Tuesday, June 8, 2010

'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace

We are the folk song army,
Every one of us cares.
We’re all against poverty, war and injustice
— unlike the rest of you squares.

Tom Lehrer

Walter Russell Mead quotes the lines above in the course of giving a history lesson with a contemporary [and perennial] application about the consequences of failing to face up to reality:
Of all the mass murderers, genocidaires and enablers of the twentieth century, one group of collaborators does not get its fair share of condemnation and moral loathing. Unfortunately Americans have never really come to terms with the terrible things they did, we have never really named and shamed them, and we have never diagnosed and exposed the bad ideas that led to some of America’s most fateful and costly blunders. Until we do, our society is at risk of repeating these errors.

The people I have in mind are the ‘goo-goo genocidaires,’ the willfully blind reformers, civil society activists, clergy, students and others whose foolishness and ignorance was a necessary condition for tens of millions of deaths in the last hundred years. Unreflective, self-righteous ‘activists’ thought that to espouse peace was the same thing as to create or safeguard it. As a result, tens of millions died. Unless this kind of thinking is exposed and repudiated, it is likely to lead to as many or more deaths in the 21st.

We all know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions; this turns out to be particularly true when it comes to the road to foreign policy hell. Over the years good people or at least people who wanted to be good or thought they were, motivated by what seemed to them to be the highest of motives, have taken political stands and made policy proposals that helped mass murderers gain power in their own countries and launch themselves on international careers of conquest and mayhem. At other times, fortunately, they’ve failed to change policy; still, they wasted a lot of people’s time and made life significantly more difficult for those whose plans to help the world ultimately worked.

The most notorious example is the peace movement of the 1920s and 1930s. This movement enjoyed the enthusiastic backing of college professors, idealistic students, respected journalists, the union movement, and the mainline clergy. If you didn’t join in, you were criticized as a warmonger, a throwback, someone lacking the broad social vision and high sense of ideals that modern times required. ....

The American peace and disarmament movement almost destroyed human freedom. The peace movement gave intellectual and moral respectability to the cause of isolationism: the belief that the United States could safely ignore the unraveling of the world’s fragile economic and political order as British power waned after World War I. But these idealistic professors, students, preachers and general all-around-good-guys were naive, self-righteous, and smugly sure that arms cause war.

Armed with a set of wrong headed prejudices (they called them ‘convictions’ and ‘ideals') that made it impossible for them to recognize deadly dangers staring them right in the face, they minimized the difference between imperfect friends (like then-imperialist Britain and France) and flamingly wicked mass murdering thugs (like Stalin, Hitler and the militaristic governments of Japan). Worse, they used all their considerable intelligence, power and media access to prevent Franklin Roosevelt from taking effective action to support the western democracies and China until it was far too late to prevent World War Two, and almost too late to win it. Even then, because the pathetically and self-righteously foolish and irresponsible ‘peace activists’ of the 1930s let the Axis get so far, we could only beat Hitler with Stalin’s help; the oppression of central Europe and the Cold War were the fault of the clergy, professors and civil society activists of the 1930s as well. ....

Understand and sympathize with their legitimate aspirations: that, the professors and preachers constantly told everyone else, was the sophisticated, modern and enlightened way to deal with these problems. Before the war it was the poor Germans, so shabbily treated by the Treaty of Versailles that Hitler represented a necessary phase of Germany’s search for self-respect. Before and after World War Two they said it about Stalin: communism was simply payback for the excesses and crimes of capitalist greed. Yes, they sometimes went too far: but surely that was ‘our’ fault for having permitted these terrible conditions to occur in the first place. ....

If the Nazis and the Communists between them didn’t overrun the whole world in the terrible 1940s, it was not because the international peace movement didn’t do everything in its power to leave the democracies trembling and helpless before the totalitarian threat. Had these people wised up and supported moderate programs of rearmament in the early 1930s and insisted that the western democracies take a stand against Hitler early on, there would have been no Nuremberg Laws, no Holocaust, no mass terror bombings of European cities, no Stalinist occupation of central Europe — and no Cold War.

Morally of course this was nowhere near as bad as what the Nazis and Communists did. The peaceniks didn’t will the slaughter of millions of innocent people: out of ignorance and conceit they merely created the conditions which let it happen. But while the peace movement wasn’t as evil as the dictators, the dictators could never have achieved their goals without their sanctimonious and timorous enablers in the western world. .... [more]
Read it all before commenting.

Goo-Goo Genocidaires: The Blood Is Dripping From Their Hands - Walter Russell Mead's Blog - The American Interest