Never Again! vs. not My Problem!
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Jay B. Gaskill
Monday, July 30, 2007
NEVER AGAIN! vs. NOT MY PROBLEM!
A correspondent, Dr. Lawrence White, recently sent me a thought provoking piece of his, from which I quote an important excerpt as follows:
Are We Our Brother’s Keeper? Revisiting “It’s Not My Problem”
Editorial by Lawrence W. White MD
"In the time leading up to Pearl Harbor, the large and influential America First movement, led by Charles Lindberg, and an assortment of anti-Jewish figures, isolationist Republicans, and figures from both the right and the left, including Norman Thomas, Gore Vidal, Potter Stewart and Walt Disney, declared that hostilities in some far-off place were none of our business, and certainly not worth the loss of American life. The underlying assumption, never stated, was that American lives were worth more than the lives of those affected by the onslaught of aggressive war by the Axis powers. Thus the lives of the Chinese in Nanking, the Poles in Warsaw , the Dutch in Rotterdam , the Brits in London , and of course the Jews all over Europe , were not worth risking American lives to save. The movement ended less than two years after it started with the Japanese attack on Hawaii .
"What have we learned since then? The expression "Never Again" has a worthy pedigree. It was coined by Rabbi Meir Kahane and referred to the Shoah. It has also been used to refer to the Armenian Genocide and to the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And of course, many Israelis quote this expression in their determination to avoid reliance for their security on any other power
"Yet we have really learned nothing. Since the time of "America First", we have avoided intervening against the most egregious instances of genocide. Are American lives really more important than those of Bosnian Muslims, or the Tutsis of Rwanda, or the Czechs or Hungarians revolting against tyranny during the Cold War, or those we abandoned in Viet Nam in 1975, or the Cambodians murdered on the killing fields, or the Shiites who rebelled against Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War?
"With all these other instances, it may be comforting to know that the abandonment of the Jews during the Nazi period was not personal. As they say in the Mafia, it was just business. It was simply part of the general approach to "realpolitik" foreign policy, in which our involvement is dictated by (and only by) our own narrow interest, without regard to morality or legality. Yet, as Jews, we are acutely aware of what it means to be on the wrong side of “It’s not my problem”.
Copyright © 2007 by Lawrence White
I believe that Israel’s survival manifestly is our problem. Why isn’t that always as clear as it should be?
Here’s the deal:
It’s not really about Israel as such; it’s about averting the next Dark Age. Western civilization is at risk; our future is at stake and little Israel is the moral fulcrum on which the outcome will depend.
US foreign policy, from its very inception, has been driven by a moral component but also by an equally important amoral one. This is why our moral large scale military engagements tend to be couched in moralistic self interest. The inherent tension between these components is reflected in various competing political camps and their ideologies of convenience.
As a nation, we love to rescue the innocent, we love being appreciated by those we choose to help and – above all - we Americans love winning.
Therefore our most popular military engagements tend to be shaped by two interconnected principles:
- Double bull’s-eye marketing;
- The action movie narrative arc.
Foreign policy adventures are best sold when the moral crusade bull’s eye and the national security bull’s eye overlap. Popular support tends to fall apart when events drag out to the point that reality no longer resembles the neat and satisfying narrative of the thriller.
Overshadowing this practical psychological reality looms a meta-reality:
Any civilization that lacks an understanding of evil on the “Burkian level” (and the concomitant obligation of all civilized peoples to defeat it) will prove incapable of defending itself.
I don’t intend to use this limited space launch into a peroration about the reality of evil as a force in the modern world. For that you can go to three of my articles: “The moral Challenge of Radical Islam” http://www.jaygaskill.com/beast.htm , “How do we Explain Evil?” http://www.jaygaskill.com/explainingevil.htm , and “Reflections on Evil and the Modern Mind” http://www.jaygaskill.com/evil2l.htm .
Suffice it to say that, until Western civilization recovers our deep, ancient knowledge about evil, we are at risk of immolation.
I believe that moral ambiguity is an “evil enabler”.
Please indulge an extended self-quotation from one of my earliest discussions of the nature of evil on the “Burkian” scale:
In economics, “Gresham’s Law” is the tendency of bad money to drive out the good. A form of Gresham’s law applies when we bicker about evil in the marketplace of ideas. When we use the epithet “evil” like a schoolyard taunt, when we indulge the impulse to demonize our opponents, we debase the currency of our discourse. The real thing tends to be forgotten or marginalized.
I recall the stories about British civilian plane spotters in WW2 who were trained to identify bomber silhouettes. Clearly, intelligent identification is essential. So what are the parameters. What is the shape of real evil? I see three parameters.
First. Purpose matters.
As Oliver Wendell Homes said, “Even a dog knows the difference between being stumbled over and being kicked.”
Second. Scale matters.
I don’t mean to trivialize smaller scale wrongdoing, say on the level of ordinary crime, because it is so obviously worthy of our ongoing attention.
But the scale that most concerns me is that of the events and trends that alter life generally. I believe this was the scale of evil that Edmund Burke had in mind when he said “all that is needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”
Third. The core nature of the threat matters.
Think of an earthquake or tornado, and contrast an example of large scale, human directed malevolence, like the Nazi death camps or the Pol Pot massacres. In common natural disasters, structures and the physical basis for life are imperiled. Our response is calibrated accordingly. When purposeful human malevolence looms, we are threatened on the immediate physical level, but we are also attacked on the level of our deepest values.
This is why true evil draws us back to our core values.
We Americans can endlessly argue with each other about our military actions - past and proposed in Iraq and Iran; we can bicker about what is or is not in the immediate national self interest; and we can quibble about what is, was or will be a prudent course of action in light or our limited military and political resources.
But surely it is insanity to argue endlessly about the moral and practical imperative to defeat the looming Islamist extremist threat to civilization.
Hitler’s brutal hegemony was the apotheosis of evil on the Burkean scale. The shoa was the result of an ambivalent and tardy response of Western civilization in the face of an outbreak of existential and essential evil on the Burkean scale.
The Islamist extremist threat is this century’s latest and most virulent form of Burkean-scale evil. If the West permits another holocaust in the form of a depopulated Israel at the hands of Islamic fanatics, a new Dark Age will follow like the Arctic night follows the summer. No one will be safe.