Greatness Does Not Require Perfection

Nelson Mandela is dead. That’s okay. He was 95. He lived a legend, transformed a country, spent 27 years in a prison and emerged triumphant from it all. There’s no need for undue sorrow.

Nor is their need for undue bigotry.

A South Carolina sheriff refused to lower the American flag to half mast because, he said, Mandela wasn’t an American. Wonder how he would have reacted if it was 1965, and the deceased world leader was Sir Winston Churchill?

Obligatory statements by Republican Gov. Nikki Haley and Congressman Jeff Duncan elicited a variety of social-media responses calling Mandela a communist, a terrorist, a mass murderer or all of the above.

In the past few days, I’ve seen right wingers qualify their remarks. For instance, they say Mandela never renounced violence.

Neither did George Washington.

They said he stole property from white South Africans.

The American Revolution was hard on many Tories.

This so underscores the American belief that our shit doesn’t stink.

Recently I read Daphne du Maurier’s last novel, Rule Britannia, which is about an American army occupying Great Britain after the government, in a desperation measure, agrees to merge the two countries. It details the resentment that arises in a small seacoast town.

It made me think about the way it must seem in countries where our army is active now. Looking at it from the opposite side is, at the very least, instructive.

This week I’ve read several balanced views of Mandela’s life that reveal him as a great, if flawed, man.

The world has few saints and few sinners. Most of us fall somewhere in between.

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