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Ghosts of Rwanda
April 1, 2004 9:20 PM   Subscribe

Ghosts of Rwanda
10 years later, FRONTLINE delivers one of the most powerful episodes in their excellent series of reports. Also covered in The Economist last week, and a couple years ago in The Atlantic in a sublime article: "Bystanders to Genocide". When you first heard about the tragedy did you wish you could have done something, if you had only known more?
posted by specialk420 (40 comments total)

 
See also.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:23 PM on April 1, 2004


Bill and Kofi blew it, really really bad. Can anyone find a link/reference to a single Republican calling for intervention in Rwanda? While it was happening?
posted by specialk420 at 9:42 PM on April 1, 2004


reality (or realpolitik) check: Mogadishu guaranteed that no sane politician would choose to intervene in Rwanda.

Jim Nachtwey's Rwanda photographs here and here

MeFi friend Raffaele Ciriello's Rwanda images here (warning: graphic)
posted by matteo at 10:02 PM on April 1, 2004


I would strongly recommend Shake Hands With The Devil for Dallaire's full account of what happened.
posted by cmonkey at 10:10 PM on April 1, 2004




"On September 1999 a Burundian who lives in Europe and whose name I do not want to disclose wrote this intensely-felt message to me: ‘Sometimes, when I see how Europe avoids examining its own responsibility in the tragedy [of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda] and obsessively tries to attach criminal culpability to one ethnic group [the Hutu] and not to the real political authors of this Hecatomb, I ask myself whether the Rwandese drama is not being lived in the West as ‘therapy’ for the Jewish Shoah: the transfer of humiliation to another far-away, unknown, non-historical culprit. Il y a tellement à décrire, à écrire, à rire et à ire. Surtout à crier."

"Towards a Theory of Humiliation: Somalia, Rwanda / Burundi, and Hitler's Germany" (.pdf file) by Evelin Gerda Lindner

posted by matteo at 10:22 PM on April 1, 2004



The streets of Mogadishu

"One of the defining images of the late twentieth century is a dead American soldier being dragged by a triumphant crowd through the streets of Mogadishu in Somalia. It was an act of humiliation. The Somali crowd were wreaking vengeance upon America and the UN. In the words of a former Somali diplomat, ‘the UN came with the agenda that they know what is good for the Somali people [,]…got entangled in the fight with [General] Aideed, … spent so much money on that …[and] caused the death of no less than 10,000 Somalis!’ The Somalis felt humiliated by the apparently well-meaning intervention of the UN and reacted with an act of counter-humiliation.
American troops serving with the UN had to fight for their lives in Mogadishu and were forced out of Somalia. The impact upon American public opinion of this humiliating experience was so great that in subsequent years the American government was very unwilling to commit ground troops in similar situations.
Humiliation has been a potent force in domestic politics and international affairs. It is an important dimension of organisational life in all spheres, including government and business. When examples like this are cited its importance is easy to see. However, the nature and role of humiliation are not well understood. The purpose of this article is to provide a new analysis of humiliation and its implications for social and political order.
The case of Somalia reinforces one of the great lessons learned from the two world wars during the first half of the twentieth century, which is that if people feel humiliated they strike back when they can."

posted by matteo at 10:26 PM on April 1, 2004


It goes deeper than simple US unwillingness to commit US troops, though. The US actively lobbied to pull UN troops out of Rwanda entirely, refused to jam the Hutu Power radio station and allowed the genocidaire government to have a seat on the UN Security Council. France has a lot of responsibility, too, for supporting the genocidaire's and protecting them during Operation Turquoise.

The National Security Archive has a good collection of US documents regarding Rwanda, and the Organization of African Unity produced a report titled Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide which is worth a read.
posted by cmonkey at 11:29 PM on April 1, 2004


When you first heard about the tragedy did you wish you could have done something, if you had only known more?

I am not sure what that would be. Send my young countrymen to die for something I do not feel serves American interests? I oppose/d the invasion of Iraq, and the previous actions in Kosovo and Haiti for that reason. It is not right to waste the lives of American soldiers on peacekeeping that has nothing to do with defense of America, which is presumable what they sign up for. Just because they can be ordered to walk into a blender, does not mean it is remotely moral to force them into that situation.

Regarding the blocking of radio transmissions, that is unforgivable. Being that there was no will to act, the region should have been left truly undisturbed. If it is because the American government did not wish to be forced into action by the reality of what was going on, then I am ashamed. The pretense of being the world's policeman, but not having the urge to pony up is much worse that the honest truth that we are not going to sacrifice ourselves for nothing. If we can really walk that line, and not interfere, the US would not be a target for terrorism.
posted by thirteen at 11:34 PM on April 1, 2004


It refused to use its technology to jam radio broadcasts that were a crucial instrument in the coordination and perpetuation of the genocide.

I misread that passage somehow, and thought they were jamming pleas for help.

The US actively lobbied to pull UN troops out of Rwanda entirely
Possibly because UN troops were (are?) disproportionately American?
posted by thirteen at 11:37 PM on April 1, 2004


Possibly because UN troops were (are?) disproportionately American?

Nope. Not even close.

"As of 31 December 2003, 94 countries were contributing a total of some 45,472 personnel, including 39,329 troops, 4,632 civilian police and 1,771 military observers. As of 31 December 2003, the five main troop-contributing countries were Pakistan (6,248), Bangladesh (4,730), Nigeria (3361), India (2,882) and Ghana (2,306).

Of the 45,472 troops and civilian police serving in UN peace operations, only 5,200 come from the European Union and only 518 from the United States (494 civilian police and 22 military observers)."
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:11 AM on April 2, 2004


Just because they can be ordered to walk into a blender, does not mean it is remotely moral to force them into that situation.

so... you would not have sent american boys into germany to stop the holocaust?

unarmed and lightly armed UN peacekeepers (the few that were still there) were able to save hundreds and thousands of lives ... how much of a difference of would a small fraction of the troops sent to liberate iraq have made?
posted by specialk420 at 12:14 AM on April 2, 2004



Possibly because UN troops were (are?) disproportionately American?


That's never been the case. As of February 2004, the US had a whopping 2 troops committed to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, 476 civilian police, and 21 military observers [source]. Bangladesh, on the other side of the spectrum, had 6,263. It should also be noted that the US had no troops or military observers in Rwanda in March or April of 1994.

So it wouldn't have been an issue of sending your 'young countrymen' into such a clearly immoral situation of preventing a million people from being slaughtered. Canada, Belgium and several African countries took the moral authority there.
posted by cmonkey at 12:15 AM on April 2, 2004


It is important to remember that the Market Value of American lives is currently hovering at 1 American = 1000 Dirty Foreigners. In order to maintain a favourable balance of hyprocisy, the Bush Administration is actively pursuing policies to maintain the exchange rate at or near this point.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:19 AM on April 2, 2004


Dallaire mentions in his book that the US government estimated that it would take 85,000 Rwandan deaths to justify one American death, so your exchange rate is a bit off, Stavros.
posted by cmonkey at 12:20 AM on April 2, 2004


By a couple orders of magnitude, almost! Shameful truth trumps black comedy, once again.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:22 AM on April 2, 2004


specialk420: I have Bob Dole quotes saying American troops should stay the heck out not matter what happens “I don’t think we have any national interest there,” Dole said on April 10. “The Americans are out, and as far as I’m concerned, in Rwanda, that ought to be the end of it.”
Power, p 352 [Cite: Power, Samantha, A Problem From Hell. (New York: New Republic; Perseus Books Group) 2002.]

thirteen: You're WAY, WAY off.
Since the early nineties we have witnessed a decline in the number of troops that developed countries have been prepared to contribute to peacekeeping missions,” General Cammaert noted. In 1991, only two of the top 10 troop contributing countries were developing countries, Ghana and Nepal. The top 10 this year are: Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, India, Ghana, Kenya, Jordan, Uruguay, Ukraine, Australia. Less than one-eighth of currently serving UN troops come from the European Union; far fewer from the US.
cite: http://www.un.org/events/peacekeepers/docs/military.htm.

stavrosthewonderchicken: There's a quote from a US Army officer to that effect in Samatha Power's book.
posted by tiamat at 8:37 AM on April 2, 2004


so... you would not have sent american boys into germany to stop the holocaust?

No.

how much of a difference of would a small fraction of the troops sent to liberate iraq have made?

Are you supporting the invasion of Iraq? US troops should not be there, nor anywhere else. The belong at home.


Possibly because UN troops were (are?) disproportionately American?

Nope. Not even close.

Then I am at a loss to understand why the US interfered in that way.


It is important to remember that the Market Value of American lives is currently hovering at 1 American = 1000 Dirty Foreigners.

Not going to fluff over the math. I think you are bringing an emotional component to the table. I make no value judgement over the people dying. I do not see why it would be worth an American life to save Tony Blair or the Queen. From the US government's perspective, the life of one American soldier lost should outweigh the life of any non citizen or mass of people if that life is lost for some cause that is not directly related to the defense of the US. The kids who are dying in Iraq are dying in vain. Dying in Bosnia, or the Ivory Coast is not one iota better.
posted by thirteen at 8:42 AM on April 2, 2004


Plus the Mog issue, there was the way that American leaders thought about ethnic conflict: they subscribed to the "ancient hatreds" theory of ethnic nationalism. What is the point of jumping into the middle of an ancient battle? Funny thing is, by the mid 90s the constructivist theory of political identities comes to the fore and people start talking about ethnic conflict as the result of constructed identities manipulated by cynical politicians. One result is the war in Kosovo.

Grossly oversimplified, but an actual example of academic theory having a real world effect.

And stavros, if we admit that 1 American is worth more to Americans than one non American, where is the hypocrisy? And what is wrong with American leaders looking after the interests of Americans before looking after those of non-Americans?

PS I love the way that every thread turns into routine Bush bashing, this time for his failure to order the US army into Rwanda seven years before becoming President.
posted by ednopantz at 8:45 AM on April 2, 2004



thirteen: You're WAY, WAY off.


Thank you. I was under that impression. Perhaps that was not always the case? The passage you quoted mentions the early 90s, was the breakdown differnt before that? I will try to find my own link for that, but thank you again.
posted by thirteen at 8:47 AM on April 2, 2004


PS I love the way that every thread turns into routine Bush bashing

yawn.
before you made your comment, Bush had been named once. once. by stav.
and nobody linked Bush to Rwanda. you did.
nice straw man there.

the point stav tried to make (you just need to read his comment but it's probably too much work) is that Bush is certainly keeping up with the ratio of several thousand dark-skinned foreigner corpses for every dead American.

the body count of (civilian and not) deaths in Iraq Attaq (where between 8,000 and 10,000 civilian Iraqis, not to mention the thousands of Iraqi soldiers, were kindly liberated from their corporal bodies by the Coalition of the Willing) seems to be in tune with that fine tradition.

just that. if you want to drag Bush-bashing into this, go ahead. but body counts are about math, not about politics. (well, 5-4 is actually both math and politics, but whatever)

Allah knows how many will have to be killed in the future to finally avenge that 3,000 dead in Lower Manhattan, PA and DC

the American reaction to the recent bombing in Madrid really taught the world a nice lesson in the way Americans actually perceive the uniqueness, the exceptionalism of American sorrow. and how much more they seem to value "American lives" vs the unwashed foreign hordes.

some of us are so yellow that we dare to have the same compassion (and horror) for the death of an Iraqi peasant and, say, a Lower Manhattan fireman.

but apparently some dead are more equal than others.

I'll stop here because one does not want to derail the thread anyway. but you get my drift.
posted by matteo at 9:12 AM on April 2, 2004


did you wish you could have done something, if you had only known more?

If this piece in today's Globe and Mail is right, Sudan may, sadly, soon give us a chance to find out if we did learn anything from Rwanda.

Also, if Romeo Dallaire ever turns up in your town, I highly, highly recommend going to see him speak. His speech begins roughly from stavros' point - he asks the question, "Are black lives worth less than white lives?," citing the differences in scale between the crises in Bosnia and Rwanda and the huge international response to the former while the latter was largely ignored. He then goes on to give probably the most nuanced, passionate, and humanistic speech I've ever heard on the role Canada could/should be playing in international affairs.

thirteen wrote: From the US government's perspective, the life of one American soldier lost should outweigh the life of any non citizen or mass of people if that life is lost for some cause that is not directly related to the defense of the US.

In Dallaire's speech, he also explains that he has great hopes for the emergence of transnational NGOs as a power bloc capable of responding to these sorts of crises, since nation-states have often proved incapable of doing so as a result of exactly the sort of myopic thinking thirteen has so eloquently summarized.
posted by gompa at 9:23 AM on April 2, 2004


Perhaps that was not always the case? The passage you quoted mentions the early 90s, was the breakdown differnt before that?

Peacekeeping troops have been heavily internationalized and not-very-American for a good while.

On the other hand, it wouldn't be crazy to think that if there were peacekeeping troops there -- from whatever country -- and the shit hit the fan causing a proper shooting war to break out, that any UN response with warfighting troops would be heavily American. Peacekeeping troops aren't usually equipped for actual war-fighting.

Rwanda was an unconscionable disaster, but... I dunno. I look at horrible things like that in Africa, and I usually end up thinking that Europe spent a century or two fucking the place up, so it should be them spending their treasure and their young men's lives setting it straight.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:44 AM on April 2, 2004


Anyone got a BT link? I'm looking for that Iraq Frontline, as well...
posted by ph00dz at 9:45 AM on April 2, 2004


When 8,000 people a day are being hacked to death by neighbors wielding machetes and garden implements, it's hardly appropriate to shrug our shoulders and say "not my problem". Some things - no matter where they occur - are simply inhuman; it is just not acceptable to ignore them even if it means a sacrifice on our parts. Even if you ignore the moral responsibiliy, there is also a legal responsibility to address. Because genocide is an international crime, we are obligated to do something about it, regardless of what our interests may be.

I recommend reading We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch, or listening to him discussing the book on Fresh Air. It's a very well-written (and not too emotionally wrenching) account of the Rwanda genocide and its aftermath.
posted by stefanie at 10:52 AM on April 2, 2004


Rwanda timeline
More Rwanda links at this site.

the American reaction to the recent bombing in Madrid really taught the world a nice lesson in the way Americans actually perceive the uniqueness, the exceptionalism of American sorrow. and how much more they seem to value "American lives" vs the unwashed foreign hordes.

which american would that be?

but you get my drift.
hell no, but thanks for the fishing line.
posted by clavdivs at 11:36 AM on April 2, 2004



the American reaction to the recent bombing in Madrid really taught the world a nice lesson in the way Americans actually perceive the uniqueness, the exceptionalism of American sorrow. and how much more they seem to value "American lives" vs the unwashed foreign hordes.

some of us are so yellow that we dare to have the same compassion (and horror) for the death of an Iraqi peasant and, say, a Lower Manhattan fireman.

but apparently some dead are more equal than others.


All dead are equal. It is how they get there that is unbalanced. I do not think we disagree about the situation in Iraq. Despite the way some here claim that "everyone" figured there were weapons that justified the invasion, and that the people would welcome us, I never thought that for a second. Really it is going better than I ever figured it would. The death numbers in Iraq are spun wildly, and are made to seem smaller than they are. The deaths of Iraqi civilians is hardly mentioned, and the soldier dead, conscripted fellows dead (who knows how many buried alive by American bulldozers) are the families of all the people some expected to love us. We never should have gone there. The American soldiers who have died were sent to be slaughtered. That is not moral or a sacrifice, it is a betrayal.

As for the public mourning of nations, does that matter at all? When Sept 11 happened, and the sympathy rolled in, did it make a difference? Pain is and should be private.


When 8,000 people a day are being hacked to death by neighbors wielding machetes and garden implements, it's hardly appropriate to shrug our shoulders and say "not my problem". Some things - no matter where they occur - are simply inhuman; it is just not acceptable to ignore them even if it means a sacrifice on our parts. Even if you ignore the moral responsibility, there is also a legal responsibility to address. Because genocide is an international crime, we are obligated to do something about it, regardless of what our interests may be.


It quite literally is "not my problem", not our problem if I am to be considered part of "our". Addressing the problem by forcing our soldiers to go and die is immoral. Most of your argument is emotional, and almost an inverse of the arguments against Gay marriage. You are looking to pick and choose who is going to die, and it gets your hands very dirty. You have no moral authority to put our soldiers in danger because of the actions of other sovereign nations, even when they are as monstrous as the situations were are talking about here. We are not responsible for the killing, and have none of the responsibility that you mentioned.

I do not think there is the will to enforce international law, and it seems obvious that the idea only exists on paper or when it is convenient. Not meeting that "obligation" will most likely be popular or ignored.
posted by thirteen at 11:37 AM on April 2, 2004


"This report is about the so-called "right of humanitarian intervention": the question of when, if ever, it is appropriate for states for take coercive - and in particular military - action, against another state for the purpose of protecting people at risk in that other state. The Commission was asked to wrestle with the whole range of questions - legal, moral, operational and political - rolled up in this debate, to consult with the widest possible range of opinion around the world, and to bring back a report that would help the Secretary-General and everyone else find some new common ground.

The report's central theme is "The Responsibility to Protect", the idea that sovereign states have a responsibility to protect their own citizens from avoidable catastrophe, but that when they are unwilling or unable to do so, that responsibility must be borne by the broader community of states. We hope very much that the report will break new ground in a way that helps generate a new international consensus on these issues."
posted by stonerose at 3:46 PM on April 2, 2004


When 8,000 people a day are being hacked to death by neighbors wielding machetes and garden implements, it's hardly appropriate to shrug our shoulders and say "not my problem". Some things - no matter where they occur - are simply inhuman; it is just not acceptable to ignore them even if it means a sacrifice on our parts. Even if you ignore the moral responsibiliy, there is also a legal responsibility to address. Because genocide is an international crime, we are obligated to do something about it, regardless of what our interests may be.

Although it's nice to think of war as "humanitarian" in certain circumstances, it never is. But this is always the imperial excuse, and war for humanitarian purposes inevitably turns to expansion of empire. This is why the founders of the US warned against interventionist war and entangling alliances, as it would turn the US into just another empire, much like those in Europe at the time, from which this nation was working to wrest itself. In the words of John Quincy Adams on July 4, 1821:

And now, friends and countrymen, if the wise and learned philosophers of the elder world, the first observers of nutation and aberration, the discoverers of maddening ether and invisible planets, the inventors of Congreve rockets and Shrapnel shells, should find their hearts disposed to enquire what has America done for the benefit of mankind?

Let our answer be this: America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity.

She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights.

She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own.

She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart.

She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right.

Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.

But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.

She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.

She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.

She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.

She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.

The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force....

She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit....

[America's] glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.


Back then, these words were an accurate description of US foreign policy. It would have been for the best if we had held to it.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:31 PM on April 2, 2004


From the US government's perspective, the life of one American soldier lost should outweigh the life of any non citizen or mass of people if that life is lost for some cause that is not directly related to the defense of the US.

Although I have some respect for your consistency and the fact that you have at least taken the time to fashion for yourself a philosophically consistent system of belief, it is no less simplistic for its consistency, and no less repugnant to me.

I think you are bringing an emotional component to the table.

Certainly. And I challenge you to demonstrate to me that is in any way a bad thing.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:17 PM on April 2, 2004


You know I like you Stav, and I am sorry my position disappoints you. I have problems with your position relating to morality as well, but it is nice that we can have an ineffectual (as it relates to action) conversation about it nonetheless.

Certainly. And I challenge you to demonstrate to me that is in any way a bad thing.

I mentioned it in passing earlier, but my main objection is that it reminds me of those who would deny Gay marriage because it evokes a negative emotion in them. It also colors my position by suggesting my argument is very different from what it was. I never called, or suggested that foreigners are "filthy", and the emotion brought to the table creates a false impression of a double standard on my part that is not at work here. I think my argument is all about equality, and that making one man die for another is the worst kind of evil. Lastly, when we are talking about people's lives, I would rather be rational than emotional. The excitement of wanting to save innocent lives requires us to destroy other innocent lives, and I think it is impossible to do that and remain good. I do not expect to convince you of anything, but I do not think
posted by thirteen at 7:58 PM on April 2, 2004


I'm tempted to finish your sentence in some amusing-only-to-myself way, but I'll resist the urge.

making one man die for another

I'm not sure where you are proposing that any element of compulsion comes in. The suggestion that anyone is forcing one person to die for another seems to me a reductio ad absurdum (twice I've used that phrase today) of the idea of members of a nation's military participating in peacekeeping program related activities abroad. 'Risking one's life to defend those of others, freely', is an entirely different way of framing the concept, and although the truth lies somewhere between the ways we think of such things, I would suggest that the reality is closer to my description than yours.

is the worst kind of evil.

I would suggest that beyond a certain point -- the pale, maybe we might call it! -- it is simply not useful to speak of degrees of evil. Who's more evil -- the man personally who slices open the belly, pulls out the fetus and bashes its brains out on the doorjamb, or the man who ordered thousands to commit acts of atrocity? I don't think it's a useful question to ask.

It's also Philosophy 101 to get into discussions of potential evil that may arises as a result of inaction -- that is, action that is not taken because it is in an of itself evil, even if deemed to be less evil than the potential, and therefore non-existent, evil consequences of not taking that action. It is the sort of discussion that bored sophomores ignore in their Intro to Ethics and Morality classes, and it may be fruitless to rake that particular mud flat for clams. Nonetheless, I would maintain that it is a calculus worth exploring from a strictly ethical perspective -- the potential loss of American lives in their possible scores with (at the time) the potential loss of Rwandan lives in their hundreds of thousands.

(I would note as a sidebar that I believe morality to be a social construct, and thus temporal and transient, while ethics are less so. Another discussion for another time perhaps.)

I would rather be rational than emotional.

I understand that some people have this desire. I personally believe that it is an exercise in self-delusion to believe that such a thing is even possible, and to wave off someone else's arguments because that person includes the emotional as an indivisible component of our so-called 'rational' natures is a wee bit arrogant and dismissive.

Also, I wasn't trying to imply that you were saying anything about 'filty foreigners', honest. I was just making a black, black joke at the expense of the Evil Empire.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:42 PM on April 2, 2004


I'm tempted to finish your sentence in some amusing-only-to-myself way, but I'll resist the urge.

I appreciate your restraint. I no longer remember where I was going with that sentence.

Soldiers do not get to choose where they go, and I am suggesting that American soldiers do not sign up with peacekeeping in mind. I have come to know a bunch of young Marines (which is something I never expected) and they went in as jingo as can be. They are kids, and they do not give a damn about protecting anyone but Americans. Many of these kids, including my brother, have been to Iraq and back, and are back in Iraq again and they are actively pissed that they are there. Not because of the danger, but because they see no benefit to the people back home for the risks they are subjected to. These guys who are currently saying "Fuck Iraq" are guaranteed to say "Fuck the Ivory Coast" right out of the box. Their parents, not having the benefit of propaganda that suggests the people engaging in genocide are a threat to us, coupled with the fact that a handful of dead American soldiers is a deal breaker means that this is not going to be a popular idea with anyone here. The truth may be between our positions, but I know of nothing that suggests you are closer to the reality of the situation.

This is a great opportunity for the rest of the world to step up. If you do not want what is big and bad about America messing up the world, stop inviting us into your conflicts. When we have boots on the ground, you are screwed, cause we are in. I want to shut down foreign military bases, and shrink my country's defense budget. It is hard to do when the rest of the world sees my countrymen as the solution to problems they do not want to deal with. You cannot complain about American aggression on one hand, and beg it for help with the other. I do not think Europe has the stones to go it alone, based on the way they folded on the world court decision last year, rather than lose the use of American troops. The fact that they did fold for a song, does not mean that our soldiers are now an owned tool, or that it is fair for foreigner's to weigh their deaths against others.


is the worst kind of evil.

I did not use this sentence to debate the nature of evil (which I do not really believe in). My argument has not been philosophical, but practical. The facts are that my people would die if they go in, that they would not choose to go, and that there is not national interest for being there. I judge harshly anyone who would abuse their authority and send my people into that situation. Our lives are not so cheap that they can be spent freely in the service of others.


(I would note as a sidebar that I believe morality to be a social construct, and thus temporal and transient, while ethics are less so. Another discussion for another time perhaps.)

I completely agree. I find morality to be an almost useless word, ans I do not believe there is anything resembling a standard for it. When the elements of an argument are so simple, I find no other word to turn to.

I understand that some people have this desire. I personally believe that it is an exercise in self-delusion to believe that such a thing is even possible, and to wave off someone else's arguments because that person includes the emotional as an indivisible component of our so-called 'rational' natures is a wee bit arrogant and dismissive.

What is the emotion you believe is coloring my argument then? I am not trying be arrogant or dismissive, but I do not see what value that brings to then table. I thought (and I am glad to be wrong) that you were viewing my post through an emotional lens that caused you to misinterpret my argument. I was telling you not to be emotional, but that your emotions were causing you to misunderstand what I was saying. You said my position was simplistic, and I say it is anything but. I cannot claim absolute rationality, but I see nothing wrong with aiming for it, or valuing it more highly.
posted by thirteen at 8:20 AM on April 3, 2004


Unrelated for the most part, but still applicable I think. One of those young Marines I mentioned called my mother last week. He is in Iraq, serving as infantry, manning a turret on a Humvee. He is close to my mother, and told her how he had killed a man for the first time after having been ordered to do so after an attempted ambush of some sort. I know this kid, and the idea of him killing someone is so shocking to me that I almost threw up upon hearing about this.

It does not matter to me where this happened, it would not have been better if he had been in Africa, it would have been sick and wrong. His life is changed, for something that does not matter here at home. I will never support putting people in that position, where they have to kill or be killed for people they do not know or owe allegiance to.
posted by thirteen at 8:32 AM on April 3, 2004


What is the emotion you believe is coloring my argument then?

I was unclear. I wasn't accusing you of arguing 'emotionally-and-thus-irrationally', I was trying to explain that I think such an opposition is a false one, always, and that discounting someone's stance because it is emotional smacks of arrogance, although it is a common tactic.

Of course, by speaking in generalities, I was still swinging my handbag a bit, and I apologize. Although I am willing to believe that my characterization of your stance on this issue as 'simplistic' is more as a result of my lack of understanding of that stance, I still find it ethically indefensible, and well, yeah, repugnant, from what I can piece together.

I reference in particular this :
so... you would not have sent american boys into germany to stop the holocaust?

No.
which may have been hyperbole for effect (remembering my predilection for same), but knowing you to what small degree I do, I suspect that that's not the case.

I will never support putting people in that position, where they have to kill or be killed for people they do not know or owe allegiance to.

I suppose what it comes down to (amongst other, even more rarified things, perhaps) is that we have very different understandings of what is to be understood by the word 'allegiance'. It would seem (and again, I make assumptions here, in lieu of more detailed explanation from you) that allegiance is owed first to the nation-state, in your estimation.

I would characterize such a stance as archaic and anachronistic, and the cause of many of the woes of the last century, although it must be said that that the woes (and wars) of our world today as as much rooted in ethnicity and religion, competition for resources and population pressures as they are conflict between nations -- intranational rather than international strife, or non-state-sponsored terrorism.

Regardless, I'm happy to have this discussion with you, and if you care to explain further why it is you have the convictions you do, I'd be happy to make the attempt to wrap my brain around it. If not, that's fine too.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:29 PM on April 3, 2004


I have enjoyed the conversation Stav (enjoyed is not really right, but I am pleased that our strong disagreement is remaining civil).

For my part, I will work on the parts of my arguments that came off as dismissive and arrogant. My gut feeling is that everyone is that way when they meet another's position, and remain unchanged. Still, if I read that way to you, then I have not responded as politely as was my intention. I think we found common ground regarding the nebulous nature of using "morality" and "evil" in conversation, I suggest ethics also varies from person to person. I know many people who I like and believe are ethical because they are true to themselves, who if they acted fully upon their beliefs would be unethical in their actions towards me because they would be violating what I consider to be minimal expectations. Of course, I believe myself to be ethical too.

I lament that my straight edge can be considered repugnant by good people, but that goes both ways, and I do not think we are going to break any new ground in this particular thread. RE: WWII, there was a old thread where I discussed my position at length.

The last part of your last post is what really made this response necessary. I have no love of nationalism. No one has ever called me patriotic; I have no Chauvinism for the US or the flag. I am Illinoisian before American, and a Chicagoan before that. What I want is for the US and the people who live here not to be used as a club by the ruling class here, or borrowed like a rake by their counterparts abroad. Our lives matter as much as anyone elses, and I want to lower the expectations of the world that we are ready to die anywhere, anytime. We would all be safer if my country shrank it's army, and moved our people home, but that is not going to happen unless others start to handle their own defensive affairs. A foreign request for help weakens the value of my demands to bring our troops home , and is a win for the pentagon and industry that feeds well off my taxes. The allegiance that I spoke of it to the friends and families of the solders we were talking about, the people who these soldiers by and large expect to be serving for.

I agree that nationalism was a large part of the reason for the misery of the last century, but it co-stars with alliance and the automatic expectation of troops and supplies. I hope this makes me better understood.
posted by thirteen at 8:27 AM on April 4, 2004


so... you would not have sent american boys into germany to stop the holocaust?

No.



"One of the most difficult conclusions we have come in this reflection on Auschwitz is that the Nazis committed no crime at Auschwitz since no law or political order protected those who were first condemned to statelessness and then to the camps. That observation was not offered as a defense of the Nazis. On the contrary, it was offered as an unpleasant example of the ironic and unanticipated consequences of the spread of "civilization" and "progress" so that today no corner of the earth lacks some form of political organization. unfortunately, the demise of the third reich has not put an end to the problem of statelessness. Sooner or later there will be other civil or international conflicts that will deprive large numbers of men of the most elemental of human rights, their membership in a political order, with consequences as yet unforeseen...furthermore, the jews were executed in accordance with German law......The greatest deterrent against the would-be aggressor was his calculation of the victims ability to avenge a wrong, either alone or in concert with members of his family or tribe...the power to injure remains the most credible deterrent to a would-be aggressors violence...The dreadful history of Europe's jews has demonstrated that rights do not belong to men by nature. To the extent that men have rights, they have them only as members of the polis,...Outside the polis there are no inborn restraints on the human exercise of destructive power...Does not the holocaust demonstrate that there are absolutely no limits to the degradation and assault the managers and technicians of violence can inflict upon men and women who lack the power of effective resistance?...It is absurd that government has a responsibility to protect its citizens from theft and physical violence but has no has no responsibility to defend them from the infinitely greater violence perpetrated, often mindlessly, by institutions and policies that render millions of human beings literally useless."

-Richard L. Rubenstein, 'The Cunning of History", 1975.
posted by clavdivs at 1:44 PM on April 4, 2004


"It may seem strange to you here, especially the many of you who lost members of your family, but all over the world there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day after day, who did not fully appreciate [pause] the depth [pause] and the speed [pause] with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror."
posted by clavdivs at 2:04 PM on April 4, 2004


Rwanda's Kagame Wanted to Attack UN During Genocide
posted by clavdivs at 2:51 PM on April 4, 2004


Thanks, thirteen. We differ less than I might have thought.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:50 AM on April 5, 2004


"France denies that accusation. "
posted by clavdivs at 10:25 AM on April 5, 2004


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