The world vs. nations

Victor Davis Hanson dissects Barack Obama’s speech in Germany. Hanson’s point is that the “world” doesn’t take actions; nations do. And that nations are not morally equivalent. Excerpts:

With all due respect, I also don’t believe the world did anything to save Berlin, just as it did nothing to save the Rwandans or the Iraqis under Saddam — or will do anything for those of Darfur; it was only the U.S. Air Force that risked war to feed the helpless of Berlin as it saved the Muslims of the Balkans. And I don’t think we have much to do in America with creating a world in which “famine spreads and terrible storms devastate our lands.” Bad, often evil, autocratic governments abroad cause hunger, often despite rich natural landscapes; and nature, in tragic fashion, not “the carbon we send into atmosphere,” causes “terrible storms,” just as it has and will for millennia.

Perhaps conflict-resolution theory posits there are no villains, only misunderstandings; but I think military history suggests that culpability exists — and is not merely hopelessly relative or just in the eye of the beholder. So despite Obama’s soaring moral rhetoric, I am troubled by his historical revisionism that, “The two superpowers that faced each other across the wall of this city came too close too often to destroying all we have built and all that we love.”

I would beg to differ again, and suggest instead that a mass-murdering Soviet tyranny came close to destroying the European continent (as it had, in fact, wiped out millions of its own people) and much beyond as well — and was checked only by an often lone and caricatured U.S. superpower and its nuclear deterrence. When the Soviet Union collapsed, there was no danger to the world from American nuclear weapons “destroying all we have built” — while the inverse would not have been true, had nuclear and totalitarian communism prevailed. We sleep too lightly tonight not because democratic Israel has obtained nuclear weapons, but because a frightening Iran just might.

HT: CRB

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    hear, hear!
    Say what you want against the United States being a global policing force. But when I was five I went through check point Charlie, I went back wehn i was 21 and was proud of America for the fact that that wall no longer existed. I was proud that we actually cared about the plight of people on the other side of the world. That we weren’t willing to just turn a blind eye to the plight of our brothers and sisters. We get little thanks for it, but that shouldn’t surprise us.
    And for those of you who think we shouldn’t care about those, or help those fighting despotic regimes, think about where we would be if France had had the same attitude during the Revolutionary war. I know there involvement wasn’t completely altruistic. Our motives often aren’t either. But it still stands, we are better off for Frances involvement. Many countries today are better off for our involvement in their causes, and so are we.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    hear, hear!
    Say what you want against the United States being a global policing force. But when I was five I went through check point Charlie, I went back wehn i was 21 and was proud of America for the fact that that wall no longer existed. I was proud that we actually cared about the plight of people on the other side of the world. That we weren’t willing to just turn a blind eye to the plight of our brothers and sisters. We get little thanks for it, but that shouldn’t surprise us.
    And for those of you who think we shouldn’t care about those, or help those fighting despotic regimes, think about where we would be if France had had the same attitude during the Revolutionary war. I know there involvement wasn’t completely altruistic. Our motives often aren’t either. But it still stands, we are better off for Frances involvement. Many countries today are better off for our involvement in their causes, and so are we.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    VDH’s article seems mainly intent on interpreting Obama’s words in ways they were not meant and then attacking the straw man that he has invented.

    He opines “Unlike Obama, I would not speak to anyone as ‘a fellow citizen of the world,’ but only as an ordinary American who wishes to do his best for the world, but with a much-appreciated American identity”. But Obama said “I speak to you not as a candidate for President, but as a citizen – a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world.” VDH implies that Obama does not appreciate his American identity, but Obama clearly states otherwise.

    And I really expect VDH to know his history better than to say that “it was only the U.S. Air Force that risked war to feed the helpless of Berlin as it saved the Muslims of the Balkans”. That’s just wrong. The British were just as much a part of the Berlin airlift (to say nothing of air crews from several other nations), and the French also eventually joined in. And the U.S. was far from the only force intervening for the Muslims in the Balkans (France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Turkey, U.K — did VDH just forget about these?).

    I must admit to being confused as to what conservatives think of cooperation in military force. While VDH blithely ignores non-Americans when they do help us out (as above), he then goes on to say that the world “did nothing to save … the Iraqis under Saddam.” Well, not according to George Bush, who in a speech about the 2004 Olympics talked about “Afghanistan and Iraq, nations that four years ago knew only tyranny and repression. Today, because the world acted with courage and moral clarity, those nations are free” (emphasis mine). In another 2004 speech, Bush again talked about “the reason the world acted” in Iraq, continuing that “it was just not the United States who remembered [Saddam's attacking his own people]. The United Nations Security Council, in a 15-to-nothing vote, remembered that.”

    I guess that, when one is trying to defend American actions against Democratic criticisms that America has acted too much on its own, “the world” has acted in concert with us. But when Democrats are calling for the world to act in concert with us, Republicans counter that Americans have always acted on their own. Actually, VDH forgot Poland.

    VDH similarly twists Obama’s statement on the Cold War, making it seem to say that America was a danger to the world after “the Soviet Union collapsed”. But — and it is difficult to believe that VDH missed this, given that he quoted it in the preceding paragraph — the entire context of Obama’s sentence was “The two superpowers that faced each other across the [Berlin Wall].” That has nothing to say about the time after the Soviet Union collapsed, though VDH might wish it were so.

    VDH also seems to interpret the word “world” in Obama’s speech to mean “every country”, though the context makes it quite clear that’s not what’s meant. This is not a “one-world” speech (though VDH might wish it were so), it is a speech against American unilateralism and isolationism, for cooperation. After all, Obama quotes Ernst Reuter, the mayor of Berlin during the airlift, saying, “People of the world: now do your duty … People of the world, look at Berlin!” Do you really think that “world” in that context refered to the Soviet Union? Apparently, VDH does.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    VDH’s article seems mainly intent on interpreting Obama’s words in ways they were not meant and then attacking the straw man that he has invented.

    He opines “Unlike Obama, I would not speak to anyone as ‘a fellow citizen of the world,’ but only as an ordinary American who wishes to do his best for the world, but with a much-appreciated American identity”. But Obama said “I speak to you not as a candidate for President, but as a citizen – a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world.” VDH implies that Obama does not appreciate his American identity, but Obama clearly states otherwise.

    And I really expect VDH to know his history better than to say that “it was only the U.S. Air Force that risked war to feed the helpless of Berlin as it saved the Muslims of the Balkans”. That’s just wrong. The British were just as much a part of the Berlin airlift (to say nothing of air crews from several other nations), and the French also eventually joined in. And the U.S. was far from the only force intervening for the Muslims in the Balkans (France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Turkey, U.K — did VDH just forget about these?).

    I must admit to being confused as to what conservatives think of cooperation in military force. While VDH blithely ignores non-Americans when they do help us out (as above), he then goes on to say that the world “did nothing to save … the Iraqis under Saddam.” Well, not according to George Bush, who in a speech about the 2004 Olympics talked about “Afghanistan and Iraq, nations that four years ago knew only tyranny and repression. Today, because the world acted with courage and moral clarity, those nations are free” (emphasis mine). In another 2004 speech, Bush again talked about “the reason the world acted” in Iraq, continuing that “it was just not the United States who remembered [Saddam's attacking his own people]. The United Nations Security Council, in a 15-to-nothing vote, remembered that.”

    I guess that, when one is trying to defend American actions against Democratic criticisms that America has acted too much on its own, “the world” has acted in concert with us. But when Democrats are calling for the world to act in concert with us, Republicans counter that Americans have always acted on their own. Actually, VDH forgot Poland.

    VDH similarly twists Obama’s statement on the Cold War, making it seem to say that America was a danger to the world after “the Soviet Union collapsed”. But — and it is difficult to believe that VDH missed this, given that he quoted it in the preceding paragraph — the entire context of Obama’s sentence was “The two superpowers that faced each other across the [Berlin Wall].” That has nothing to say about the time after the Soviet Union collapsed, though VDH might wish it were so.

    VDH also seems to interpret the word “world” in Obama’s speech to mean “every country”, though the context makes it quite clear that’s not what’s meant. This is not a “one-world” speech (though VDH might wish it were so), it is a speech against American unilateralism and isolationism, for cooperation. After all, Obama quotes Ernst Reuter, the mayor of Berlin during the airlift, saying, “People of the world: now do your duty … People of the world, look at Berlin!” Do you really think that “world” in that context refered to the Soviet Union? Apparently, VDH does.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Also, guess who said this: “My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. “

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Also, guess who said this: “My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. “

  • Jonathan

    tODD, well said. Thank you.

  • Jonathan

    tODD, well said. Thank you.


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