How US Treated Mandela in '80s Has Lessons for Today

vanden Heuvel: Think war on terror instead of war on communism
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 10, 2013 12:55 PM CST
How US Treated Mandela in '80s Has Lessons for Today
Schoolchildren hold candles near a giant portrait of Nelson Mandela in Chennai, India.   (AP Photo/Arun Sankar K)

Nelson Mandela is winning deserved praise in this country and across the world, but it's useful to remember that it wasn't always so, writes Katrina vanden Heuvel in the Washington Post. Go back a few decades, and you'll find that Republicans and Democrats alike, but conservatives especially, demonized him as a communist and tolerated the abuses of apartheid because South Africa was viewed as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. "Even as we claimed to be the champion of freedom, we were happy to embrace apartheid in the cause of anti-communism, and to compromise our principles to our interests," she writes.

That lesson should resonate today: Just substitute the war on terror for the war on communism. "Too often we fail to see that one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter." As we pay tribute to Mandela, "we should not forget that our national security agencies got him and his movement wrong," writes vanden Heuvel. "It took citizen activists, a global movement, horrible sacrifice by the South African people and a courageous leader and his team to force the change." Click for her full column. (Read more Nelson Mandela stories.)

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