Monday, April 17, 2006

It's Not All About Us

Shakespeare's Sister has a post decrying the Bush administration's tendency to label every bad despot as another incarnation of Hitler.
Saddam Hussein and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are indecent, maniacal fuckwits, but that doesn't mean they were/are a threat to Americans even if they want(ed) to be. The administration didn't sell the Iraq war as a humanitarian intervention to protect the people most likely to suffer at the hand of Saddam--his own people--but as a preemptive strike against a nation that both intended and had the ability to harm the American people. Iran is now the same story. And once again, they're not selling it as a rescue mission on behalf of Iranians (or even Israelis), but as an American national security concern, which is patently false.

The point I'm going to make is a bit iffy here, because Shake is pretty accurate when she says that the Iraq war (and the potential Iran war) was/is not being sold on the grounds of humanitarianism or human rights. So fair play for her.

But even still, the rhetoric of the post seems to imply that the Hitler analogy is proper for nation's who display a manifest threat to our country's existence. My first thought upon a Hitler comparison, however, is to the commission of genocide. Saddam Hussein wasn't "like Hitler" because he posed a serious threat to American security (he didn't). If he was like Hitler, it was because he used poisonous chemicals to slaughter hundreds of thousands of his own citizens.

The Glenn Greenwald post she cites to does the same thing. The "Hitler" analogy is made with reference to "a crazed and irrational lunatic who wants to dominate the world." All very bad qualities to be sure, but they're united by the fact that they are problems for us. Hitler is bad because his lunacy pushes him into war with us, he's too irrational to know when to stop attacking us (or our interests), and even if he doesn't actually go to war, crazy people destabilize the ordered international system we so depend upon to go about our business in relative peace and prosperity.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't be concerned about ourselves, of course. But I think Hitler was bad for reasons wholly apart from his maniacal desires toward world domination. I think the whole thing with the genocide and gassing and killing of innocents (even those who didn't live in other countries and thus couldn't destabilize anything!) was bad too. Really bad, in fact. And this spectre of genocide, whether it is Iraq in Anfal, or Iran with its threats to wipe Israel off the earth, can quite legitimately provoke comparisons to Hitler.

I wrote in a previous post that, to some people, Hitler's crime wasn't that he killed millions of Jews, it's that he invaded Poland. Had he just stuck to his internal minorities, then there is no threat to external security, no challenge to the prevailing world order, and thus, Hitler becomes "just another" sadistical dictator. Perhaps we should tut at him, but heaven forbid we stop the slaughter. It's no longer our problem, he no longer threatens us.

I don't claim that the Bush administration has any credibility on this issue, because it doesn't. And I know that both Glenn and Shakespeare's Sister are not pro-genocide. I just wish that, when listening to the left dialogue about Iran and pre-war Iraq, there were fewer shadows of Kissengerian Realism, and a bit more empathy with the plight of the oppressed in their own country, not just ours.


The probligo said...

David, I empathise with your closing sentiment wholeheartedly.

The one difficulty, as Rwanda showed the world and as Sudan is reminding us after thirty years of war and genocide, is that no one nation nor the UN as a whole has the right to interfere with or in the internal affairs of another nation.

Else-wise, the ROW would be hard pressing the US to " something, anything!!" about GWB.

jack said...

"The one difficulty, as Rwanda showed the world and as Sudan is reminding us after thirty years of war and genocide, is that no one nation nor the UN as a whole has the right to interfere with or in the internal affairs of another nation."

Why assume this is true? Especially because we've been interfering with the internal affairs of other countries for about as long as we've been a country. In the past 50 years that practice has increased dramatically. If interefering in another nations internal affairs benefits us there is rarely much discussion of that nation's "rights". Suddenly when we want to stop genocide national sovereignty suddenly matters.

There is no solid justification for a noninterference policy and even if there were the obligation to prevent genocide would outweigh it.

The national sovereignty line is an excuse. The oldest in the book. Its an attempt to find a way out, an attempt to avoid moral responsibility.

Anonymous said...

Having recently watched both the DVD series of THE WORLD AT WAR and Ingmar Bergman's The Serpent's Egg, it's clear that Hitler was a product of his times. Change one or two circumstances and the Nazis are the laughingstocks thyer were from Hitler's failed putsch to 1933.

As for the military? Hitler took over a weak Germany, but by the invasion of Poland it was the most modern army, and strongest in the world. Russia was depleted by Stalin's insane purges- and he killed 5-6 x as many people as Hitler- Jew & non-Jew.

Hitler was a bad military leader, but a master motivator. Had he not attacked Russia, and not attacked American ships in the North Atlantic, and just devastated England by air for another year or two, he could very well have bombed the UK into submission, and then, by 43 or 44, taken on the Russians without having to fight a three prong war- East,West, and African fronts.

All of his generals urged caution, as Europe was in a capitulative mood. Same with Japan. Attacking Pearl Harbor as their doomsday. Also, few realize, but FDR only declared war on Japan then. It was Hitler who declared war on the US. Had he refrained, the US populace would not have supported a European campaign, even as we warred with Japan in the Pacific. FDR was ecstatic that Hitler declared war on us, for that was the end of the Great Depression, and the end of Hitler.

As for genocide, the world doesn't give a damn. Had Hitler stayed within his bounds no one would care. Ten million dead is alot, but why is it given priority over Mao's and Stalin's dead, which range from 4-12 times as many?

Melissa McEwan said...

As it happens, one of my main objections to our endeavors in the Middle East is that it comes at the cost of ignoring Africa - war, genocide, disease, endemic poverty, starvation. That's not to ignore or minimize what Saddam did in Iraq, but the scope of what's happening to that continent is just beyond compare.

And, truth be told, I would have been more likely to support the Iraq war had it genuinely been a humanitarian intervention - sold to the American people that way, planned that way, executed that way, etc., as opposed to the delusions of empire it actually is.

In any case - you raised fair points. I just can't cover everything in every post! :-)

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