The lost art of critical thinking: Nelson Mandela

The morning I heard that Nelson Mandela passed away, I was in the car with three work colleagues.

One of them went on Ted Cruz’s Facebook page and mentioned Cruz had written some kind words about Mandela. But then he went on to read some of the comments on the page that he referred to as comments made by “ignorant right-wing nutjob tea partiers.”

What those comments all had in common was that they all tried to correct Cruz because Mandela was a “terrorist” and a “communist.” The three in the car then went on to talk about how dumb and/or uninformed those comments were.

Meanwhile, I searched “Nelson Mandela terrorist” on Google (already knowing what I was going to find there because I was familiar with Mandela’s background.

Sure enough, it was very easy to find a recounting. So I read the following passage from

“Nelson Mandela was the head of UmKhonto we Sizwe, (MK), the terrorist wing of the ANC and South African Communist Party. At his trial, he had pleaded guilty to 156 acts of public violence including mobilising terrorist bombing campaigns, which planted bombs in public places, including the Johannesburg railway station. Many innocent people, including women and children, were killed by Nelson Mandela’s MK terrorists. Here are some highlights

-Church Street West, Pretoria, on the 20 May 1983
-Amanzimtoti Shopping complex KZN, 23 December 1985
-Krugersdorp Magistrate’s Court, 17 March 1988
-Durban Pick ‘n Pay shopping complex, 1 September 1986
-Pretoria Sterland movie complex 16 April 1988 – limpet mine killed ANC terrorist M O Maponya instead
-Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court, 20 May 1987
-Roodepoort Standard Bank 3 June, 1988

Tellingly, not only did Mandela refuse to renounce violence, Amnesty [International] refused to take his case stating “[the] movement recorded that it could not give the name of ‘Prisoner of Conscience’ to anyone associated with violence, even though as in ‘conventional warfare’ a degree of restraint may be exercised.”

I also remember that Mandela (I think Winnie, specifically) used to engage in a form of execution called “necklacing,” where they’d put a tire filled with fuel around a person’s shoulder and light it on fire.

When I mentioned this, the guy reading the Facebook comments responded by saying that his cause was just and how else was he going to do it. My response was to ask if the 3,000 dead on 9/11 was also justified. I wondered aloud how many of those people had heard of al-Queda prior to that day. My guess is very few.

There’s little question that Mandela’s cause was just. But killing innocent people is never just. It’s one thing if you’re fighting a war – one military against another. But killing innocents is never justified.

But my main point is this: it saddens me how many people in this country have lost the ability to think critically. Too often, the conventional or popular wisdom is simply accepted. My colleague who read the Facebook comments had a point of view, and it was obviously shared by those in the car who accepted it without question.

When I hear the masses echoing a point of view, my natural inclination is to find out what the dissenters are saying, because more often than not, there’s more to the story.

My point isn’t that Mandela is not worthy of accolades. Instead, I just get concerned when everyone rushes to a conclusion without considering the possibility of there being other facts or that people who disagree might have a reason.

In this case, Mandela was fighting for the right cause, and he did move on from terrorism. And we’ve all certainly done things we wish we could undo. But I think it’s remiss for our media to lionize this man without giving us the complete record.


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