Give me liberty or give me death
Today, March 23rd, is a notable day in history for authoritarianism.
On this day in 1919, Benito Mussolini founded the fascist movement, rooted in Italian nationalism to restore and expand its territories, reminiscing the conquests of the Roman Empire. The movement later joined forces with German Nazism. Mussolini went so far as to identify himself as Nordic, with the Fascist government recognizing Italians as having Nordic heritage to align with the Nazi focus on Aryanism.
Meanwhile on this day in 1933, Germany passed the Enabling Act which paved the path for a western democratic nation to transform in short order into a totalitarian dictatorship. Shortly after becoming Chancellor, Adolph Hitler blamed a fire in the Reichstag on the communists and evoked emergency powers. He immediately had his cabinet draw up the Enabling Act that essentially granted him absolute, unchecked power. Communists and labor union leaders were the first groups he targeted to be interned in concentration camps. While both movements were defeated at the conclusion of WWII, the legacy of Fascism and Nazism still influence world events to this day.
March 23rd is also notable for major setbacks to authoritarianism.
On this day in 1996, my home country of Taiwan held its first presidential election. Since then, it has burgeoned into a leading democracy that earns high marks for its rule of law and for protecting civil and political rights, despite operating under the shadow of an increasingly belligerent China. In 1971, my mother and I departed for America a few weeks after the UN passed a resolution to shift its recognition of the legitimate representative of China to the People’s Republic of China from Taiwan’s Republic of China. President Xi recently secured a constitutional change abolishing term limits enabling him to serve indefinitely. My family in Taiwan continues to live under the looming threat of an uncertain ultimate resolution for the island nation’s status and way of life.
On this day in 2019, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces declared military victory over ISIL after capturing the last territory they held and bringing to an end the Caliphate they hoped to rule with authoritarian terror. I was in Iraq the year prior and spent time at the American Consulate in Kurdistan that was bombed 10 days ago by Iran. It will require a tremendous undertaking for that region to recover from the devastation and horrors that were inflicted on the subjected populations, which the international community should not forget or ignore as it turns to other issues.
On this day in 1976, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights finally went into effect. It is an awe-inspiring and historic agreement ratified by 173 nations that commit to guarantee individual rights regardless of race, gender or other status; including the right to life, to privacy, to vote, to due process and to be treated with dignity; it ensures freedom of religion, speech, assembly, movement and the right of all peoples to self-determination. These principles embodied in the Covenant were first proposed at the 1945 San Francisco Conference, which led to the founding of the UN itself.
While China remains notably absent from the Covenant, Russia was among the earliest signatories to this treaty. This would be an opportune moment for President Putin to review the Covenant, to dispense of his false pretext of Ukranian denazification or his grand vision to restore Russia to its former Soviet grandeur. He has essentially been the leader of Russia for 22 years, and last year, secured a constitutional amendment to enable the extension of his Presidency until at least 2036.
During our last board meeting, I noted that Russian troops were rolling into the Ukraine. The next day, Putin launched his full-scale invasion. Now, a full month later, few would have predicted how challenging this invasion would be for Russia, underestimating the courage and determination of the Ukrainians and their leader. Meanwhile, certain markets and currencies hang in the balance as the global economy is reshaped.
We have been hearing daily statements from brave Ukrainian citizens, young and old, women and men, that speak to their willingness to confront overwhelming odds to defend their country, their freedom and their way of life. How apropos, that on this day in 1775, Patrick Henry issued his famous rallying cry, “give me liberty or give me death” to convince the Second Virginia Convention to send troops for the Revolutionary War.
The flame that fans the necessity for people from all reaches of earth to live with the dignity of freedom and self-determination will never be extinguished. Authoritarians will come and go, but we stand for human rights, and liberty will ultimately prevail.