Everybody seems to be having a good laugh either over President Obama's selfie at the Mandela funeral or the breathtaking con job done by the fake interpreter for the deaf. But if we can get serious for a moment, let's think about what we can learn from Nelson Mandela's life story about one of the enduring questions of civilization: When in a political struggle is violence justified? And don't say "never," or you'd be ruling out all wars, including ones most people agree were necessary.
So much of the coverage I've seen of Mandela recently has either ignored his violent association with the ANC or dwelled on it as a way to question the worth of his later accompishment. But why not just tackle it head on?
As did Mandela. Offered the chance to be free by the avowed white supremacist P.W. Botha if he would renounce violence, Mandela replied, “Let him renounce violence.” Americans should understand this. Violent resistance to tyranny, violent defense of one's body, is not simply a political strategy in our country, it is taken as a basic human right. Our own revolution was purchased with the blood of 22,000 nascent American dead. Dissenters were tarred and feathered. American independence and American power has never rested on nonviolence, but on the willingness to do great—at times existential—violence.
I don't agree with everything in the artcile, but it's thought-provoking and worth the read. It's a little simplistic to say "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter," but that is at least a useful starting point for the conversation.
The most remarkable part of the Mandela story is not that he turned to a violence some would say is justified and some would say is not. It is that he so thoroughly embraced reconciliation when so few thought he would. But we can't understand that later Mandela without trying to grasp the early one.