A Parable (Not an Allegory)
Once upon a time there was a small country involved in a civil war; a coalition of freedom fighters was trying to oust the evil dictator who had ruled the country with an iron fist for decades. The dictator was a ruthless autocrat who arbitrarily used his secret police to arrest people in the middle of the night; most them simply disappeared and nobody ever saw them again. The purpose seemed to be to create terror among the population to keep them from rising up against him.
The coalition of freedom fighters used a variety of tactics to overthrow the dictator. Some of them were terrorists who thought that almost any violence was justified if it had the goal and some hope of leading to the dictator’s fall. Others were pacifists who thought violence was always wrong and that using terrorism to overthrow the dictator was just imitating him. Between those two groups within the coalition was a variety of perspectives among the freedom fighters; most of them thought some violence was necessary and justified but rejected terrorism.
Another difference among the freedom fighters was over their beliefs about their hero—the exiled former president to whom they were all passionately committed as the true leader of the country who would return and lead when the dictator fell. The former president lived in a different country and was in hiding because of attempts on his life by agents of the dictator. Communication with the former president was sporadic and unclear, but all the freedom fighters agreed that he was their man, their hero, and that he would either return to lead them in a final battle against the dictator or take up power when the dictator fell.
However, there was a sustained argument among the freedom fighters about their hero. He had written a book before going into exile and the book expressed his political views and ideas about government, economics and laws. Yet, the book was open to different interpretations and those had developed among the freedom fighters loyal to him. Some of them talked about him as someone who would return and use force to impose his ideas on the country, at least temporarily imprisoning those who had supported the dictator through marshal law. They described him as a benevolent dictator who would redistribute wealth through land reform and enforce a more equal society on his subjects. Others of the freedom fighters talked about him as a man who valued democracy and individual liberties; they described him as a peacemaker who would immediately work toward reconciliation and healing among his countrymen. Both sides could point to aspects of his book that seemed to support their view.
As time went on and the civil war progressed, the issue of the exiled former president’s character and plans became somewhat heated and people on both sides of the disagreement among the freedom fighters felt it was important to persuade all the freedom fighters to view him their way. In the meantime, as the fight to overthrow the dictator continued, in spite of their different views of the exiled former president, the freedom fighters agreed to disagree as they continued their campaigns to convince everyone involved, including non-freedom fighters who opposed the dictator, to believe as they did about their hero.
Finally, one day, two leaders of the freedom fighters met to try to hash out their disagreement and see if they could continue to fight side-by-side for the overthrow of the dictator (something they were equally passionate about) and look forward to the return of the exiled former president. They sat in a large room in a safe house and talked surrounded by freedom fighters on both sides and many who had not decided what they believed about the hero, his character and plans for the country.
One freedom fighter leader said to the other one “Look, if what you believe about our hero, our future president, is true, then when he comes back and takes over the reins of government he will not be that different from the dictator we’re trying to overthrow! We’re convinced you’re wrong about him; he’s a man of peace and good will and forgiveness and will do his best to distribute power and create a true democracy in our country.” That’s why we’re in this cause and why we support him.
The other freedom fighter leader said “No! You’re wrong. He’ll be totally different from the dictator we are trying to overthrow; he’s not bloodthirsty and cruel like him. His will is for the common good of all the people and when he returns and takes over the government he’ll impose marshal law to crush the dictator’s people and get them out of the way so he and his people can lead the country into a time of peace and prosperity. He’s a benevolent man who knows how to use power rightly and only a single strong leader like him can put this country back on the right track toward peace and prosperity.”
The other freedom fighter replied “Well, I’m certain you’re wrong about him. We agree that this dictator must go and that our hero must replace him, but apparently we cannot agree on exactly what he is like or what he will do when he returns and becomes president again. In fact, if you’re right, and he is as you say and does what you think he will, we won’t be able to support him. However, we’re absolutely sure you’re wrong and that’s why we will continue fighting alongside you in loyalty to him.”
“Good,” said the other freedom fighter. “We’ll worry about exactly what kind of president he’ll be once we’ve overthrown the dictator and our hero returns. One of us will turn out to be right. In the meantime, we’ll just have to continue to agree to disagree and fight on and remain loyal to him.”
The other freedom fighter said “Yes, that’s what we’ll have to do. Oh, we can keep studying his book and the few communications from him and see if we can’t agree. We don’t have to quit arguing as we fight together in loyalty to him.” His counterpart agreed with a nod.
Then, suddenly, a young freedom fighter on one side, the side that viewed the exiled president as a benevolent dictator, stood up and said “No!” to the freedom fighter leader who viewed the exiled president as a man of peace and liberty for all. “You have said you don’t really believe in our leader. You’ve just said that if he returns and turns out to be as WE view him you won’t support him. That’s treason! In fact, some of us don’t think you’re loyal to our hero at all and that you’re not even a true freedom fighter!”
The accused freedom fighter replied, “Let me explain myself. First, your interpretation of our hero is wrong; it’s your interpretation I oppose—not him! I have no doubt that he is and will be as I believe and that’s why I continue to fight for him and why I will support him when he comes back and becomes our president again.”The accusing freedom fighter interrupted him with “No! You obviously don’t even believe his book because it clearly says what we believe about him.”
The other leader responded “No, your interpretation of his book is the wrong one, but we will continue to fight alongside you for the overthrow of the dictator and the return of our beloved hero to be president of our country because we at least agree that he is benevolent. And we agree the present state of affairs in our country is horrible and must stop.”
The accusing freedom fighter replied “But what about your statement that you won’t support him when he returns? How is that not traitorous?”
The accused freedom fighter said “It’s not traitorous because our hero is not as you say but as I believe. How can I be traitorous toward him when he’s not as you believe but as I believe? And how could I be disloyal to him and his cause when I am fighting for his return and looking forward to it? Of course I’ll support him when he returns because then we’ll all see he is as I believe and not as you believe.”
Then the leader of the accusing freedom fighter’s groups chimed in. “But what did you mean when you said you won’t support him when he returns?”
The accused leader said “I didn’t say that. You’re completely twisted my words. I said IF he turned out to be as you say he is and rules as you say he will I won’t support him, but that’s a hypothetical. Your subordinate there keeps ignoring my ‘IF’ which is huge because it won’t happen. I’m just trying to get all of us to see that you’re wrong about him and you’re hurting his reputation among those who with us oppose the dictator and support his replacement by our hero.”
Then the accusing freedom fighter shouted “Traitor! Traitor! You said you won’t support our hero!”
The accused freedom fighter responded back “I did not! You’re assuming he is as you think he is and will lead as you say he will and I say you’re wrong. But I do support him and will support him because he is and will lead as I believe.”
Then the leader of the accusing freedom fighter’s group said to the accused leader “But why? We agree that he’s benevolent. Don’t you want him to be benevolent? I think you do, so what’s your complaint?”
The accused leader replied “It’s this and only this. You SAY he’s benevolent and I agree that you believe he’s benevolent, but I think your description of some of his characteristics and plans aren’t benevolent at all. What you apparently don’t realize is that IF he is as you say and plans for our country what you say he plans, he will have to be a dictator not that different from the one we are fighting himself! I know you don’t realize that, but that’s how we see it.”
Then a freedom fighter in the middle who wasn’t committed to either side stood up and said “Wait, wait. Let me see if I understand you.” Speaking to the accused freedom fighter leader he said “You’re not saying these other freedom fighters are totally wrong about our hero, right?”
The accusing freedom fighter jumped up and shouted “Yes! He is saying that! He said he won’t support him when he returns! He’s a traitor and not one of us!”
The freedom fighter in the middle who wasn’t yet committed to either side said “Shut up and sit down! That’s not what he’s saying and he’s not a traitor; he just has a different view of our common hero than you.”
The accusing freedom fighter jumped up again and yelled “No! He doesn’t believe our hero’s book!”
The freedom fighter in the middle ignored him and turned back to the accused freedom fighter. “When you say you won’t support him IF he turns out to be as they say, are your saying THEY’RE false freedom fighters and don’t really believe our hero is benevolent?”
“Not quite,” the accused freedom fighter said. “What I’m saying is that THEY don’t even seem to realize what they’re saying. Because when our hero returns, to accomplish the things they say he must do to restore order and promote peace and prosperity, ideals we all value, he will HAVE TO be a dictator like the one we are trying to overthrow”
Then a roar went up from some among the freedom fighters who viewed the exiled president as a benevolent dictator totally unlike the one they all were trying to overthrow. “Traitor! Traitor! How can you say such disloyal things about our hero?”
The accused freedom fighter once again tried to explain (more to those among the freedom fighters who hadn’t made up their minds yet how to view the hero than to those doing the yelling) by saying “That’s ridiculous. You’re confused about what I am saying.”
Then the leader of the accusing freedom fighters looked at the accused freedom fighter leader and asked “So what you’re saying is that we just don’t really understand what we believe about our hero?”
The accused freedom fighter replied “Yes, that’s what I’m saying. I’m saying that the implications of your view of our hero, which I can’t separate from some of what you actually do say, are frightening. But you don’t draw out those implications yourselves. I guess you truly do believe he’s a good and benevolent man, but to do the things you believe he will do he can’t be good and benevolent. I’m accusing you of being confused. IF all you meant is that our hero, when he becomes president, would have to use force to restore order and move the country toward democracy, that would be fine. But I believe some of the plans you ascribe to him, if true, would require him to be ruthless, violent and even a monster too much like the one we are trying to overthrow.”
His counterpart, the leader of the other group of freedom fighters, said “Oh. Well, you’re wrong.”
The accused freedom fighter said “I don’t see how. I think you’re wrong.”
Then one of the youngest freedom fighters among those who viewed the exiled former president as a benevolent dictator stood up and said to his own leader “Wait. I thought we WERE hoping our hero, when he returns, would simply kill all his opponents and rule with an iron fist—but for the common good.”
His leader looked at him and said “I never said that.”
But the accused freedom fighter leader said to him “See. That’s what your description of our hero and his future leadership of our country leads to. What have you done to correct that impression among your young followers?”
Then the accusing freedom fighter jumped up again and shouted “Traitor! Traitor! You don’t believe in our hero’s book or in him!”
Even the leader of the accusing freedom fighter’s group looked perplexed.
Later, after all the freedom fighters went to their tents in a forest away from the safe house to sleep for the night, the accusing freedom fighter kept running up to the accused freedom fighter’s tent and pushing his head inside it and yelling “Traitor! Traitor!” and running away back to his own tent.