February 21, 2003

Susan Sontag -- "There Is Such A Thing As A Just War":

Apparently Susan Sontag's anti-war convictions don't run as deep as I thought ... at least that's what I've decided after reading this article, which Susan published in the New York Times Magazine on 2 May 1999. In it, Susan argues for military intervention in Kosovo -- on the premise that, when a leader is engaging in the extermination of his own people, just nations have a responsibility to intervene and exact a change of regime. What's more, Susan takes Europe ... and in particular the French and Germans ... to task for not being more committed to such action.

Astonishing. But frankly, it gets even better when you read the piece. Some highlights:

Stop the War and Stop the Genocide, read the banners being waved in the demonstrations in Rome and here in Bari. For Peace. Against War. Who is not? But how can you stop those bent on genocide without making war?

We have been here before. The horrors, the horrors. Our attempt to forge a "humanitarian" response. Our inability (yes, after Auschwitz!) to comprehend how such horrors can take place. And as the horrors multiply, it becomes even more incomprehensible why we should respond to any one of them (since we have not responded to the others). Why this horror and not another? Why Bosnia or Kosovo and not Kurdistan or Rwanda or Tibet?

Are we not saying that European lives, European suffering are more valuable, more worth acting on to protect, than the lives of people in the Middle East, Africa and Asia? ...

... Another argument against intervening in Kosovo is that the war is -- wonderful word -- illegal," because NATO is violating the borders of a sovereign state. Kosovo is, after all, part of the new Greater Serbia called Yugoslavia. Tough luck for the Kosovars that Milosevic revoked their autonomous status in 1989. Inconvenient that 90 percent of Kosovars are Albanians -- ethnic Albanians" as they are called, to distinguish them from the citizens of Albania. Empires reconfigure. But are national borders, which have been altered so many times in the last hundred years, really to be the ultimate criterion? You can murder your wife in your own house, but not outdoors on the street.

Imagine that Nazi Germany had had no expansionist ambitions but had simply made it a policy in the late 1930's and early 1940's to slaughter all the German Jews. Do we think a government has the right to do whatever it wants on its own territory?

And then there's this:

Not surprisingly, the Serbs are presenting themselves as the victims. (Clinton equals Hitler, etc.) But it is grotesque to equate the casualties inflicted by the NATO bombing with the mayhem inflicted on hundreds of thousands of people in the last eight years by the Serb programs of ethnic cleansing.

Not all violence is equally reprehensible; not all wars are equally unjust.

No forceful response to the violence of a state against peoples who are nominally its own citizens? (Which is what most "wars" are today. Not wars between states.) The principal instances of mass violence in the world today are those committed by governments within their own legally recognized borders. Can we really say there is no response to this? Is it acceptable that such slaughters be dismissed as civil wars, also known as "age-old ethnic hatreds." (After all, anti-Semitism was an old tradition in Europe; indeed, a good deal older than ancient Balkan hatreds. Would this have justified letting Hitler kill all the Jews on German territory?) Is it true that war never solved anything? (Ask a black American if he or she thinks our Civil War didn't solve anything.)

War is not simply a mistake, a failure to communicate. There is radical evil in the world, which is why there are just wars. And this is a just war. Even if it has been bungled.

Stop the genocide. Return all refugees to their homes. Worthy goals. But how is any of this conceivably going to happen unless the Milosevic regime is overthrown? (And the truth is, it's not going to happen.)

Incredible. I don't think the parallels between what she claims as warrants for intervention in Kosovo in 1999, and the current situation in Iraq, could be more clear. Where are your principles now, Susan? Are the Iraqi people for some reason the only citizens on Earth whom you feel are not owed the same responsibility of international justice that you articulated in 1999? Is Iraq the only nation that enjoys "no forceful response to the violence of a state against peoples who are nominally its own citizens?" Is Saddam Hussein's policy of programmatic repression and murder not "radical evil in the world?" The language you used in 1999 is far different than the language you used in the shadow of 9/11, when you wrote:

How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq? And if the word "cowardly" is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others. In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday's slaughter, they were not cowards.

And then I remember ... there are no contradictions, only incorrect assumptions. And perhaps Susan's principles reflect not lofty ideals of justice, but instead a thirst for controversy and a lust for publication.

UPDATE: Pejman has some thoughts ...

Posted by Avocare at February 21, 2003 08:14 PM
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