So I’m driving home from my customary Saturday morning bookstore vacation, when I come up on a minivan with Massachusetts plates, doing 50 on the 65-mile-per-hour I-91. The rear of the van has the usual cornucopia of bumper stickers advocating fuzzy feel-good causes. Underneath the right rear tail light, there’s a pair of stickers. One of them proclaims that ARMS ARE FOR HUGGING, and the other one, right underneath, demands FREE TIBET.
Cognitive dissonance, ahoy, I think to myself with a chuckle as I pass.
The world is chock-full of bad rulers who basically take control of a country, and then bleed it dry, either to advance a wool-headed political or religious ideology, or to turn the country into their personal piggy bank. These bad rulers get into power either by bamboozling the electorate (like Hugo Chavez or Herr Schickelgruber), overthrowing the previous generation of self-serving crooks via revolution (Fidel Castro), inheriting the post from a powerful parent (Kim Jong-Il), or riding on the reputation they obtained as a fighter for independence from the Western oppressors (Robert Mugabe). Regardless of how they get into office, once they are firmly seated, they all have the same methods for staying in power. They make sure they control the guns in the country, by making sure only the military and their cronies can own weapons, and that the regular peasantry doesn’t have the means to do to the ruler what he did to the previous ruler. They surround themselves with loyal followers who get privileges and posts in exchange for cracking the skulls of any opposition that might speak up, and they keep paying their army to keep them in line even when the rest of the country is eating sawdust flour sandwiches for dinner.
All of the rulers holding on to power by such methods have another thing in common: they never surrender power willingly. (Witness Mugabe, who went from national liberation hero to election thief and tinpot dictator, all so that his First Lady can spend Zimbabwean treasury money on her shopping trips to Paris and Rome while the population suffers a 250,000,000% inflation.) The only thing that gets them out of office is force of arms–people with guns. Those people can be the dictator’s formerly loyal subjects who want to install a new boss who promises them even better benefits, foreign soldiers under international mandate to remove General Tinpot from the throne, or the common population rising up and deciding they’ve had about all they can take. In the history of nation-states, the vast majority of revolutions have involved naked force of arms. (There have been some bloodless revolutions where no weapons were used either for killing or persuasion, but you can count those events on the fingers of one hand.)
If you truly believe that ARMS ARE FOR HUGGING, and you also want to see a FREE TIBET, how exactly do you propose that blessed event should come about? The Chinese government has already demonstrated how much they can be swayed by peaceful protest, and any economic sanctions will just cut off your access to cheap shower flip-flops and, oh, four fifths of the inventory at your local MalWart. (Besides, economic sanctions always hurt the people in charge least. You’ll notice that the leaders of tinpot dictatorships never look like they miss many meals, even when their population is starving.) Not everybody has a conscience, and anyone who’s come to power and wealth literally over the bodies of his opposition is not going to be shamed or touched in any way by any number of candlelight protests and bumper stickers.
The Chinese hold on Tibet is going to loosen at some point in the future, but I can pretty much guarantee you that guns will have a more decisive role in that process than all the pro-Tibet bumper stickers out there on the minivans of America…