Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Question For Isolationists

It will come as no shock to anyone who's ever read this blog that I occasionally have political disagreements with my co-workers. And that's fine; I work in a pretty big office. If there's someone who I really just shouldn't get into discussions with, I can usually manage to avoid doing so.

Second, we're not there to discuss politics, we're there to do our jobs. As in most workplaces, the majority of our work is not so mentally engrossing as to preclude lots of side conversations as we toil away at busywork, though. Political discussions happen here and there, but they never get to become the major focus of the day. If they start to get distracting, then they usually come to a quick halt as we refocus on whatever we're actually getting paid to do.

Finally, everyone there is an adult. Unlike the loonies discussed here and here, almost everyone I know is mature enough to realize that people can disagree while remaining friendly. I've been very fortunate in that I've only ever worked with two people with whom I wouldn't have a political conversation, quite probably including some spirited debate. One of those was, and probably still is, a habitual liar that I wouldn't interact with at all for any reason unless absolutely necessary once I came to understand what he was.

The other, with whom I never had an actual political conversation, was a parrot of whatever Oprah or The View last told her to say. When she saw Fahrenheit 9/11, she spent several days telling anyone who passed by her desk (I wasn't one of them, but I was within earshot) that "George Bush should be in prison." When asked why, she didn't quite know, but Michael Moore said so. I was tempted to point her to Fifty-nine Deceits in Fahrenheit 9/11, but I had no illusions that she would read it. I just left political matters alone with her, and we got along very well.

All this preamble is for a story about a conversation I had a few weeks ago. The Canadian election had not been called yet, but the rumblings were definitely in the air.

One of my co-workers is a very nice fellow with whom I get along well, but we're on opposite ends of the political spectrum. One of his more insightful political comments: "The only good Republican is a dead Republican."

He was talking about how he expected some sort of terrorist attack, or at least warnings of same, during the runups to the elections in Canada and the U.S. He clearly thinks these events are staged, presumably to benefit conservative candidates.

I disagree, but I can understand his viewpoint. I see things slightly differently, and par for the course for a liberal / conservative dispute, there's actually some evidence for the conservative view. Instead of pro-military political parties faking (let's be blunt) such things to scare people into voting for them, which is certainly possible and probably has happened from time to time, it's entirely feasible that instead, terrorists time these things for an election season to scare people into voting against the candidates who will try stop them. Utterly illogical, certainly, but effective when people vote based on emotion rather than logic. The terrorist message is: "Elect anyone who opposes us and you'll get more of the same." The unspoken flip side, of course, is that unless we elect candidates who will oppose terrorists, they get free rein and we're guaranteed more of the same eventually. The decision is whether to fight the terrorists now or live under their tyranny later.

Sadly, the tactic has worked on at least one high-profile occasion, when Madrid was bombed in 2004. The conservative candidate lost that election precisely because of having stated a willingness to stand up to terrorists. The Spanish people, to their shame, took the bait.

Anyway, our conversation went from there. He offered some paranoid conspiracy theories about "conservative fearmongering", and I sarcastically said something along the lines of, "You're right. There are no bad guys in the world. And those planes were probably flown into the World Trade Centre by some Baptists who wanted to scare people into accepting Jesus."

That set him off onto one of his other pet topics, the injustice of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. He's repeatedly on record as being against both (he's the same person I was talking to / about in this post). He started in about how Iraq had no direct involvement with September 11th.

I assured him that he was correct. In fact, the only times I've heard anyone say that Saddam Hussein was directly involved with the attacks are when leftists claim that the Republicans said so, usually fabricating some quotes in the process.

There were many good reasons for the U.S. to go into Iraq. Noncompliance with the terms of the 1991 ceasefire, the reasons cited in the 1998 resolution calling for regime change (spearheaded by noted Republican warmonger Bill Clinton, who had the intelligence to sign it but not the courage to follow through, leaving it to Bush to finish his job), the discovery of admittedly small amounts of chemical weapons (and if you want to discount those, ask yourself if you'd be willing to have them stored in your basement), and most of all the fact that Saddam Hussein was a violent thug who terrorized his neighbours and slaughtered the people of his own country. Any claims that things have gotten worse in Iraq because of his removal boil down to cries that at least the Axis powers kept the trains running on time.

My colleague grew as exasperated with me as I was with him, saying that military solutions are not the answer.

My reply: "You should be grateful that there are people who think like me, because they're what keep people who think like you alive."

I don't know if he was more shocked or offended. "I don't need your protection!"

"No, you don't need my protection. And good thing, too, because I'm a scrawny wuss who probably couldn't shoot straight. I said, 'people who think like me'. But you and I both need protection. It's provided by the people who go the extra mile, put on the uniform, pick up the gun, and get on the plane."

Confounded, he decided not to address my actual point, and went back to the theme that U.S. and Canadian forces shouldn't be in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how life is now much worse for the people of those countries.

"Really?" I asked, "Do you think life was much better for young women under the Taliban? Big fan of clitorectomies, are you? Or for the people taken into Hussein's rape rooms or fed into his wood chippers?"

Judging from his insubstantive response, apparently those sort of things were none of anyone else's business. The rest of the world should not have interfered.

Rising to the bait, I said, "Yeah, you're right. Who cares what happens to people way over there? It's not like they have real feelings. They speak different languages than us, and some of them even have different colour skin, so they can all die and we shouldn't care, right?"

He refused to answer this. Justifiably, perhaps, because I freely admit that I was being as over-the-top offensive as I could be, in hopes of breaking through the naivete and making the point. It may not sound like it, but I'm not interested in "winning arguments". I'm not even sure that human nature generally allows for such a thing. I'm interested in getting people to think about their positions and beliefs. Hopefully by doing so, they'll learn something. This is probably foolishly optimistic.

I decided to push it one step further, which brings us to the question I was referring to in this post's title: "Were we right to intervene in Europe during World War II, and to try to stop the Holocaust?" By "we" in that sentence I mean the North American Allied forces, i.e., the U.S. and Canada. (I didn't want to interrupt the actual written question with that explanation.)

At the time that we (as defined above) went into Europe, Hitler wasn't much more of a direct and immediate threat to North America than Hussein was in 2002. If the Internet had been around then, I'm guessing we would have seen lots of Code Pink-style protesters writing whiny posts about how what was happening to Polish Jews was none of our concern. "No blood for Hebrews!"

My friend did lots of sputtering about how that question is completely different from what we had been talking about. I said, " 'Completely' is too strong, but you're right, it's different. Feel free to assume that it has nothing to do with our discussion, and just answer the question on its own terms. Yes or no. Were we morally right to go into Europe, or not?"

He never did answer me.

"Isolationists" should be ashamed of themselves. I plan to ask this question from now on whenever I hear someone start in about how Iraq and Afghanistan should have been left to their own devices. If I ever get a reasonable answer, I'll let you know.

Just to bring some scripture in here, because I always like to bring in Scripture whenever I can (in addition to offering far more wisdom that I can muster up on my own, Biblical quotations are a great way to make secular humanists turn amusing colours):

Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering toward slaughter.

If you say, "But we knew nothing about this,"
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?
Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?

-Proverbs 24: 11-12, New International Version

Enough rambling. Here's another picture of a river.

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