Coward Old Universe…

by Jeremy G.

Posts Tagged ‘Moral Equivalence’

Perplexity

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on August 18, 2008

Here’s an initial disclaimer. You want to call Georgian President Saakashvili a hot head, a crook, a villain, America’s spoiled brat? Fine by me. As long as you recognize that he is certainly not Saddam and that Georgia is a democracy – although an ailing one in practice.

Once that this caveat is out of the way, I find that there is something profoundly disturbing in the fatalistic views of this war which conclude that the region in question is not part of America’s sphere of influence and any point of view that would say different is irresponsible. Does this mean that America should not care and give Putin a blank check? I would have a a hard time understanding such a surrender. In addition, this is not only America’s problem, but the West as a whole. Yesterday’s efforts to build democracy East of Europe is not a goal we should abandon only because it upsets Russia. We only need to have the capital to reach our goals.

That’s why I will admit, with no trouble, how furious Bush’s inability to act – due to his own mistakes and miscalculations in the past. Furthermore, talking to Russia should obviously not be off the table. That said, I still believe that letting autocracies prosper is a strategy that has proved disastrous in the past and will be in the future.

Posted in Russia, World Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Hiroshima, Decision Making and Dealing with the Future

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on August 7, 2007

hiroshima.jpg

 

Sixty two years ago today occurred one of the most terrible events of the twentieth century: the U.S. used an atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to put an end to a six year war.

The event is usually (over)used by U.S. critics to demonstrate how evil America has acted, and how displaced criticism towards such nations as North Korea and Iran is given this past behavior.  Perhaps these same critics would have preferred to see Japan‘s imperial power expand more, and allow the Cold War to take a much warmer, three-way turn.

Paradoxically enough, it’s in the Guardian – of all places – that was published the smartest and most relevant comment on the subject.  British writer Oliver Kamm writes:

Estimates derived from intelligence about Japan’s military deployments projected hundreds of thousands of American casualties.

and concludes:

Hiroshima and Nagasaki are often used as a shorthand term for war crimes. That is not how they were judged at the time. Our side did terrible things to avoid a more terrible outcome. The bomb was a deliverance for American troops, for prisoners and slave labourers, for those dying of hunger and maltreatment throughout the Japanese empire – and for Japan itself. One of Japan’s highest wartime officials, Kido Koichi, later testified that in his view the August surrender prevented 20 million Japanese casualties. The destruction of two cities, and the suffering it caused for decades afterwards, cannot but temper our view of the Pacific war. Yet we can conclude with a high degree of probability that abjuring the bomb would have caused greater suffering still.

Beyond the necessary caveats one must keep in mind when drawing historical parallels, there are two specific lessons to draw from such a tragic event.  The first one is that there are no perfect heroes in international relations, and that grey areas are a constant in history.  What makes the difference, in these grey areas, is the ability democracies have to accept a quasi-continuous debate on key questions and express doubts on the relevance of their past behavior.  No one is mentioning today what 1945 Japan was about.  Moral equivalence, in such circumstances, provides the human mind with easy shortcuts and allows one to avoid dealing with History’s complicated dilemmas.

The second lesson resides in the complexities of international relations and the way a single decision necessarily involves unanticipated or unwarranted consequences, given the limits of human abilities in terms of infinite calculations.  Such a point might appear as obvious, but tends to be forgotten by individuals who are satisfied with unqualified judgments and feel they have a monopoly of reason.  Informed comments are not what they used to be.

Posted in US Foreign Policy, World Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »