Credit where credit is due: This is a nice piece of international reporting by the New York Times. (For those who dislike their amazingly annoying “free registration”, may I recommend going here for an antidote?)

The essentially bloodless nature of the Orange Revolution stands in stark contrast with many earlier examples of peaceful pro-democratic mass protests that were forcibly repressed. (Examples include Iranian student protests and, infamously, the Chinese crackdown on the protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989.) As I recall, one of the Chinese protesters was asked “Why don’t you overthrow the government” before the crackdown; his answer was “they have all the guns.” In Ukraine, the revolution succeeded bloodlessly precisely because the government did not have all the guns; key officials in the military and security apparatus decided to take a stand for the rule of law.

I was particularly moved by General Smeshko’s reported observation that “”Today we can save our faces or our epaulettes, or we can try to save our country.” This is what true patriotism looks like in action, and it’s a good thing.

Those men would not have done what they did if their hearts and minds had not previously been won over to the values of democracy and the rule of law. But, at the same time, the yearning for freedom is not enough; it must be backed by the capacity to defend freedom from those who would destroy or deny it. And that means freedom has to be backed by men with guns.

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