The secret sins that history has exposed

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IF the allegations by Daniel Ortega's stepdaughter of sexual molestation and abuse are true, they will be a fascinating indication of what level of private indescretion a forgiving age will tolerate before it casts down a public political hero.

Over the years, the secret lives and sins of other luminaries of the radical left, from Lenin to Mao Tse-Tung to Winnie Mandela, have been exposed. The case of Ortega differs in three crucial respects.

The prime force in the revolution which toppled the dictator Anastasio Somoza and defied Ronald Reagan, the CIA and their Contra clients, he was a Third World leader idolised by the left around the world for standing up to US bullying. Second, not only is he still alive, he continues to lead the Sandinista party in Nicaragua's national assembly. Third, the offences of which he is accused are far more than the politician's frequent habit of straying from the marital bed. If born out, they amount to criminal rape.

The posthumous debunking of heroes is a historian's meat and drink. Take Lenin, long regarded by generations of the left as benign father of socialism and founder of the Soviet Union, whose noble ideals were deformed and disgraced by Stalin.

Now of course it has been established that Stalin (himself a man of whom gullible Western liberals would hear no wrong, even while he was shipping millions to the gulag) drew heavily on techniques earlier employed by Lenin - among them an omnipotent secret service, mass atrocities against civilians, and terror-famines.

#As a mass murderer of his own people, Mao ranks alongside Stalin, but was none the less an inspiration to a strand of the far left. His reputation was posthumously dented by the revelations of his personal doctor that while supervising the Cultural Revolution Mao was addicted to sex with underage peasant girls rounded up from the countryside. Even so, as with Lenin, the faith of those believers who were left was not been greatly damaged. Both were dead, their place in history - for better or worse - secure.

In the West too, death draws the sting of scandal. Had John Kennedy's prodigious and reckless sexual appetites become known when he was president, they might have ruined his career and subsequent reputation. Ditto, on a more modest scale, Martin Luther King. As it is, public attitudes have largely caught up with JFK's private behaviour (witness the tolerance for Bill Clinton's philandering). Beyond the grave, he is still perceived as lost leader, not lost soul.