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1968 and All That… MLK, LBJ, Bobby, Tet and the Prague Spring.   Leave a comment

The Escalation of the Vietnam War and the Tet Offensive:

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At the beginning of 1968, US President Lyndon Johnson thought that victory in Vietnam was worth the sacrifice the US servicemen had already made since President Kennedy had committed 16,500 troops to the support of the South Vietnamese in 1961-62. By 1968, Johnson had committed up to half a million men to the conflict. On taking office in 1964, he had said, I am not going to be the President who saw South East Asia go the way that China went. But by the end of February 1968, he was increasingly isolated in Washington. Robert McNamara, who had been John F Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense, had left the White House to become president of the World Bank. He said he did not really know whether he had quit or been fired. The new Defense Secretary, Clark Clifford, opposed General Westmoreland’s latest request for another 200,000 men, arguing that there would soon be further requests, “with no end in sight.” He recommended pegging the level at twenty thousand, and Johnson agreed. What had happened in the war, and the response to it, to change his mind?

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In January 1968, just as President Johnson was announcing that the United States was winning the war in Vietnam, the Vietcong had launched the Tet Offensive within virtually every town and city in South Vietnam. It was their most spectacular offensive yet. In Saigon, a commando unit even penetrated the US Embassy compound; it had to be flushed out man by man. This feat, which took place in front of television cameras, stunned America and public opinion worldwide. Although the US military had intelligence that an attack was imminent, they appeared to have been caught completely by surprise. But the bitterest fighting in the Tet Offensive took place in Hue, previously a tranquil city, where intense house-to-house fighting and killing went on for several weeks. The photo on the right below shows US Marines call for assistance for those wounded in the bloody fighting which took place in the city on 1st February. The beleaguered president finally accepted that there was a limit to the losses of US servicemen in Vietnam that the American people would accept. The photo below (left) of Lyndon Johnson shows him preparing a speech on Vietnam.

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On the other side, the Tet Offensive was intended to inspire a popular rising across South Vietnam. It totally failed in this, but rather led to massive losses of some of the Vietcong’s best fighters. Nevertheless, in propaganda terms, the offensive was a magnificent victory for them. Before Tet, the American leaders had talked of grave enemy weaknesses and of how the Vietcong had met their match and were desperately hanging on. Now the Vietcong had shown that they could attack at will and could strike even at the very nerve centre of the US presence in South Vietnam. The gap between what the US Government said and what people saw on their television screens had never been greater, nor credibility lower. Support for the president’s handling of the war dropped to an all-time low in the polls. Eighty per cent of Americans felt that the United States was making no progress in the war. Tet was thus a turning point.

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Added to this, there was international revulsion and outrage at the American tactics. The British journalist, James Cameron, reported:

There was a sense of outrage. By what right do these airmen intrude over a country with which they are not formally at war? Who gave these people the sanction to drop their bombs on roads, bridges, houses, to blow up the harvest, to destroy people of whom they know nothing? Would this sort of thing blow Communism out of their heads?

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Despite the bombing, North Vietnam continued to supply the Vietcong in South Vietnam with ever-increasing amounts of aid. Much of it came from the Soviet Union and was driven across the border at night in convoys of heavy, Russian-built trucks. They regularly moved weapons and ammunition into the South, smuggling them right into the hearts of towns and cities. President Johnson had hoped for a ‘quick kill’. But the tactics of America’s land forces in South Vietnam were based on several errors of judgement. First, the soldiers were told to fight for the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese. Yet the GIs simply shot and killed the peasants on sight, often en masse and without discrimination, assuming that they were Vietcong supporters. They also destroyed the land itself, as James Cameron testified (above). Richard Hamer, an American journalist commented, after his visit in 1970, that Vietnam had become a country of refugees … once the rice bowl of Asia, now unable to feed itself. Secondly, the USA believed it could ‘win’ the war and simply could not believe that the US could be defeated by a bunch of guerrillas in black pyjamas. But the reality of guerrilla warfare was very different:

… this enemy is invisible … it is not just the people but the land itself – unfamiliar … frightening … it can be that field ahead littered with land mines … the enemy can be the kind who comes out smiling and then lobs a grenade … or that bent old lady carrying a watermelon.

You walk down a road between rice paddies. Vietnamese are in every paddy. Then a mortar shell lands right in the middle of a patrol. A couple of guys are dead, others are screaming in agony with a leg or arm blown off, or their guts hanging out. Did one of them (the peasants) lob the mortar? If so, which one? Should you kill all of them or none of them at all?

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There was widespread opposition to the American presence in Vietnam, not least from within the US itself. The determined peace protesters outside the White House would not leave Johnson in peace, continuing to chant:

Hey, hey, LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?!

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In fact, the hostile chanting accompanied him wherever he went and had a devastating effect on him. Senator Eugene McCarthy announced he would oppose Johnson for the Democratic Party nomination; Robert Kennedy also declared he was a candidate and spoke out harshly against Johnson’s foreign policy and conduct of the war. In the second half of March, the ‘wise men’ went into conclave again to review progress and consider their options in Vietnam. By now the civilians in this group were openly critical of the assessments presented by the military commanders. When told that eighty thousand of the enemy had been killed and that the normal ratio of killed to wounded was 1:3, UN Ambassador Arthur Goldberg calculated that would mean that all of the enemy’s manpower must be dead or injured: “Then who the hell are we fighting?” he asked. Then, on 31st March, in a live television address, Johnson announced that the US would halt all bombing above the twentieth parallel in the hope that peace talks could begin promptly. He then went on to surprise everyone, even his own advisers, by announcing  that he would “not seek … nor accept” his party’s nomination for a second term in the White House. With his crushing triumph over Goldwater only four years behind him, Johnson now recognised the deep unpopularity of his policy of escalating the Vietnam War. He had lost his fight with public opinion.

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Martin Luther King’s Death in Memphis:

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Above Left: Martin Luther King, Jr., waves to the marchers at the Lincoln Memorial, on 30th August 1963, before making his “I have a dream…” speech. Above Right: Lyndon Johnson shakes King’s hand after signing the Civil Rights Bill into law, 2 July 1964.

Four days after Johnson’s announcement, on 4th April, Martin Luther King was assassinated at a motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He had gone to Memphis to support a workers’ strike, marching with the strikers, who wanted to protest peacefully, singing and holding hands. Most of them were black street-cleaners, who were badly paid. But gangs of young blacks had not wanted to protest peacefully and had begun rioting, breaking shop windows and fighting with the police. One of them had been killed during the fighting.  After the march, King had talked to the gangs and told them that violence was not the answer and that all protests had to be peaceful if they wanted the workers to win. Some of the gang-leaders had argued back, saying that times had changed and that peaceful protests no longer worked. Finally, King had persuaded them to join the workers on their next march, and they had promised him not to use violence. The date for the second march had been set for 5th April.

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On 3rd April, King had returned to Memphis and had made a speech at the Baptist Church prayer-meeting. It had been full of hope about the cause, but also of foreboding for his own life:

I have been to the mountain top … I have seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.

On the next day, 4th April, King had told his friends that he needed some air. He went out of his hotel room just after six o’clock in the evening. Suddenly, there was the sound of gunfire. His friends ran outside and found him lying on the ground, shot. Jesse Jackson, one of King’s young supporters, held him in his arms while the ambulance was sent for. An hour later Martin Luther King died in hospital. He was just thirty-nine years old.

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The whole world grieved the loss of this man of peace. All the people who had worked so hard for peace and civil rights were first shocked and then angry. Go and get your guns! Stokely Carmichael, the Black Panther leader, told a crowd in Washington DC. Riots swept the American nation; a hundred cities erupted, the rioters fighting the police. There were more than twenty thousand arrests and forty-six more black deaths. Seventy-five thousand troops were called out to keep the peace. For many, King epitomised the dream of racial equality, but for two years his influence had been diminishing. Now the leadership of the black community passed to more radical figures like Carmichael, who wanted to replace passive, nonviolent disobedience to active and violent resistance. The Black Panthers trained as paramilitaries in the ghetto of Oakland, California, for a civil war with racist police. Other black ‘nationalists’ called openly for revolution.

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James Earl Ray, a white supremacist, was arrested and went to prison for King’s murder, though many believed he had not acted alone. Even Coretta King did not believe that Ray had killed her husband. King’s body lay in his father’s church in Atlanta. Thousands of people came to pay their respects to the civil rights leader. Later, his body was buried next to those of his grandparents, and written on his headstone, are the last words of his most famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial five years earlier:

Free at last, Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, 

I’m free at last!

From Paris to California and on to Chicago:

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Above: Robert Kennedy, campaigning in California.

In May, preliminary peace talks began in Paris. In the face of obdurate North Vietnamese negotiators, the talks soon ran aground. The dispute focused on whether or not the United States would halt all bombing of the North and who could sit at the negotiating table; would the National Liberation Front, the Vietcong sit down with the United States, as well as North and South Vietnam? There was no agreement. With a million college students and faculty members boycotting classes because of Vietnam, the stage was set for the confrontation between McCarthy and Kennedy for the Democratic Party nomination. In the California primary, in June, Kennedy won by a whisker. Then, as he was leaving his hotel through a back entrance, he was shot in the head and stomach (below). He died in hospital the next morning. There was no rioting, just silence. The American nation was traumatised by these killings, asking what was wrong with the country to make it so violent.

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Above right: Police and anti-Vietnam War protesters do battle in Chicago.

Everything came to a head when the Democratic Party gathered in Chicago to choose its nominee for the presidency – now either McCarthy or Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Chicago was controlled by Mayor Richard J Daley, a hard-liner who ruled the streets through a broad network of ethnic supporters. He promised, as long as I am mayor, there will be law and order on the streets. In the riots following Martin Luther King’s death, he had given his police authority to “shoot to kill” arsonists. Daley was determined to keep order during the convention when rumour predicted that a hundred thousand activists and anti-war campaigners would assemble in Chicago. Only about one-tenth of that number arrived, but Daley had no intention of allowing any marches to go ahead. His police, some out of uniform, attacked a group of ‘hippies’ and ‘yippies’ in Lincoln Park and pursued them – and anyone else who happened to be on the streets – with clubs and batons.

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On the night that Humphrey was to accept the nomination, the police used tear gas to break up the demonstration outside the convention hotel. More than two hundred plainclothes policemen tried to infiltrate the march. Demonstrators, newsmen, and even elderly passers-by were all clubbed and beaten. Tear gas got in the air vents of the hotel, including Humphrey’s suite, as he was preparing his acceptance speech. Live on television, the cameras kept cutting between the convention and the extraordinary scenes outside. Humphrey left feeling shattered, despite having secured his party’s nomination. Chicago was a catastrophe, he said later; My wife and I went home heartbroken, battered and beaten.

According to the to the New York Times, the Chicago police had brought shame to the city, embarrassment to the country. Lawyers defending those charged for their role in the demonstration spoke of a “police riot.” Senator George McGovern denounced Daley and his “Gestapo” for creating a “bloodbath.” Radicals were driven even further outside the political system; they believed that the government was now totally illegitimate and led by war criminals so that only further militancy could win the day. Bring Us Together was the campaign slogan of the Nixon camp, but as the campaign hotted up, there was little prospect of this happening in reality. In fact, Governor George Wallace had declared himself as an independent candidate. Wallace’s plan to stop the trouble on the streets appealed only to the right-wing Republican heartlands:

We ought to turn this country over to the police for two or three years and then everything would be all right.

Meanwhile, Richard M Nixon had won the Republican nomination for president. With conservative Spiro T Agnew as his running mate, Nixon tried to defuse the support for Wallace. He also met with Johnson and agreed not to attack the outgoing president over Vietnam during the campaign, in return for an understanding that Johnson would not abandon Saigon. Nixon tried to come across as the statesman and peacemaker. He spoke of a “secret plan” to end the war in Vietnam and to bring peace with honour. Nixon also agreed that during the campaign he would not call for a pause in the bombing. In October, the Paris peace talks were still deadlocked over the issue of representation, with President Thieu, in Saigon, deeply opposed to negotiating with North Vietnam if the Vietcong were also present. This would imply formal recognition of his hated enemy. With the election only days away, Johnson received FBI reports that Anna Chennault, a Nixon fund-raiser, was acting as a go-between for the Republicans with Thieu. Nixon’s campaign manager had asked her to tell Thieu to oppose the cessation of bombing, and so undermine the peace talks, promising that Thieu would get a better deal under the Republicans. Thieu held out and refused to attend talks at which the Vietcong were present. Despite this, Johnson called a halt to the bombing on 31st October.

Nixon talked of the “tired men” around Johnson and the need for a new team with “fresh ideas”. The opinion polls showed a swing away from Humphrey, who up to this point had had a narrow lead. On 5th November, the American people came out to vote. In the end, the vote was nail-bitingly close: Wallace won thirteen per cent, and Nixon narrowly defeated Humphrey with 43.4 per cent of the vote to 42.7. There was to be a new team in the White House, but outside America was split into two nations. But, although the North had set out the terms on which the war would eventually end, the fighting in Vietnam would go on for another five years and cost many thousands more lives.

The anti-war movement clearly boosted North Vietnamese morale and sustained Hanoi’s will to fight on. The hostile chants had almost certainly upset Lyndon Johnson and helped persuade him not to stand for re-election. The movement also affected the atmosphere of decision-making by which it was resolved not to broaden the conflict into a wider war in Southeast Asia. More than anything, the protests against the war exposed a growing cultural divide among the American people and, in the rest of the world, provoked widespread anti-American sentiment on both sides of the Cold War divide. The protest movement was international. In Paris in May 1968, the Fifth Republic was nearly toppled when it came into conflict with a massed combination of workers, students, and intellectuals. In London, police laid into anti-war demonstrators outside the Grosvenor Square US Embassy, in full view of television news cameras. In Northern Ireland, civil rights marches, modelled on those in the American South, sparked a new phase in the long-running confrontation between Irish republicanism and the British State. In Germany and Japan, radicals fought with the police.

Another Year Ending in Eight – The Prague Spring:

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The action of the Chicago police took place just a week after Soviet troops shocked the world by moving into Prague. In Central/Eastern Europe, new thinking had been influenced by the counter-cultural currents in the West, but the events in Czechoslovakia in 1968 also had their origins in the fight for Czech independence which goes back four hundred years and seems to contain major events in years ending in the number eight. It began with the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War in 1618, following the defenestrations of Prague, when the Bohemian Calvinists refused to acknowledge Ferdinand, a Hapsburg, as their king, inviting Frederick, the Elector Palatine and his wife Elizabeth, the daughter of James VI of Scotland and I of England, to become their king and queen. This was both a religious and a political challenge to the Emperor. Frederick was overwhelmed by Bavaria and Austria at the Battle of the White Mountain in 1620, having received no help from the Protestant Union of German princes, or from his miserly father-in-law, James Stuart. Frederick and Elizabeth went down in the annals of Czech history as ‘the Winter King and Queen’ due to the brevity of their reign, and it took another three centuries for independence to be restored, in 1918/19. It was then taken away again in 1938/39, by Hitler, with Chamberlain’s connivance and, after a brief post-war restoration, in 1948 the Communists seized power at Stalin’s insistence.

001Jan Masaryk, the independent foreign minister and son of the first president of inter-war Czechoslovakia, was also defenestrated in 1948, by the Communists. A re-examination of the case in 1968 turned up a document which stated that scratch-marks made by fingernails had been found on the window soon after he had fallen to his death. The ‘Prague Spring’ also had economic roots, in common with other protest movements in the Eastern bloc countries. There was deep concern about declining growth rates and the failure to keep up with Western levels of consumer progress.

In Poland, agricultural output had been dropping year after year, and the régime of Wladyslaw Gomulka, so rapturously welcomed in October 1956, was growing steadily more oppressive. Intellectuals who spoke out against the government were imprisoned and in March 1968 a student demonstration was brutally broken up by the police, resulting in several days of street rioting in Warsaw. Gomulka had lost almost all of his support in the country, but Brezhnev and the Soviet Union stood by him. But the crises of 1968 passed quickly in Poland, and Gomulka remained in power for two more years, until food shortages and rising prices finally brought his régime to an end.

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Above left: Alexander Dubcek in Spring, 1968, promising “socialism with a human face.” Right: He shakes hands with Brezhnev in Bratislava, 3rd August 1968.

In Czechoslovakia, there were also concerns over lack of growth in the economy, and in 1966 the government of Antonín Novotny took the first steps towards decentralising the economy, giving greater power to local managers and greater priority to the production of consumer goods. Profits rather than quotas were made the measure of performance, a practice dubbed market socialism. However, these reforms were too slow, and, against a background of student revolts, Alexander Dubcek was appointed party chairman in January 1968. He was no fiery revolutionary, but as the boss of the Slovak party machine, he was a committed party loyalist. He did, nevertheless, promise the widest possible democratisation of the entire sociopolitical system aimed at bringing communism up to date. His appointment speeded change, as he widened the reform debate to those outside the party. Censorship was eased; freedom of speech was introduced in newspapers, on the radio and on television. Amidst unprecedented debate in the press and on television, in April the party approved an Action Programme with a two thousand word manifesto in June, when writers and intellectuals advocated democratic reforms within a broad socialist context. Dubcek’s reforms became known as socialism with a human face. Above all, Dubcek was trying to improve living conditions in Czechoslovakia:

We want to set new forces of Socialist life in motion in this country, allowing a fuller application of the advantages of Socialism.

Trade with the West was developed; different religions were allowed. Dubcek’s Government, though still Communist, wished to have less control over people’s lives. In this, he had the full support of the Czechoslovak people. The thaw in Czech Communism in early 1968 was therefore known as the ‘Prague Spring’. The Prague leadership tried very hard not to upset the Kremlin. They remembered how Hungary had been crushed in 1956, and Czechoslovakia, unlike Imre Nagy’s Hungarian one of twelve years earlier, had no desire to make changes in its foreign affairs or to leave the Warsaw Pact.

Over these months, Moscow and the other Warsaw Pact capitals became increasingly agitated by the so-called ‘Prague Spring’. They believed that economic reform would inevitably test the party bureaucracy’s ability to maintain control, and would ultimately undermine its monopoly of power. They feared that fervent debate about economic objectives would be contagious. Indeed, in Poland demonstrators did call for a “Polish Dubcek.” Gomulka in Poland and Walter Ulbricht in East Germany led the hard-line against reforms in Czechoslovakia. Dubcek continued to proclaim his commitment to the one-party system and his loyalty to the Warsaw Pact, but other Satellite states grew more and more impatient. Moscow itself despaired over the Prague reforms. Inside the Kremlin, it was feared that Dubcek’s government would dismantle the internal security apparatus and evict the KGB from the country. The Soviet military was also worried about its agreements with Czechoslovakia. In the early sixties, the Soviet Union had agreed on terms with its Warsaw Pact allies for stationing nuclear warheads in Central/Eastern Europe. Under these terms, the weapons would remain under strict Soviet military control. The USSR had large numbers of troops stationed in Hungary, Poland and East Germany, but no permanent garrison in Czechoslovakia. When Prague embarked on its reform programme in the first half of 1968, the Soviets delayed their deployment of nuclear weapons there, fearing that they would not be able to maintain tight control over them. Moscow saw Prague as a weak link in the Warsaw Pact frontier.

In July, Leonid Brezhnev met the leaders of his Central/Eastern European allies in Warsaw. Dubcek’s changes were too much for Brezhnev, and the other Warsaw Pact leaders, who shared their concerns over events in Czechoslovakia. They warned the Czechoslovak leadership not to run the risk of opening up a ‘hole’ in the iron curtain:

The word ‘democracy’ is being misused. There are campaigns against honest Party workers. The aim is to end the leading role of the Party, to undermine Socialism and to turn Czechoslovakia against other Socialist countries. Thus … the security of our countries is threatened.

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Above: Students occupy Wenceslas Square, awaiting the invaders

A few days later Brezhnev, Kosygin, and the senior Soviet leadership met with Dubcek (see the photo above), and made new demands on him to re-impose censorship and tighten control over the media. An agreement at Bratislava appeared to promise a reconciliation between Prague and Moscow, but when Yugoslavia’s Tito was given an enthusiastic reception in Czechoslovakia it seemed yet again that Dubcek was steering the country down its independent road. The Soviet Politburo went into a three-day session on 15 August to consider what action to take. When Brezhnev spoke to Dubcek on the telephone, he shouted at him that the whole Communist system in the Eastern bloc could crumble because of what was happening in Prague. Why were the Soviets so frightened of change in Czechoslovakia? The Czech historian, Zeman, has given us this clue:

Twice in this century the Russians have had to face an onslaught from the centre of Europe. Only they know the extent of their losses in the last war … and the country is still governed by the men who fought in it. The Russians have no intention of dismantling their defences to the west.

The Iron Fist and the Heavy Hand:

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At midnight on 20th August, Ladislav Mnacko awoke. He peered out of his window to see shadowy shapes in line all along Stefanik Street. But the road was closed for repairs; nothing could be driven along it. Then he realised that they were tanks, which could be driven anywhere, and there were a lot of them. Czechoslovakia had been invaded; Soviet paratroopers had seized control of Prague airport. Over the next few hours, half a million Warsaw Pact troops crossed the borders into the country. In marked contrast to the events in Hungary twelve years earlier, the government told the Czech and Slovak people to stay calm and not to resist with arms, but only to offer ‘passive resistance’. There were pockets of such resistance, one led by the young playwright, Václav Havel. This campaign was organised through radio station broadcasts, like the following:

Citizens! – go to work normally … keep calm … do not give the occupation forces any excuse for armed action … show the invaders your scorn in silence.

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But the Warsaw Pact tanks moved against unarmed civilians, and again demonstrated how ill-prepared the USSR and its allies were to allow change or national autonomy within the Warsaw Pact. The West was shocked by the invasion but was no more likely to support Czechoslovakia than it had been to support Hungary in the previous decade, perhaps even less so, since the USA had long-since abandoned its ‘roll-back’ foreign policies, and was still heavily committed to its war in Vietnam which, as we have seen, was increasingly unpopular both at home and abroad. The West spoke out but could not intervene without risking nuclear confrontation, and therefore did not attempt to do so. The most significant critic of the USSR’s action was China, partly due to the already strained relations between the two Communist powers. The Chinese leadership had urged Khrushchev to invade Hungary in 1956, but it was now quick to condemn the Kremlin’s invasion of another Warsaw Pact member.

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Many of the Soviet soldiers were told they were being sent to protect Czechoslovakia from invasion by the Germans and Americans. As they learned the truth, some sympathised with the demonstrators. A few defected to them and were executed when they were caught. As the Soviets took control, arrests of Dubcek and the other leaders began. The invading troops tried to find the radio stations and close down their transmitters:

We do not know how long we will be able to broadcast. If you hear an unknown voice on this station, do not believe it.

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The Russian troops were surprised to see how much the Czechoslovak people hated them. They had believed Soviet propaganda:

‘Tass’ is authorised to state that the leaders of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic have asked the Soviet Union and allied states to render the Czechoslovak people urgent assistance. This request was brought about by the threat which has arisen to the Socialist system, existing in Czechoslovakia.

(Tass, 21 August 1968)

There were continual rumours that key Czechoslovak party officials invited the Soviets to invade their country to reimpose hard-line law and order. The key documents were locked away in a top-secret folder in the Moscow Communist Party Archives, and have only recently (c 1998) become available. They prove that this was indeed the case. It is now known that the anti-reformist Slovak Communist Party chief, Vasil Bilak, wrote to Brezhnev a direct letter of invitation “to use all means at your disposal,” including military force. to “prevent the imminent threat of counter-revolution.” Bilak warned that “the very existence of socialism in our country is in danger.” Rather than risk sending the letter directly to Brezhnev, he passed it to a Soviet intermediary in a men’s lavatory.

When the Politburo began its three-day meeting to review its options on Czechoslovakia, Bilak dispatched another message to the Soviet leader, on 17th August, not only encouraging the Soviets to act quickly but also offering to form an alternative government that would oust Dubcek and seize control in Prague when the Warsaw Pact troops arrived. It is doubtful that this was a decisive factor in the Soviet decision to invade, but it must have boosted the pro-military faction in the Kremlin, and it helped to provide a pretext for the Soviets to claim that they were acting on behalf of a legitimate alternative government. In reality, the anti-reformists were entirely unable to deliver a government, and the Soviet Union ended up having to reinstate Dubcek’s, which survived for several months. In any case, Brezhnev’s own justification for the intervention was based on the common security of the Warsaw Pact countries, not just on the Tass statement:

When forces that are hostile to Socialism try to turn the development of some Socialist country towards capitalism … it becomes not only a problem of the country concerned, but a common problem of all socialist countries.

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Others among the satellite countries took careful note of this concept, which came to be known as the Brezhnev Doctrine. Of the Warsaw Pact nations, only Romania refused to participate in the invasion. Nikolae Caecescu had visited Prague during the ‘Spring’ (above) and had become an unlikely ally of Dubcek, since he also wanted to pursue a more independent line within the Soviet bloc. János Kádár (pictured below), the Hungarian leader whom the Soviets had installed after the 1956 Uprising, and was to survive in power for another twenty years, had tried to caution Dubcek not to fall too far out of line with the Kremlin. In spite of Kádár’s desperate effort to mediate between the Kremlin and the Czechoslovak leadership, whose experiment was not very different from what was happening in Hungary at the time, Hungary’s foreign policy was marked by unconditional loyalty to Big Brother on all accounts (Kontler, 2009). This meant taking part in the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia to avert a counter-revolutionary takeover. That was a decision which lost Hungary many of its remaining ‘friends’ in the west and led to a further worsening of its bilateral relations with the US administration. Martin J Hillebrand, a skilfull career diplomat who had been appointed as the first US Ambassador to Hungary in September 1967, noted Kádár’s…

… early endorsement  of reformist developments in Czechoslovakia, his widely-publicized mediatory role, and his apparently only last-minute conversion to a need for forceful measures.

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In any case, it was already too late for mediation by the time the invasion was underway. Alexander Dubcek was flown to Moscow and for days, the Czech and Russian leaders talked. He was forced to accept the end of Czech moves towards democracy. On 27th August the Czech leaders returned from Moscow and the Czech President Ludvik Svoboda announced the ‘mixed’ news:

Dear fellow citizens … after four days of negotiations in Moscow we are back with you. Neither you nor we felt at ease.

Dubcek added the bad news:

… to normalise the present complex situation … it will be necessary to take measures limiting freedom of expression as we have become accustomed to it.

In addition, Soviet troops were to stay in Czechoslovakia and censorship was brought back. Yet, for a time, at that time, after the tanks of the Warsaw Pact had invaded Czechoslovakia, there had seemed to be a feint possibility that the reformists could stay in power and the reforms of the Prague Spring would continue. Dubcek, though taken to Moscow in chains, returned as Chairman of the Communist Party still. President Svoboda (his name means ‘freedom’) was still the head of state of the People’s Republic. Together, they promised that nothing would change, but everything did change, though they resisted for as long as they could; virtually every change that had been made during the Prague Spring was overturned within a year.

The heavy hand of Moscow once more gripped Czechoslovakia. A Czech student, Jan Palach, set fire to himself in the centre of Prague as a protest. Over the next year, hard-line Czechoslovak officials replaced their reformist predecessors at all levels. An experiment in political pluralism had come to an abrupt end. The orthodoxy of one-party rule was restored. In April 1969 Dubcek was forced to resign; his idea of making Czechoslovakian Communism more human lay in ruins. He was sent to Turkey as an ambassador, where he was a virtual prisoner in his own embassy. Svoboda died shortly after being replaced by Moscow’s nominee, Gustav Husák, obedient to the central authority in Moscow, who remained in power for the next twenty years until the Velvet Revolution of 1989. In 1970, Dubcek was expelled from the party and the people of Czechoslovakia, eager for freedom, were either purged or effectively ‘buried alive’.

Throughout the Prague Spring the secret police, the Statni Bezpecnost (StB), had continued to operate for their old masters, not their new ones. Photographs existed of everyone who had spoken at every important public meeting throughout the short interlude of freedom. Large numbers of people in the crowds had been photographed too, and notes were taken of everything that was said. All this had been carefully collated. The tribunals began to sift through the StB’s material. Every member of the government, the civil service, the management of factories and businesses, was investigated to see what line he or she had taken during the Prague Spring. It was a long and careful business, carried ou with obsessive attention to detail of a new Inquisition. As with the original Inquisition, the purpose was not to rescue the individual soul of the heretic but to preserve the integrity of the faith. Active supporters of the heresy were dismissed. Usually, they could find only menial jobs. The applications of young men and women applying for places at universities were examined with the same care. No active supporter of the reform movement was accepted.

Lethargy, Legacy and the ‘unhoped-for moment’:

The caretakers, road sweepers, stokers and maintenance men of Czechoslovakia were the best educated in the world. Distinguished academics, senior civil servants, leading journalists and economists tended furnaces, washed steps, and cleaned out lavatories. The men and women who took their jobs in the Party, the government and the economic life of the country were less well-educated. The looking-glass world was well represented in Czechoslovakia. There was no let-up in the tight control, not just of the Party, but also in the group that headed the Party – the group which took power in 1968 and 1969. Gustav Husak, Milos Jakes and the others remembered the last months of the old Party leader, Antonín Novotny, in 1967, and how the hope of greater liberalisation had split the Party and forced even the liberals to go much farther than they intended. Husak and the others knew that if there were the least easing up, they would be swept away. Under such tight control, it remained difficult for the Party to generate any enthusiasm or activity even among its own members. Three days after the fifteenth anniversary of the invasion, the Party newspaper Rude Pravo complained, on the 24th August 1983:

It is a serious matter that our Party members live in near-anonymity. They cannot be formally rebuked for this, because they pay their membership dues, regularly attend Party meetings, and take part in agitprop sessions. However, they have nothing to say on serious matters under discussion, they never raise their hands, and they never speak their mind. They never oppose others, but they never fight for their Party.

John Simpson, the BBC correspondent, likened this state of mind to that of Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984. Czechoslovakia, he said, had undergone a kind of lobotomy. People had been encouraged to express their political opinions in 1968 and then had suffered for doing so. It was rare to find anyone, during his visit in 1983, who was prepared to make the same mistake again. Czech journalists who did try to talk to Simpson about 1968 found the awakened memories too painful to share and, perhaps more significantly for that time, they saw no “point” to “raising” them since it would just remind them of the way things used to be, just for a bit … We’ll never be like that again! The authorities demanded quiescence and offered in return a decent material standard of living. The shops were well stocked with food and every weekend in the summer people would head out of the cities to the dachas which were made available in large numbers. It was, Simpson wrote, a sleepwalker’s existence.

The invasion of Czechoslovakia came at a crucial time in the rebuilding of relations between the USA and the USSR. The Americans knew that any serious action on behalf of the Czechs and Slovaks would, at the very least, set back the slow process of improving East-West relations. So, in 1968 the Czechs were left to their fate by the West, as they had been in 1948 and 1938. However, there is a comforting, if comic, codicil to this story. The following year, the Czechoslovak ice-hockey team secured a rare win over their Russian rivals. They became world-wide heroes literally overnight, but in the real global power-play, they were still the victims rather than the victors.

Global, ‘regional’ and ‘local’ events in 1968 blurred the distinctions in the images of the two superpowers in the Cold War. It was hard to view the United States as freedom’s ‘sheriff’ in the world when at home, its police were clubbing civil rights and anti-war protesters, and abroad its GIs were being made to commit war-crimes in an escalating and undeclared war in south-east Asia. On the other hand, the failure of the Communist system to feed its own people with grain from the United States, and the crushing of the Prague Spring with tanks, tarnished a form of government which claimed to rule on behalf of its ‘proletariat’. The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia ended, for decades at least, a possible third way in Central/Eastern Europe, and the possibility of liberal reform within the Soviet bloc.

On the morning of 23rd October 1988, I was standing with a group of British Quaker teachers, at the Esztergom Basilica on Hungary’s ‘Danube Bend’. Looking down to the river, we could see a ruined bridge which, until the Second World War, had connected Hungary and Czechoslovakia. We were excited, together with our hosts, about the changes taking place in Hungary, two of which had been announced on the radio that morning, the thirty-second anniversary of the beginning of the 1956 Uprising. The first was that those events would no longer be referred to as a ‘counter-revolution’, as they had been, officially, ever since. The second was that a phased, but complete withdrawal of Soviet troops would begin the next year. Our excitement was tinged with sadness when we looked across at what, today, is Slovakia. Our host, a fellow historian, expressed her view that Husak’s hard-line régime would be the last of the Warsaw Pact to liberalise. Almost exactly thirteen months later, Husak and Jakes had gone, and Alexander Dubcek was back in Wenceslas Square, addressing crowds of 300,000. Yet in 1988, he was still, officially, the ‘disgraced leader of the Prague Spring Movement’. His granddaughter had told him:

Grandpa, don’t be sad. We never take any notice when our teachers say what a bad man you are. I always leave the classroom and the teachers never say anything. I know that you’re good.

001

Sources:

Jeremy Isaacs (1998), Cold War. London: Bantam Press (Transworld Publishers).

John Simpson (1990), Despatches from the Barricades. London: Hutchinson.

 

 

 

Posted June 11, 2018 by TeamBritanniaHu in American History & Politics, Cartoons, Civil Rights, Cold War, Communism, Conquest, democracy, Egalitarianism, Europe, France, Germany, guerilla warfare, Humanism, Hungarian History, Hungary, Imperialism, Ireland, Journalism, Marxism, Militancy, morality, Narrative, nationalism, Renaissance, Resurrection, Russia, Satire, Second World War, terror, terrorism, Trade Unionism, tyranny, United Nations, USA, USSR, World War Two

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Martin Luther King – Four Antidotes for Fear:   Leave a comment

In this post, I’ve chosen extracts from Martin Luther King’s sermon on 1 John 4:18 –

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear; because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

The sermon, which he entitled ‘Antidotes for Fear’ provides both a fitting way to mark Martin Luther King Day in the USA, as well as to prepare for the inauguration of the 45th President of the USA, Donald J Trump, on Friday 20 January 2017, replacing Barack Obama, the USA’s first black president, in office:

I: Confronting our fears.

First, we must… honestly ask ourselves why we are afraid… We shall never be cured of fear by escapism or repression, for the more we attempt to ignore and repress our fears, the more we multiply our inner conflicts…

By bringing our fears to the forefront of consciousness, we may find them to be more imaginary than real…And let us also remember that, more often than not, fear involves the misuse of imagination. When we get our fears into the open, we may laugh at some of them, and this is good. One psychiatrist said, “Ridicule is the master cure for fear and anxiety.”

II: Building ‘dykes of courage’.

Second, we can master fear through one of the supreme virtues known to man: courage. Plato considered courage to be an element of the soul which bridges the cleavage between reason and desire. Aristotle thought of courage as the affirmation of man’s essential nature. Thomas Aquinas said that courage is the strength of mind capable of conquering whatever threatens the attainment of the highest good.

Courage, therefore, is the power of mind to overcome fear. Unlike anxiety, fear has a definite object which may be faced, analysed, attacked, and, if need be, endured. How often the object of our fear is our fear of fear itself… Courage takes the fear produced by a definite object into itself and thereby conquers the fear involved. Paul Tillich has written, “Courage is self-affirmation ‘in spite of’… that which tends to hinder the self from affirming itself.” It is self-affirmation in spite of death and nonbeing, and he who is courageous takes the fear of death into his self-affirmation and acts upon it… This is not selfishness, for self-affirmation includes both a proper self-love and a properly propositioned love of others… the right kind of self-love and the right kind of love of others are interdependent.

… Evil and pain in this conundrum of life are close to each other, and we do both ourselves and others a great disservice when we attempt to prove that there is nothing in this world of which we should be frightened. These forces that threaten to negate life must be challenged by courage, which is the power of life to affirm itself in spite of life’s ambiguities. This requires the exercise of a creative will that enables us to hew out a stone of hope from a mountain of despair.

… Courage faces fear and thereby masters it; cowardice represses fear and is thereby mastered by it. Courageous men never lose the zest for living even though their life is zestless; cowardly men, overwhelmed by uncertainties of life, lose the will to live. We must constantly build dykes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.


A book of sermons first published in 1963 in the USA, in 1964 in Great Britain, and re-published in 1969, the year following his assassination, by Fontana Books, London.

III: Mastering Fear through Love.

Third, fear is mastered through love. The New Testament affirms, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear.” The kind of love which led Christ to a cross and kept Paul unembittered amid the angry torrents of persecution is not soft, anaemic, and sentimental. Such love confronts evil without flinching and shows in our popular parlance an infinite capacity “to take it.” Such love overcomes the world even from a rough-hewn cross against the skyline.

But does love have a relationship to our modern fear of war, economic displacement, and racial injustice? Hate is rooted in fear, and the only cure for fear-hate is love. Our deteriorating international situation is shot through with the lethal darts of fear. Russia fears America, and America fears Russia. Likewise… the Israelis and the Arabs… We say that war is a consequence of hate, but close scrutiny reveals the sequence reveals this sequence: first fear, then hate, then war, and then deeper hatred…

In these turbulent, panic-stricken days we are once more reminded of the judicious words of old, “Perfect love casteth out fear.” Not arms, but love, understanding, and organised goodwill can cast out fear.

Our own problem of racial injustice must be solved by the same formula… Neither repression, massive resistance, nor aggressive violence will cast out the fear of integration; only love and goodwill can do that. The Negro must convince the white man that he seeks justice for both himself and the white man. A mass movement exercising love and nonviolence and demonstrating power under discipline should convince the white community that were such a community to attain strength its power would be used creatively and not vengefully.

Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love can do that. Hatred paralyses life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonises it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.

IV: Mastering Fear through Faith.

Fourth, fear is mastered through faith… All too many people attempt to face the tensions of life with inadequate spiritual resources…

… our trouble is simply that we attempt to confront fear without faith; we sail through the stormy seas of life without adequate spiritual boats…

A positive religious faith does not offer an illusion that we shall be exempt from pain and suffering, nor does it imbue us with the idea that life is a drama of unalloyed comfort and untroubled ease. Rather, it instills us with the inner equilibrium needed to face strains, burdens and fears that inevitably come, and assures us that the universe is trustworthy and that God is concerned.

This universe is not a tragic expression of meaningless chaos but a marvellous display of orderly cosmos… Any man who finds this cosmic sustenance can walk the highways of life without the fatigue of pessimism and the weight of morbid fears… The confidence that God is mindful of the individual is of tremendous value in dealing with the disease of fear, for it gives us a sense of worth, of belonging and of at-homeness in the universe.

This faith transforms the whirlwind of despair into a warm and reviving breeze of hope. The words of a mother which a generation ago were commonly found on the homes of devout persons need to be etched on our hearts:

Fear knocked at the door.

Faith answered.

There was no one there.

 

 

Martin Luther King (1969), Strength to Love. London: Fontana.

Martin Luther King: The Man who had a Dream: MLK Day (US), 20 January 2014   5 comments

Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deuts...

Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deutsch: 1964: Martin Luther King Português: Martin Luther King (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The third Monday in January is marked as a federal holiday in the United States, in memory and recognition of the Civil Rights activist and President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was born in Atlanta, Georgia on 15 January 1929 and died in hospital on 4 April 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, from an assassin’s bullet which struck him as he walked outside his hotel room. He married Coretta Scott King in 1953 and they had four children, one of whom, Dexter Scott King, manages the King Center in Atlanta. Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was with Dr King when he died, twice stood for election as President. Later he worked for President Clinton, who in 1998 gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rosa Parks, who had sparked the Civil Rights Movement into action by her simple act in 1955, of refusing to give up her seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama, . Her arrest and subsequent imprisonment led to a mass boycott of the public buses in the city coordinated by the NAACP, the black civil rights group, with King, then a local Baptist minister in the city. When she met Nelson Mandela in 1990, he told her of how her brave action often inspired him during his long imprisonment. However, Dr King’s dream has not yet come true. Blacks and whites are not yet equal, except in law, and large numbers of young black Americans have grown up without jobs, since the 1980’s, in cities like Chicago, where President Obama worked in social programs at that time. Many went to prison, or died in street violence from shootings and stabbings which are part of the gang warfare of the cities. Five times as many blacks are victims of this violence than are whites, and the proportions of black prisoners to whites is roughly similar.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The advent of a ‘colored’ man to the White House does not, yet, seem to have had much effect. Perhaps President Obama’s new-found determination to tackle the problem of gun ownership will have an impact on these figures. However, there are still less than 60% of blacks registered to vote.

For thirteen years, Martin Luther King was the leader of a people on a long road to freedom. He was a great speaker, preacher and writer, and his philosophy and strategy of non-violent direct action, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, has, in turn inspired many civil rights movements and campaigns throughout the world. In 2005 Condoleezza Rice succeeded Colin Powell as the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the first two African-Americans to hold senior office in the Federal government.  At a meeting in Black History Month, she talked about what Dr King’s ideas meant to her:

Black Americans, African-Americans, have always believed in America, even in the darkest times. They believed in America when America didn’t believe in them. Martin Luther King told America that it should be true to itself. And finally America did the right thing by African-Americans. 

I have put together a PPP here, which can be accessed via the link below. It can be used by students working in English, at intermediate level (with about a thousand words) and above.

Martin Luther King

https://chandlerozconsultants.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/martin-luther-king.pptng

Printed Sources:

Alan C McLean, Martin Luther King: Oxford Bookworms Factfiles. OUP: 2008

Malkoc, Smolinski & Kral (eds.), Celebrate! Holidays in the USA. Office of English Language Programs (englishprograms.state.gov), Washington DC: 2007 (second edn.)

Martin Luther King, Strength to Love. London (Hodder & Stoughton): 1964

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Cool to be kind!   Leave a comment

Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness

2 Samuel 9: David and Mephibosheth

Oliver Cromwell, by Samuel Cooper (died 1672)....

‘Cruel to be kind’ was an expression I used to hear a lot as a child. Not so much in my own home, the manse, but certainly at school and occasionally at church. It was sometimes accompanied by the first part of the proverb, ‘spare the rod…(and spoil the child.’) It used to puzzle me then, and it puzzles me even more now. I think it was Martin Luther King who wrote that the ends never justify the means, but the means are always inherent in the ends. Oliver Cromwell’s ‘cruel necessity’, the execution of Charles Stuart, ‘that man of blood’, found guilty of tyranny and war crimes against his own people was, for others, a brutal act of regicide, making the Stuart King a martyr for his divine right to rule. There was nothing ‘necessary’ about it, but, of necessity, it led to a brutal dictatorship which only ended with the restoration of the Stuart monarchy and the reaffirmation of its ‘divine right’ to rule.

Rowan Atkinson as Lord Edmund Blackadder

In British society, the idea that stoicism can only be taught through suffering has, thankfully been replaced, but the idea which has replaced it also seems to have its limitations. Whereas generosity characterised much of British behaviour in the war-time generation, more recently it has seemed that the prevailing wisdom is that it isn’t  ‘cool to be kind.’ The most popular situation comedies of recent years have used ‘dark humour’ if not ‘black comedy’ to portray the long-suffering character of the British in sit-coms.  To be successful over five series, the character of Edmund Blackadder needed a ‘butt’ to kick sideways in the mis-shapen turnip-nosed  Baldrick, who was never given a Christian name except for ‘Sodoff’, because that was what the other children in the playground told him to do! Tony Robinson’s character became the perfect ‘foil’ for the hapless Blackadder, with Baldrick taking on all the blame for Rowan Atkinson‘s woes. The only time that Blackadder speaks to Baldrick without a barbed remark is at the end of the last series when they all face the ultimate cruelty of going ‘over the top’ into the barbed wire together. ‘Cool to be cruel’ often seems to be the basis of a lot of British humour, both on screen and of, so that we are encouraged to laugh at latter-day clown figures, rather than with them, or through their suffering.

Even Christians in Britain, though generous in deed towards the poor and the sick, often seem to find it difficult to affirm each other in Church. Non-Christians have sometimes misinterpreted  what may be traditional ‘reserve’ for coldness, even cruelty. Occasionally, preachers seem to regard it more important to make fun of themselves, or to gently mock others, rather than to express a kind word to their congregations. Perhaps they worry that they might be seen as courting popularity rather than confronting truths. But it concerns me greatly when I read in the social media that Christians are seen as going  to Church because we think we’re better than others and that we then carry on behaving badly towards others at work or more broadly in our six-day lives.

One such social media site is called ’Random Acts of Kindness’, giving suggestions and examples as to how we might improve the atmosphere around us by helping others. The site asks, ‘what acts have you encountered recently?’ When I read this, often nothing springs very readily to mind. Even more difficult to bring to mind are specific acts of kindness I might have performed for others, whether pre-medidated or spontaneous. The latter are generally more prevalent, which is perhaps as things should be, but I wonder if, sometmes, I don’t actually block the flow of God’s kindness into my life by not being more pro-active in identifying need in others.

The anger of Saul with David.

The anger of Saul with David. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The early chapters of 2 Samuel give us an interesting comparison and contrast in their pen-portraits of Saul and David as early Kings of Israel and Judah. Saul allows jealousy, envy and bitterness to block the flow of kindness, twice tries to kill David. Jonathan, Saul’s eldest by his only wife (1 Sam 14:49-50), comes to David’s rescue, out of friendship and loyalty…and also perhaps because he realises that his father is mentally ill and will destroy himself by destroying David.

2 Samuel is a ’history’ book about David; 1 Sam is about the transition to monarchy under Saul, picking up from ’Judges’ in which the continual attacks on the Hebrews from surrounding tribes make the people ask for king (as a necessity, NOT as an ideal form of government, you’ll notice). David is a shepherd boy, youngest of eight sons of Jesse, a skilled musician and composer. The second book begins in civil war after Saul’s death in battle and ends with the rivalry of David’s sons over the succession. David establishes Jerusalem as capital, Solomon succeeds him (1 Kings) and builds the Temple; the kingdom is then split in two under Rehoboam, King of Israel (the ten tribes in North) and Judah (the two in south). This is ‘His’ story told from special point of view – God’s plan at work in the Jewish nation. It is therefore highly selective and deliberately biased, as much history is. However, this is NOT legend or mythology, nor is it  propaganda – its reliabity is testified to contemporary documents and archaeology, in addition to older wrtings, records, and genealogies. Looking forward, Jesus is seen as David’s descendant, the ‘Messiah’ (Hebrew), ‘Christ’ (Greek), or ’anointed one.’ Just as a king or queen is anointed. It’s no ‘fluke’ that the oldest crown jewel in Britain, is also one of the smallest – the anointing spoon, with which the Archbishop of Canterbury anoints the monarch as s/he turns to the High Altar. The Coronation anthem, Handel’s ‘ Zadok the Priest’ reminds us of  2 Samuel 8:17, in which the High Priest appointed by Solomon helps to bring the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem (1 Ki 2:26-35).

"Death of King Saul", 1848 by Elie M...

“Death of King Saul”, 1848 by Elie Marcuse (Germany and France, 1817-1902) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the beginning of 2 Samuel, David returns to Ziklag following his victory over the Amalekites, a nomadic tribe who lived in the desert south of Judah. They had been at continual war with the Israelites from the time of the exodus. A survivor of Saul’s defeat at the Battle at Mount Gilboa by the Philistines arrives with the news of the death of the king and his three sons, including Jonathan. He is an Amalekite, and therefore tells lies in saying that he agreed to Saul’s request to kill him before the Philistines captured him (in fact, Saul fell on his own sword),  thinking David would be pleased. However,  since  he has killed ’the Lord’s anointed’, David has him killed. He then writes an elegy for Saul and Jonathan which includes the following verse:

’How the mighty have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies slain on your heights. I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.’ 

When Saul’s remaining son is murdered, David has his murderers killed. He is then made king, first by the tribes of Judah and then by the whole of Israel. He makes a ’contract’ or ’covenant’ with them, and is anointed king at the age of thirty, reigning for forty years in all. He begins with a series of victories over the Philistines. Then the Ark of the Covenant is brought to Jerusalem.

What kind of king is Jesus compared with his ancestor? His entry to Jerusalem is not on warhorse, with soldiers, but on a donkey, with children and pilgrims. Power struggles among the leaders of Israel had allowed Rome to take control in 63 B.C., and rulers like Herod ‘the Great’ were anything but that, for they were approved and appointed by Rome. They were not seen as ’anointed’ by God and weren’t popular with the people. They therefore used methods of terror to keep control, and savagely put down any support for alternative authorities, such as prophets and ’messiahs’. 

By contrast, in his relationship with Jonathan, David shows great faithfulness, giving his commitment to Jonathan’s descendants, something unusual for a king to do, upholding another king’s dynasty, which was normally seen as a threat and banished (at the very least).

But David determined to end the feuding as well as keep his promise never to ’cut off his kindness’ from Jonathan’s family. (1 Sam 20, vv 15, 42). He also makes the same promise to Saul, on oath, even after Saul tries to kill him (1 Sam 24: 20-22). Even after Saul loses God’s favour, David treats him with respect and even spares his life (’from evildoers come evil deeds’). David only takes lives ’in cold blood’ where justice is served, despite brutality of the times.

Did David keep his promise?

Read 2 Samuel 9:

David asked, ’Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?’

Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They called him to appear before David, and the king said to him, ’Are you Ziba?’

’Your servant,’ he replied.

The king asked, ’Is there no-one still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?’

Ziba answered the king, ’There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in both feet.’

’Where is he?’, the king asked.

Ziba answered, ’He is at the house of Makir son of Ammiel, in Lo Debar.’

So King David had him brought from Lo Debar, from the house of Makir son of Ammiel.

When Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honour.

David said, ’Mephibosheth!’

’Your servant,’ he replied.

’Don’t be afraid,’ David said to him, ’for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.’

Mephishobeth bowed down and said, ’What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?’

Then the King summoned Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, ’I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. You and your sons and your servants are to farm the land for him and bring in the crops, so that your master’s grandson may be provided for. And Mephishobeth, grandson of your master, will always eat at my table.’ (Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.)

Then Ziba said to the king, ’Your servant will do whatever my lord the king commands his servant to do.’ So Mephishobeth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.

Mephishobeth had a young son named Mica, and all the members of Ziba’s household were servants of Mephishobeth. And Mephishobeth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table, and he was crippled in both feet.

(New International Version)

 1. What characteristics of David stand out?

He shows respect for Saul and Jonathan, behaving honourably, wanting to show God’s ’exceptional kindness’, or ’grace’, towards them. It includes forgiveness.

 2. What steps did David have to take to find Mephibosheth?

Ziba, Saul’s servant  was sent to find Mephishobeth in Lo Debar. Wherever this was, it was a considerable distance from Judah.

3. What reasons might David have had for not being kind to Mephibosheth?

His disability – because he was dropped by his nurse, (2 Sam 4). Also because his  his uncle, Ish-Bosheth, had been made king over large part of Israel, while David was king of Judah only for first 7 years, so there had been a bitter civil war between the House of Saul and the House of David. It wasn’t just that Saul had tried to kill him, but that many ’brothers’ had died in the War.  David’s actions remind me of how Henry Tudor united the Houses of York and Lancaster through marriage and the symbol of the Tudor Rose, combining the red rose of Lancashire with the white rose of Yorkshire, whilst at the same time dealing harshly with ‘pretenders’ to the throne.

 4. What was David’s kindness based on?

On his love for Jonathan, on his promise made to him;  on his forgiveness for House of Saul and on his promise to Saul.

 5. In what specific, practical ways did David show kindness to Mephibosheth?

The way he greeted him, as Jonathan’s son, with enthusiasm, though they had never met; the granting of Saul’s land, the settling of Ziba’s family to farm the land; the protection of him at the Royal Court in Jerusalem (as a disabled person he was unable to defend himself and his lands directly, but his position at court enables him to have a son and therefore continue the House of Saul.)

6. What thoughts or feelings do you think Mephibosheth had when called before David?

As last surviving member, he probably feared for his life, especially after having fled before uncle’s murder by men at his own court, even though David had executed the men responsible, which he may not have known.

7. What would he have felt as he heard the words contained in verse 7?

Mightily relieved? Reconciled, recognised, restored and reaffirmed.  No longer a refugee. Justified by the Restitution of his family.

 

A Hymn/ Psalm:

 Praise my Soul

The King of Heaven

To his feet

My tribute bring

Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,

Who like me his praise would sing.

The Challenge:

Think of those who have been especially kind to you.  How have you been blessed by their kindness?

How can you repay their kindnesses? How can you affirm and encourage them?

What is an affirmation? How can we make one?

It’s not simply a general, positive statement, but a promise to do something specific for someone.

Christians have been showered with blessings from the King. Can you count your blessings while you may? There are two great songs, one British and the other a Salvation Army chorus, popular in the USA, which charge us with doing just this:

Count Your Blessings (#1; British):

 

Count your blessings one by one,

When dawn appears and day has just begun.

They will light your heart with happiness,

Make each hour bright

And bring you gladness.

 

 Count your blessings one by one,

When twilight falls and toil of day is done,

And in sweet dreams they’ll come again to you,

If you will count your blessings

Each day through.

 

Count your blessings while you may,

For we are here but little time to stay.

All around are hearts sincere and true,

Lovely things abound just waiting for you.

 

Count your blessings while you may,

For big or small, whichever come your way.

For then you’ll find this world a place of love,

If you will count your blessings from above.

 

Count Your Blessings #2 (American):

Chorus:

Count your many blessings, name them one by one.

Count your many blessings, see what God  has done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you, what the Lord has done.

 

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,

When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,

Count your many blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you, what the Lord has done.

 

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?

Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?

Count your every blessing and each doubt will fly,

And you will be singing as the days go by.

 

When you look at others, with their lands and gold,

Think that Christ has promised you his wealth untold.

Count  your many blessings; wealth can never buy

Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

 

So, amid the conflict, whether great or small,

Do not be disheartened, God is over all.

Count your many blessings, angels will attend,

Help and comfort give you till your journey’s end.

 

So, Remember….

Don’t lose sleep,

Counting sheep;

When you’re stressing out,

Count your blessings out!

And don’t forget to bless others….


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