After the Fact
America is simply incapable of watching a slaughter take place – anywhere in the world – and not [moving] to do what we can to prevent it. It is against our nature to let evil triumph in such a fashion. — Andrew Sullivan
I don’t think I’ve ever seen Andrew make such a palpably untrue statement. We’re perfectly capable of watching a slaughter take place and doing nothing about it. Indeed, we owe our might as a superpower precisely to this ability, among others, and it’s a good thing we still have it.
The United States did not intervene in Zimbabwe, although the mass slaughter of Robert Mugabe’s political opponents is undeniable. We didn’t attack Iran, where similar repression is taking place right at this moment. We never intervened in Sudan to stop the genocide there. We’ve left North Korea to its own devices for far longer than I’ve been alive.
An ongoing slaughter is neither a necessary nor a sufficient reason to commit U.S. military forces. It’s not sufficient — not unless you feel like condemning our non-actions in Rwanda, Burma, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (all at once!). It’s not necessary because — even taking China for a non-slaughtering country, which is debatable — if China were to attack U.S. ships in the Pacific, there’s still a pretty obvious case for war.
My point here is, alas, inelegant: The justification that “America is simply incapable of watching a slaughter take place – anywhere in the world – and not moving to do what we can to prevent it” — that justification always works after the fact. Always. But it never works before the fact. Justifications of this type are not, properly speaking, justifications at all. They are rationalizations.
So, then, what — or who — creates the fact — the one that leads us to all the empty rationalizing? And shouldn’t we interrogate it, or them, a little more closely? Something’s sure playing havoc with our moral reasoning here, isn’t it?
We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.