Iceland’s Only Police Shooting

In 2013, Iceland experienced its first and only police involved shooting death. Police responded to reports of shotgun fire in a suburb of Reykjavik. Officers tried to contact the gunman, a 59-year old man, but he was unresponsive and continued shooting. Tear gas was then used to subdue him, but to no effect. Finally, an armed special forces team entered the apartment with shields, still seeking to overpower the gunman. But when two officers were injured by continuing gunfire, they finally returned fire and downed the gunman. He was taken to the hospital, where he died; his motives remain unclear.

The National Police Commissioner called the episode “unprecedented” and expressed deep regret for the death, extending apologies to the perpetrator’s family. An investigation into the incident was launched, the guns involved on all sides were seized, and counseling was offered to the officers involved. The country of 330,000 entered a period of national mourning. While one out of three Icelanders own guns, and many are staunch advocates of that right, shootings, much less with police, are exceptionally rare.

Of course, the immediate counterpoint to the Iceland example—as well as to other countries with few police shootings, like Finland, Germany, or the Netherlands—is that those places are small and more homogeneous, and thus have greater sense of the kinship and relatability that fosters trust.

Yet American cops are as likely—if not more likely—to have fatal encounters in suburban and rural areas that are as small and homogeneous as Iceland, Finland, etc. White Americans are 26 times more likely to die by police gunfire than Germans of all backgrounds, whose country of 88 million is fairly large and diverse. Small, homogeneous states like Montana, West Virginia, and Wyoming—where both perpetrators and victims of deadly force are almost always white—have relatively high rates of police lethality.

There are numerous American cities, counties, and even states with comparable size and demographics to northern Europe that still suffer from more violence and police lethality. The problem clearly runs deeper, and demographics are no excuse.

America the Upstart

The United States is one of nearly 200 countries. Americans are less than five percent of the world’s population. Our nation just turned 244 and has been a superpower for only about 80-100 years—a drop in the bucket in humanity’s 250,000-year history. Iran alone is heir to several empires spanning over 2,000 years, including one of the first in history, the Achaemenid. One of them, the Sassanian Empire, was a global superpower for four centuries, rivaled only by the Roman-Byzantine Empire (which it continually fought for 400 years). Egypt was forming into one of the world’s first and most powerful civilizations back when woolly mammoths were still around.

For much of the last 2,000 years, about a third of all humans lived in what is now China, and perhaps another third in what is now India; until just two hundred years ago, they jointly made up half the world’s economy. The bulk of all humans who ever lived—and thus the bulk of human activity, art, invention, ideas, political intrigue—were in two places that are barely a blip to the minds of most Americans. Similarly, there was a time when Islamic civilization was the pinnacle of human progress and power, such that even non-Muslim rivals and combatants conceded its ascendancy.

My overall point is that history is a product of hindsight: Looking back on it—which most people can’t or don’t—makes it easy to forget that we are part of the same continuing processes and narratives. Americans, as in many powerful civilizations before, view ourselves as the center of the world. But that can and will inevitably change, and probably very quickly (at least by historical standards)—just as it did for our dozens of predecessors, many of which were longer lived and more powerful for their time. We would do best to learn not only from history—which is a predictable, if still unheeded lesson—but also from those nations that have a lot more to teach us by virtue of their age and experience.

The Disappeared

Among the grim arsenal of tools used by authoritarians is “disappearing” someone, in which they are secretly abducted or imprisoned by a government or its allies—say, by having unmarked men dragging them into an unmarked vehicle—followed by a refusal to acknowledge the person’s fate and whereabouts. The intent is to place the victim outside the protection of the law and to sow terror, fear, and anxiety among the populace as to the fate of their loved ones or fellow citizens.

One of the first references to forced disappearance is in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, drafted during the French Revolution to protect people from common tools of oppression employed by the monarchy. The French called for any government actions against citizens to be public, as doing something secret disguises bad intentions and is clearly intended to strike fear into citizens.

However, term’s origins and most infamous use are from Argentina’s “Dirty War” (1976-1983), in which the U.S.-backed military junta used both government forces and allied right-wing death squads to hunt down or “disappear” anyone suspected of being leftist, communist, or otherwise opposed to the government. (The Dirty War was part of the larger Operation Condor, an American-led campaign that supplied training and intelligence to right-wing military dictatorships throughout South America to suppress dissidents.)

Up to 30,000 people disappeared over several years, from suspected guerrilla fighters to students and journalists. Some were even dragged out of classrooms, workplaces, and buses. Most were kept in clandestine detention centers, where they were questioned, tortured, and sometimes killed. Argentina’s de facto dictator announced that such people “are neither dead nor alive, they are desaparecidos (missing)”—which is arguably more chilling, as intended.

It was later revealed that many captives met their end in so-called “death flights”, in which they were heavily drugged, loaded onto aircraft, and tossed into the Atlantic Ocean so as to leave no trace of their death. Without any dead bodies, the government could easily deny any knowledge of their whereabouts and any accusations that they had been killed.

Unfortunately for the junta, the mothers of the disappeared formed an activist group, Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, that demanded accountability. Not only was their courage and persistence a factor in the regime’s downfall, but they and other Argentines helped led the global movement against forced disappearances, including devising the legal principles and international criminal statutes.

The German “Mercenaries” Who Played a Key Role in the American Revolution

Among the most fascinating but largely forgotten aspects of the American Revolution are the Hessians, German soldiers who fought for the British. Numbering around 30,000, Hessians made up a quarter of all British troops. They took part in virtually every military engagement, from the very first battle (Long Island) to the last (Yorktown). Hessians played a decisive role in most British victories, and it is believed the war would have ended sooner without them.

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Ironically, their presence ended up being an unexpected boost to the American war effort. The Patriots believed King George III had crossed a line by involving “foreign mercenaries”; propaganda campaigns painted the Hessians as brutal and rapacious thug that proved the British were cruel and uncaring towards the colonists. The Declaration of Independence, written roughly a year after hostilities broke out, explicitly cited the use of Hessians as one of the driving forces for independence.

Washington’s famed crossing of the Delaware River in December 1776 was aimed at a sneak attack against Hessian forces in Trenton, New Jersey. The subsequent capture of over 1,000 Hessians was decisive: the POWs were paraded through Philadelphia to boost morale and recruitment among the beleaguered Americans, and prove the British were going too far by hiring barbaric foreigners. Previously neutral or loyalist Americans were said to have changed sides or even enlisted. The Patriots also tried to entice Hessians to switch sides in exchange for land; in fact, several thousand of them stayed in the U.S. after the war, joining an already large German community.

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Contrary to popular belief, the Hessians were not mercenaries, but auxiliaries; whereas mercenaries hire themselves out as individuals, auxiliaries were sent by their government to serve a foreign power. They basically served whoever their government told them to, and remained part of their national armed forces; they even fought in their own uniforms and under their own flag (as in the American Revolutionary War).

Germany at the time was not a unified country, but a broad label that included hundreds of independent German states; most of them, like Hesse-Karel, were small and poor. Since ancient times, the Germans had a reputation for martial prowess and fierceness. Hesse, which provided most of Britain’s German troops—hence the broad label “Hessian” for all German soldiers in the war—was the most militarized state in Europe. One out of four households had someone in the military, and males had to be registered for service at age seven. From age sixteen, virtually all men underwent weeks of drills every year, serving for life or until they were too old.

As a small, resource-poor country, Hesse’s only source of wealth were its troops, who were known for their skill, iron discipline, and high morale. The Hessian army was also among the few that was strictly meritocratic, and its officers were well educated. Europe’s constant wars meant Hesse, as well as other small German states, made plenty of money renting their soldiers; the British alone paid thirteen years’ worth of tax revenue for Hessian troops, allowing the little country to ease taxes on citizens and build impressive monuments and public works. Hessians sometimes even fought on opposite sides of the same conflict, though Hesse itself was never a combatant—it was just doing business leasing its armed forces.

For their part, Hessian soldiers were paid relatively well, while their families enjoyed tax breaks and other state benefits. Their discipline and sense of duty meant they usually fought well even in wars they otherwise had no stake in; Americans learned this lesson painfully on the battles of Long Island, White Plains, and Fort Washington. In fact, Long Island was not only the first battle of the war, but remained the biggest and most decisive, costing the U.S. control of New York.

Despite all this, Hessians remain largely forgotten in American history. Their sole enduring presence, albeit sometimes is forgotten, is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, whose iconic Headless Horseman was a Hessian.

The Hero of Two Worlds

Thanks to the popularity of the musical Hamilton, more Americans are aware of one of the greatest heroes of American history, the French noble Marquis de Lafayette. His legacy on both sides of the Atlantic earned him the moniker of “The Hero of Two Worlds“.

When he was only 18, Lafayette professed that his “heart was dedicated” to the American cause. Just two years later, he paid his own way to cross the Atlantic and offer his services to the Patriots—for free. In fact, the Continental Congress was overwhelmed with French volunteers; while many were motivated by the chance to fight against their hated British rivals, there was genuine support for the American Revolution and its ideals. Lafayette stood out in many ways: he learned English within a year of his arrival (unlike most French volunteers), had won over Benjamin Franklin, and bonded well with George Washington, to whom he was a close advisor. He also had military experience, which the ragtag colonials desperately needed. Perhaps just as importantly, he truly believed in what the Americans were fighting for: while France had over a thousand years of resolute monarchism, it was also a hotbed for the sorts of ideas and discussions that were now being played out for the first time in the Thirteen Colonies.

During the Battle of Brandywine against a superior British force, Lafayette was wounded in action but still managed to organize an orderly retreat, for which Washington commended him and recommended he be given command of American troops. He served with distinction in several more battles in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Rhode Island—of which some sites still bear his name—before sailing back home in 1779 to lobby for more French support for the Americans.The following year, Lafayette returned to a hero’s welcome in Boston, having secured thousands of French troops as well as naval forces and supplies. He was given senior positions in the Continental Army and was so popular among Americans that Washington and Hamilton had him write letters to state officials urging them to send troops. Lafayette was a unifying figure and American icon to the fragmented U.S. states: he was foreign, did not live in the U.S., fought across all theaters of the war, and was motivated by ideology rather than money—all of which made him universally trusted by the bickering, often distrusting states.

In 1781, Lafayette played a pivotal role in the decisive Siege of Yorktown, where troops under his command held off British forces until other American and French forces could position themselves to strike. This victory at Yorktown—which involved almost as many French troops as Americans—helped end the war and secure U.S. independence. (Credit is also due to Frenchmen Comte de Rochambeau and Comte de Grasse, who also coordinated with Washington to secure victory.)

After the war, Lafayette remained committed to the cause of liberty for the rest of his life. He played a pivotal role in the French Revolution, and with Jefferson’s input helped draft the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, one of the earliest and most groundbreaking expressions of republicanism and civil rights. His commitment to human rights was also consistent: he was staunchly opposed to slavery, and joined the French Society of the Friends of the Blacks, which advocated the end of the slave trade and equal rights for blacks. He urged the emancipation of slaves and their establishment as tenant farmers in a 1783 letter to Washington, who was a slave owner (and who declined). A year after his correspondence with Washington, Lafayette helped abolish slavery in his homeland.

Lafayette opposed the later excesses of the French Revolution, and the subsequent rise of Napoleon as emperor; after seizing power, Napoleon offered to make him minister to the United States, but Lafayette firmly refused, as he would have nothing to do with an authoritarian regime. In 1802, he was one of the few to vote against making Napoleon ruler for life. When Napoleon again dangled an enticing opportunity—an appointment to the Senate as well as the Legion of Honor—Lafayette not only declined, but added that he would gladly have accepted the honors from a democratic government. When Jefferson offered him an opportunity to govern the newly purchased Louisiana Territory, he turned it down, wishing to focus on restoring French liberty.

In 1824, Lafayette was invited by James Monroe to visit all 24 states of the Union, in part to celebrate America’s upcoming 50th anniversary. He remained deeply popular, receiving widespread praise and love everywhere he went. He took gifts with him, as well as American soil to be placed on his grave. At President Monroe’s request, Congress voted to give him $200,000 in gratitude for his services to the country, along with a large tract of public lands in Florida. He returned to France aboard a ship renamed the USS Brandywine in honor of the battle where he shed his blood for the United States.As France slipped into absolute monarchy starting in 1830, Lafayette, by then in his seventies, remained consistent in speaking out against anyone who opposed liberty. He even broke with his king, following the latter’s violent suppression of a protest. When he died in 1834 aged 76, he was buried under soil from Bunker Hill, which his son Georges Washington sprinkled upon him.

In the U.S. Lafayette received the same memorial honors that had been bestowed on Washington. Both Houses of Congress were draped in black bunting for 30 days, and members wore mourning badges. Congress even urged Americans to follow similar mourning practices. Later that year, former president John Quincy Adams gave a eulogy of Lafayette that lasted three hours, calling him “high on the list of the pure and disinterested benefactors of mankind”.

Writing in 2011, historian Marc Leepson concluded about Lafayette’s life:

The Marquis de Lafayette was far from perfect. He was sometimes vain, naive, immature, and egocentric. But he consistently stuck to his ideals, even when doing so endangered his life and fortune. Those ideals proved to be the founding principles of two of the world’s most enduring nations, the United States and France. That is a legacy that few military leaders, politicians, or statesmen can match.”

We should consider ourselves lucky to have had a French nobleman embody our cause and values better than even many of our Founding Fathers.

A Francophile’s Plea

It is odd that so many Americans love to hate on the French, almost as if it were a patriotic rite of passage. Setting aside the fact that the sentiment is largely one sided—a 2014 Pew poll found most French had a positive view of Americans—the two peoples could not be more natural allies. And I swear, it’s not just my Francophilia talking.

In fact, France is the only major European country we have never had a real war or rivalry with—though that is far from the only metric.

We love to talk up our love of liberty and opposition to tyranny and government. Yet the French walk the walk almost every day, with an average of ten political demonstrations daily. They engage in the sort of free speech, popular assembly, and political vigilance we hold dear—often to significant results. Popular demonstrations have brought down half a dozen governments, including an entrenched 1,000-year-old monarchy, its successor, and two republics.

Hell, the French were so adept at taking control of Paris that the city’s iconic boulevards and public spaces were actually designed, in part, to keep citizens from barricading the city’s once narrower streets and plazas (hence it was Napoleon III who led the reconstruction, though it didn’t stop him from getting chased out by the people).

We gloat about saving the French in the Second World War—which, by the way, they do actually commemorate and appreciate, as I saw firsthand when I visited Normandy—but we owe our very independence to their support. It was the only country that could take on the British, and its recognition of the American republic added legitimacy to our cause. The French sent money, supplies, troops, and experienced military leaders; 90 percent of our gunpowder and pretty much our entire naval force was French. The decisive Siege of Yorktown, which helped end the war, involved as many French troops as American ones. This is a big reason why so many quintessential American heroes, such as Jefferson and Franklin, were proud and open Francophiles.

 British general Cornwallis surrendering to a combined American and French force at the Siege of Yorktown, which ended major hostilities in the American Revolutionary War.

Not long after the U.S. became the world’s first modern republic, France followed suit, with a revolution that was arguably bigger and bolder (as American leaders themselves conceded, albeit not always in a complimentary way). France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, drafted during its revolution, is roughly analogous to the U.S. Bill of Rights, establishing rights of liberty, property, safety, freedom of thought, and resistance against oppression.

Unlike the Thirteen Colonies, which had only been around for a couple centuries—and which had inherited the weaker monarchism of Britain—the French had to face a millennium-long tradition of paternalistic absolute monarchy. It also had an entire continent of monarchies to fight off, give the obvious opposition to seeing the most powerful European country become a bastion of democracy. It’s little wonder the French revolution ultimately descended into chaos and failure—though its ideals never went away, and continued to resurface until France became a proper, permanent republic by the end of the 19th century (around the time we were gifted the Statue of Liberty as an expression of democratic solidarity).

During the Cold War, the French—no doubt reeling from their defeat in WWII—opted to go their own way when it came to national defense. Rather than join NATO and “mooch” of the U.S., as many Americans grumble, they developed the Force de Frappe, a triad of air-, sea- and land-based nuclear weapons intended for deterrence. France was concerned that in the event of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, the Americans—already bogged down in the Vietnam War and afraid of Soviet retaliation against the United States—would not come to their aide. Hence why its nuclear arsenal is the largest in the world after America’s and Russia’s, and why its military is the most active and powerful in the West after the U.S. (Even the Pentagon has conceded as much, given the country’s pivotal military interventions in North Africa and Syria.)

Bastille Day and the French Tradition of Protest

Today is Bastille Day, sort of the French equivalent to the Fourth of July, as it commemorates the country’s eventual development into one of history’s earliest constitutional republics.

Storming of the Bastille - Wikipedia

The name comes from a medieval prison where political prisoners were held by the royal government for arbitrary reasons and without a chance to appeal. For over a thousand years, France had maintained one of the world’s most authoritarian and hierarchical regimes, and the last place that ideals such as liberty and civic rights would emerge (the U.S. had the advantage of being a much younger place, and from inheriting the fairly liberal traditions of the U.K., whose monarchy was already weak by the 18th century).

Bastille became a symbol of this oppressive tradition, and hence it was targeted by the people of Paris on July 14, 1789, after they grew fed up with high taxes (that concentrated on the poor) and famine. While only seven prisoners were held in Bastille that day, the revolt was hugely symbolic of liberation of the French public, which continues to be a central part of France’s core ideals—represented by its three-color flag and official motto—of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity for all.

As French officials in the capital cowered before these newly empowered peasants, popular momentum built up into the French Revolution, which took on both the powerful monarchy and literally all of Europe (whose monarchies felt threatened by the fall of their principal kingdom). While the revolution descended into barbarism and bloodshed, and was eventually put down, the ideals that emerged remained in French hearts and minds, precipitating the reemergence of the republic in the late 19th century.

In fact, France’s well known tradition of protests and civil disobedience, which was on full display just a few months ago, can be traced back to this action.

Heck, this year’s Bastille Day was commemorated with officials honors and higher wages for essential workers—following months of agitation and negotiation with unions and workers.

This is par for the course in France, which has about 10 political marches every day.

There is even an “unofficial working manual” for French demonstrations, which is observed by all sides, including the government. (Those who fail to observe these rules are ostracized as casseurs or “smashers”.)

The protesters—who are generally up of a wide variety of folks, including steelworkers, winegrowers, students, lawyers, and chefs—would agree to an itinerary, provide their own security staff, and march on the agreed route. They would throw a few harmless objects police, usually for symbolic purposes; the police would respond, usually halfheartedly, with tear gas or baton charges.

The usual doctrine of French riot police is to stand back and protect the biggest public buildings. Tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades are used to keep the crowds at bay—and on their declared routes. Riot police are trained to act only in groups and only on direct orders; in theory, they have no right of individual action or initiative. They are supposed to aim their nonlethal weapons below the waist and not use stun grenades in densely packed crowds.

Occasionally, more radical protests do emerge, resulting in serious scuffles or brawls; for their part, French riot police are known for lacking deescalation techniques. But overall sentiment underpinning these practices—that demonstrations and popular assembly are core to both political and social culture—remain robust and admirable.

The Thankless Work of the WHO

Despite having one-fourth the budget of the American CDC—and a host of structural problems owed to being governed by nearly 200 countries—the WHO does quite a lot of good work, most of it behind the scenes and thus unappreciated—hence most Americans being indifferent, if not supportive, of our recent withdrawal.

➡️ It helped eradicate smallpox, a scourge of humanity throughout history that used to kill millions annually, even into the mid 20th century. This was accomplished partly by getting Cold War rivals the U.S. and Russia to consolidate their scientific and technological resources. In 1975, less than a decade after launching this effort, smallpox was vanquished.

➡️ It is close to eradicating polio, another horrific infectious disease that was once widespread, but now lingers in only two or three countries. Rates of polio infection dropped 99% since the global campaign was launched in 1988.

➡️ HIV/AIDS is no longer the death sentence it used to be, thanks in large part to the WHO, which reduced the cost of HIV medication by literally 95.5%. Over 80% of people with HIV/AIDS use drugs backed by the WHO; consequently, AIDS-related deaths have declined by over half since their peak in 2004.

➡️ The WHO is currently working on reducing the cost of insulin as well, as nearly half the world’s 80 million diabetics cannot afford it (including in the U.S.). It hopes to achieve the same results as with HIV/AIDS, through the same process known as “prequalification” (in which cheaper drugs, mostly from developing countries, are approved for safety and efficacy, allowing them to enter the global market).

➡️ In 2017 alone, it helped stem a yellow fever outbreak in Brazil (by providing 3.5 million vaccine doses), provided vaccines to nearly five million children in Yemen in the midst of its civil war; expanded mental health support to Syrians affected by their civil war; and provided new healthcare support (such as ambulances) in places like Iraq and South Sudan).

➡️ With respect to COVID-19, the WHO has shipped literally millions of items of personal protective equipment to 133 countries. It has launched a global trial involving the world’s top medical experts to find the most promising treatments and vaccine. As of now, 5,500 patients have been recruited in 21 countries, with over 100 countries joining or expressing interest in joining the trial.

➡️ Early on, the U.S. received vital early epidemiological data from China only because the WHO used its good relations to broker access. That’s the same reason the otherwise secretive Chinese eventually published the first genetic profile of the virus for the world to use. Against initial resistance, the WHO succeeded in making China allow observers into the country; in early February, an international team led by the agency visited Wuhan, including those from the CDC and NIH.

➡️In 2018, the WHO warned the world that it was not ready for a pandemic and needed to do more. It declared COVID-19 an emergency on January 30, when there were still relatively few reported cases outside China. World leaders still had the info and time to act, and some countries responded immediately; South Korea, New Zealand, and others implemented an effective blend of policies that made them one of the top success stories. The WHO cannot be blamed for our slow response.

➡️ Even Trump himself seemed to acknowledge the WHO’s work with gratitude. In late February, he tweeted “Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart…” In the weeks leading up to its withdrawal, the U.S. was still leaning on WHO experts for assistance, with even Secretary of State Pompeo trying to get the administration to soften its break up with the organization.

As always, I welcome any fact checking on these claims.

The Hero of Two Worlds

Thanks to the popularity of the musical Hamilton, more Americans are aware of one of the greatest heroes of American history, the French noble Marquis de Lafayette. His legacy on both sides of the Atlantic earned him the moniker of “The Hero of Two Worlds.”

When he was only 18, Lafayette professed that his “heart was dedicated” to the American cause. Just two years later, he paid his own way to cross the Atlantic and offer his services to the Patriots—for free.

In fact, the Continental Congress was overwhelmed with French volunteers; while many were motivated by the chance to fight against their hated British rivals, there was genuine support for the American Revolution and its ideals. Lafayette stood out in many ways: he learned English within a year of his arrival (unlike most French volunteers), had won over Benjamin Franklin, and bonded well with George Washington, to whom he was a close advisor. He also had military experience, which the ragtag colonials desperately needed. Perhaps just as importantly, he truly believed in what the Americans were fighting for: while France had over a thousand years of resolute monarchism, it was also a hotbed for the sorts of ideas and discussions that were now being played out for the first time in the Thirteen Colonies.During the Battle of Brandywine against a superior British force, Lafayette was wounded in action but still managed to organize an orderly retreat, for which Washington commended him and recommended he be given command of American troops. He served with distinction in several more battles in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Rhode Island—of which some sites still bear his name—before sailing back home in 1779 to lobby for more French support for the Americans.

The following year, Lafayette returned to a hero’s welcome in Boston, having secured thousands of French troops as well as naval forces and supplies. He was given senior positions in the Continental Army and was so popular among Americans that Washington and Hamilton had him write letters to state officials urging them to send troops. Lafayette was a unifying figure and American icon to the fragmented U.S. states: he was foreign, did not live in the U.S., fought across all theaters of the war, and was motivated by ideology rather than money—all of which made him universally trusted by the bickering, often distrusting states.In 1781, Lafayette played a pivotal role in the decisive Siege of Yorktown, where troops under his command held off British forces until other American and French forces could position themselves to strike. This victory at Yorktown—which involved almost as many French troops as Americans—helped end the war and secure U.S. independence. (Credit is also due to Frenchmen Comte de Rochambeau and Comte de Grasse, who also coordinated with Washington to secure victory.)

After the war, Lafayette remained committed to the cause of liberty for the rest of his life. He played a pivotal role in the French Revolution, and with Jefferson’s input helped draft the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, one of the earliest and most groundbreaking expressions of republicanism and civil rights. His commitment to human rights was also consistent: he was staunchly opposed to slavery, and joined the French Society of the Friends of the Blacks, which advocated the end of the slave trade and equal rights for blacks. He urged the emancipation of slaves and their establishment as tenant farmers in a 1783 letter to Washington, who was a slave owner (and who declined). A year after his correspondence with Washington, Lafayette helped abolish slavery in his homeland.

Lafayette opposed the later excesses of the French Revolution, and the subsequent rise of Napoleon as emperor; after seizing power, Napoleon offered to make him minister to the United States, but Lafayette firmly refused, as he would have nothing to do with an authoritarian regime. In 1802, he was one of the few to vote against making Napoleon ruler for life. When Napoleon again dangled an enticing opportunity—an appointment to the Senate as well as the Legion of Honor—Lafayette not only declined, but added that he would gladly have accepted the honors from a democratic government. When Jefferson offered him an opportunity to govern the newly purchased Louisiana Territory, he turned it down, wishing to focus on restoring French liberty.

In 1824, Lafayette was invited by James Monroe to visit all 24 states of the Union, in part to celebrate America’s upcoming 50th anniversary. He remained deeply popular, receiving widespread praise and love everywhere he went. He took gifts with him, as well as American soil to be placed on his grave. At President Monroe’s request, Congress voted to give him $200,000 in gratitude for his services to the country, along with a large tract of public lands in Florida. He returned to France aboard a ship renamed the USS Brandywine in honor of the battle where he shed his blood for the United States.

As France slipped into absolute monarchy starting in 1830, Lafayette, by then in his seventies, remained consistent in speaking out against anyone who opposed liberty. He even broke with his king, following the latter’s violent suppression of a protest. When he died in 1834 aged 76, he was buried under soil from Bunker Hill, which his son Georges Washington sprinkled upon him.In the U.S. Lafayette received the same memorial honors that had been bestowed on Washington. Both Houses of Congress were draped in black bunting for 30 days, and members wore mourning badges. Congress even urged Americans to follow similar mourning practices. Later that year, former president John Quincy Adams gave a eulogy of Lafayette that lasted three hours, calling him “high on the list of the pure and disinterested benefactors of mankind”.

Writing in 2011, historian Marc Leepson concluded about Lafayette’s life:

The Marquis de Lafayette was far from perfect. He was sometimes vain, naive, immature, and egocentric. But he consistently stuck to his ideals, even when doing so endangered his life and fortune. Those ideals proved to be the founding principles of two of the world’s most enduring nations, the United States and France. That is a legacy that few military leaders, politicians, or statesmen can match.

We should consider ourselves lucky to have had a French nobleman embody our cause and values better than even many of our Founding Fathers.

The Post-Soviet Country that’s a Model for Massive Police Reform

Completely overhauling any national institution isn’t easy, especially one as powerful and integral as law enforcement, seems like an insurmountable task. But the former Soviet republic of Georgia did just that, barely two decades into its independence as a small, fledgling country.

Writing in Foreign Policy, the president who led this effort, Mikeil Saakashvili, lays out just how troubled Georgian policing was:

The corruption of law enforcement empowered organized criminals, known in the former Soviet Union as vory v zakone, literally “thieves in law,” to fill the void. Gang leaders served not only as de facto police but also as judge, jury, and executioner. The police themselves were notorious for collaborating with organized crime. Suspicion of state institutions was deeply rooted in Georgian society: A survey of schoolchildren in 1993 found that a quarter of them wanted to be thieves in law when they grew up. Those youth had witnessed police systematically exploiting their communities. Of course, they held gangsters in higher regard than law enforcement.

Given that reality, police reform was not only a matter of restructuring institutions or implementing better policies. We had to change the mentality of a broken, cynical, and fearful society. Before people could begin to trust the police, we—the new political elites—had to earn their trust. Challenging the status quo was not enough. We had to destroy it and build something better. And we had to do it quickly. After the Rose Revolution, Georgian society united to demand reform. Reforms mean nothing without results that people can see.

So where do you even start when an entire system is rotten to the core, public trust and enthusiasm is at its nadir, and your country lacks the institutional development and civil society to help effect change? Apparently, you just go all in:

The first priority was to seize back control of state security functions from organized crime. Vano Merabishvili, then-interior minister, announced: “We will confiscate from all thieves in law the palaces they built with their dirty money and put police stations in their place.” And we did. Over a billion dollars’ worth of stolen property was recovered from thieves and returned to the state budget. New police stations were built all over Georgia, with floor-to-ceiling glass. This wasn’t just an aesthetic choice—building trust in law enforcement requires transparency.

Simultaneously, we dismantled the Soviet legacy of politicized policing and replaced it with equitable law enforcement. We eliminated redundant agencies and those beyond hope of rehabilitation. The Ministry of State Security, a KGB relic, was dissolved. We disbanded the Traffic Police, firing every one of the thousands of officers who had acted as state-sanctioned highway robbers. We replaced them with an entirely new force of Patrol Police, who had no background in law enforcement and thus no ties to old, corrupted elites. Recruits had to pass a competitive examination and complete a course in criminal procedure code. They were trained in persuasion, negotiation, and mediation skills to minimize the use of force.

In restaffing the streamlined law enforcement agencies, we chose quality over quantity. The total number of Ministry of Internal Affairs employees decreased from around 56,000 to 33,000. Violent crime fell by 66 percent after reforms were implemented. Carjackings and auto thefts, once commonplace, nearly disappeared. The overall crime rate dropped by over 50 percent, making Georgia one of the world’s safest countries in the world. We hadn’t needed so many police. We only needed good police.

Before my government’s reforms, talented people who wanted to serve their communities would never have considered careers in law enforcement. We had to change that. Without the right people, even the best policies would be doomed to fail. Besides revamping the hiring process, we established a Police Academy, issued modern uniforms, and imported new squad cars and equipment. These investments improved morale and professionalism of personnel.

At last, professional police earned professional salaries. Before my presidency, police officers were paid just $44 per month—with the unspoken expectation that they would supplement their meager incomes with bribes. By reducing the size of the force, jettisoning agencies and ministries, and hiring only qualified candidates, we increased salaries of police officers nearly tenfold. Now that officers were fairly compensated, we enforced zero tolerance for corruption. Public employees did not enjoy any special treatment from the criminal justice system. The Ministry of Internal Affairs created a reality TV show to broadcast raids at the homes of corrupt officers.

In short, Georgia basically tore down the whole rotten structure and started over. It took time, political will, and a lot of public support. It was probably controversial, and most certainly had its naysayers. But the results remain enduring: As of 2013, the police enjoy an approval rating of 87 percent—among the highest of any public institution in Georgia, and the highest in the world. The World Bank has called the country the “world’s best reformer”, with the biggest drop in corruption in all of Europe; the 95 percent of Georgians not having to pay a bribe to public officials.

The main takeaway from all this, according to the former president? “Half-measures don’t work”.

Those who benefit from the status quo will always abhor change. And vested interests tend to fight incremental measures with the same ferocity as they resist dramatic overhauls. So when the moment is ripe, why accept incremental progress when you can seize the opportunity for real transformation?

The push in some American cities to “defund the police” constitutes a dramatic overhaul, at least as bold as firing an entire small country’s police force. But, unlike post-revolutionary Georgia, most Americans do not support such a drastic measure. Cutting funds for police departments could result in privatization of security, with the wealthy hiring personal guards while the poor bear the brunt of increased crime. These risks deserve serious consideration—take it from someone who once lived in a country where mercenary forces owned by oligarchs and gangsters ruled the streets.

What are your thoughts? Is the U.S. ready and able to take a “full measure” approach to fixing law enforcement?