It is Right to Intervene against Islamic State

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The Prime Minister of New Zealand John Key has announced that New Zealand will be sending members of the New Zealand Defence Force to Iraq to train Iraqi troops in the fight against Islamic State (IS). Against some who think we should not support the effort against IS on the grounds that it is “not our war,” against the government’s political foes (and even allies – but with the apparent majority of public opinion) I believe the PM has made the right decision for New Zealand to get involved, and a laudable one in the face of predictable opposition. In truth I think our soldiers should be going there to engage IS rather than to train soldiers, but involvement rather than keeping our distance is the appropriate stance.

It is right to intervene against Islamic State

Islamic State is a movement engaging in acts of incredible brutality, often against the defenceless. From the now routine releases of videos in which they behead non-combatants to the mass beheading of 21 Christians in Libya to the burning to death of a Jordanian pilot, to the more recent kidnapping of at least 90 Christians in Syria to do God-knows-what with them, to their expansion into nations in the Middle East spreading fear and violence, destabilising the region more and more. They contravene any reasonable standards of humaneness, they have absolutely no respect for international rules of warfare (if you can even call it a war) and their presence in the Middle East places the lives of many innocents at risk. What is more, this is a movement that supports the spread of violence via acts of terror into the wider world. Most of us have no trouble accepting that the nations of the world were right to intervene against Hitler’s regime in its aggression against Europe, and that the holocaust alone would have justified such intervention quite apart from Germany’s expansionism. But if we think intervention was justified then, it makes no moral sense to say that it is not justified now, when IS threatens the lives and well-being of so many.

“But this is not our war!”

Easily the most widely used refrain in condemning New Zealand’s involvement in the fight against IS is that this is not our war. We shouldn’t get involved because it’s over there and we are not a target until we get involved.

We do not take that approach in life in general, if we are people of good character. When the man next door beats his wife, we do not say “it’s not my marriage, not my problem.” If a crowd watched a man being beaten and robbed in the street and said to each other “it’s not our mugging, and as long as we don’t get involved we won’t be a target,” we would rightly judge them harshly. Defending the defenceless often means stepping in when it might otherwise not be “our problem.” But if we do not intervene, we are leaving people to be dehumanised and mowed down. When we have the ability to help people in a situation like this, we ought to do so.

It is also naïve to assume that this really isn’t our problem. Islamic State is not a movement marked by etiquette. They are not going to spare a person’s life because that person is from New Zealand and New Zealand does not have troops in Iraq. They are not going to expand, kill and destroy until they reach an invisible boundary line and then say “this is far enough – we don’t want to make it their problem.” When we have a movement that simply does not respect the sovereignty of nations or the dignity of persons, they are assaulting something that is necessary for a functional world – the sort of world we have an interest in preserving. This is our problem.

“But Christians should be pacifists!”

No they shouldn’t. I know that some say that Christianity was universally a pacifist movement (a movement that taught that there is never any justification for the use of force against others) until bad people like Augustine came along and corrupted the church with the doctrine of the just war. The kindest thing to say about this is that it is an oversimplification, but the ordinary way of describing this is as a lie. There existed pacifists among the Church Fathers, but as I have explained before, the evidence does not support the claim that they were all pacifists up to the time of Augustine. “Turn the other cheek,” some say. “Learn what that means,” I say in reply.) For those interested, I discussed this issue, albeit briefly, on a panel for Elephant TV, and that discussion is available on Youtube (I do not know for how long it will be available).

We must confront IS, not because we hate them, but because we love those who are in the firing line.

Certainly, Christian reflection on vengeance, violence and hatred (and love!) should feed into our thinking about what the right response to IS looks like. But the result of such thinking does not push us to pacifism. Engaging with IS need not be about hatred at all, but about love. It is one thing for people to say “love your enemy,” as though acting against IS must be viewed as contrary to love. But what does it mean to love those who are left at the mercy of IS if the world does not intervene? What kind of false piety is it that would say to them, “although we could intervene to protect you, our love for those who are about to cut off your heads prevents us from doing so. PTL.” If I were more of a mocking person (I am sometimes, but this is too serious to engage in such triviality), there would be an exposed target in the attitude that calls on men, women and children to lie down and die so that we can keep our halo untarnished. We must confront IS, not because we hate them, but because we love those who are in the firing line.

Of course I do not have a front row seat on what is really going on in the Prime Minister’s mind. Some people say that he is just sending personnel to Iraq in order to please America (and what could be more evil than America) to make our place in the world of international commerce that much better. I do not claim the powers of insight into other people’s hearts that such people evidently have. But even if they are right, sometimes people to good things for bad reasons, and I am still grateful that they do good things. As I said, it would be better to engage IS directly, and I think the PM has gone for a non-combat deployment for political reasons in an effort to minimise opposition. That was not the best thing to do. However, the PM claimed that getting involved “is the right thing” to do, and whatever you think motivates him, I concur with that claim.

 Glenn Peoples

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{ 22 comments… add one }
  • Jared Abbott February 25, 2015, 1:28 pm

    I’m in total agreement with you that Christians are not called to pacifism. While I understand the humanitarian sentiment, I would agree with those in the US (in my case), and New Zealand (your case), who would say “But this is not our war!” The examples you provide appeal to our correct moral intuition to help our neighbors. I would certainly intervene if I saw the man next door beating his wife, or if I saw a man being mugged in the street. The problem is that these people are not our neighbors in the sense that they are being victimized in our neighborhoods and communities. While I would feel compelled to defend my neighbor’s wife or a mugging victim in my street, it would be odd if I heard of these things going on in the next town 100 miles away and rushed to that town to stop beating/mugging. I might feel sympathy for the victims, but normally I would expect that community to take care of the situation. It would be even more odd to intervene on crime victims on the other side of the globe.

    There are other concerns. When does this kind of humanitarian motivated intervention stop? Should Western forces and allies intervene against Boko Haram? Saudi Arabia beheads people and funds terror too. Do they get a pass just because of their ties with powerful American oil tycoons? My biggest concern is whether Western intervention is even effective. After 14 years of the War on Terror, Iraq and Afghanistan have become worse rather than better. While Sadaam was an evil and sadistic tyrant, when the US removed him from power the void was filled by people who were even worse–especially for Iraqi Christians. As a US Marine combat veteran who participated in the overthrow of the Hussein’s Baathist regime, I was surprised at the relatively large number of Christians. Since Sadaam was overthrown most of them have faced intense persecution and most have left their homeland. The war on terror also cost many US military servicemen their physical and mental health. Many of my Marines I served with suffer from PTSD if not from physical disabilities and only function in civilian society with great difficulty.

    It has only become more complicated with US intervention in Syria and Libya, since we have now decided to arm the very ones who fought us in Iraq and Afghanistan. The longer the war on terror continues, the more clear it is that we are not backing good against bad guys, but one group of bad guys against another group of bad guys. The US is war weary, and most of the people in the Middle East didn’t want us to intervene in the first place. New Zealand should learn from American mistakes and stay out of the Middle East.

  • Brendan Larsen February 25, 2015, 1:54 pm

    A good article, and I found the article about turning the other cheek really helpful. I’m not sure that it’s a good idea to be linking to a YouTube video that is probably breaking copyright laws though.

  • Glenn February 25, 2015, 6:40 pm

    Jared, the world is now a relatively small place. I think these people are our neighbours because we are in a position to do something.

    Now of course, it would be odd for you to get in your car and drive across the country to help somebody being mugged – firstly because you would arrive much too late, and it’s not like they are going to get mugged again (hopefully!) when you arrive, and secondly because that city, I assume, is already equipped with people, rule of law, etc to address the issue. And that is precisely the difference in this case.

    The Middle East is a hard problem. Part of the problem is that people pleaded to pull out when things are not ready for that to happen. That didn’t go well, and as you said, the vacuum was filled. Part of the problem is commercial too, no doubt. But in the face of people cowering before IS in fear of their life, I think our rationalisations are inadequate. You may as well refuse to help the woman being raped right in front of you, because you know that intervening in that family will create problems for you. Maybe it will. So what do you do in your own neighbourhood? Something, I hear you say. But nothing in this case?

  • Sven February 26, 2015, 4:06 am

    Just finished watching the Youtube video, unfortunately there is very little meat on the bone. Wish they had given you a bit more air time.

    I am still a bit confused about what (Christian) pacifism actually entails, is it just the act of killing (not violence)? I can easily imagine a situation where it seems unconscionable to not kill a person — someone going around killing and toturing and one not having any way to stop him other than ending his life, for example. Would a pacifist still refrain from killing in such a case?

    @Brendan: what makes you think the video is breaking copyright law? The uploader seems to be the production company, though one might argue naming the yt channel and linking an inactive google profile is not enough proof of that.

  • Andres February 26, 2015, 5:39 am

    Glenn, is there any New Testament support for killing in the name of peace? Don’t get me wrong, i agree with you but i’m not a theologian and when i defend the actions of the Peruvian (my country) military forces against terrorism in the 90’s, there are some people who say things like “that’s not very Christian”.

  • Julien February 26, 2015, 8:42 pm

    Part of the problem with these foreign policy debates is that they ignore the important history of our past interventions in determining where we are now. It wasn’t long ago that the ‘something must be done’ people were urging us to intervene on behalf of what is now IS in their war against Assad in Syria. Before even knowing anything about these Syrian fighters, they were convinced we should be on their side, and the U.S, Britain, and France encouraged and even armed these Jihadist militants through the Free Syrian Army. Now our own weapons are being used against us and our own embassy imperilled by the freedom fighters we supported.

    Before getting ourselves involved in another stupid and dangerous war, we ought to give serious thought to why our previous interventions have been so disastrous and have led directly to the much worse situations we now face. Everyone now knows that the original Iraq war and Afghan war were both stupid and wrong. Libya is also a complete chaos. And we were told by David Cameron and other foolish politicians, who took us to war against Gadafi in order to prevent a fictional mass rape and massacre, that this war would be an ‘easy triumph’. Gadafi and his son had warned us that the Libyan people cannot be trusted with freedom. It is evident that he was speaking the truth as Libya is now in flames and the British Staff had to flee the Embassy. No one will set foot in that country because it is far too dangerous.

    If we have learned anything from our past history at all we would be much more cautious in involving ourselves in wars without considering the consequences. We would be a lot better off if we learned not to trust our leaders in war. All this semi-hysterical talk about an existential threat from IS is designed to panic us into another foolish war. IS is not a serious threat to the U.S or Britain. It is a small regional militia of about 3,000. The Iraqi army in Bagdad has 30,000 troops. IS has no air force, no missiles, and is surrounded by hostile neighbours like Iran, Syria, and Turkey. Turkey is a nation of 76 million, has the second largest army in NATO, and is equipped with modern weapons and an air force. Turkey could easily crush IS if it expanded into its borders. How exactly is IS a threat to us? The idea that we need to intervene to prevent them from further expanding is really laughable. They are hugely outnumbered and outgunned. They can only harm us if we foolishly send more of our sons over there to fight.

    “Most of us have no trouble accepting that the nations of the world were right to intervene against Hitler’s regime in its aggression against Europe.” Well I have difficulty. First of all, the comparison between IS and Nazi German is invalid for so many reason. And secondly, we did not go to war in 1939 to prevent the holocaust. There was no holocaust in 1939. There is some debate about when the holocaust began among historians, but it couldn’t have started earlier than 1941, long after the war had already began. It is doubtful whether the holocaust would have occurred at all were it were not for the foolish decision to go to war in 1939. It made no sense to declare war on Germany when it had absolutely no designs on invading any Western countries. Germany only became a threat once we made the insane decision to give a war guarantee to Poland even though we could not defend the country, thereby discouraging the government from renewing its peace treaty with Germany

  • Mick February 27, 2015, 1:28 pm

    Julien, you are right in that you have a difficulty but wrong as to what is the primary one. It’s your knowledge of history. Mein Kampf is now available for reprint. Go read it.
    It doesn’t need to come out in braille for Blind Freddie to understand where Germany was headed and what would happen to the Jews.

    When you’ve finished there go read David’s last words “The inspired utterance of David son of Jesse” 2 Samuel 23

    6 But evil men are all to be cast aside like thorns,
    which are not gathered with the hand.
    7 Whoever touches thorns
    uses a tool of iron or the shaft of a spear;
    they are burned up where they lie.”

  • Julien February 28, 2015, 10:15 am

    Anyone who has studied the pretext for WWII in any depth will know that it is a lot more complicated than you say it is. WWI has already been discredited and very few historians would be willing to defend it anymore. I think WWII will be looked upon in much the same way in the future. You may say “we defeated Nazi Germany, and surely that is a triumph”, but at what cost? The result was 50,000 deaths in battles fought to reconquer territory that in my judgement we never needed to lose in the first place, the massacre of German civilians by the RAF bombing in Dresden and Cologne, the horrendous ethnic cleansing of millions of innocent Germans brought about by our territorial concessions to Stalin during which 2 million starved to death, the massacre of the polish office Corp by the red army, the genocide of the Cossacks, the demise of the British Empire and inevitable decline of our country, and worst of all, the imprisonment of half of Europe to a terrorist regime, which we deliberately brought about by ceding all of the territory formerly conquered in the war by Russia to Stalin. We had to fight a cold war lasting half a century to keep this genocidal regime from spreading beyond the Elbe River. Some triumph!

    Britain and the U.S aided and abetted Stalin in some of his worst war crimes, including his genocide of the Cossacks. How was this a good war? How is this a humanitarian triumph? You write: “It doesn’t need to come out in braille for Blind Freddie to understand where Germany was headed and what would happen to the Jews.” The issue of the holocaust is important, but lets not forget that Stalin killed many millions more than Hitler.

    Historians have searched in vain to find any war plans of the Nazi’s involving the conquest of Western territories. You won’t find any because it was never Hitler’s intention to invade France, Norway, Denmark, nor to wage war against Britain. In the second volume of Mein Kampf, Hitler makes clear his agenda.

    “We National Socialists consciously draw a line beneath the foreign policy tendency of the pre-War period. We take up where we broke off six hundred years ago. We stop the endless German movement to the south and west of Europe, and turn our gaze to the land in the east. At long last we break off the colonial and commercial policy of the pre-War period, and shift to the soil policy of the future. If we speak of soil in Europe today, we can primarily have in mind only Russia and her vassal border states.”

    Prior to the war, Hitler was moving east, not west. He wanted to take back the lost lands of Germany. As historian A.J.P Taylor and other great British historians point out that Hitler’s foreign policy was less ambitious than the Kaiser’s. Hitler never dreamed of making Germany into a great world power; he tried to restore Germany to something like what it was under Bismarck. “Hitler was more moderate than his predecessors in that he did not aspire to colonies overseas nor to territorial gains in Western Europe, though naturally his modesty diminishes when the chance of such gains actually matured”, wrote Taylor. Hitler saw Great Britain as his natural ally. He also sought an alliance with Poland, and his territorial demands over Poland were much more reasonable than Stalin’s He only wanted Danzig restored to Germany. Had we not intervened in Hitler’s affairs in the east, none of the western nations would have been overrun by the Nazi’s and most of Europe’s’ Jews…

  • Julien February 28, 2015, 10:21 am

    At least most of Europe’s Jews would have been spared. I apologize for the double post but my last line got cut off.

  • Glenn February 28, 2015, 1:52 pm

    Just a quick note, when your typing reaches the length limit, letters stop appearing as you continue typing. That means you’ll need to end the comment or find a way of trimming it down to continue typing. If you type a comment in a word processor and paste it in, you need to check that the whole thing fits within the length limit. If it doesn’t, you need to trim it down so that it fits.

    As for “it is a lot more complicated than you say it is,” I don’t know what you’re referring to, as I haven’t even offered an assessment of how simple WWII was in order for you to disagree with me about it.

  • Julein February 28, 2015, 5:24 pm

    I realize that the comment didn’t fit. I just had trouble fitting all the essential points into one comment. Also, if my second post doesn’t seem to be reverent, that is because I wasn’t responding to you in that post. Only my first post was engaging your argument. I would, however, have to say that I think your argument is guilty of the same oversimplification and historically inaccurate characterization of the Second World War. We didn’t intervene to stop the holocaust; that wasn’t even taking place in 1939. We went to war because of a maddeningly stupid belief that we could prevent Hitler from taking further territory through a Polish war guarantee, which ended up destroying Europe and nearly cost us our existence. I don’t see how the Second World War is a good example of a humanitarian intervention.

  • Glenn March 1, 2015, 9:37 am

    Julien, as I said, it’s up to the poster to fit the comment into the limit.

    But I would just say again, you are responding to something that’s not there. I didn’t offer a characterisation of WWII for you to even think that I did so simplistically. You say “We didn’t intervene to stop the holocaust,” as though I had said that we did. But evidently I did not. On the contrary, I said that it was “right to intervene against Hitler’s regime in its aggression against Europe.” In fact you agree with this characterisation, saying “We went to war because of a maddeningly stupid belief that we could prevent Hitler from taking further territory…” I added that the holocaust would have justified going to war against Hitler. So it looks like you’re mischaracterising me in order to get to use the zinger of saying that I am being simplistic about WWII. It’s just not so. As for your apparent view that the consequences of successfully stopping Hitler were worse than the consequences of simply letting him have his way, I think that it immoral nonsense.

  • Julien March 1, 2015, 4:37 pm

    It is implied in your comment that you believe that the holocaust was unavoidable and that if we didn’t intervene then Germany would have conquered all of Europe and extinguished all of Europe’s Jews. Is this not your position? If this is an accurate representation of your view then I stand by my statement. The problem with that position is that it implies that the holocaust is unconnected to the war itself. I would just deny this. There is undoubtedly a connection between the war and the genocide in the concentration camps. Many credible historians doubt whether the holocaust would have occurred at all if there had been no declaration of war on Germany. You can’t view the holocaust in isolation. That is the oversimplification I referred to.

    Clearly, Mien Kampf is filled with anti-Semitism, and Hitler was a savage social darwinist. However, the Final Solution was not even proposed until 1942. The killing of the Jews begins after Hitler invades Russia on June 22, 1941. As the leading Hitler historian Ian Kershaw writes, “The German invasion of the Soviet Union triggered the rapid descent into full-scale genocide against the Jews.”

    After the Wansee Conference in January 1942, during which the policy of eliminating the Jewish population was first discussed as an official policy, we have Geobbels writing in his diary, “World Jewry will suffer a great catastrophe… The Fuehrer realizes the full implications of the great opportunity offered by this war.” It is in this diary that the phrase “final solution” first appeared. After giving his account of the deportation that had just begun to take place in Poland, Geobbles writes the following: “The fact that Jewry’s representatives in England and America today are organizing and sponsoring the war against Germany must be paid for dearly by its representatives in Europe-and that’s only right.”

    If Britain had not declared war on Germany, there probably would have been no invasion of France or Greece. Why would he have invaded France? There was nothing that he wanted in the west. Hitler never demanded Alsace Lorraine back. He was content to leave the West alone as I have explained in my previous post. It is also unlikely that Poland would have been invaded since they already had a nonaggression pact with Germany that could easily have been renewed. The reason that it wasn’t is because Churchill assured them that Britain would come to their aid if Germany invaded. This, of course, was a lie, and it gave the Polish confidence in their new ally that wasn’t warranted. This is why they refused to negotiate over Danzig. We were not prepared for war in 1939 and could not defend Poland as every British statesman knew.

    Even if Hitler did turn west after expanding into Russia, how could the holocaust have been any worse than it was? We would have been more prepared to defend France if we stayed out of the conflict in the east and built up our then hopelessly inadequate military. It is also possible that war would have been averted altogether, and that the holocaust, which seemed to have been motivated by the need to scapegoat someone for the cause of the war among other factors, may not have occurred, or at least not on as large of a scale as it was. And how did Poland end up as a result of our policy? It got invaded by Germany, and when the time came we weren’t there to defend it, and it had to endure half a century of tyranny under Stalin. Mission accomplished!

  • Glenn March 1, 2015, 4:44 pm

    “It is implied in your comment that you believe that the holocaust was unavoidable and that if we didn’t intervene then Germany would have conquered all of Europe and extinguished all of Europe’s Jews.”

    Not by any form of logical implication I know of. I said two things: Germany’s aggression against Europe justified intervention (I do wish you had retracted your misrepresentation of me here when I corrected it, and I now worry that there is a lack of good faith). And secondly, I said that the holocaust would have justified intervention. I think both of those claims are true. The allies did the right thing in stopping Hitler and they were successful. (With respect I don’t care for the history lesson. You haven’t stumbled onto something new. Any view according to which Hitler’s aggression should have been tolerated is wrong.)

    But going back to what I noted last time, I never said that we intervened to stop the holocaust. You said that I did. Misrepresentation should be admitted at once, in my books, so things have taken a negative turn with your declining to do so. In your next comment, Julien, please do this.

  • Julien March 1, 2015, 7:10 pm

    Well, I agree that you did not explicitly say that Britain intervened to stop the holocaust, but your statement that “the holocaust alone would have justified such intervention” must mean that our intervention is unconnected to the holocaust itself, otherwise this statement wouldn’t make any sense, unless of course, you intended it in a purely hypothetical sense. I honestly did not intend to misrepresent you here, but it sure seems as if you’re saying that the holocaust was a reason for war, not the result of the war itself. This was the comment I had in mind in my last post. When the holocaust began is not really the point.

    “As for your apparent view that the consequences of successfully stopping Hitler were worse than the consequences of simply letting him have his way, I think that it immoral nonsense.”

    I am honestly surprised that I even need to make that case. Communism claimed more lives than any other ideology. Do I really have to argue that the death of one hundred million Europeans under communist tyrannies was worse than having Hitler in power? Hitler’s crimes, although horrendous, pale in comparison to the numbers killed under Mao, Pol Pot, and Stalin. It is not as if the Poles wanted to live under a Stalinist dictatorship, but we had to sell out Poland in order to appease this dreadful tyrant and get him on our good side. How is that noble? If we had told the Poles the truth, that they are alone and isolated, they probably would have agreed to do a deal with Hitler over Danzig and six million would have been spared. There is also no reason to think that Hitler’s war with the west was inevitable, and so far you haven’t given any arguments to the contrary. By the way, I never said that we should of just let Hitler do whatever he pleases. That is a grotesque caricature and suggests that you didn’t even read my whole argument. I am not saying that under no circumstances would intervention be justified, only that the way we intervened in 1939 was reckless and incredibly foolish.

    Communism was always the more dangerous ideology. Since it wasn’t rooted in nationalism and racist ideology, it was far more seductive than Nazism. Churchill knew the ruthlessness of the Bolsheviks better than anyone, and yet he ended up ceding Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Albania, and eastern Germany to the Soviet Empire. The Third Rich was also not primarily defeated by America and Britain, but by the Red army. Those who liberated Poland ran concentration camps much larger than Hitler’s’. This was not a war that brought freedom and democracy, but Soviet slavery and mass killing fields. If you want to defend the argument that tens of millions of deaths in Asia and Europe was worth defeating Hitler, be my guest, but I wouldn’t want to be in your position.

  • Glenn March 1, 2015, 9:09 pm

    Thank you for acknowledging that the claim you attributed to me is not one I made, Julien.

    Now, “Communism claimed more lives than any other ideology.” You do not need to argue for this, so it is a false challenge to ask me if you really need to argue for this. But this is not the point in dispute. How does this establish that stopping Hitler made things worse? Or do you mean that stopping Hitler created communism, and that letting him have his way would have prevented it?

    I have no reason to accept that claim, if it’s the one you’re making.

    As a completely separate reply, however, I would also have a response even if I did accept this claim, namely that it – as an objection to stopping Hitler – implies a sort of consequentialism that I find absurd. If I give food to a poor beggar, he may live another day and go on to murder five people. Something is wrong if we judge that it was wrong to give him food because of events that were made possible due to giving him food.

    I hold a deontological view of ethics. If a man is savagely beating his wife, then it is morally right to stop him, even if it turns out that his wife may go on to do terrible things. Similarly, it is false to say that we should have allowed Hitler’s evil unchecked and for his victims to simply die, because stopping him had terrible unintended consequences. Again, nobody has made a case here that stopping Hitler created the evils of communism, but stopping Hitler on account of his potential victims does not become automatically wrong even if that case could be made. All that would mean is that communism too would require a much more severe and early response than the one it actually got.

    So showing that a worse evil arose after Hitler clearly does not show that we shouldn’t have stopped Hitler. it is consistent with the view that we should oppose all brutal regimes, including Stalin’s and Hitler’s. Pacifism would be wrong no matter what followed from our opposition of Hitler.

    Now as I said, you’ve failed to make that historical case here – and don’t try. It’s not realistic in a blog comment, and I do not want anyone here to wade through one after another comment consisting of your rendition of history, articulate though it might be. Feel free to link to one or two sources so that readers can follow the links and decide for themselves whether there’s a good case that protecting Hitler’s victims was evil because it created communism and its attendant evils.

  • Julien March 2, 2015, 7:52 am

    “If a man is savagely beating his wife, then it is morally right to stop him, even if it turns out that his wife may go on to do terrible things.”

    Of course it would be morally right to stop him. I have no where suggested that I hold to any pacifist ideals. The problem with such analogies is that, in the case of war, it is not as if you can destroy an aggressor without sacrificing your countrymen and killing civilians. It’s not as if bombing countries only kills the people you intend to kill. This does not make war automatically wrong, but it does make it more ethically debatable than the example you gave. My position is that war is so costly that the bar should be set much higher in terms of justification. It seems to me that only direct self-defence and possibly humanitarian intervention, provided we can intervene effectively, which clearly wasn’t the case in 1939, could be justified.

    As for the consequences of WWII, I think your analogy in this case fails as well. It would, of course, be absurd to suggest that unforeseen consequences could render an action morally wrong quite apart from the persons’ intentions. This was clearly not the case with Churchill and FDR, though. They knew perfectly well that Stalin was a murderous ideologue. Churchill wrote more eloquently than probably anyone else at the time about the barbarism of the Bolsheviks. Churchill had expressed his admiration for Finland in its resistance against the Soviets during a public broadcast. Later he would declare war on Finland to appease Stalin. He knew about the deliberate starvation of the Ukrainians and the Soviet concentration camps, which were invented by Lenin. Yet Churchill lied to the British people about Stalin, telling Parliament that ” He is a man of massive outstanding personality, suited to the sombre and stormy times in which his life has been cast; a man of inexhaustible courage and will-power, and a man of direct and even blunt speech…. Stalin left upon me the impression of a deep, cool wisdom, and a complete absence of illusions of any kind.”

    In order to defeat a devil, we had to align ourselves with a devil, which is never a good thing. There was no other way the war could be won, and that meant merely substituting one dictatorship for another. Churchill said that “if Hitler invaded Hell, he would at least have made a favourable reference to the devil.” This is not, in fact, far from what happened. In order to defeat Hitler, Churchill appeased the cruellest, most murderous tyrant imaginable. And Chamberlain is the great fool of history? What Churchill did at Tehran and Yalta in ceding Eastern Europe and the Balkans to Stalin was infinitely worse than what Chamberlain did at Munich. The Poles hated Stalin, and they had fought the Soviets in the 1920s, whereas the Sudeten Germans longed to return to their homeland. It would have been futile to fight a war to keep the Germans under the Czech rule that they so despised. Hitler never conquered Czechoslovakia; he merely broke it up, where as Stalin demanded it be given to him on a platter, and Churchill capitulated. Churchill, not Chamberlain, was the great appeaser of history.

  • Glenn March 2, 2015, 6:34 pm

    “Of course it would be morally right to stop him. I have no where suggested that I hold to any pacifist ideals.”

    That wasn’t the point. The point there was about an unacceptable type of consequentialism. And you agree that in that case it would be right to intervene even if our actions enabled terrible things in the future. I take that to be a good thing.

    Thanks for your own thoughts on WWII. I was hoping that you might suggest a reputable source, but that’s OK, your own opinion is welcome too. I won’t follow this up further.

  • Julien March 3, 2015, 11:05 am

    There are so many sources on the Second World War that are worth studying. I already mentioned one of the most important scholarly books, A.J.P Taylor’s “The Origins of the Second World War”. This is the book that got me to rethink WWII and ultimately lead me to change my position. He gives a very thorough account of Hitler’s real ambitions, how they have erroneously been embellished, and how Hitler desperately tried to end the war with Britain once it started. He viewed Hitler as far less ambitious in his territorial aspirations than most historians, and he argued that Hitler’s foreign policy was formed in response to threats from Russia, and later Britain and France, not driven by ideology.

    Paul Johnson is another historian I would recommend reading. His “Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Eighties” deals with the historical build up to WWII. He is more sympathetic to Churchill than I am, but he makes many of the same points I have tried to make with respect to the failure of British diplomacy. He argues that the 1939 war guarantee, which misled the Polish into thinking that Britain would come to their aid when Britain could not have possibly fulfilled such a guarantee, was a “hysterical response” by British statesmen who had an “irrational determination to resist Hitler at the next opportunity, irrespective of its merits.”

    This article by Peter Hitchens is a very succinct summary of how Britain destroyed itself by entering WWII and how the course of events might have been different if we hadn’t gone to war. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1209890/PETER-HITCHENS-If-hadnt-fought-World-War-2-British-Empire.html

  • Glenn March 3, 2015, 11:34 pm

    Thanks Julien. Just to clarify, since my request was for a source that would make a good case for the curious reader that protecting Hitler’s victims was evil because it created communism and its attendant evils.

    Do you think that of the three you mentioned, Hitchens is the one who does that? (Your summaries suggested that the other two were about other things.)

  • Julien March 4, 2015, 2:06 pm

    The article I cited does deal with the spread of communism in the aftermath of the war. I’m not sure what you mean by “created communism”. If you mean that communism spread throughout Europe and Asia as a consequence of defeating Germany and Japan, then yes, Hitchens does make that case. The territorial concessions Churchill made to Stalin already gave half of Europe to communism, and that is just given as a fact of history. But there is also the argument that if Germany had not been defeated, and the balance of power between Germany and Russia was not disrupted, Russia would have been unable to expand as it did without coming into conflict with Germany. If Hitler had not been diverted by war with Britain and France, Stalin could not have made the territorial gains in Eastern and Central Europe.

    It is unclear what you mean by “protecting Hitler’s victims was evil”. Do you mean the Chzechs and the Poles? We never did protect either and were not even in a position to do so. My argument was that the war guarantee led to an unnecessary conflict with Germany that would have been avoided if we had instead encouraged Poland to resolve this dispute over Danzig diplomatically.

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