Home » Longing for a dictator ignores the brutalities

Longing for a dictator ignores the brutalities

The amount of concern expressed in Salisbury over the unexplained disappearance of a 91-year-old man, Tom Drew, tells a lot about the nature of the town. We care. As with the recent deaths of Liz Sly and Bee Nickerson, we really do offer support. In many ways we constitute a larger family.

This family has enjoyed some extraordinary cultural treats this summer, especially in music. In addition to the expected fine performances at Tanglewood and Music Mountain, there was an unusually attractive instrumental series at the magnificent  Elfers Hall at The Hotchkiss School, there was the acclaimed Judy Collins appearance at Lime Rock and there were the fine performances of “Carousel” and “High School Musical” at TriArts.

Of particular note have been the Wednesday afternoon concerts of the New England Baroque Soloists at St. John’s Church. Only one more performance remains in this series; the concerts have been truly unique for the lively renditions on combinations of antique instruments. In addition there have been the high-quality Tuesday-at-Six lectures at the South Canaan Meeting House.

Riches at every hand.

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You wish it were possible to apply a simple remedy in Iraq and then get out — for example, divide the country into three principal ethnic-cultural areas as Senator Biden and others have suggested — Sunni around Baghdad, Shia in most of the south and west of the country, and Kurdish in the north.  Much of this division already exists de facto, and perhaps if the Iraqis were left to their own devices it would win formal acknowledgment. But the United States is now dealing with the sovereign government headed by Prime Minister Maliki and cannot impose its will.  But reference of the problem to a newly constituted United Nations entity might promote a solution.

Plainly the military “surge” pushed by President Bush as the formula for victory in Iraq is already a flop.  If General Petraeus tells the whole truth in his report next month he will have to acknowledge this. Mr. Bush has offered no plan except to stick with a failed strategy. Are the Democrats in Congress any better prepared to deal realistically with this hot potato?

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So the city of New Haven is issuing identity cards to illegal immigrants that supposedly will enable the holders to obtain driver’s licenses and a kind of status. Despite the protests from some civil liberties groups that this constitutes another form of government invasion of individual privacy, I don’t see it that way. It mer1ly attests the identity of the holder without itself conferring any benefits. It would not qualify anyone for voting or Social Security or other rights of citizens.

Yet possession of such a card could be a sort of badge of recognition for illegal immigrants or other noncitizens. It could encourage noncitizens to go through the additional steps to become legal immigrants and, eventually, American citizens.  The card also would be a useful fingerprint identification for police. Altogether I’m for it.

In countries that have known periods of dictatorial rule, there sometimes is an after-the-fact longing for the law and order enforced by the former regime, accompanied by amnesia about the secret arrests and brutalities it inflicted. “Good old Joe Stalin,” the reasoning might run. “Yes, he was a tyrant and murdered a lot of people, but everyone had a job and the paychecks came regularly.”

This appears to be the case in Portugal, where a TV poll showed that 41 percent of respondents thought of former dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar as “the greatest Portuguese ever to have lived.” Salazar ran the country as prime minister and dictator from 1932 to 1968.

As a correspondent I had two separate interviews with Salazar, a simple-appearing and extremely courteous man who lived modestly and had a single aide, an army captain. We conversed in French because my knowledge of Portuguese acquired in the U.S. Army had become rusty. Salazar looked and acted every bit the economics professor he had been. Basically he lectured me that Angola and Mozambique, Portuguese territories in Africa where insurrections were under way, were not yet ready for independence (I had visited both the previous year).  He said nothing about PIDE, the secret police widely accused of brutality. Nor did he mention the heavy press censorship.

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Portugal at this time was the poorest country in Europe. It had remained neutral during World War II and had served as an evacuation haven for persons escaping from Nazi tyranny. For that reason and because of the potential strategic importance of its island chain in the Atlantic, the Azores, it was welcomed into NATO membership. But its membership was something less than enthusiastic. Salazar’s foreign minister, Alberto Franco Nogueira, told me that Soviet threats to Berlin were of no concern to Portugal and that Portugal’s troubles in Africa were all the fault of the United States. Salazar eventually resigned in 1968. A bloodless military coup in 1974 led to the establishment of a genuinely democratic government and the country has begun to thrive as a member of the European Community.

But the merchant princes in Lisbon did not regard Salazar as a dictator; rather, they saw him as the upholder of Portugal’s ancient maritime tradition and protector of inherited wealth. Adriano Moreira, the minister of overseas affairs who was regarded as a liberal seeking reform, and with whom I dealt several times, commented that Salazar had not been a fascist dictator, but rather a “soft authoritarian,” believable as a father figure in the effort to establish Portuguese identity.

Whatever he was, Salazar was a gentleman of old-school manners.  As I was preparing to leave he asked if he could call me a taxi. I said yes. Instead of asking his aide to do it, he picked up the telephone and said merely: “This is Salazar.  Send a taxi.”  There was something appealing about such a man.

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