The West and Cowardice

Perhaps never in the history of human civilization has there existed a
circumstance where a group of peoples not only retained a position of
ultimate power, but did so benevolently and peacefully, as the Western
Europeans and the United States* in the last half of the 20th century.
These nations reverted from previous acts of colonialism and domination
to a sudden freeing of their vassal states the world over. Within the
West, there was never such a tightly knit international force for peace.

  • This statement is made with acknowledgment that some reports calculate
    over 6 million “silent” deaths (i.e., those not related to a direct
    state of war or police action, as in Viet Nam) occurred in foreign
    nations under the guiding hands of American and Soviet interests,
    however, these deaths are not official.

The West stood as a shining beacon of democracy and freedom, especially
placed against the harsh rule and growing threats of Soviet and Chinese

Of course, no system is perfect. The sudden dismantling of colonial
states resulted in massive power vacuums, leaving pre-industrial,
largely tribal, societies to erect their own devices of state. The
states themselves were often poorly divided between ethnic groups, drawn
for convenience instead of balance. In the best cases, popular monarchs
were left in power of a slightly democratic assembly. In the worst
cases, idealistic or military leaders rose to power, to be supported or
executed by either the United States or the Soviet Union in their
international game of chess. Each regime change brought increasing
tensions between groups on all sides, and increased hostilities. The
post-colonial nations were wholly inadequate to support themselves
politically, economically, and socially.

This is the part where, some may suspect, I would rail against the West
for its complete lack of responsibility in interacting in foreign affairs.

Instead, I’m going to rail against the West for its complete lack of
responsibility in NOT interacting in foreign affairs.

It is a common enough “moral dilemma” – having your neighbor’s house on
fire, and knowing they are trapped inside, do you run in and save them?
Or any other of a number of “philosophical” choices (flip the train
switch to kill a person you know instead of 5 you don’t, selectively
kill 1 person to prevent the killing of 20, etc).

I break off at this point and cede the floor to a man named Romeo
Dallaire, formerly of the Canadian Army, and the man who oversaw the UN
mission in Rwanda that saw the genocide against the Tutsi people. He
wrote, while undergoing therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder after
returning from the disastrous mission:

Sobering words.

Sobering, and unrealized. Almost as silent as the cries of people the
world over. As ignored as the piles of reports generated by humanitarian
NGOs, which frequently have better data and ground-sources than the
United States, because so little energy is put into hearing them. In
fact, more energy is put into willfully ignoring them.

Sudan. Rwanda. Somolia. Liberia. Congo. Croatia. Bolivia. Colombia.
Nigeria. Bosnia. Nepal. Timor. Myanmar. Pakistan. Burundi. Laos.
Lebanon. Uganda. Afghanistan. Peru. Indonesia. Cote d’Ivoire. Iraq

The list goes on. And those are only countries with ongoing armed
conflict between groups, political and/or ethnic. If you want to throw
in the countries where there are mere human rights abuses, it becomes
much longer.

Where is the Coalition of the Willing? Why is Western Europe, on its
perch of moral superiority, so tame? Why, in this one point in history
where so many nations can actually work for global peace together, are
we so divisive and ignorant?

Why is the United States unilaterally pursuing conflicting isolationist
and imperialist paths?

Why is the United Nations so toothless, in both giving aid (medical,
educational, industrial, agricultural, etc) and enforcing peace?

Why is there no volunteer corps willing to fight for these people?

Why is the media deafeningly silent on all these issues?

Why, at the prick of a needle, do we as a global society withdraw?

Why are we so cowardly?

Maybe because the rest of “global society” realizes that warfare is not a trivial matter, involving as it does the catastrophic destruction of both people and property, and should be undertaken only as a last resort, instead of at the mere whims of today’s political trends du jour?

One thing Western Europe has over the United States is years of experience; we’d do well to heed them from time to time, instead of condescendingly dismissing them as “Old Europe” and “irrelevant.” The arrogance of youth is tampered by the hindsight of age, and all that.

You’re seriously calling ethnic slaughter, genocide, and warfare as "political trend du jour? You think that a heavy boot to the head wouldn’t make those regimes think twice before engaging in ethnic cleansing?

Well, it is largely their mess in the first place.

Actually, I had neo-conservatism in mind as the political trend du jour.

It is a sad happenstance that the neo-con agenda happens to appear to correlate with the OP, but I think we can all agree that the motivations of neo-conservatism are quite far removed from proactive humanitarianism (like that term? I just coined it)

You know folks, there’s a damn good reason why the more powerful western nations don’t go around fixing the problems in the third world more often. It’s because if we did the cure would frequently turn out worse than the disease, the ‘obviously right’ would turn out wrong, an all manner of unintended negative consequences would manifest and make life miserable for the supposed beneficiaries of our actions. It has happened before, in Vietnam, in Guatemala, in Iran, and in other places. And how many instances can you name where the benevolent interference by one of the great western powers has actually turned a third-world hell-hole into a democratic, prosperous, and peaceful nation?

The Declaration of Independence nowhere guarantees people the modern equivalent of human rights. It guarantees people the right to overthrow a government they don’t like and “institute new government, laying its foundations on such principles and basing its powers in such forms as to them shall seem most likely to secure their safety and happiness”. So if a third world country consisting of several hostile tribes with simmering tensions decides that their safety and happiness is best served by a dictator with enough power to stop the tribal hatred from flaring up, then that’s what they get. The Constitution nowhere gives the government of the United States the authority to fix other countries’ problems. The founding fathers wrote those documents that way for a reason.

South Korea? shrugs No one has really tried (and succeeded, that is). All modern peace keeping missions usually result in the UN bailing out after a soldier or two dies.

Though it could (painfully) be argued that the US contained Saddam and the Kurdish and Iranian problem for 10 years successfully.

Um, yea, this is 2004 (nearly 2005), bud. The founding fathers also had the foresight to know that the world would not be a static place and designed the Constitution to be adaptable to new world climates.

In any case, that is beside the point. I’m talking about proactive UN peace keeping missions here, not US invasions.

Couple of questions:

  • Which country was first involved in Vietnam as a colony and was subsequently drawn into war because of it?
  • Where does Bosnia and Kosovo fit into the Euro war equation?
  • Why is the Bosnia and Kosovo war different from both gulf wars?
  • When referring to “Old Europe”, how many of those countries have a democratic union that is older than the United States?
  • Which countries colonized the Mid East region and drew the artifical boundaries that exist today?

History is an every ever flowing, ever changing tide of human experience.

When reviewing mankind’s dirty laundry I think you’ll find we are all cut from the same cloth.

The OP seems to assume (a) that civil war, corruption & genocide are worse than all alternatives to them, & (b) that foreign warriors can stop these things in their tracks.

As for (a), I’d rather Rwanda, say, cull their population through periodic civil war than create worse famine & environmental destruction in the name of peaceful expansion. As for (b), even if I were a typical modern humanist, I’d have to recognize that people desperate enough to kill their neighbors aren’t something we can deter with our even bigger bombs![sup]TM[/sup]

Just because you have the biggest hammer in the world doesn’t mean everything is a nail. There may be a way to stop the Rwandas from happening; the Christian West doesn’t know what that way is, let alone have it, let alone have it* ready.*

One reason is we suck at it. It seems like everyday we are tearing down a regime we helped install. Even when we achieve our short term goals through messing around in other people’s governments, it doesn’t do much good if we must constantly micromanage the world. Too many lives are lost in the process to make it a sustainable policy. We didn’t drop colonialism out of the goodness of our hearts. We dropped colonialism because it was too big of a pain in the ass and using our economic rather than military powers to get things to go our way got to be more effective.

I’m going to make a pretty big statement here. History shows that in non-expansionist and non-genocidal internal conflicts, letting people figure out things for themselves almost always leads to less loss of life and global instability.

And then comes the big question of which side to pick. In Nepal, we have the Maoists- who act like any other group of rebels, and an unelected despotic monarchy who has no real claim to power. The Maoist could be freedom fighters fighting for self-government in a desperately poor country that has seen a lot of trouble with the poorest being kicked off their land by just a few large landowners sustained by the totally corrupt and fairly random government that represents no one. Or the Maoists could be just plain terrorists. It’s not an easy call. Sandwich it all between two nuclear powers of a billion people each, and you have a situation the West is damn smart not to get near.

Finally, the third world doesn’t want us. Read some authors from undeveloped countries one day- Arundhati Roi was my introduction to the fact that we don’t have more answers than they do. Just because we know how to run our country, doesn’t mean we know how to run their country. And frankly, people want to run their own damn country. They want to find a model that works for them- and they are going to look all over the world to find those. And there is no reason why they shouldn’t. Frankly, China isn’t such a bad place to be right now. And the evolution of their economy seems much more plausible for undeveloped countries to follow than the US’s- which was never a poor country.

The West has already made it pretty clear what they want the third world to look like- a bunch of call centers and sweatshops for us to build our prosperity atop of. Those great deals that you get at Wal-Mart (a huge portion of America’s economy)are built directly on the backs of third world labor and America has a vested interest in keeping things how they are. But third world countries do not want to be dependent on us and would like to find a stable more self-contained economy of their own.

In other words, everyone is just looking out for themselves.

Is the OP an excerpt from something?

Demorian, you might benefit from reading Bill Whittle’s articles and delving into Steven den Beste’s archives.

And welcome to the SDMB.

What the Fuck?

I have a Rwandese friend whose father died in the genocide. Would you like to meet him and tell him about how you’d “prefer” that the Rwandese population be “culled,” to prevent famine that was never a problem in Rwanda in the first place? Jesus, even the Strmfrnters don’t actually advocate genocide as a good thing. This has got to be the most alarming post I have ever seen on the SDMB.

Also I would point out that we wouldn’t have needed “even bigger bombs” to prevent the Rwandan Holocaust. 500 marines–scratch that–500 members of the Rhode Island national guard could have prevented most of the killing, if they had sensible rules of engagement.

Look, for the rest of you, I know our current misadventure in Iraq might cause you to reflexivley reject the notion of foreign intervention anywhere at any time. But the fact is that when the costs are low and the need is high, intervention isn’t only justified I would say it’s morally mandated. This was the case in Bosnia, in Rwanda, and now in Darfur.

Romeo Dallaire, whom the OP quoted, is a very good man. He tried unsuccessfully to stop the genocide and his heart was broken by the fecklessness of the US and the UN, neither of whom would use the word “genocide,” because it would have legally obligated them to do something.

I would recommend all of you watch the film Ghosts of Rwanda. It will break your heart.

Here’s the thing. As powerful as we are, we are not omnipotent in our power. You cannot stop two groups from killing each other if they have their hearts set on doing it (I don’t share Larry Borgia’s confidence in the ability of the RI National Guard). When we do get involved in places like Iraq or Vietnam with the best intent of bringing freedom and democracy, we often make the situation 1000 times worse. There are a lot of people in the world who are not in the West and quite often they don’t like the fact that moving into their neighborhood to keep the peace also means exerting our influence.
Basically for us, it’s a no-win situation. If we don’t get involved we’re “isolationist” and if we do we;re “imperialist”

Hey, I used to believe in human rights. Then I saw what human overpopulation does. Human beings need population management as much as, say, deer. So we can enforce strict birth control measures, or we can let people kill each other. Killing each other has a long history & seems to be the natural & conservative method.

Natural Law isn’t really going to reinforce Christian principles.

But more to the point. Despite my sense that Christian/humanistic ideals are divorced from reality, I am inclined to think like the OP, until I realise that there are certain things that militaries can’t do.

That’s not all that’s divorced from reality.

msmith537 I share your skepticism about foreign adventures and your concerns about unintended consequences, but you are wrong when talking about genocide, particularly the Rwandese genocide. You are making a false analogy between Iraq and Rwanda. The situations could not be different. True there was a civil war in Rwanda at the time of the genocide, but the two events were separated by quite a bit of space. All the UN or US would have had to do would be to set up sanctuarys for the Tutsi minority and to escort people to the sanctuary. I wasn’t kidding about 500 National guardsmen being all it would have taken. Given adequate logistical support and rules of engagement that actually gave the troops teeth, the amount of troops that would have been required to quell the genocide would have been tiny. Again please see the film I mentioned above for some insight into the tragedy and what could have been done to stop it. And remember, it wasn’t “two groups of people killing each other.” One group was doing all the killing and the other was doing all the dying.

Seriously, please watch the movie if you are really interested in the subject. Also this book is very good. So is this one

“could not be more different,” I meant to say.

Sorry, tired and a bit hung over.

Sorry, but I can’t imagine it would be that easy. I can envision the mission creeping as the “group doing all the killing” starts to get pissed off that the Americans were keeping them from killing. They launch a few guerilla attacks. We storm into a few towns in retaliation. All of a sudden we’re hunting warlords like in Somalia.

One of the problems is that our army isn’re really designed for peacekeeping and nation building. It’s more designed for “kicking ass”. It’s the part that comes after that we seem to suck at.

Just as Rwanda ≠Iraq, So Rwanda ≠Somalia. (Heck, even Somalia didn’t have to equal Somalia, but that’s for another thread.) Somalia had a bunch of warlords competing for political power, with more or less trained guerillas partially funded and trained by Al Queda. The Hutu mobs in Rwanda were poorly armed and untrained. The most common weapon was the machete. There would have been no reason for our troops to go into villages. The refugees would have come to us.

Obviously, I can’t state without a doubt that Mission Creep or Unintended consequences wouldn’t have happened. But I don’t see why they would have to have happened. Given intelligent planning (I know I know, thats a big if) minimal forces could have prevented the bloodbath.

In another thread on the Irish “troubles” a poster despaired of explaining such a complicated history on a message board. Rwanda presents the same problem. It has a long and complex history which can’t really be understood by analogies to other countries, even other south-western African countries. This is why I’m still advocating watching the movie Ghosts of Rwanda. It releases on DVD soon, and will be available on Netflix.

BTW, I am by no means an expert on this. What I know comes from watching the movie, reading parts of the books I linked to above, and talking with my Rwandese friend and meeting his friends and family.