Debra Smith


This conversation is closed.

How many democratically elected governments have been eliminated in whole or in part by outside interference?

After watching Shirin Neshat's talk where she stated that the democratically elected government of Iran was undermined and ousted by a coup funded by another country, I began to wonder how often this has happened in the last century. Can anyone give support to her claim or evidence of any other example where this has occurred?

Why has the international community tolerated it?
Why haven't democratic governments roundly condemned it?
Why are the voices of those people who had their choice in government stolen so easily silenced? Were they just too distracted by the subsquent turmoil in their countries?
Do the citizens of the countries who do the interfering know about the tactics their governments are using?
If they do not know- why don't they know?
Are they responsible whether they knew or not or is there some other position to take?

Closing Statement from Debra Smith

I have the responsibility and privelege of summing up this conversation but I find that I am not equal to the task because we have just begun to explore the issues involved.

Thus, rather than make a summary I will make a commitment to learn more about the issues involved and to post another question soon.

Thanks to all who chose to participate and who shared their knowledge.


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    Jun 1 2011: sadly, we are running out of time here..can the time be extended? Do you wnat to do that Debra or are you finished here? I think we were just beginning to get into some important explorations.
    • Jun 1 2011: Lindsay, I do agree with you. There may be some unexplored avenues and threads here yet.
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        Jun 1 2011: Hello Lindsay and Michael,

        I would be excited to continue but I am beginning to think that conversations die because they are not inclusive enough.
        Can you help me to reformulate the question, make it more inclusive or more approachable? If we can make the question better I will repost it as a new one when this one expires and maybe more people will participate and share their knowledge. What do you think?
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          Jun 1 2011: why don't you invite lal of us to submit a part II you via your ted email. It could be we all wnt to explore differentthings.. I am most interested in exploring how engaging with those we don't agree with helps us out of our boxes..tsest where we really are and whetherthatis solid ground...I'm interested in how the practice in community to engage on topic and with civility actually changes what we are able to see and what we choose to bring.

          I am about to launch a conversation called "The Commodification of Narcissim" which is really abou the dral side of the baove but which also points back to Ted the practice of encountering diffeence in good faith in civility.
        • Jun 1 2011: Debra
          I would love to think about that and cogitate on some ideas. Lindsay has one aspect of this queston while discussing dialogue. I am very interested in the cross-cultural aspect of your question.
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        Jun 1 2011: I am grateful for your help. Please do feel free to email me via TED. I would enjoy bouncing ideas around with you!
        • Jun 1 2011: Email will not let me send this, please try to send me one in response.
          Debra One way to expand the topic might be to discuss shared values and which values actually move us to make the decisions we do as individuals, cultures, and nations. I had framed it like this on a reply to Julie: What are our true shared beliefs and values, and do those matter when dealing with these complex issues?
          By complex I do mean issues that are not simple: the enemy right in front of me; or complicated: difficult to figure out or discern, but able to be sorted out; but complex, multi-faceted, an inability to tell who is friend or foe, things tied to "wicked problems", where there are always unintended consequences for actions. Face it, when we deal with real world issues that is what we are dealing with.
          Going back to values and beliefs though, the basis for our actions, takes us to what really does matter to us. Obviously most people here value communication, openess and inquiry. Why are those not values our governments share, and why are they are not actually practiced in democracies? Ok, food for thought anyway.
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        Jun 1 2011: Michael,
        are you set up for email on TED? I usually just click on a person's picture or name and it takes me to their profile. No profile comes up for you and I would like to discuss this further.

        Have you seen this discussion? I actually enables people to vote on commonly held values.
        • Jun 1 2011: Just did send you an email, and I have no idea why you cant see my profile....
          I do have it where anyone can communicate with me....
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          Jun 1 2011: in the interesrts of holding a place where we can all be in touch with each other I can be reached at unable to contact Debra via ted email send to me ther & I will forward to her.
        • Jun 1 2011: Thank you Lindsay.
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    May 27 2011: My questions are coming from a pretty naive place. My socks are still smoldering on the other side of the room against the wall!

    I have no wish to assign blame (and I really hope that is not what it looks like) because I am at the beginning of a learning curve and I want to understand. I have a long way to go before I even have enough information or understanding to try to decide what I know to be fact.

    I am hoping to ask questions and to gain the benefit of each perspective that you bring. I want to sort fact from fiction and I am behind the 8ball because I - and this is the scariest part- like millions of others- bought the idea that this was all a conspiracy theory. HELP!
    • May 27 2011: No real conspiracy theory here, just real historical facts, with a lot of baggage attached to those. It is a legitimate question, if only we could get legitimate answers from governments sometimes. There is obviously plenty of "blame" to pass around, besides to CIA or State Departments, I mean we did elect them. But maybe it is time we did ask questions and say maybe we have taken some wrong paths.
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        May 29 2011: well said michael; and theo perative and important part isWE have to do it

        ..we can't wait for someone to do it for us
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      May 27 2011: you remember by press question on Bin Laden's Killing..why did White House officials tell such an impluasible story? It was almost as if it were intended to feed conspiracy allow for anyone who didn't buy it to be discredited as a conspiracy theorist.

      Perhaps because it is ust too shocking and horrible to believe..I am witholding judgment..but I am thinking we were meant to think that anyone who questioned the official account is a loony tune..a conspriracy buff...again..nt how I think ( as you know)..but what can you do when everything you can find suggests that level of manipulation

      I am with you in this.. I have always revered my country and my president. In my house as a child we honored Ike & Winston and for some resaon Adalai Stevenson.. Even when I disagreed with our Presidents I never once ( except for Bush) imagined they lied or misled us

      .I'm devastated to catch Obama who seemed like amiracle ( I cried wtaching his inauguration) in many catch Hillary who I have revered always long before she was known to Ameruca also lying..well it's impossibly hard.

      so you are not alone..many of us are just beginning to seek the truth for ourselves...many of us are shocked..even frightened by what we see.
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      Jun 2 2011: Chomsky talks occasionally about him being discredited by being labelled a conspiracy theorist.

      The fact is that people with power do conspire to maintain and increase their power.
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    May 26 2011: here's wikipedia's take,,an amazingly long list.


    (I'm no historian and wiki pedia is very uneven as a source..I pu it firwad as a list)
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      May 26 2011: Lindsay would it be fair to ask how you feel about it or is that too invasive a question?
      Thanks for supplying that link!
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        May 27 2011: Yes of course it's fair..hard to answer though in a way that fits in this you may have gathered from my comments on the iMF, on Egypt & Libya.the plutonomy..I have come to a rather shocking realization that my country has been doing lots for years and years that I am ashamed of and that I want to stop.Obamas speech at Parliament gave me hope but I see this G-8 thing as just doing more of the same. I am almost heartsick about it because I have naively believed in my country's goodness, her commitment to all the people, her commitment to freedom of peoples everywhere.. I have always believed the UN was an instrument of Peace..the Wolrd Bank & the IMF about eradicating poverty.

        So in short I feel shocked and heart broken.
    • May 27 2011: Debra and Lindsay, one of the things you'll notice about the list is that communism was very much seen as the enemy in many instances. The US was very concerned about Central and South America and the Caribbean because these countries were close to "home". I am told that one of the destabilizing tactics was to go into countries and stir up tribal/racial conflicts. Having said this, the USSR was no saint in their activities either. Communism may look great on paper but in practice, it is a very different story.

      One of the things to be mindful of as well is the term "democratically elected" and this has to be taken in the context of the individual countries. Election fraud is prevalent in many countries, hence the work that the Carter Center has done in monitoring elections overseas. Therefore, while a country may appear to have been elected by the majority of the people, it is not uncommon for this not to be the case.

      Why is it allowed to happen? In many cases, there is tacit agreement that it is best not to have the spread of communism. Another major factor is that many people are just not paying attention. There are modern equivalents of not paying attention, which can lead to bad results. Serbia was one, Rwanda was another. Today, rapidly emerging economies have spread their tentacles across the globe, in many tiny nooks and crannies. In most cases, they are in search of resources needed to fuel their economies, in other cases they seek to garner influence for UN votes on contentious issues. Some of these emerging powerhouses have appalling human rights records in their own countries and this does not get better when they travel overseas.

      Similar, though not as bad, stories are echoed in many countries but they fly under the radar and, as so often happens throughout history, we are not paying attention
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        May 27 2011: Julie Anne..all discerning and valuable points and all important dimensions of the question Debra invites us to explore. Of course not all of the democracies intefereded iwth were valid democracies. in the sense of human rights and ideals. There is more to democracy that voting for a President and Elected Officials...

        Egypt and Libya are my real life references and it was through trying to understand things that just didn;t sound right to me that I first came to see in action what America's actions say about our wanting democracies..and our role in keeping dictators who suppress human rights in place. If we could have a "freindly" democratic president..great..but usually democracy means nationalization or control of resources, most notably oil, In Egypt and libya I can see every day that what we are told, not just by the press but by our Prseident, our Secretary of State is just not true.

        At the moment I am deeply involved in witnessing what is really going on in Egypt and Libya but looking at history..lokking to see what America was really up to could help us inderstand what we didn't see or know at the time.

        When these things happen they happen with our consent even though our leaders and our media aren't telling us the is discoverable often in supring places as I have found doing my blog at posterous.. And it is pretty easy to decide which voices are credible and which aren't.
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          May 27 2011: I once watched an interview where Noam Chomsky said that both sides wanted what was happening in the former Soviet Union to be called 'Communism' - the USA because they were portraying a 'great evil' and the Soviet Union " because they were selling a great 'good'. The only problem was that there was no real communism represented in either case.
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          May 27 2011: Here is my fear Richie,
          We did not think the people who took charge or were elected were 'evil' just regular self centered people with their own agenda. We never suspected that the agenda was so large.
          How do we now trust anyone who replaces them? What steps have to be taken to ensure a better form of representation and how do we peacefully get past the current systems to something more noble?
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          May 28 2011: What a great answer, as always!
          We don't replace them- we become them without the extreme individual power by doing it together in a better form of democracy. I really love that. Isn't it funny or strange that I was assuming that the future had to somehow mirror the past when it could be something much flatter and more effective?
          Thanks Richie
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          May 28 2011: Richie, in this process of voting or influencing our lives with a free internet what do we do with the people who feel it is their duty to 'stand up and protect the old ways'? Even here on TED in conversations or discussions under talks there is always a cadre of people who feel duty bound to gag honest answers or to be apologists for the way things are- even in the most abusive systems. Will enough information win people to consider new ways or is it just so threatening to some that they will always consider change or change agents something to be attacked and destroyed/. Let's face it- without the people who think their best advantage is in the status quo change might actually get a foothold.
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        May 27 2011: Julie Ann, As always a really cogently expressed posting.

        You and i are Canadians, and we have enjoyed stable government. As I said before I am knew to accepting that this was really happening! I have spent a life time thinking that 'conspiracy theorist' needed to be humoured. Now I accept that my ignorance is part of the problem at hand.

        My question would be is is right or fair in any way to have one country interfere with another population in another country? If so under which conditions would we say it is acceptable?

        I am just flabbergasted that the American people were having socal programs in their own country cut and this kind of spending was happening to make so many miserable everywhere else. For what? To make a few people in the USA rich?
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          May 27 2011: yeah..that's pretty much true I am afraid Debra and the heart of my heart ache..that so much of our spending on militray and foreign affairs is utlitmately really all about protecting prlvate interests with little return to the American taxpayers who are financing you said in our plutocracy discussion and our discussion on the canadian elections here at Ted, ..mice electing fat cats to repreesent them.

          True, Canada has a much higher sensibility about all things things.( and values civility in discourse more than us I fear). I look to Canada for a model in mnay thngs that modern democracies could be about. But Canada is very much involved in these same things. We all learned them from UK who created the model for this global epxloitaion and partners with the US ( or instigators) in many of these endeavors.

          .And how do you distingish what just happened in Canada from what happened in the American mid's the same.. a governmmnet machinery serving the plutonomy with the full but unknowing consent and direct financial support of the Americans.I think we can do something about that..I think this discussion can contribute to that by inviting us to look at history with a new we can see more clearly what is happening right now in Libya and Egypt ( both. Debra in partnership with the UK) and begin to say "whoas Nellie" and farme our specific demands for moving forward and disentangling the huge net of support we are already both saddled with as nations.

          Nation blaming or apportining resposnbility by nation misses the important point which is the relationship of the EU and the US/Canada to the rest of the world.
        • May 27 2011: It appears several of us were writing responses at the same time. Debra, I am not sure the terms "right or fair" even fit here! I don't think it is ever, even under the best of circumstances either right, in the sense of moral action, or fair, in the sense of what is just, to openly overthrow legitimate governments, by actually supporting or promoting a coup of some sort. In fact many of the times the US has done it, the resulting regime has been worse than the one toppled! (Look at Pinochet for example in Chile)
          Again are our best interests freedom, democracy, and openess, or the bottom line for some multinational? Strictly utilitarian interests have not served us well over the years.
          I come back to the complexity of the situation however. It is not simple, us v. them, or even complicated, who is the best choice to lead a government, it is and always has been very complex. The law of unintented consequences has always won out.
          As citizens, yes, we should be asking questions of our candidates and leaders about why we are taking certain actions and what does our country mean by doing so.
      • May 27 2011: Julie, while I agree that election fraud is and has been a problem, that can become a mask for our involvement in overthrowing governments. For example, in the past in Mexico, there was election fraud in many places. However, we would not have called their government illegitimate. Yes, we wanted to stop the spread of communism, but today, the overiding element seems to be "our national interest," however that is interpreted. Obviously as you point out, multi-national companies become entangled with that interest. In a terribly complex world how do you sort it all out?

        I am not naive enough to say we shouldn't have a CIA or even covert operations. However, when we do undermine legitimate governments in the name of our interests or the interests of multinationals, we have I feel violated one of our own fundamental values.
        • May 27 2011: Hi Lindsay, Richard, Debra and Michael. Please do not misunderstand - I am certainly not advocating support of the activities of the CIA in interfering in other governments, simply indicating what their rationale may have been and trying to see as many sides as possible. The US wasn't very kind to its own people suspected of communist activities at that time either. Politics is quite like religion - if you can put enough fear into people, then you can justify a lot of transgressions.

          Is it ever ok to interfere in other countries with legitimate governments? In a peaceful country, most certainly not. But what if atrocities are being committed as in Libya, as Lindsay mentioned. Do we stand back and watch or does the global community have an obligation to protect, even if sovereignty is an issue? Which countries do you help - only the ones in which you have vested interests? If you do nothing, is it negligence? If you do something, is it interference? Is it a case of you are damned if you do and damned if you don't? I think it is a complex issue and everyone will not be happy with any one answer.

          Michael, agree that some amount of fraud does not make a government illegitimate. The point I made was just to broaden the perspective that democratically elected can be questionable in some cases.

          On the Chile case, here is the CIA's take on it

          Cheers :-)
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          May 27 2011: Thanks julie--a quick respnse to one point.. I don't buy for one minute that we are in Libya on a humaniarian mission..that's the these inteferences with soverignty or in this case with a civil war is disguised and how we buy the disguise especially if it resonates with a deeply held value like humanitarian relief.
        • May 27 2011: Hi Lindsay - yes, your perspective on the mission in Libya was not lost on me :-)
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        May 27 2011: Hi Lindsay,

        I have not even begun to wrap my head around this issue so in truth, I have not considered Canada's role here. I honestly phrased my question so that I would not make the assumption that only one country was involved. I thought i would be told of Soviet era instances of other countries actions as well. I do know that Canadians have resisted huge military spending and have been ridiculed nonstop by people south of our border with the idea that we expect them to protect us. Which in Canada is sort of a joke. We never assumed we were anything more than a bumper zone and its pretty tough to invade Russia (or Canada) if the facts of wars are noticed. We have also had at least a third of the time French speaking Quebecers as Prime Ministers and it is my hope that their slightly more independ perspective accounts for our refusal to join wars until recently - preferring the role of peacekeepers.

        Just to clarify - hoping not to appear defensive- Canada is not a province but a sovereign country - to whatever extent we were involved it was of our own volition and thus shame.
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          May 27 2011: tnaks Debra..we all discover about ourselves and the wolrd through this amazing meta conversation here at Ted and will do her in this conversation as well
          of course I know Canda is a Soverign Nation and of course I know the queen..your Monarch in title is not engaged in these governmnet stratgeies ( is she???)
        • May 27 2011: Julie
          Wow, great question. First of all across many cultures and belief systems there are some similarities of deep positive values. I mean over many cultures. They may come from very different religious belief systems, but they do exist. Yes, everyone has plundered. No, it doesn't have to be that way. Shared values and beliefs are built I think through common stories lived and modeled by real people. We need to hash out through dialogue like this some common answers to the questions: Who are we? Where are we? What is wrong? and What is the solution? It is also going to take some cross-cultural translating to get people to understand one another. Maybe we are actually participating in some of that. See Salim's post and Debra's answer below.
        • May 28 2011: Michael - "We need to hash out through dialogue ." - that says it all and I think we are one they way :-)
      • May 27 2011: Julie
        I do understand your repsonse here. I am having to cut and paste so bear with me.
        you asked: Which countries do you help - only the ones in which you have vested interests? If you do nothing, is it negligence? If you do something, is it interference? Is it a case of you are damned if you do and damned if you don't?

        No answers here, but I do want to go back to our own consideration of values and beliefs. That is where we need to focus attention. Values and beliefs determine actions. The huge question then becomes which values and which beliefs? The old belief system of the US has been quite changed I believe. It not idealistically based, but utilitarian based. As I was told in HS, we need to help "the freedom loving people of Vietnam." The sad thing was it was clothed in idealism, while being more utilitarian and ideologic. Even worse, at least for a while, I bought it! Fortunately University studies and friends helped change that.

        The answers to your questions need previous questions first. What are our true shared beliefs and values, and do those matter when dealing with these complex issues?
        • May 27 2011: Michael - "Values and beliefs determine actions" Very true and a profound statement. The problem is over the millenia, we have, on all sides, imprisoned, tortured, murdered people, all in the name of peace. I guess the inescapable question is - what basic and fundamental belief system must we, as a species, adopt in order to get beyond depravity and how do we get everyone to adopt that belief system? Because there has to be a fundamental truth of our existence which ties us all together, and so far that truth has eluded us.
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        May 27 2011: Julie Ann,

        We got excited to explore the ideas and did not mean to jump on your head ! We valued the information you brought forward. Not for one second did I think that you were justifying anything.
        You sought to clarify and it is valued.

        My question was to explore incidents of human rights violations by governments. That is. in my estimation, the issue that convinces most populations to go to war in the first place in almost every war.
        • May 27 2011: No problem Debra. I love the passion is the discussions and the fact that you pose the questions encourages others to bring light to the various perspectives. This is a good thing :-) Unfortunately I do not always have the time to participate but do so when I can. Cheers
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          May 28 2011: Your link was about china doing the same things as the US..I was responding to that..that yes oher countries are also expoting undeveloped and undeveloped nations
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        May 28 2011: Julie Anne ..I finally had a chnace to read the link above to the article on Zambabwe miners shot complaining about inhumane work conditions at a chinese mine in their country were shot bu the chinese managers.

        The story is absouktely propototypical of the way the EU & US have manipulated foreign governmnets to exploit natural resources through control of the country's leaders. I knew China was active in oil explorations and in fact at the center of the 2009 incident that led to the Libyan war today ( see my essay at posterous for details), I had no idea they were doing it the good old american way.

        Where an undeveloped country has natural resourcesof interest to the capital economies of the wolrd, the suppression of demo rcay is a major goal. The last thing these outside exploiters one is nationalization of these resources ( that s the issue in Libya by the way..)

        So "puppet democracies" with rigged elections are in the interests of the "plutinomy" the global corporate elite who control the wolrds resources.
        • May 28 2011: Hmmm.... Lindsay, I think China is quite capable of making its own decisions and doesn't take kindly to input from other countries. This is just one story, and the worst one I have seen, but there are similar ones in many other places. To be fair, while the US can be blamed for a lot of things, other countries are quite capable of their own atrocities.
  • May 26 2011: Debra
    Yes the Chile episode and the ovethrow of Allende is one of the worst concerning the US. Another thing we have done over the years is to continue to prop up right wing governments we felt were in "our best national interest." I think frankly many times things have happened like this and as a country we were either lied to or just didn't care. Why don't other countries say something? Some do. Mexico has been a vocal opponent of outside intervention into any country, particularly in Latin America. It is a very deeply ingrained spoken value of their government. The voices with the country unfortunately, like in Chile, are oftentimes just rounded up and imprisoned or shot. The masses, fearing more, just remain silent. I believe when "national interest" takes precedence over democratic values, it show where our real values lie.
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      May 26 2011: I'd like to start to explore why you think people in democracies of the world did not cry out?
      • May 27 2011: Self interest and survival?
        What democratic leader would speak out against a nation that is eliminating democratically elected leaders? They'd be painting a target on themselves.
        People have always known American foreign policy during cold war is hypocritical, It's just not something you say into the face of a superpower - especially if it's your ally in the cold war.
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          May 27 2011: But Debra, they do cry out, they have cried out..always..we follow what we are told through our media,,through our elected heads of state and our elected officials.

          The poepl ein Egypt and libya are telling a very story now..but if we don;t use the resources available to us to access dircet sources..o access their voices we don't hear it. The choice was not so easily ours in all thi slong litany..we didn't have the internet then..but we do now..

          we can now hear the voices of those crying out..we can help them be heard here in Canada..elsewhere in the "free world"

          perhaps this converstaion can become in oart doing that together.
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          May 27 2011: Well that is least a hopeful thread I can hold onto! The Internet is enabling the truth to be told.
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          May 27 2011: Maja, Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

          I think the reasons you put forward make good sense. Given the unbridled power who would want to have them focused in their own direction?

          I hope you will come back and share some more of your thoughts.
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    May 26 2011: Debra I don't know the exact number but at least a couple cases I know which are
    Chile 1973
    Bangladesh 1975

    Actually the founder father of Bangladesh in his speech referred Chile & said he will not bow his head even if he being overthrown & killed Salvatore Allende of Chile before being brutally killed alongwith whole family including his kid son in 1975. That means he knew the threat of external force

    If remeber or find more , will update
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      May 26 2011: Salim! Bangladesh in your lifetime.

      Can you share what you and your countrymen felt about that? I know it seems like a naive question but I would like to know because I have been naive.
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        May 27 2011: Yes Debra It's in my life time. I was a kid when it happened did not understand politics but cried in my heart for my HERO as he was killed. His all family members were killed including his youngest son who was then just 10-11 years of age, pregnant daughter in laws, another daughter in law just came to his home a months back.

        He was soul of Bengali Nationalism & he was killed by Bengali Army Officers!!

        !Many poetry was written for him still being written, just translating one for you now (as poets are able to capture the emotion of greater people in few lines)

        Father , oh my father , killed you are in your cozy home!!!
        Your life long dream free cozy home !!!
        At the hand of someone who are my brother !!!
        Father , don't want to hear agian, hate myself now
        Having such brother
        Hate to believe that they were Bengali , they talk in Bangla
        Don't want to hear that never ever....

        We know, all know who were behind..... but doesn't matter , we are yet come out of the era of "Might is Right"

        Then we had 15 year long brutal army rule undisguised and disguised who also fueled the Islamist extrimists to be in power , but finally people threw the last one off in 1990.

        My friend ability of asking naive question is rare quality for adults, which only owned by kids , that's why they are curious, they are creative. I try to practice naiveness.

        Wrote here "off topic" for your interest , keeping fingers crossed it will stay!!
        • May 27 2011: Thank you Salim. Let's all be naive enough to ask childlike questions.
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          May 27 2011: Dear Salim,
          This is not off- topic! It is the heart's blood of my question. I want to know what people lived through and what they felt.
          I want the stories of people to be heard and the consequences to individual lives to have meaning.
          Thank you for generously sharing!
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        May 28 2011: You are welcome Michael.
        Yes if we could all have that capability of being child like world could be much better place.
        That's one of my area of interest, so onpened up a couple of discussions on Kids here in TED.