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January 29, 2019

No room for revenge

Opinion

January 29, 2019

In his maiden speech in parliament after he was elected president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) vehemently pronounced that he did not harbour hatred and hostility against anyone and had left such sentiments behind. He added that a sense of revenge would be disastrous to the country as it would turn every street of South Africa into a battleground.

Nelson Mandela learnt from his 27-year-long imprisonment what other individuals seldom learn from both experience and bookish knowledge. Through Mandela’s policy against revenge and hatred, the country witnessed a peaceful transformation. South Africa’s black population, which had been deprived of fundamental rights during the apartheid, gained dignity and honour, and became masters of their own land.

After the First World War, when the Treaty of Versailles was signed, the victorious power assembled to decide the terms against Germany. Lloyd George (1863-1945), the then British prime minister was in favour of imposing strict terms on Germany because he wanted to gain popularity among British voters by coming across as a hardliner and a defender of the British Empire. Meanwhile, the then French prime minister George Clemenceau (1841-1929), whose country suffered heavily after the German invasion, insisted on weakening his rivals to such an extent that they would be unable to carry out any military attacks in the future.

Under the proposed terms of the treaty, Germany was declared guilty of war and heavy reparations were imposed on the country, Alsace, Germany’s industrial territory, was granted to France in order to deprive the country of its resources. In addition, an attempt was made to convert Germany into an agricultural country rather than an industrial one. German delegates were asked to sign the treaty without reading its terms and were given no alternative in the matter.

As a result, Germany had to pay heavy reparations to the Allied Powers. It had no financial resources as its industrial production was seized. In order to come up with a suitable solution for its financial crisis, Germany started printing paper money, which created inflation and instability in people’s daily lives. The prices of commodities fluctuated so rapidly that people struggled to manage their daily expenses.

In one instance, a person filled his basket with paper money and went to buy bread. On his way to the market, he stopped to have a brief conversation with someone and placed the basket outside the shop. When he returned, he noticed that the basket was missing and the currency notes were piled up on the floor.

This policy of revenge not only damaged Germany politically and financially, but also impacted France and Britain. Before the war, all three countries enjoyed close commercial and financial ties. German products had a strong demand in the French and British markets while the German market also welcomed products from both countries.

When the industrialisation process screeched to a halt in Germany, the country failed to supply its products to neighbouring countries. In addition, German markets had no space for French and British products. Consequently, the markets in Germany, France and Britain were destabilised and widespread unemployment resulted from trade restrictions. Ordinary citizens had to pay a heavy price for the policy of revenge adopted by one country.

Germany felt exploited by the humiliating terms of the Treaty of Versailles and viewed them as an attempt to stab the country in the back. The Nazi Party popularised this idea and used it as a slogan to assume power in 1933. When Hitler came to power, he made attempts to restore the honour and dignity of Germany by retrieving lost territories, reestablishing the industrialisation process, and reorganising the military and the navy. These were some of the reasons that pushed Europe into the Second World War.

Instead of ensuring lasting peace, the policy of revenge resulted in a disastrous war. The European powers learnt from their mistakes and decided to offer generous terms to the defeated nations after the Second World War. They also financially helped these countries rebuild their societies. As a consequence, this conciliatory policy brought peace in Europe.

Pakistan ought to learn the valuable lesson that adopting a policy of revenge, whether in internal affairs or in matters pertaining to our foreign policy, is harmful. Revenge and hatred incite strong emotions, undermine rationality, and compel us to take wrong decisions. We have already experienced such scenarios in the past. Therefore, we must learn from our mistakes and try not to repeat them. Conciliation and peace are the tools that bring stability and prosperity to a country.

Lastly, we must learn from Nelson Mandela, who healed the wounds of the apartheid and united South Africa’s black and white communities as a nation. We should also recognise the efforts of Desmond Mpilo Tutu, a South African theologian who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that helped make peace between the oppressed and the oppressors of the apartheid.

The writer is a veteran historian and scholar.

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