Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
    Volume 6 Issue 3 | January 26, 2007 |

   Cover Story
   View from the    bottom
   Straight Talk
   Food for Thought
   Special Feature
   Dhaka Diary
   Book Review
   New Flicks
   Write to Mita

   SWM Home


Then and now, forty years apart

Syed Badrul Ahsan

Castro and Chavez

Back in 1967, it was a world of cold fears we inhabited. When you look back to that year and then think that you ought to be observing these present times as well, you might note a good degree of similarity between then and now. In 1967, America was beginning to get edgy over the rapid escalation of the conflict in Vietnam. With President Lyndon Johnson insistent on an increase in the number of troops to combat the Viet Cong and yet unable to convince the country that the war could be won, there were all the signs of gathering chaos. So when you observe conditions in Iraq today, when you look at the predicament President George W. Bush has landed himself in, you might think of a perceptible sense of déjà vu making its way into your present ambience. In 1967, Defence Secretary Robert McNamara gave out the first signals of his own growing belief that the war could not be won. He would leave early the following year. In 2007, Donald Rumsfeld is already memory. Clark Clifford replaced McNamara; and Robert Gates has stepped into Rumsfeld's old department.

There was huge volatility in the Middle East in 1967. Egyptian President Nasser (the country was officially known as the United Arab Republic at the time) went around garnering moral as well as political support in his developing conflict with Israel. It was a time when Arab hopes rested on Nasser's leadership. It was, ironically, also a moment of unmitigated embarrassment for Egypt's leader and his friends. In a lightning military strike in early June, the Israeli government of Levi Eshkol left the armed forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan wounded and broken. The West Bank and Jerusalem passed into Israeli control. Egypt lost Sinai and Syria was forced from the Golan Heights. Nasser would die a broken man three years later. Forty years after that profound tragedy, the Arabs are once more in a state of the helpless. Ehud Olmert, and before him Ariel Sharon, have pounded the Palestinians into submission. The Hamas government has been crippled by Israel's, and western, refusal to cooperate. The political classes in Cairo and Amman, stymied by dependence on the West and the old peace treaties with Tel Aviv, do not speak much in defence of Yasser Arafat's people.

The aftermath of Israel's bombing of Lebanon

Beyond the similarities between 1967 and 2007, there are the noticeable differences you cannot miss. If in 1967 it was the Bolivian authorities that cheerfully murdered Ernesto Che Guevara, in 2007 it is a strident, socialistic Hugo Chavez who warns the West and its supporters to stay away from the region. The Venezuelan leader has a friend, Evo Morales, in Bolivia and together they happen to be causing a pretty nasty headache for their enemies. Nelson Mandela looked set to die in imprisonment in apartheid-driven South Africa in 1967. Forty years later, he lives in retirement as former president of the rainbow nation he inspired into shape, post-apartheid. Throughout 1967, countries in South America fell prey to military rule. Brazil, Argentina and so many others fell before their soldiers. In our times, democracy appears to be digging increasingly deeper roots in the continent. In 1967, the anti-capitalist Cultural Revolution caused a political earthquake in China. Four decades down the road, economic prosperity defines the rise of the nation Napoleon once called a sleeping giant. Even America worries that China, as the next superpower, will come level with it in the coming few years and could well outstrip it in economic terms.

Forty years ago, Charles de Gaulle was the man who upheld the cause of French grandeur. At this point in time, it is the elegant socialist Segolene Royal who is poised to step into the office the founder of the Fifth Republic once occupied. Four decades ago, Saddam Hussein engaged in conspiracy to overthrow the Aref regime in Iraq (which he would succeed in doing the very next year). Forty years on, having ruled Iraq as a strongman for years, having lost some wars and seeing foreigners invade his country, he is dead. When we travel back to 1967, we remember the troika -- Leonid Brezhnev, Alexei Kosygin and Nikolai Podgorny -- that governed the Soviet Union. In 2007, the troika are dead and the Soviet Union is a memory. In 1967, Alexander Dubcek prepared to take over from the dour, tough Antonin Novotny in Czechoslovakia through Prague Spring; today Czechoslovakia is two countries, with men relating to one another the old tale of Vaclav Havel's velvet revolution. Harold Wilson's Labour government presided over Britain then; it is a different, wealth-friendly, New Labour under Tony Blair which rules the country now.

In 1967, Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu had the Ibo-dominant eastern state of Nigeria declare independence as the free state of Biafra. In 2007, Biafra is a blip in history while Nigeria reshapes its politics. In 1967, Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt went swimming and drowned. These days, John Howard bestrides politics, Colossus-like, and justifies the war in Iraq. If in 1967 Christian Barnard pioneered heart transplants in the world, today medical science rushes in to tell us of all the drinks and all the food we can turn to if we mean to keep the hearts in us going.


Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2007