Afghan President Hamid Karzai literally dodged bullets today in Afghanistan during a parade. (Video from BBC)
Which got me thinking of a couple things, first, how many world leaders have been taken out by parades? More than I can count on one hand. Really. I'm also counting political rallies too. Pakistani reform candidate Benazir Bhutto
is the first to come to mind. Even George W. Bush
avoided assassination from a live hand grenade at Freedom Square in Tbilisi, Georgia in 2005 - because of a faulty detonator.
But if Mr. Karzai's would-be assassins had any sense of history, he would know that...
Political Assassination rarely ends in the way they were intended.
"Great political changes do not take place as a result of specific personal interventions," said Franklin Ford, the Harvard University historian who investigated assassination throughout history in his book, "Political Murder." "The historical record seems to me pretty impressive that people who killed other people for political advantage were almost always disappointed."
One can argue that the political assassin achieves the most fundamental goal simply by removing his or her target from political life. Look at Sirhan Sirhan, whose family fled Jerusalem in poverty after Israeli independence, deeply hated Robert Kennedy for his allegiance to Israel. "His intent was to deny the Presidency to a powerful pro-Israeli politician on the brink of the nomination," wrote James W. Clarke, professor of political science at the University of Arizona in his 1982 book "American Assassins." But RFK's death did nothing to stop U.S.-Israeli increasing ties. In fact, Richard Nixon airlifted American military equipment to Israel in the 1973 war. Oops.
Let's look at some classical case studies A great example of a lofty death-goal not achieved would be that of Julius Caesar. Caesar's assassins - the Senate - sought to destroy an ambitious general -- and, instead, helped destroy the Roman republic. Dang.
Henry II ordered the death of Archbishop Thomas a Becket to end his problems with the clergy, but was forced instead to do penance at Becket's tomb on the Pope's orders. Embarrassing.
John Wilkes Booth loved the Confederacy and hated Abraham Lincoln. But by the time he and his co-conspirators acted, the South had already lost the war. He couldn't fathom why he wasn't lionized. "A country that groaned beneath this tyranny, and prayed for this end, and yet now behold the cold hand they extend me," he wrote in his diary before his capture. Lincoln's death only made it worse for ex-Confederates. Without him, Northern Republicans brought vengeance down on the South with a ferocity that was alien to Lincoln, putting it under military rule. But in the end, John Wilkes Booth may have gotten his revenge, in the ultimate failure of Reconstruction? Well, that's a little fuzzy.
...and not every assassin's motive is clear. And fuzz opens room for Conspiracy theories or simple insanity. For instance, take James Earl Ray, the petty thief who killed Martin Luther King Jr. He was probably motivated more by money than by obsessive racist rage when he shot and killed the civil rights leader in 1968. He may have just been paid off to prevent riots in Memphis. Obviously, Dr. King's death virtually ended the non-violent tone of the civil rights movement and sparked a "few" riots that some cities still have not yet recovered from.
Then there's World War I
Talk about unintended consequences. Sure Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip's assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian throne, in Sarajevo in 1914 may have helped end Austrian domination of the Balkans, but at the cost of sparking World War I.
King Abdullah of Jordan was assassinated while entering Al Aksa mosque in Jerusalem in 1951 by a Palestinian who feared Abdullah might make peace with the new state of Israel, with whose leaders he had conducted secret talks. His death might have slowed that process but obviously didn't end it. Abdullah's 16-year-old grandson, Hussein, escaped injury, was crowned king and went on to meet secretly with Israeli leaders before making peace four decades later. D'oh!
President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt was gunned down while reviewing a military parade in Cairo in 1981 by anti-American Islamists after he made peace with Israel at Camp David. But Egypt is (still) at peace with Israel, is still the recipient of more than $2+ billion a year in American aid, is still autocratic -- and still largely excludes the Islamic opposition from power.
More Fuzzy Consequences
Other fuzzy consequences lead us to JFK - which gave Lyndon Johnson much more room to push through an aggressive domestic social agenda than Kennedy probably would have. Which has always made me wonder why a hard-core Communist would kill a Democrat pushing for Socialistic branded agendas? Then when LBJ implemented the "Great Society" and expanded the power of the Federal Government - ultimately, it looks like a success for Oswald afterall? Who killed Kennedy then? There were so many people who wanted him dead that all you had to do was print the parade route... which is exactly what they did.
Sure there are cases where the assassin achieved his political goal -- but only because his victim did not die. France's Emperor Napoleon III was just grazed by a fragment of a grenade thrown at his carriage in Paris in 1858 by FeliceOrsini , an ardent Italian nationalist. But the Emperor felt so guilty that he had abandoned the pro-Italian sentiments of his youth that he led France into battle against Austria the next year, a war that resulted in the creation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.
Then there's all those CIA attempts on Castro. He's still alive - after TEN US Presidents have left office. You're doing great work, guys.
There were two unsuccessful attempts on Gerald Ford. In fact, there were 12 unsuccessful US Presidential assassinations - and, unfortunately, 4 successful ones. Taylor and Harding are still just rumored to be successful assassinations. I think Taylor was... Harding? I don't care.
Bottom line - if you're a world leader, you might want to skip your next parade invitation. An excuse? I don't know - Tell 'em you have to wash your hair or something.
Labels: assassination, politics, war