South Africa

You Say You Want a Revolution

Everybody knows somewhere inside him that South Africa, since 1984, and really for a generation, has been a set piece in the bloody farce we call "revolution." The one-sidedness of the farce betrays our unacknowledged unease: except for a classic article in Commentary by Paul Johnson and a few other pieces, not a word has been said for that country. Recently, a reporter for a major TV network told a friend of mine that there has to be another side to the story in South Africa. It had taken him five years—no, probably his whole life—to ask himself that question.

We welcome revolutions because the fear of war is so strong in us that we cannot distinguish just wars from unjust (except in Afghanistan). We take revolutions for change—the French Revolution mistaught us that—but they are actually our word for conquest that will not call itself by its proper name. This is a lesson the war for Europe that followed the French Revolution should have taught us.

Since the Second World War, these masked conquests we call revolutions have sought, first of all, to break the minds of people outside the countries they attack. Totalitarianism rarely conquers a country before it has won the acquiescence of the world outside. Totalitarian conquest works largely through bluff, through the intimidation of people and governments who have little immediate cause for fear. The question the future will ask...

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