Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Liberals and War

Battlepanda is back again, and the peasants rejoice at her return. In one of her latest posts, she deals with the question of liberals and wars of mercy. Put another way, a commenter asks if the same liberals who defended the sovereignty of Iraq would be willing to go in the wayback machine and violate Nazi Germany's sovereignty to stop the Holocaust. Amanda take up the banner and raises it high:
All I can tell you is that of all the liberals I've ever come across, none is likely to fail your test and sit by while the holocaust occured because they respect too much the sovereignty of Germany.
Well, I'd like to think that she's right. Indeed, I think if you were to take the 100 million most "liberal" Americans (whoever that would entail) and replaced 1936 America's population with them, it's quite possible that Roosevelt would have been able to declare war against Germany in 1939, instead of waiting two and a half years.

But this isn't the issue, because World War II was never fought over the Holocaust - we simply didn't know the extent of Germany's industrial death machine. Rather, the war was fought against Nazi aggression, and the reason the west waited so long was a very simple one - most of the decision-makers had lived through World War One, and were loath to start a new war. So, Amanda, you should ask yourself another question, and this one is more diffcult: Of all the liberals you know, how many would have started World War II early, after having lived through World War I? I'd like to think that I wouldn't be afraid to stand up to Nazi agression, but if I'd grown up all my life knowing my father (for example) wasn't able to exert himself because of breathing too much mustard gas in the trenches, then maybe I'd be scared of what the new war would bring, too.

The question of liberal interventionism is a bit different, of course. Intervening in Rwanda wasn't likely to start World War III - and we still failed the test. And our intervention in the Balkans was so late as to be a failure. Afghanistan wasn't about liberation, but it's been a failure in that regard too. Iraq, well, with the bodies stacked like pallets, I think we can say the humanitarian angle is a failure as well. But it's worth saying that it wasn't because of liberals - certainly, it wasn't President Al Gore who botched the war in Afghanistan.


Battlepanda said...

Heh. I'm having more comebacks than Cher.

By the way, it's Angelica here. Perhaps you're thinking of this girl when you say 'amanda'?

On to the substance of your post:

1) Yes. I too would like to think that the most liberal Americans would have been more solidly behind a war of altruism than the general population.

People need to understand that just because we reject the war in Iraq and Afgahnistan, it does not mean that liberals are always anti-war.

2) I would agree that the European leaders misapplied the lessons of WWI to mean that war is never worth it. It would be just as mistaken to take the lessons of WWII to mean that war is always worth it.

3) Yes. We have failed the test over and over again. Which is why I feel a little tired of people going back to WWII over and over again as the litimus test. It seems curiously to beat ourselves up over whether or not our generation would have failed the Jews when we're failing Darfur right now.

john said...

Ouch. Yes, it would be nice if I could keep names straight, especially when I could have consulted your website and figured that one out.


However, I think you misunderstood me. I don't think the leaders of Europe "misapplied" the lessons of WWI. They made a rational decision based on experience. Given what they had seen of war - and how little they had gained from it - "appeasement" was morally reprehensible, but coldly rational. Better them than us.

But let's abandon the litmus test - it's tiresome, as you say. You and I agree that something should be done in Darfur. But Canada's already in one war (Afghanistan) and doesn't have the resources to fight two at a time like our southern neighbours. And frankly, while there's no ambiguity about the crimes being comitted, there's a great deal of ambiguity about the possible solutions. What do we do? How much? Is it worth it?

Liberals may shy away from this kind of questions, when it's turned on us - but we shouldn't. In retrospect, we can say that the isolationists were wrong in the 1930s, and we can do so appealing to utilitarian arguments as well as moral ones. We should be able to do the same today.

Battlepanda said...

Darfur is one of those situations...nobody know what the best solution is. If there is a solution per se. But there are things we can do. Baseline things to halt the worst of the brutalities. No-fly zones, economy sanctions, boots on the ground. Not painless, but a fraction of the pain we're going through for Iraq and Afgahnistan.

My sense of the government in Khartoum is that they really are cowardly. Always pushing the envelop over how much brutality they can get away with without the West noticing. Always careful to keep the scant pretense in place that they are somehow not responsible for the Janjaweed. Always cynically aware that it's Africa, and the west don't seem to care as much about dead Africans.

So far they've been right, bastards.