Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Thinking about war

In one of the very first posts here on Rawls & Me I remarked that the world would probably have been somewhat more forgiving towards Bill Clinton for his saxophone adventures with Miss Lewinsky, had it only known what would follow (i.e. the trauma of the Bush years). The same can probably be said about the remaining US hegemony. As much as all my friends on the Left in Europe take any opportunity they can to criticize the United States, I am not sure if they would be particularly happy in a world without it.

Such thoughts come very natural here. As I noted in my last post, I am less than a hundred kilometres from the North Korean border. In one understanding, all this is just a collective psychosis, any sane person would immediately wake up and stop it. But sixty years of Stalinism do not make sane people.

In a perverse Herman Kahnish-way of thinking, I must admit that I am sometimes thankful that the United States poses a credible existential threat to North Korea, that its leaders know that any attempt to attack the South, in particular with nuclear weapons, would turn the North into gravel and ashes within hours. But as a Christian I cannot accept that kind of logic and, more importantly, what it does to me. I am pacifist because I believe that killing, even under the cloak of war, is murder. Also as a Christian I firmly believe that sacrifice is sometimes required, that we must be bold when confronted with evil. That if we resort to arms, we will lose ourselves.

I often like to think that war is a dying business. That as the world comes together through globalization, we will abolish war and make good on the cosmopolitan promise of one moral and political community of humanity. But if anything the last decade has been a reminder of how far we actually are from reaching that insight. The countless lives that have been sacrificed in Iraq and Afghanistan where the absence of military force would probably have been far more effective in toppling authoritarian regimes (as witnessed during the Arabic spring). I do not know how often I have asked myself why the United States does not believe in its own values, why it chooses to torture people rather than putting them to justice, why it does not open its borders for the world rather than locking them down? But as Europeans we tend to ask more from the United States than we are capable of ourselves. All the possibilities are on our own doorstep as well: why do we not bring Turkey into the union? Why did we let the fear of “social tourism” obscure the common possibilities for growth when Poland and the other central European countries joined in 2004? And why do we keep building new prisons rather than schools at home?

When thinking of the century ahead, all this cannot be separated from the ecological challenge we are facing. And looking back at the monumental changes of the 20th century, it is at least to me self-evident that we must project a positive future, one of universal affluence rather than scarcity, one that can inspire people without requiring them to submit to one single epistemology (such as the belief in the reality of climate change). Many green theorists seem willing to accept the death of billions of people in order to carry out their great project of homogenization. In their world, there are no BMW owners, no people who like flying overseas, no dreams of one day moving to the stars. For them it is all a moral quest to show their own ideological purity. But we cannot have that world. We need a world of compromises, of dialogues and debates, and most of all, we need slow and pragmatic change so that we can learn from what goes wrong. And if that is so, when we need a vision, one that can talk to the highest in us, that can show us what we can be if we believe in ourselves and our abilities. A vision that can inspire also those people far away in America who are right now making up yet another war plan for the Korean peninsula and who, I promise, do not lose much sleep over global warming.

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