Churchill’s Lessons for the World

I finally finished Churchill’s first volume of the six-volume World War Two series. It took me long enough. I think I started reading it back in December. At this rate, I’ll finish the whole series in about two and a half years.

The Gathering Storm is very relevant to today’s world of rogue states and international terrorists. I think it is safe to say that Churchill would have supported the Iraq War. This passage, which Churchill wrote while Norway was falling into Hitler’s claws, is echoed by the events prior to the Iraq War:

To this point, then, had we come from the days of the Rhineland occupation in 1936, when a mere operation of police would have sufficed; or since Munich, when Germany, occupied with Czechoslovakia, could spare but thirteen divisions on the Western Front; or even since September, 1939, when, while the Polish resistance lasted, there were but forty-two German divisions in the West. All this terrible superiority had grown up because at no moment had the once victorious Allies dared to take any effective step, even when they were all-powerful, to resist repeated aggressions by Hitler and breaches of the Treaties.

Substitute number of divisions with WMDs, Hitler with Saddam, and 1930’s with 1990’s, and you would have a pretty accurate description of Iraq if we had not gotten rid of Saddam.

The most important lesson to be learned from this book is to stop evil before it happens. I cannot imagine the frustration and anguish Chuchill felt as all his warnings about the rising evil in Germany went unheeded. And then, nearly every one of his fears became reality. He had the foresight and the wisdom to see the true nature of what was brewing in Germany. He knew it needed to be stopped, but, instead of listening to him, the Government cast him into a political backwater, where he had to live with being an unofficial advisor of sorts. Of course, with our clear hindsight we wonder why the Government was so naive and blind. Now, we need a clear vision of our own dangerous world. We need to take the lessons of the past and actually learn from them. I’m afraid the United States as a whole has not done this, though I do think the President has (as shown by his action in Iraq and paying attention to the genocide in Sudan). Samantha Powers in the preface to A Problem from Hell identifies our society’s inability to readily acknowledge and respond to great evil:

Despite graphic media coverage [of genocide], American policymakers, journalists, and citizens are extremely slow to muster the imagination needed to reckon with evil. Ahead of the killings, they assume rational actors will not inflict seemingly gratuitous violence. They trust in good-faith negotiations and traditional diplomacy. Once the killings start, they assume that civilians who keep their heads down will be left alone. They urge ceasefires and donate humanitarian aid.

We cannot continue in this way. When it comes to clear, threatening evil, pre-emption may very well be the only prudent decision. This can be applied to terrorism, rogue states, and genocides.

The United States is in the unique position of having the resources and power to stop great evil in this world. Much of it can be solved by simply giving aid, but unfortunately much of it can only be solved by force. We must not cry “Peace! Peace!” when there is no peace, and we must not succumb the siren songs of “Peace at All Costs.” We must fight what is evil, and we must continue fighting until it is no more.

4 thoughts on “Churchill’s Lessons for the World

  1. I agree with all of this except for how we went into Iraq. I think we need to put MORE attention on Sudan, but acknowledge that sending Colin Powell in is a good start. And from what I’ve gathered, the Adminstration seems to be doing a decent job of containing the growing nuclear concerns in North Korea, though that problem will continue to loom.

    I still highly disapprove of how the Bush administration decieved the public into thinking we would assuredly find WMDs, when it now appears that the administration KNEW that the evidence was pretty darn shaky. They turned dangerous possibilities into seemingly clear realities.

    The Economist wrote something this week I strongly agree with.

    “The result is not only damage to the personal credibility of America’s president and Britain’s prime minister. It is real damage to the ability of those countries, and probably others, to deal with future military and terrorists threats….The next time politicians call for military action to deal with such threats, on the basis of intelligence warnings, even more popel will refuse to believe them. Well-intentioned or not, such salesmanship has made us all less safe, and more vulnerable to terrorists.”

  2. So you agree with Steve’s point that he quoted from Ms Powers that “Despite graphic media coverage [of genocide], American policymakers, journalists, and citizens are extremely slow to muster the imagination needed to reckon with evil… They trust in good-faith negotiations and traditional diplomacy.” But you think that Bush making the argument for attacking Iraq out of our own self-interest (WMDs) was a bad idea? We’ve known that Saddam was slaughtering his own people for decades, but that wasn’t enough before to get the public behind a war to topple Saddam.

    True, hindsight is better, but just because we made an error this time is not a reason to argue against the decision. Sure, if we knew then what we know now, we might have acted differently. And if we could know now what we’ll know in another year or two, we might not make some of the decisions we’re making now. But that’s just wishful thinking that won’t get us anywhere.

    Each time we have a problem, each time a difficult decision faces us we have to make that decision with the information we have available at that moment.

    If there is another time, God forbid, where we must decide whether to attack another country because it can threaten us with weapons of mass destruction, will you be willing to argue against it, all other things being equal, because the CIA overestimated the threat Iraq posed? Not me. Better safe than sorry. A thousand soldiers’ lives and a few hundred billion dollars is a small enough price to pay to be certain that a rogue state won’t kill hundreds of thousands of US civilians with a nuclear or biological weapon. Especially if it also means freeing a state from being under the thumb of a ruthless dictator and saving thousands of that country’s own citizens from being murdered and tortured by their own head of state.

  3. I gave Steve the book he is quoting from. 😉

    We didn’t just make an error. We jeopardized our position of leadership in the post-Cold War world. No one HAS to side with us anymore.

    We are temporarily safer. But I have great fear for our ability to be effective in the long term.

  4. No one HAD to side with us before. Those who did side with us before sided with us again (with the exception of Germany, who doesn’t seem to want to be our friend now that the Soviets are gone). Plus, we made a lot of new friends and allies that sided with us from Eastern Europe. If anything, this demonstration of solidarity from Poland, Romania and the like has shown that we’re more likely to be effective in the long term.

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