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Freddie

Freddie deBoer used to blog at lhote.blogspot.com, and may again someday. Now he blogs here.

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14 Responses

  1. Avatar Philip says:

    Personally, I think America’s involvement in the Second World War alone puts us in a whole different and pretty damn untouchable realm in terms of significant moral accomplishments. Without the US, it’s very likely that the globe would’ve fallen to a sick mixture of fascism, communism, and the kind of racial imperialism practiced by the Japs. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the liberal values of the Enlightenment were in existential danger during the 1940’s, and the United States was absolutely crucial in their survival.

    Furthermore, even if the Nazi and Japanese regimes had otherwise crumbled, without America it’s hard to imagine that Europe could’ve resisted Soviet expansionism. Especially when you consider the strength of their homegrown communist movements, especially in France and Italy. Despite our myriad Cold War evils, we were the essential backbone of international liberalism and democracy, a shining light if ever there was one.

    America, really, is responsible for human freedom as we know and take for granted not perishing during the latter half of the 20th century. We were not alone in battling the various totalitarianisms that threatened to lock mankind in chains, but we were undoubtedly the heart, soul, and muscle of the resistance.

    Of course, all this doesn’t mean that we haven’t done some pretty fucked up shit. Oh, we certainly have alright. And there’re probably nations that have fewer blunders and misdeeds to their name. But how many can boast, even once, savior status?

    America *is* unique. Our contemporaries may sniff, but I’m positive history will remember the US in the finest light, as the most dedicated friend of freedom, the most staunch partisan of equality, the most vocal advocate of political and social rights civilization has yet produced.Report

  2. Avatar Freddie says:

    1. The defeat of Germany owes as much as, or more, to the Russians as the United States. That fact has been given short shrift around here because of anti-Soviet sentiment. The defense of Stalingrad had as much to do with defeating Hitler as the invasion of Normandy.

    2. We didn’t fight out of the conviction that the Nazis and Japanese were evil; we fought because they had attacked us or our allies. Defending yourself is morally neutral.

    3. More importantly, as necessary and morally positive as the defeat of the Axis powers was, and as much credit as America certainly deserves for that defeat, I reject the premise of what you’re saying. I don’t believe in a kind of aggregate morality, where you just take the amount of good as positive, the amount of bad as negative, and just compute the net value of our deeds. It’s like saying that if you save a busload of people one week, you can go out and rape a couple people the next week, because on net you’re still a force for good. I don’t think it works that way.Report

  3. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Just a quick response to the German thing – America and the Allied powers were responsible for some egregious war crimes against both the Japanese and Germans which due to our victory has been white-washed and sanitized, and finally glorified and sanctified in national myth. I mean this as no defense for the Nazis, but a whole lot of innocent German citizens were firebombed long after that was at all necessary. War rarely puts anyone on a moral high ground. Much more likely it makes monsters out of the good guys.Report

  4. Avatar Philip says:

    “1. The defeat of Germany owes as much as, or more, to the Russians as the United States. That fact has been given short shrift around here because of anti-Soviet sentiment. The defense of Stalingrad had as much to do with defeating Hitler as the invasion of Normandy.”

    Probably true. But that doesn’t change my point: Without US involvement, Europe would’ve gone black or red. Either way, the human spirit would’ve lost. Big time.

    “2. We didn’t fight out of the conviction that the Nazis and Japanese were evil; we fought because they had attacked us or our allies. Defending yourself is morally neutral.”

    That’s what finally dragged us into the war, but there was much support for involvement long before that. Also, regardless of realpolitik considerations, there *was* a genuine idealism to the war.

    And, whatever our intentions, the outcome was undeniably a moral positive (the preservation of a liberal-ish international system rooted in human rights and dignity). Liberal and rights oriented at least in comparison to the order that would have emerged with all Europe and Asia and beyond consumed by fascism and murderous communism.

    “More importantly, as necessary and morally positive as the defeat of the Axis powers was, and as much credit as America certainly deserves for that defeat, I reject the premise of what you’re saying. I don’t believe in a kind of aggregate morality, where you just take the amount of good as positive, the amount of bad as negative, and just compute the net value of our deeds. It’s like saying that if you save a busload of people one week, you can go out and rape a couple people the next week, because on net you’re still a force for good. I don’t think it works that way.”

    Well, your example is a ridiculous simplification, but nonetheless I agree. Except that this is a unique situation, as we said. America saved the w0rld from totalitarianism. Had we stood aside, walled ourselves off in a continental fortress, the 20th century would’ve been a triumph of the most abysmal sorts of authoritarianism ever imagined.

    Does any other nation in any other time have that claim? Don’t give me that “Well the Russians really defeated the Krauts!” crap. What of it? Had we been out of the game, all that would’ve meant was Soviet tanks rolling into Paris within a couple weeks of taking Berlin. Not a pretty prospect.

    Again, what other nation can make claim to having saved mankind from itself in such a way? I can’t think of any. That honor is so great and so momentous and so singular as to make all sins look rather petty.Report

  5. Avatar Philip says:

    “Just a quick response to the German thing – America and the Allied powers were responsible for some egregious war crimes against both the Japanese and Germans which due to our victory has been white-washed and sanitized, and finally glorified and sanctified in national myth. I mean this as no defense for the Nazis, but a whole lot of innocent German citizens were firebombed long after that was at all necessary. War rarely puts anyone on a moral high ground. Much more likely it makes monsters out of the good guys.”

    No doubt. And though I’m typically wary of looking for justifications in ends, I sometimes conclude that the moral implications of an action ultimately supercede the action itself.Report

  6. Avatar Freddie says:

    So Philip you can really not think of a situation where one evil actor prevents an even more horrifying outcome? Because what you are suggesting is an entirely ends-tested vision of morality, which, frankly, I find totally incompatible with conventional morality. And you are of course privileged with the information of what did happen, whereas we can’t see the consequences of what didn’t.

    I mean, look, if you can say that the consequences of someone (or some country’s) actions are positive, then they are morally superior, regardless of their intention or means, I think that’s pretty radical from a philosophical standpoint. Maybe Joe McCarthy actually stopped some Russian spy from stealing vital secrets. That not only doesn’t excuse his actions, it can’t.Report

  7. Avatar Bob says:

    “Maybe Joe McCarthy actually stopped some Russian spy from stealing vital secrets. That not only doesn’t excuse his actions, it can’t.”

    Well Freddie, I bet a lot of folk might think Joe’s actions patriotic, laudable. (Not me.) Your statement, above, is getting into the “by no definition of the word” territory plowed by E.D.

    Avoid absolutes absolutely.Report

  8. Avatar Freddie says:

    Even that absolute, Bob?

    Just kidding.Report

  9. Avatar Bob says:

    It was a hoot when I typed it.Report

  10. Avatar Joseph says:

    Freddie,

    I have always found your outlook on these issues convincing and appealing, and especially a useful corrective to the kind of blinkered nationalistic superiority complex that seems to attach itself to interventionists. (I’ve taken to citing you when I debate my TNR-loving, AIPAC-supporting liberal-hawk cousin Dan over at the GW Discourse blog, for instance.)

    I can never quite sign on to your view of things though, though I want to. It’s an honest, humble kind of idealism that seems far more liberal in its goals and straightforward in its terms than what is typically considered “liberal” (i.e. the institution-based yet militarized internationalism that predominates in the “center”) — even if it is based on a deeply anti-modernist notion, as it treats the nation-state as a cultural background rather than merely as the dominating institution composing a world system or order. It’s a deeply humanistic idea, which I admire, but remain skeptical of –due no doubt to my own cultural background and prejudices.

    Perhaps I’ve just been too indoctrinated into realpolitik, or perhaps its just my extreme pessimism towards power in general, but I admit to having a strongly illiberal belief in the utter impossibility of a foreign policy that is both moral and pragmatic. Which is basically to say that I see a condition of statehood being that pragmatism will always demand (and has always demanded) the occasional atrocity, violation of human rights, etc. World War II is a perfect example, actually. We as a culture overestimate the degree to which human strife, greed, and provincial tribalism can be ameliorated or productively channeled via liberalism (in both the economic and political senses). Though many of it’s other assumptions (such as rationality) strike me as obviously wrong, I tend to accept the postulate of realism that power is the central motive for state actions, and therefore see all ideologies–even my own!–as essentially serving to justify a world that is deeply hostile to morality as we understand it. So I sometimes find the whole morality debate futile and stupid, since I tend to see very little of your kind of moral concerns expressed sincerely- only liberal-modernist triumphalism, blatantly hypocritical nationalist moral posturing, or honest villainy. Like I said, it’s an extreme and arguably conservative pessimism, and it clashes badly with my personal hopes, inclinations, and my other typical ideological principles. From what I can tell, though, it’s actually pretty close to Larison’s worldview, but without the religious core. I’m still working on why that is, given my usual liberalism in other political and philosophical fields.Report

  11. Avatar Joseph says:

    Uh, just to clarify, my citing of WWII was in reference to the discussion upthread between Freddie and Philip about the morality of American involvement as well as the nuclear-weapons issue, and obviously not the Holocaust, through the rest of the world’s reaction to such a horrifying systematic genocidal massacre supports my point that moralism in international relations is at best self-deluded and hypocritical.Report

  12. Avatar Joseph says:

    Well, “at best self-deluded and hypocritical” unless taken to the extremes that Freddie does, which is what I meant to say I admire about his views.Report

  13. Avatar Joseph says:

    Oh, and if all this seems intellectually incoherent, the conclusion of my first comment was meant as an admission of that.Report

  14. Avatar Freddie says:

    There’s a lot to be said, Joseph, but at present, let me just say: the ends that we think we can achieve by not doing something are almost always more achievable than the ends we think we can achieve by doing something.Report

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