Inte(rve)ntions and Outcomes
Conquest is conquest, not a humanitarian intervention with bullets. People are aware of what it means and how it looks. It does not have to be masqueraded by various idioms. Historically, starting wars and hurting people just because they are (perceived) different from “us” was perfectly acceptable. It was and still is a method of collective self-preservation via expansion of power upon others. This cultural trait is as old as humans; the moral principles are seldom evoked to justify initiation of such actions when they are so clearly obvious for what they are. Except in the United States of America.
In the United States, conquests are frequently labeled as humanitarian interventions whose sole purpose is to unilaterally help various people across the world. This has become an official mantra, despite the long-term outcomes of such actions. Within the context of the humanitarian interventions narrative, a framework of personalizing foreign evil holds great significance. American people have to be convinced that actions are indeed helping the people in distant lands get rid of evil dictators, and to feel that sacrifice is worth the promised outcome.
Figure 1. Someone somewhere on this planet is experiencing humanitarian interventions right now. Can you identify the locations of some of them?
A logical question to consider is why does the American populace need convincing when conquests are as old as humans? My answer is that (A) the United States itself was built on an idea and (B) that that idea required structuring the society around philosophy of individualism, rather than collectivism. Such a philosophy is an opposite from that described in the first paragraph; it is not as old as humans. Individualism is an evolutionary anomaly.
Ordinary people here do not—and I would argue, cannot—dislike entire nations/countries just because they are different from “us.” They can, however, be relatively easily persuaded to focus on an individual evil in those countries to dislike, or even hate it, without ever being exposed to its deeds.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
Nations, groups of people, are concepts (like music albums), but individual persons are reality (like songs). Concepts cannot conduct evil actions. Only individuals can be directly responsible for their actions, face repercussions, and be removed from power to face prison sentences.
Prior to a humanitarian intervention in a country, an average American’s knowledge about its internal affairs is generally rather modest. Yet, based on media reports, he/she may possess a remarkably detailed knowledge about that country’s dictator. At the same time, his/her exposure to ordinary people and way-of-life in the country where evil rules remains low. This is not unsurprising. After all, it may turn out that the majority of local residents there like their home-grown evil and want to keep him (hence gathering public support for an anti-evil humanitarian intervention can become a challenge in such circumstances). The American media tends to under-report that aspect.
[See my Freedom of Movement and Travel is an Enemy of the State and Traces of Places in Our Mind and Service to Global Awareness for more on why travel and explorations of other lands and cultures matter.]
Three Forms of Evil: Almost Hitler, Hitler, Worse than Hitler
Depending on national security interest, individual evil located somewhere between 90 and 10,000 miles from our country’s shores has one of the three forms:
Almost Hitler is an evil dictator who may have been our friend and ally at one time, but is not any more. Change occurred when he, in an apparent moment of madness, decided to simultaneously (A) run his own affairs and (B) for no reason begin torturing his own people. If he opted to not run his own affairs, yet chose to torture his own people, arrangements would have been made for him to nominally remain in the friends and allies category. Overall, this form of evil does not require humanitarian intervention at the time, even though it may rapidly transition to the next form depending on circumstantial evidence.
Hitler, or better say, the New Hitler, is the next form of evil. He not only tortures his own people, but tends, for example, to nationalize the country’s oil industry and have economic and military interaction with other New Hitlers. Geopolitical circumstances and nuclear weapons have prevented a humanitarian intervention against him, but the public must remain aware that no one other than Hitler himself would do what this new Hitler does. Thus, it is only a matter of time when this evil transitions into the third form. How rapidly that will happen depends upon its importance to our national security.
Worse than Hitler is evil that has fully graduated. He not only tortures his own people and exports terrorism, but may have attempted to generate even worse crimes against humanity. Among them are attempts to abolish the country’s central bank, return to a gold standard, and trade oil and goods internationally in currencies other than the dollar. This is the point of no return, because only a completely insanely mad dictator would do something like that. Even Hitler would not do that. To contain such evil the only answer is a humanitarian intervention to prevent his people from further suffering.
[For those who would like to know what Hitler would do if he were to return, I recommend reading the book, or watching the movie, “Look Who’s Back” (Warning: subtitles!).]
Allow me to return to the music analogy. Having a single melody stuck in our mind is a frequent experience. It can go on for seemingly-forever. I have never met anyone who had a whole album stuck in their mind at the same time, or even two songs. It is always that one individual song that keeps replaying, just like that individual evil torturing his people via a continuous reappearance on a 24-hour news program. This sliver of information about a particular country’s affairs is known as the hook.
[“A hook is repetitive, attention-grabbing, memorable, easy to dance to, and has commercial potential and lyrics. A hook has been defined as a “part of a song, sometimes the title or key lyric line, that keeps recurring.”]
Countries, as entities, are like entire albums. If we don’t want to listen to them, or have them played over-and-over again, we simply put them aside; they cannot play on repeatedly in our mind.
But when the media keep replaying the same song what really is our choice? They already know that “We are the world, we are the children” and that, sooner or later, we will support another humanitarian intervention.
The B Side: Humanitarian Non-intervention
Sometimes—along the course of history—a record of non-intervention in some countries may serve as a much better indicator about the actual purpose of humanitarian interventions. Even today, for example, there are places in the Middle East where people are suffering greatly. Throughout Africa, too, people are tormented by their own variations of Hitlers. Yet, the silence about such areas is deafening within the scope of the American public discourse. Their songs do not get any play time.
Update, May 10, 2017
Less than a week later after I shared my thoughts above, U.S. Senator, John McCain, took to the pages of the New York Times to express his opinion toward the comments that the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, recently made. Below are a few excerpts from the NYT piece:
In a recent address to State Department employees, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said conditioning our foreign policy too heavily on values creates obstacles to advance our national interests. With those words, Secretary Tillerson sent a message to oppressed people everywhere: Don’t look to the United States for hope. Our values make us sympathetic to your plight, and, when it’s convenient, we might officially express that sympathy. But we make policy to serve our interests, which are not related to our values.
We are a country with a conscience. We have long believed moral concerns must be an essential part of our foreign policy, not a departure from it. We are the chief architect and defender of an international order governed by rules derived from our political and economic values. We have grown vastly wealthier and more powerful under those rules. More of humanity than ever before lives in freedom and out of poverty because of those rules.
Our values are our strength and greatest treasure. We are distinguished from other countries because we are not made from a land or tribe or particular race or creed, but from an ideal that liberty is the inalienable right of mankind and in accord with nature and nature’s Creator.