermining the 2006 Palestinian elections, which helped lead to the creation of a Hamas-run rump state in Gaza in the first place? And yet he somehow gets away with the crazy claim that “the Middle East that Obama inherited in 2009 was largely at peace” in order to blame its alleged collapse on the current president. (Politico is, conveniently, the ground zero of American political ahistoricity: virtually everything it publishes occurred during the previous twenty-four hours and will cease to matter within the next forty-eight.)

Numerous observers have expressed incredulity over the eagerness of so many media mavens to allow the discredited armchair warriors of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq to dominate discussion of the current crisis in that country—a crisis whose foundations they helped put in place. In a saner world, each one would, at a minimum, be required to answer the following question: “Given your record the last time this issue arose, why in the world should we listen to anything you have to say today?” But as the respective rehabilitations of Henry Kissinger and Elliott Abrams demonstrate, being a known liar and an arguable (Kissinger) or unarguable (Abrams) enabler of genocide is no barrier to career advancement in the American establishment, thanks to the collective amnesia of its most elite institutions, especially its elite media.

Sometimes they lie outright. Here are Dick and Liz Cheney writing in The Weekly Standardregarding the Iraq invasion: “It is undisputed, and has been confirmed repeatedly in Iraqi government documents captured after the invasion, that Saddam had deep, longstanding, far-reaching relationships with terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda and its affiliates.”

Undisputed? Really? How about, just for starters, the 9/11 Commission, before which Cheney testified. Its final report, as Warren Bass noted in The Wall Street Journal, states that the commission has “seen no evidence [of] a collaborative operational relationship. Nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States.”

William Kristol, perhaps the wrongest pundit in all of American history—and hence also the most sought-after by media institutions like The Washington PostThe New York Times,Time, ABC News, etc.—demonstrates a coy agnosticism when it comes to the choice between outright fabrication and contempt for the historical record. He doesn’t mind pretending, as he did on ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos, that the current crisis was caused by what he termed “our ridiculous and total withdrawal from Iraq in 2011,” when in fact that withdrawal had been decided on in the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement negotiated with the Iraqi government by George W. Bush. But Kristol is just as comfortable asserting in The Weekly Standard (in an article written with Frederick Kagan), “Now is not the time to re-litigate either the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 or the decision to withdraw from it in 2011.” This is perhaps the only path available to someone with the chutzpah to insist, back in April 2003, that it was merely a “kind of pop sociology in America that, you know, somehow the Shia can’t get along with the Sunni,” when that same person today is calling for yet another attack on the country to deal with the Sunni/Shiite massacres inspired by the earlier one. But as Kristol, Cheney, Abrams and Kissinger demonstrate over and over, success within our political punditocracy means never having to say you’re sorry.


Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s Liberator as Prisoner and President, Dies at 95

Published December 5, 2013

Kim Ludbrook/European Pressphoto Agency

Nelson Mandela, who led the emancipation of South Africa from white minority rule and served as his country’s first black president, becoming an international emblem of dignity and forbearance, died Thursday. He was 95.

The South African president, Jacob Zuma, announced Mr. Mandela’s death.
Mr. Mandela had long declared he wanted a quiet exit, but the time he spent in a Pretoria hospital in recent months was a clamor of quarreling family, hungry news media, spotlight-seeking politicians and a national outpouring of affection and loss. The vigil even eclipsed a recent visit by President Obama, who paid homage to Mr. Mandela but decided not to intrude on the privacy of a dying man he considered his hero.
Mr. Mandela will be buried, according to his wishes, in the village of Qunu, where he grew up. The exhumed remains of three of his children were reinterred there in early July under a court order, resolving a family squabble that had played out in the news media.
Mr. Mandela’s quest for freedom took him from the court of tribal royalty to the liberation underground to a prison rock quarry to the presidential suite of Africa’s richest country. And then, when his first term of office was up, unlike so many of the successful revolutionaries he regarded as kindred spirits, he declined a second term and cheerfully handed over power to an elected successor, the country still gnawed by crime, poverty, corruption and disease but a democracy, respected in the world and remarkably at peace.
The question most often asked about Mr. Mandela was how, after whites had systematically humiliated his people, tortured and murdered many of his friends, and cast him into prison for 27 years, he could be so evidently free of spite.
The government he formed when he finally won the chance was an improbable fusion of races and beliefs, including many of his former oppressors. When he became president, he invited one of his white wardens to the inauguration. Mr. Mandela overcame a personal mistrust bordering on loathing to share both power and a Nobel Peace Prize with the white president who preceded him, F. W. de Klerk.
And as president, from 1994 to 1999, he devoted much energy to moderating the bitterness of his black electorate and to reassuring whites against their fears of vengeance.
The explanation for his absence of rancor, at least in part, is that Mr. Mandela was that rarity among revolutionaries and moral dissidents: a capable statesman, comfortable with compromise and impatient with the doctrinaire.
When the question was put to Mr. Mandela in an interview for this obituary in 2007 — after such barbarous torment, how do you keep hatred in check? — his answer was almost dismissive: Hating clouds the mind. It gets in the way of strategy. Leaders cannot afford to hate.
Except for a youthful flirtation with black nationalism, he seemed to have genuinely transcended the racial passions that tore at his country. Some who worked with him said this apparent magnanimity came easily to him because he always regarded himself as superior to his persecutors.
In his five years as president, Mr. Mandela, though still a sainted figure abroad, lost some luster at home as he strained to hold together a divided populace and to turn a fractious liberation movement into a credible government.
Some blacks — including Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Mr. Mandela’s former wife, who cultivated a following among the most disaffected blacks — complained that he had moved too slowly to narrow the vast gulf between the impoverished black majority and the more prosperous white minority. Some whites said he had failed to control crime, corruption and cronyism. Some blacks deserted government to make money; some whites emigrated, taking capital and knowledge with them.
Undoubtedly Mr. Mandela had become less attentive to the details of governing, turning over the daily responsibilities to the deputy who would succeed him in 1999, Thabo Mbeki.
But few among his countrymen doubted that without his patriarchal authority and political shrewdness South Africa might well have descended into civil war long before it reached its imperfect state of democracy.
After leaving the presidency, Mr. Mandela brought that moral stature to bear elsewhere around the continent, as a peace broker and champion of greater outside investment.
Rise of a ‘Troublemaker’
Mr. Mandela was deep into a life prison term when he caught the notice of the world as a symbol of the opposition to apartheid, literally “apartness” in the Afrikaans language — a system of racial gerrymandering that stripped blacks of their citizenship and relegated them to reservation-style “homelands” and townships.
Around 1980, exiled leaders of the foremost anti-apartheid movement, the African National Congress, decided that this eloquent lawyer was the perfect hero to humanize their campaign against the system that denied 80 percent of South Africans any voice in their own affairs. “Free Nelson Mandela,” which was already a liberation chant within South Africa, became a pop-chart anthem in Britain, and Mr. Mandela’s face bloomed on placards at student rallies in America aimed at mustering trade sanctions against the apartheid regime.
Mr. Mandela noted with some amusement in his 1994 autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” that this congregation made him the world’s best-known political prisoner without knowing precisely who he was. Probably it was just his impish humor, but he claimed to have been told that when posters went up in London, many young supporters thought Free was his Christian name.
In South Africa, though, and among those who followed the country’s affairs more closely, Nelson Mandela was already a name to reckon with.
He was born Rolihlahla Mandela on July 18, 1918, in Mvezo, a tiny village of cows, corn and mud huts in the rolling hills of the Transkei, a former British protectorate in the south. His given name, he enjoyed pointing out, translates colloquially as “troublemaker.” He received his more familiar English name from a teacher when he began school at age 7. His father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, was a chief of the Thembu people, a subdivision of the Xhosa nation.
When Nelson was an infant, his father was stripped of his chieftainship by a British magistrate for insubordination — showing a proud stubborn streak his son willingly claimed as an inheritance.
Nine years later, on the death of his father, young Nelson was taken into the home of the paramount chief of the Thembu — not as an heir to power, but in a position to study it. He would become worldly and westernized, but some of his closest friends would always attribute his regal self-confidence (and his occasional autocratic behavior) to his upbringing in a royal household.
Unlike many black South Africans, whose confidence had been crushed by generations of officially proclaimed white superiority, Mr. Mandela never seemed to doubt that he was the equal of any man. “The first thing to remember about Mandela is that he came from a royal family,” said Ahmed Kathrada, an activist who shared a prison cellblock with Mr. Mandela and was part of his inner circle. “That always gave him a strength.”
In his autobiography, Mr. Mandela recalled eavesdropping on the endless consensus-seeking deliberations of the tribal council, and noticing that the chief worked “like a shepherd.”
“He stays behind the flock,” he continued, “letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”
That would often be his own style as leader and president.
Mr. Mandela maintained his close ties to the royal family of the Thembu tribe, a large and influential constituency in the important Transkei region. And his background there gave him useful insights into the sometimes tribal politics of South Africa.

Most important, it helped him manage the lethal divisions within the large Zulu nation, which was rived by a power struggle between the African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party. While many A.N.C. leaders demonized the Inkatha leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Mr. Mandela embraced him into his new unity government and finally quelled the violence.

Mr. Mandela once explained in an interview that the key to peace in the Zulu nation was simple: Mr. Buthelezi had been raised as a member of the royal Zulu family, but as a nephew, not in the direct line of succession, leaving him tortured by a sense of insecurity about his position. The solution was to love him into acquiescence.
Joining a Movement
The enlarging of Mr. Mandela’s outlook began at Methodist missionary schools and the University College of Fort Hare, then the only residential college for blacks in South Africa. Mr. Mandela said later that he had entered the university still thinking of himself as a Xhosa first and foremost, but left with a broader African perspective.
Studying law at Fort Hare, he fell in with Oliver Tambo, another leader-to-be of the liberation movement. The two were suspended for a student protest in 1940 and sent home on the verge of expulsion. Much later, Mr. Mandela called the episode — his refusal to yield on a minor point of principle — “foolhardy.”
On returning to his home village, he learned that his family had chosen a bride for him. Finding the woman unappealing and the prospect of a career in tribal government even more so, he ran away to the black metropolis of Soweto, following other young blacks who had left mostly to work in the gold mines around Johannesburg.
There he was directed to Walter Sisulu, who ran a real estate business and was a spark plug in the African National Congress. Mr. Sisulu looked upon the tall young man with his aristocratic bearing and confident gaze and, he recalled in an interview, decided that his prayers had been answered.
Mr. Mandela soon impressed the activists with his ability to win over doubters. “His starting point is that ‘I am going to persuade this person no matter what,’ ” Mr. Sisulu said. “That is his gift. He will go to anybody, anywhere, with that confidence. Even when he does not have a strong case, he convinces himself that he has.”
Mr. Mandela, though he never completed his law degree, opened the first black law partnership in South Africa with Mr. Tambo. He took up amateur boxing, rising before dawn to run roadwork. Tall and slim, he was also somewhat vain. He wore impeccable suits, displaying an attention to fashion that would much later be evident in the elegantly bright loose shirts of African cloth that became his trademark.
Impatient with the seeming impotence of their elders in the African National Congress, Mr. Mandela, Mr. Tambo, Mr. Sisulu and other militants organized the A.N.C. Youth League, issuing a manifesto so charged with Pan-African nationalism that some of their nonblack sympathizers were offended.
Africanism versus nonracialism: that was the great divide in liberation thinking. The black consciousness movement, whose most famous martyr was Steve Biko, argued that before Africans could take their place in a multiracial state their confidence and sense of responsibility must be rebuilt.
Mr. Mandela, too, was attracted to this doctrine of self-sufficiency.
“I was angry at the white man, not at racism,” he wrote in his autobiography. “While I was not prepared to hurl the white man into the sea, I would have been perfectly happy if he climbed aboard his steamships and left the continent of his own volition.”
In his conviction that blacks should liberate themselves, he joined friends in breaking up Communist Party meetings because he regarded Communism as an alien, non-African ideology, and for a time he insisted that the A.N.C. keep a distance from Indian and mixed-race political movements.
“This was the trend of the youth at that time,” Mr. Sisulu said. But Mr. Mandela, he said, was never “an extreme nationalist,” or much of an ideologue of any stripe. He was a man of action.
He was also, already, a man of audacious self-confidence.
Joe Matthews, who worked for Mr. Mandela in the Youth League (and later became a moderate voice in the rival Inkatha movement), heard Mr. Mandela speak at a black-tie dinner in 1952 and predict, in what the audience took as impudence, that he would be the first president of free South Africa.
“He was not a theoretician, but he was a doer,” Mr. Matthews said in an interview for the television documentary program “Frontline.” “He was a man who did things, and he was always ready to volunteer to be the first to do any dangerous or difficult thing.”
Five years after forming the Youth League, the young rebels engineered a generational takeover of the African National Congress.
During his years as a young lawyer in Soweto, Mr. Mandela married a nurse, Evelyn Ntoko Mase, and they had four children, including a daughter who died at 9 months. But the demands of his politics kept him from his family. Compounding the strain was his wife’s joining the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a sect that abjures any participation in politics. The marriage grew cold and ended with abruptness.
“He said, ‘Evelyn, I feel that I have no love for you anymore,’ ” his first wife said in an interview for a documentary film. “ ‘I’ll give you the children and the house.’ ”
Not long afterward, a friend introduced him to Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela, a stunning and strong-willed medical social worker 16 years his junior. Mr. Mandela was smitten, declaring on their first date that he would marry her. He did so in 1958, while he and other activists were in the midst of a marathon trial on treason charges. His second marriage would be tumultuous, producing two daughters and a national drama of forced separation, devotion, remorse and acrimony.
A Shift to Militancy
In 1961, with the patience of the liberation movement stretched to the snapping point by the police killing of 69 peaceful demonstrators in Sharpeville township the previous year, Mr. Mandela led the African National Congress onto a new road of armed insurrection.
It was an abrupt shift for a man who, not many weeks earlier, had proclaimed nonviolence an inviolable principle of the A.N.C. He later explained that forswearing violence “was not a moral principle but a strategy; there is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon.”
Taking as his text Che Guevara’s “Guerrilla Warfare,” Mr. Mandela became the first commander of a motley liberation army, grandly named Umkhonto we Sizwe, or Spear of the Nation.
Although he denied it throughout his life, there is persuasive evidence that about this time Mr. Mandela briefly joined the South African Communist Party, the A.N.C.’s partner in opening the armed resistance. Mr. Mandela presumably joined for the party’s connections to Communist countries that would finance the campaign of violence. Stephen Ellis, a British historian who in 2011 found reference to Mr. Mandela’s membership in secret party minutes, said Mr. Mandela “wasn’t a real convert; it was just an opportunist thing.”
Mr. Mandela’s exploits in the “armed struggle” have been somewhat mythologized. During his months as a cloak-and-dagger outlaw, the press christened him “the Black Pimpernel.” But while he trained for guerrilla fighting and sought weapons for Spear of the Nation, he saw no combat. The A.N.C.’s armed activities were mostly confined to planting land mines, blowing up electrical stations and committing occasional acts of terrorism against civilians.
After the first free elections in South Africa, Spear of the Nation’s reputation was stained by admissions of human rights abuses in its training camps, though no evidence emerged that Mr. Mandela was complicit in them.
During Trial, a Legend Grows
South Africa’s rulers were determined to put Mr. Mandela and his comrades out of action. In 1956, he and scores of other dissidents were arrested on charges of treason. The state botched the prosecution, and after the acquittal Mr. Mandela went underground. Upon his capture he was charged with inciting a strike and leaving the country without a passport. His legend grew when, on the first day of that trial, he entered the courtroom wearing a traditional Xhosa leopard-skin cape to underscore that he was an African entering a white man’s jurisdiction.
That trial resulted in a three-year sentence, but it was just a warm-up for the main event. Next Mr. Mandela and eight other A.N.C. leaders were charged with sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the state — capital crimes. It was called the Rivonia trial, for the name of the farm where the defendants had conspired and where a trove of incriminating documents was found — many in Mr. Mandela’s handwriting — outlining and justifying a violent campaign to bring down the regime.
At Mr. Mandela’s suggestion, the defendants, certain of conviction, set out to turn the trial into a moral drama that would vindicate them in the court of world opinion. They admitted that they had organized a liberation army and had engaged in sabotage and tried to lay out a political justification for these acts. Among themselves, they agreed that even if sentenced to hang, they would refuse on principle to appeal.
The four-hour speech with which Mr. Mandela opened the defense case was one of the most eloquent of his life, and — in the view of his authorized biographer, Anthony Sampson — it established him as the leader not only of the A.N.C. but also of the international movement against apartheid.
Mr. Mandela described his personal evolution from the temptations of black nationalism to the politics of multiracialism. He acknowledged that he was the commander of Spear of the Nation, but asserted that he had turned to violence only after nonviolent resistance had been foreclosed. He conceded that he had made alliances with Communists — a powerful current in the prosecution case in those cold war days — but likened this to Churchill’s cooperation with Stalin against Hitler.
He finished with a coda of his convictions that would endure as an oratorical highlight of South African history.
“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination,” he told the court. “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But my lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Under considerable pressure from liberals at home and abroad (including a nearly unanimous vote of the United Nations General Assembly) to spare the defendants, the judge acquitted one and sentenced Mr. Mandela and the others to life in prison.
An Education in Prison
Mr. Mandela was 44 when he was manacled and put on a ferry to the Robben Island prison. He would be 71 when he was released.
Robben Island, in shark-infested waters about seven miles off Cape Town, had over the centuries been a naval garrison, a mental hospital and a leper colony, but it was most famously a prison. For Mr. Mandela and his co-defendants, it began with a nauseating ferry ride, during which guards amused themselves by urinating down the air vents on the prisoners below.
The routine on Robben Island was one of isolation, boredom and petty humiliations, met with frequent shows of resistance. By day the men were marched to a limestone quarry, where the fine dust stirred up by their labors glued their tear ducts shut.
But in some ways prison was less arduous than life outside in those unsettled times. For Mr. Mandela and others, Robben Island was a university. In whispered conversations as they hacked at the limestone, and in tightly written polemics handed from cellblock to cellblock, the prisoners debated everything from Marxism to circumcision.
Mr. Mandela learned Afrikaans, the language of the dominant whites, and urged other prisoners to do the same.
He honed his skills as a leader, negotiator and proselytizer, and not only the factions among the prisoners but also some of the white administrators found his charm and iron will irresistible. He credited his prison experience with teaching him the tactics and strategy that would make him president.
Almost from his arrival he assumed a kind of command. The first time his lawyer, George Bizos, visited him, Mr. Mandela greeted him and then introduced his eight guards by name — to their amazement — as “my guard of honor.” The prison authorities began treating him as a prison elder statesman.
During his time on the island, a new generation of political inmates arose, defiant veterans of a national student uprising who at first resisted the authority of the elders but gradually came under their tutelage. Years later Mr. Mandela recalled the young hotheads with a measure of exasperation:
“When you say, ‘What are you going to do?’ they say, ‘We will attack and destroy them!’ I say: ‘All right, have you analyzed how strong they are, the enemy? Have you compared their strength to your strength?’ They say, ‘No, we will just attack!’ ”
Perhaps because Mr. Mandela was so revered, he was singled out for gratuitous cruelties by the authorities. On Robben Island the wardens left newspaper clippings in his cell telling how his wife had been cited as the other woman in a divorce case, and about the persecution she and her children endured after being exiled to a bleak town 250 miles from Johannesburg.
He was denied permission to attend the funerals of his mother and of his oldest son, who died in a car accident while Mr. Mandela was on Robben Island.
Friends say his experiences steeled his self-control and made him, more than ever, a man who buried his emotions deep, who spoke in the collective “we” of liberation rhetoric.
Still, Mr. Mandela said he regarded his prison experience as a major factor in his nonracial outlook. He said prison tempered any desire for vengeance by exposing him to sympathetic white guards who smuggled in newspapers and extra rations, and to moderates within the National Party government who approached him in hopes of opening a dialogue. Above all, prison taught him to be a master negotiator.
The Negotiations Begin
Mr. Mandela’s decision to begin negotiations with the white government was one of the most momentous of his life, and he made it like an autocrat, without consulting his comrades, knowing full well that they would resist.
“My comrades did not have the advantages that I had of brushing shoulders with the V.I.P.’s who came here, the judges, the minister of justice, the commissioner of prisons, and I had come to overcome my own prejudice towards them,” he recalled. “So I decided to present my colleagues with a fait accompli.”
With an overture to Kobie Coetsee, the justice minister, and a visit to President P. W. Botha, Mr. Mandela, in 1986, began what would be years of negotiations on the future of South Africa. The encounters, remarkably, were characterized by little rancor and mutual shows of respect. When he occupied the president’s office, Mr. Mandela would delightedly show visitors where President Botha had poured him tea.
Mr. Mandela demanded as a show of good will that Walter Sisulu and other defendants in the Rivonia trial be released. President F. W. de Klerk, Mr. Botha’s successor, complied.
In the last months of his imprisonment, as the negotiations gathered force, he was relocated to Victor Verster Prison outside Cape Town, where the government could meet with him conveniently and monitor his health. (In prison he had had prostate surgery and lung problems, and the government was terrified of the uproar if he died in captivity.) He lived in a warden’s bungalow. He had access to a swimming pool, a garden, a chef and a VCR. A suit was tailored for his meetings with government luminaries.
(After his release he built a vacation home near his ancestral village, a brick replica of the warden’s house. This was pure pragmatism, he explained: he was accustomed to the floor plan and could find the bathroom at night without stumbling in the dark.)
From the moment they learned of the talks, Mr. Mandela’s allies in the A.N.C. were suspicious, and their worries were not allayed when the government allowed them to confer with Mr. Mandela at his quarters in the warden’s house.
Tokyo Sexwale, who had come to Robben Island as a student rebel, recalled in a “Frontline” interview encountering Mr. Mandela in this comfortable house. Mr. Mandela walked them through the house, showing off the television and the microwave. “And,” Mr. Sexwale said, “I thought, ‘I think you are sold out.’ ”
Mr. Mandela seated his visitors at a table and patiently explained his view that the enemy was morally and politically defeated, with nothing left but the army, the country ungovernable. His strategy, he said, was to give the white rulers every chance to retreat in an orderly way. He was preparing to meet Mr. de Klerk, who had just taken over from Mr. Botha.
Free in a Changed World
In February 1990, Mr. Mandela walked out of prison alongside his wife into a world that he knew little, and that knew him less. The African National Congress was now torn by factions — the prison veterans, those who had spent the years of struggle working legally in labor unions, and the exiles who had spent them in foreign capitals. The white government was also split, with some committed to negotiating an honest new order while others fomented factional violence in hopes of disabling the black political leadership.
Over the next four years Mr. Mandela would be embroiled in a laborious negotiation, not only with the white government, but also with his own fractious alliance.
But first he took time for a victory lap around the world, including an eight-city tour of the United States that began with a motorcade through delirious crowds in New York City.
The anti-apartheid movement had had a rocky relationship with United States governments, which saw South Africa through the lens of the cold war rivalry with Communists and also regarded the country as an important source of uranium. Until the late 1980s the Central Intelligence Agency portrayed the A.N.C. as Communist-dominated. There have been allegations, neither substantiated nor dispelled, that a C.I.A. agent had tipped the police officers who arrested Mr. Mandela.
Congress, following popular sentiment, enacted economic sanctions against investment in South Africa in 1986, overriding the veto of President Ronald Reagan. Even at the time of his euphoric public welcome in the United States, Mr. Mandela was regarded with some official misgivings, because of both his devotion to economic sanctions and his loyalties to various self-styled liberation figures like Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and Yasir Arafat.
While Mr. Mandela had languished in prison, a campaign of civil disobedience was under way. No one participated more enthusiastically than Winnie Mandela.
A Troubled Marriage
By the time of her husband’s imprisonment, the Mandelas had produced two daughters but had little time to enjoy a domestic life. For most of their marriage they saw each other through the thick glass partition of the prison visiting room: for 21 years of his captivity, they never touched.
She was, however, a megaphone to the outside world, a source of information on friends and comrades and an interpreter of his views through the journalists who came to visit her. She was tormented by the police, jailed and banished with her children to a remote Afrikaner town, Brandfort, where she challenged her captors at every turn.
By the time she was released into the tumult of Soweto in 1984, she had became a firebrand. She now dressed in military khakis and boots and spoke in a violent rhetoric, notoriously endorsing the practice of “necklacing” foes, incinerating them in a straitjacket of gasoline-soaked tires. She surrounded herself with young thugs who terrorized, kidnapped and killed blacks she deemed hostile to the cause.
Friends said Mr. Mandela’s choice of his cause over his family often filled him with remorse — so much so that long after Winnie Mandela was widely known to have conducted a reign of terror, long after she was implicated in the kidnapping and murder of young township activists, long after the marriage was effectively dead, Mr. Mandela refused to utter a word of criticism.
As president, he bowed to her popularity by appointing her deputy minister of arts, a position in which she became entangled in financial scandals and increasingly challenged the government for appeasing whites. In 1995 Mr. Mandela finally filed for divorce, which was granted the next year after an emotionally wrenching public hearing.
Mr. Mandela later fell publicly in love with Graça Machel, the widow of the former president of Mozambique and an activist in her own right for humanitarian causes. They married on Mr. Mandela’s 80th birthday. She survives him, as do his two daughters by Winnie Mandela, Zenani and Zindziswa; a daughter, Makaziwe, by his first wife; 17 grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren.
A Deal for Majority Rule
Two years after Mr. Mandela’s release from prison, black and white leaders met in a convention center on the outskirts of Johannesburg for negotiations that would lead, fitfully, to an end of white rule. While outside in the country extremists black and white used violence to tilt the outcome their way, Mr. Mandela and the white president, Mr. de Klerk, argued and maneuvered toward a peaceful transfer of power.
Mr. Mandela understood the mutual need in his relationship with Mr. de Klerk, a proud, dour, chain-smoking pragmatist, but he never much liked or fully trusted him. Two years into the negotiations, the men were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and their appearance together in Oslo in 1993 was marked by bouts of pique and recriminations. In a conversation a year after becoming president, with Mr. de Klerk as deputy president, Mr. Mandela said he still suspected Mr. de Klerk of complicity in the murders of countless blacks by police and army units, a rogue “third force” opposed to black rule.
Eventually, though, Mr. Mandela and his negotiating team, led by the former labor leader Cyril Ramaphosa, found their way to the grand bargain that assured free elections in exchange for promising opposition parties a share of power and a guarantee that whites would not be subjected to reprisals.
At times, the ensuing election campaign seemed in danger of collapsing into chaos. Strife between rival Zulu factions cost hundreds of lives, and white extremists set off bombs at campaign rallies and assassinated the second most popular black figure, Chris Hani.
But the fear was more than offset by the excitement in black townships. Mr. Mandela, wearing a hearing aid and orthopedic socks, soldiered on through 12-hour campaign days, igniting euphoric crowds packed into dusty soccer stadiums and perched on building tops to sing liberation songs and cheer.
During elections in April 1994, voters lined up in some places for miles. The African National Congress won 62 percent of the vote, earning 252 of the 400 seats in Parliament’s National Assembly and ensuring that Mr. Mandela, as party leader, would be named president when Parliament convened.
Mr. Mandela was sworn in as president on May 10, and he accepted office with a speech of shared patriotism, summoning South Africans’ communal exhilaration in their land and their common relief at being freed from the world’s disapproval.
“Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world,” he declared.
Then nine Mirage fighter jets of the South African Air Force, originally purchased to help keep someone like Mr. Mandela from taking power, roared overhead, and 50,000 roared back from the lawn spread below the government buildings in Pretoria, “Viva the South African Air Force, viva!”
Limitations as a President
As president, Mr. Mandela set a style that was informal and multiracial. He lived much of the time in a modest house in Johannesburg, where he made his own bed. He enjoyed inviting visiting foreign dignitaries to shake hands with the woman who served them tea.
But he was also casual, even careless, in his relationships with rich capitalists, the mining tycoons, retailers and developers whose continued investment he saw as vital to South Africa’s economy. Before the election, he went to 20 industrialists and asked each for at least one million rand ($275,000 at the exchange rate of that time) to build up his party and finance the campaign. In office, he was unabashed about taking their phone calls — and bristled when unions organized a strike against some of his big donors. He enjoyed socializing with the very rich and the show-business celebrities who flocked to pay homage.
At the same time, he was insistent that the black majority should not expect instant material gratification. He told union leaders at one point to “tighten your belts” and accept low wages so that investment would flow. “We must move from the position of a resistance movement to one of builders,” he said in an interview the next day, musing on the impatience of his allies.
Mr. Mandela exhibited a genius for the grand gesture of reconciliation. Some attempts, like a tea he organized of prominent A.N.C. women and the wives of apartheid-era white officials, were awkward.
Others were triumphant. Few in South Africa, whatever their race, were unmoved in June 1995 when the South African rugby team, long a symbol of white arrogance, defeated New Zealand in a World Cup final, a moment dramatized in the 2009 film “Invictus.” Mr. Mandela strode onto the field wearing the team’s green jersey, and 80,000 fans, mostly Afrikaners, erupted in a chant of “Nel-son! Nel-son!”
Mr. Mandela’s instinct for compromise in the interest of unity was evident in the 1995 creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, devised to balance justice and forgiveness in a reckoning of the country’s history. The panel offered individual amnesties for anyone who testified fully on the crimes committed during the apartheid period.
In the end, the process fell short of both truth (both white officials and A.N.C. leaders were evasive) and reconciliation (many blacks found that information only fed their anger). But it was generally counted a success, giving South Africans who had lost loved ones to secret graves a chance to reclaim their grief, while avoiding the spectacle of endless trials.
There was a limit, though, to how much Mr. Mandela — by exhortation, by symbolism, by regal appeals to the better natures of his constituents — could paper over the gulf between white privilege and black privation.
After Mr. Mandela delivered one miracle in the shape of South Africa’s freedom, it was perhaps too much to expect that he could deliver another in the form of broad prosperity. In his term, he made only modest progress in fulfilling the modest goals he had set for housing, education and jobs.
He tried with limited success to transform the police from an instrument of white supremacy to an effective crime-fighting force. Corruption and cronyism (which predated majority rule) blossomed. Foreign investment, despite the universal high esteem for Mr. Mandela, kept its distance.
Racial divisions, kept in check by the euphoria of the peaceful transition and by Mr. Mandela’s moral authority, re-emerged somewhat as the ultimate problem of closing the income gap remained unresolved.
The South African journalist Mark Gevisser, in his 2007 biography of Mr. Mandela’s successor as president, Thabo Mbeki, wrote: “The overriding legacy of the Mandela presidency — of the years 1994 to 1999 — is a country where the rule of law was entrenched in an unassailable Bill of Rights, and where the predictions of racial and ethnic conflict did not come true. These feats, alone, guarantee Mandela his sanctity. But he was a far better liberator and nation-builder than he was a governor.”
In addition, Mr. Mandela bequeathed his country a virtual one-party system with a circle-the-wagons attitude toward allegations of corruption, a distaste for criticism in the news media and a tendency to treat rival parties as verging on treasonous. Neither liberal nor conservative opposition parties managed to organize themselves into a credible alternative to the A.N.C.
Mr. Mandela himself deferred to his party, notably in the choice of a successor. After the party favorite, Mr. Mbeki, had succeeded to the presidency, Mr. Mandela let it be known that he had actually preferred the younger Mr. Ramaphosa, the former mine workers’ union leader who had negotiated the new Constitution. Mr. Mbeki knew and resented that he was not the favorite, and for much of his presidency he snubbed Mr. Mandela.
Mr. Mandela mostly refrained from directly criticizing his successor, but his disappointment was unmistakable when Mr. Mbeki showed his intolerance of criticism and his conspiratorial view of the world. When Mr. Mbeki questioned mainstream medical explanations of the cause of AIDS, stifling open discussion that might have helped cope with a galloping epidemic, Mr. Mandela spoke up on the need for protected sex and cheaper medicines. When his eldest son, Makgatho, died in 2005, Mr. Mandela gathered family members to publicly disclose that the cause was AIDS.
In the 2007 interview, speaking on the condition that he not be quoted until after his death, Mr. Mandela was openly scornful of Mr. Mbeki’s leadership. The A.N.C., he said, had always succeeded as a movement and a party because it had drawn on the collective wisdom of its many constituencies.
“There is a great deal of centralization now under President Mbeki, where he takes decisions himself,” Mr. Mandela declared. “We never liked that.”
Mr. Mbeki often found it excruciating to govern in Mr. Mandela’s shadow. He felt his predecessor had dealt him a nearly impossible hand — first by encouraging the notion that South Africa’s liberation was the magic of one great black man, and second by emphasizing accommodation with white power and thus doing relatively little to relieve the impoverished black majority.
In interviews published in Mr. Gevisser’s biography, Mr. Mbeki chafed at President Mandela’s ability to rule by charm and stature, with little attention to the mechanics of governing.
“Madiba didn’t pay any attention to what the government was doing,” Mr. Mbeki said, using the clan name for his predecessor. “We had to, because somebody had to.”
As a former president, Mr. Mandela lent his charisma to a variety of causes on the African continent, joining peace talks in several wars and assisting his wife, Graça, in raising money for children’s aid organizations.
In 2010, the World Cup soccer games took place in South Africa, another sporting-world benediction of the peace Mr. Mandela did so much to deliver to his country. But for Mr. Mandela, the proud occasion turned to heartbreak when his 13-year-old granddaughter Zenani was killed in an auto accident while returning from an opening-day concert. Mr. Mandela, who had been instrumental in luring the tournament to its first African setting, canceled his plans to attend the opening day.
By then, his hearing and memory shaky, he had already largely withdrawn from public debate, declining almost all interview requests and confining himself to scripted public statements on issues like the war in Iraq. (He was vehemently against it.)
When he received a reporter for the 2007 interview, his aides were already contending with a custody battle over Mr. Mandela’s legacy — including where he would be buried and how he would be memorialized. Mr. Mandela insisted that his burial be left to his widow, and be done with minimal fanfare. His acolytes had other plans.
Published: December 5, 2013

March on Washington organizers look back

Published August 28, 2013

Recollections of some of those who helped make the massive March on Washington happen 50 years ago.

WASHINGTON — As they look back half a century later, five organizers of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom recall the thrill of the day — the sense that the cause of civil rights would advance.
Of course they remember the stirring “I Have a Dream” speech delivered by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to the giant crowd gathered before the Lincoln Memorial. But they also recall the fear that the march might not come off, that people wouldn’t show up. Here are some of their recollections of that day, Aug. 28, 1963:
Clarence B. Jones
Clarence B. Jones remembers the “I Have a Dream” speech well — he was standing 50 feet behind King when he delivered it.
Jones was a lawyer, speechwriter and confidant of King and had helped draft the speech he was to deliver at the march. As Jones recalls, King was reading the prepared text when gospel great Mahalia Jackson shouted, “Tell them about the dream, Martin. Tell them about the dream.”
King set aside his script and began speaking extemporaneously.
“I turned to the person who was standing next me and said, ‘These people out there — they don’t know it, but they’re about ready to go to church,'” Jones said.
Jones, who with Stuart Connelly wrote the book “Behind the Dream: The Making of the Speech that Transformed a Nation,” noted that King had spoken about his dream earlier, but those speeches had drawn scant attention. This speech, however, was carried live on television, and King, perhaps inspired by the huge audience in Washington and across the country, rose to the occasion.
“I had heard and seen Martin King speak many times before,” Jones said. “Never ever had I heard him speak like that. Nor did I ever hear him speak like that ever again.”
Jones, 82, is a visiting professor and diversity scholar at the University of San Francisco and a scholar at Stanford University‘s Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute.
He plans to be in Washington for the 50th anniversary.
Reflecting on the speech 50 years later, Jones said, “When I hear people say, ‘Well, you know, much of the dream hasn’t been realized’ … that’s true. There are cracks in the dream. But I have to remind people there are no signs anywhere in this country that say, ‘Drinking fountains for colored only’ or ‘whites only.'”
Eleanor Holmes Norton
She had heard talk of plans for a giant march on Washington, but nothing had been nailed down and the question loomed: Could civil rights leaders pull it off?
Then, Eleanor Holmes Norton recalls, “I got the call, saying it is going to happen.”
Holmes Norton, then a 26-year-old Yale Law School student from Washington, D.C., had been working in Mississippi for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. “The call” was from the committee, asking her to come to New York to join the staff organizing the march.
She went to work from the march’s Harlem office. She remembers the address: 130th Street and Lenox. She recalls the challenge: “The march was an unprecedented exercise. Nobody could remember a mass march on Washington for anything, certainly not civil rights.”
The day of the march, she boarded a plane to Washington, and before landing she could see the crowds assembling from the air — “enough to tell me the march would be successful.”
Later, she took in the view from the Lincoln Memorial. “What was most impressive for me, after working on the march for weeks, was looking out from the base of the Lincoln Memorial itself and noting that I could not see to the end of the crowd,” she said.
She recalls being moved deeply by one speaker after another. When it finally came time for King to speak, she thought to herself, “He had better be very good, because everything that went before him, I thought, was better than anything I had ever heard.'”
Holmes Norton, 76, went on to become the first female chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an agency that, she notes, was a key demand of the march. She is in her 12th term as the District of Columbia’s nonvoting delegate in the House. She will be participating in the anniversary, including using the event to highlight another longtime cause: D.C.’s lack of voting power in Congress.
Norman Hill
On the day of the march, Norman Hill accompanied civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, one of the organizers of the event, on a visit to the National Mall, hours before the march was scheduled to begin.
Hill, then 30, was New York-based national program director for the Congress of Racial Equality. He became staff coordinator for the march, recruiting people to participate and raising money to help pay travel costs. But on that hot August morning, he and Rustin found the Mall still largely empty.
“I remember Bayard being surrounded by reporters who peppered him with questions. ‘Where are the people? Is the march really going to take place?'” Hill recalled.
“Bayard reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a round watch, and inside his jacket pulled out a piece of paper, and looked back and forth at the watch and piece of paper and said, ‘Gentlemen, everything is going according to Hoyle, right on schedule,'” Hill added. “What the reporters didn’t know is that the piece of paper was blank.”
But in time the crowd grew — and grew and grew. When the march began, Hill recalls, the crowd was so eager to move that the march leaders had to rush to take their places at the front of the column.
He says that although the march is remembered as the largest civil rights demonstration in the nation’s history, it also was intended to call attention to economic issues, such as a massive federal jobs program.
He looks back upon the day as a seminal moment in the nonviolent civil rights movement.
“It did away with the stereotypes of blacks as troublemakers,” he said. “For me, the march was the fulfillment and implementation of the principles, vision and strategies of my mentors, A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin. It solidified for me my faith in them and their place in American history as great, monumental figures.”
Hill is now president emeritus of the A. Philip Randolph Institute in Washington, named after the civil rights and labor leader and an organizer of the march.
Rachelle Horowitz
Rachelle Horowitz was the “bus lady.”
She was a 24-year-old civil rights activist from Brooklyn assigned to serve as transportation coordinator for the march.
It was a tougher job than people today can imagine in the high-tech age, she says. When she talks to students, she mentions her use of mimeograph machines, “and they go, ‘What?'”
“I say to kids, Dr. King gave that speech without Jumbotrons on the Mall,” she said, noting how difficult it was for the crowd way down the Mall to see the speakers at the Lincoln Memorial.
“By the end of the day, there was really this moment when you thought, by God, we can have a beloved community, that everything Dr. King and John Lewis talked about can come true,” she said.
But that hope, she noted, was dashed weeks later by the bombing at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. Four black girls were killed in the blast.
Horowitz went on to become political director for the American Federation of Teachers before retiring. She plans to be back on the National Mall for the 50th anniversary.
Joyce Ladner
Joyce Ladner was a 19-year-old college senior from Mississippi with a stage pass to history.
Thanks to that pass, she was on the podium, and she remembers looking out at the crowd. She says it was “the most extraordinary thing” she had ever seen.
Before them, stretching into the distance, was a giant crowd that seemed to go on forever.
“I dare say that Martin Luther King and no one else on that podium had ever seen that many people together before,” Ladner said.
Ladner was a student at Tougaloo College in Mississippi and a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee when she went to New York to work on organizing the march. She talked at churches, synagogues and union halls in the New York area about the civil rights struggle in the South to raise money for the travel costs of those who wanted to attend the march.
“We were trying to build a national base of support,” she said.
On the day of the march, she first picketed the Justice Department to protest the arrest of three SNCC colleagues jailed in Georgia for sedition when they attempted to register voters. Then she headed over to the National Mall. She says it was still early in the morning, “and there weren’t many people there at all.”
She grew worried. “Are the people really going to show?” she wondered. Then about 8 a.m., busloads of people, mostly black but also white, began arriving with banners.
“And they just kept coming.”
She recalls standing with Josephine Baker, the black Parisian nightclub legend, and Hollywood stars, including Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando, Sidney Poitier, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Diahann Carroll and, she notes with a laugh, Charlton Heston, whose politics later veered to the right.
Ladner says that when reporters approached Lena Horne for an interview, the singer-actress “thrust [her] in front the camera and said, ‘Interview this young woman, because she lives in the Deep South. She can tell you the real story.'”
Looking back, Ladner says it’s disappointing that King’s “I Have a Dream” speech — and only part of it — is what most people remember about the day.
“I think it shortchanges him,” she said. And people, she said, “often quote the more optimistic parts of the speech. They don’t really talk about how to achieve his dream.” The march, after all, was for “jobs and freedom,” and yet black unemployment remains a serious problem.
Ladner, 69, who went on to become a prominent sociologist who served as interim president ofHoward University in Washington, says that after the march, she knew the event would generate additional support for the civil rights movement.
“But we were going back into the same conditions,” she said. “The march would not have any effect on those Southern sheriffs and their deputies at all. That was our reality.”
A few weeks later, she was on a school bus headed to Birmingham for the funeral of the four black girls killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.
Her stage pass has been displayed at the Mississippi State Archives but is being returned to her. “It is the one memento I have that I want to pass on to my son and grandson,” she said.

By Richard Simon

Santa Barbara Schools – Day Two

Published March 24, 2013

By Pierce 
Our first morning in Saigon (Ho Chi Min City) began with a trip to the Reunification Palace. Previously known as the Presidential Palace because the president of South Vietnam lived there, the Palace is full of interesting stratagems, maps, exhibits, and other former government rooms used for speeches and media addresses. I was very intrigued by the myriad of intelligence’s and maps they had in the secret chambers and underground rooms. Afterwards we ventured to a very traditional Vietnamese buffet. This smorgasbord of unique cuisine was comprised of duck embryos, snails, and and jello made from a root. You know what they say, “When in Nam, nam like the Namese.” 
Following our lunch of champions was a cathartic experience of the Vietnam War Remnants Museum. From the guillotines, fire torture grills, and barbed-wire cages, to the deeply sickening faces of the innocents slaughtered, the museum brought the terrifying reality of the war to life. There were dozens of pictures of children suffering from the still present affects of agent orange. It was a truly ineffable experience. After seeing the museum my outlook on the War was transformed completely. In the United States, my generation is always told of the poor, innocent high school graduates naive of the horrors they are exposing themselves to, but seldom do we lament the innocent Vietnamese women and children. Don’t get me wrong, I have the most respect and the greatest sympathy for those young men and women who died in Vietnam, however it is enlightening to look at the totality of the events in a new polar opposite light. This experience will not only provide me with a helpful outlook on the war and its repercussions, but it will also help me be more conscious to the fact that there are always to sides to every story and that propaganda exists no matter where you are.

Why Students Need to Learn about the Vietnam War

Published February 19, 2013

Fred Branfman, author of a number of books about the Indochina War is our featured guest blogger. Working as the Director of Project Air War in 1969 he wrote about the U.S. bombing in Indochina, which he claimed was directed at civilians.

Fred Branfman

Branfman, an American teacher who exposed the secret war to the U.S. Congress and helped stop the bombings was working as an educational adviser for the U.S. government in Laos, when in September 1969 thousands of refugees fled into the Laotian capital of Vientiane. Working as a translator for international media, he began to interpret thousands of villagers’ stories, telling of planes dropping bombs.

Told by U.S. officials in Laos that Americans had nothing to do with the bombs, Branfman became consumed with the desire to understand what was happening. Gathering details, he journeyed to Washington and spoke at a special session of the U.S. Senate Committee on Refugees, exposing the U.S. government’s covert activities.

Mr. Branfam who lives part of the year in California will be interviewed by Harvard-Westlake students in preparation for their Investigative Journalism trip to Laos in March, 2013.

“Has American Undergone The Spiritual Death Martin Luther King Warned Of? If So, Can It Be Redeemed?” By Fred Branfman

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
–Martin Luther King Jr. “Beyond Vietnam” speech, April 4, 1967

I recently watched, and was tremendously moved by, all 10 episodes of Oliver Stone’s “Untold History of the United States” (on Showtime.) I strongly recommend it to all of us, but particularly America’s young people who have been robbed of a most precious legacy: an understanding of their true history – and thus their future. I can’t think of a more meaningful birthday or holiday gift to young people for, as Stone says, “history must be remembered or it will be remembered until  the meanings are clear.” As the same U.S. Executive Branch mentality that produced Vietnam is today illegally murdering and weakening U.S. national security interests through the Muslim world, and threatening its own citizens as never before, it has never been more urgent to learn from America’s real history.

I was most moved by Episode 7, on the war in Indochina, whose closing words below constitute not only an epitaph for the Vietnam War but America itself. I thought of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s warning  as I watched this segment, which so movingly chronicled how U.S. leaders waged aggressive war, killing over 3.4 million Vietnamese according to former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, and hundreds of thousands more Laotians and Cambodians; have never even apologized for doing so, let alone cleaned up the tens of millions of unexploded bombs and environmental poisons which continue to kill, wound and deform tens of thousands of innocent civilians until today, let alone paid the reparations they still owe the Indochinese; and then successfully erased their crimes and misjudgments from the history taught America’s young people, guaranteeing that they will be repeated now and in the future.

I watched this episode after reading Nick Turse’s monumental new book, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, which documents the systematic “industrial-scale” slaughter of Vietnamese civilians by U.S. troops,  ordered by top U.S. military officers. Anyone who wants to know what the term “American” really means abroad should read this book.

I cannot say that I am surprised that America’s political leaders, media and public intellectuals continue to ignore the U.S. Executive’s ongoing inhumanity and murder of the innocent  – particularly through through its global and spreading drone and ground assassination programs and increasing reliance on the automated warmaking I first saw in Laos 40 years ago. America’s elites are as indifferent to the “mere Muslim Rule” today as they were to the “mere Gook Rule”  in Vietnam which Turse so painstakingly documents.

But I must say that I am astonished that even those who justify U.S. leaders’  actions on the grounds of national security have failed to notice the obvious fact that U.S. warmaking in the 1.8 billion strong Muslim World is jeopardizing U.S. national security as never before. Just as shortsighted  U.S. backing of the Shah of Iran created a U.S. foreign policy disaster in 1978, the continuation of such policies today will guarantee many more Irans in the future.

Nothing will threaten Americans more in the coming decade than an irrational U.S. foreign policy that, in return for killing a handful of “senior Al Qaeda” leaders (often replaced by more competent deputies), has turned hundreds of millions of Muslims against it including countless potential suicide bombers, greatly strengthened anti-U.S. forces, destabilized friendly or neutral governments and, as revealed by Wikileaks, vastly increased the danger that materials from Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile – the world’s fastest growing and least stable – will fall into terrorist hands. It must be understood that today’s U.S. Executive Branch poses a far greater threat to U.S. national security, and to each of us, than its foes.  (Please see my piece on this.)

It is understandable that many of us breathed a sigh of relief when Obama beat Romney, and hope for a Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden victory in 2016. But such hopes should not blind us to the fact that Obama, Clinton, Biden  and the Democrats have continued a bipartisan and suicidal foreign policy that is not only illegal and immoral,  but threatens the deaths of countless Americans at home and abroad, and increasing attempts to turn the U.S. into a police-state in response.

Stone’s words below pose basic questions: has Martin Luther King’s warning come true? And, if so, what can we do to promote the birth of decency, humanity,  and rationality in this spiritually dead nation of ours?

Excerpts from Episode 7: “Vietnam, LBJ, Nixon & Third World: Reversal of Fortune”, from “Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States” (Showtime)

The accepted mythology of the time was the U.S. lost the war in Vietnam. But as linguist, historian and philosopher Noam Chomsky has pointed out, “it’s called a loss, a defeat, because they didn’t achieve the maximal aims. The maximal aims being turning it into something like the  Philippines. They didn’t do that. They did achieve the major aims. It was possible to destroy Vietnam and leave”. Elsewhere he wrote, “South Vietnam had been virtually destroyed,  and the chances that Vietnam would ever be a model for anything had essentially disappeared.”

When an aging and wiser Robert McNamara returned to Vietnam in 1995 he conceded, somewhat in shock, that despite  official US estimates of 2 million Vietnamese dead, 3.4 to 3.8 million Vietnamese had perished. In comparison 58,000 Americans died in the fighting and 200,00 were wounded.

The U.S. had destroyed 9,000 of South Vietnam’s 15,000 hamlets – in the north all 6 industrial cities, 28 of 30 provincial towns, and 96 of 116 district towns. Unexploded ordnance still blankets the countryside. 19 million gallons of herbicide had poisoned the environment. Almost all of Vietnam’s ancient triple canopy forests are gone. The effects of chemical warfare alone lasted for generations, and could be seen today in the hospital in the South where Agent Orange was used. Dead fetuses kept in jars. Surviving children born with horrid birth defects and deformities. And cancer rates much higher than in the North.

And yet, incredibly, the chief issue in the United States was, for many years, the hunt for 1300 soldiers missing in action, a few hundred of them presumed taken as captives by the North Vietnamese.  High-grossing action movies were made out of them.

No official apology from the United States has ever been issued, and absolutely no appreciation of the suffering of the Vietnamese.

President Bill Clinton finally recognized Vietnam in 1995, 20 years later. Ever since the war American conservatives have struggled to vanquish “the Vietnam Syndrome”, which became a catchphrase for Americans’ unwillingness to send troops abroad to fight.

For a war that so mesmerized and defined an entire generation, surprisingly little is known about Vietnam today among American youth. This is not accidental. There has been a conscious and systematic effort to erase Vietnam from historical consciousness

Reagan: “It is time that we recognized ours was in truth a noble cause. We dishonor the memory of 50,000 young Americans who died in that cause when we give way to feeling of guilt, as if we were doing something shameful.”

It was not only conservatives who whitewashed American history. Bill Clinton: “whatever we may thing about the political decisions of the Vietnam era, the brave Americans who fought and died there had noble motives. They fought for the freedom and the independence of the Vietnamese people.”

The outcome has been shrouded in sanitized lies. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, dedicated in November of 82,  now contains the names of 58,272 dead or missing Americans.. The message is clear. The tragedy is the death of those Americans. But imagine if the names of 3.8 million Vietnamese and millions of Cambodians and Laotians were also included.

The supposed shame of Vietnam would be finally avenged by Ronald Reagan, the two Bushes and even to an extent Barack Obama,  in the two decades to come.

The irony is that the Vietnam war represented a sad climax of the WWII generation from which Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr., and all the generals in the high command came, those proclaimed by the mainstream media in the late 1990s as “the greatest generation.”

Yet that same media ignored the arrogance of a generation that, overconfident from WWII, dismissed Vietnam as a fourth-rate power that could be easily defeated. From what the ancient Greeks called hubris or arrogance comes the fall. And from this initially  obscure war came a great distortion of economic, social and moral life in America. A civil war that polarized the country till this day – with much denied, little remembered, nothing regretted and, perhaps, nothing learned.

History must be remembered or it will be remembered until  the meanings are clear. The second President of the United States, John Adams, once said, “power always thinks it has a great soul and that it is doing God’s service when it is violating all His laws”.

Which makes the details of the oncoming history a sad, inevitable bloodbath that repeats itself again and again,  as the U.S.A., much too often, stood on the side of the oppressors, propping up allies with financial and military aid, war on drugs programs, police and security training, joint military exercises, overseas bases, and occasional direct military intervention.

The U.S.  empowered a network of tyrants who were friendly to  foreign investors who could exploit cheap labor and native resources on terms favorable to the Empire. Such was the British and French way. And such would be the American way. Not raping, looting Mongols, but rather benign, briefcase-toting, Ivy-league educated bankers, and corporate executives who would loot local economies in the name of modernity, democracy and civilization, to the benefit of the United States and its allies.

During the Cold War politicians and the media sidestepped debate over the basic morality of U.S. foreign policy, by mouthing platitudes about U.S. benevolence and insisting that harsh, even dirty, tactics were needed to fight fire with fire. The Kissingers of the world called it “realpolitik”. But even when the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, our nation’s policies did not change, as the U.S. time and again, has taken  the side of the entrenched classes or the military against those from below seeking change.

It was the American war against the poor of the earth, the most easily killed,  the collateral damage.

As was asked at the beginning, was it really about fighting communism, or was that a misunderstood or disguised motivation?

It was George Kennan, America’s leading early Cold War strategist who went to the heart of the matter in a memorandum written in 1948. “With 50 percent  of the world’s wealth but only 6% of its population,  we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity.  To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming. We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, raising of living standards and democratization. We are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are hampered by idealistic slogans the better.”

But George Kennan, who lived to be 102 years old in 2005,  was an intellectual who never sought political office.

Never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined the barbaric proportions of the upcoming Presidency of Ronald Reagan.