Western immorality and paralysis in the face of violence,
Kevin P Clements
President Obama is right to express moral outrage at the mass murder at Umpqua Community College, Roseburg Oregon. Similarly people and politicians all around the world are right to condemn the gratuitous violence of extremist groups like ISIS or the State sponsored violence of Basher Asad in Syria. Everyone was shocked hearing about a 14 year old boy in Manchester, England trying to persuade Sevdet Besim in Melbourne Australia to kill a random policemen last ANZAC day. All of these violent actions are unjustifiable, immoral and becoming all too common. It is right that our political leaders, and opinion leaders, and religious leaders condemn all this heinous behaviour.
The problem is that the people pointing the finger are themselves complicit in the promotion and perpetuation of violence and neither lead by word or example. In the UK, for example, there has been criticism of President Putin’s launching of air strikes against targets in Syria but no criticism of US or Australian air strikes in the same region. “Our” airstrikes are are apparently more accurate, more justifiable and more likely to deliver “positive” outcomes than the Russians’. One would have thought that Russia’s intervention would have given pause to David Cameron’s desire to seek parliamentary approval for RAF airstrikes in the same region. But no, he is just waiting until he is sure that he has a parliamentary majority in support of air strikes and. once given, the RAF will be in there as well. Nobody seems to think about the physical and human damage being done by all these strikes. Nobody seems to worry about the millions more people who will be forced to flee their homes in search of safety. Somehow , “Our” violence is justified and theirs is not.
It is impossible for our political leaders to exert any moral or political authority on these issues when they are incapable of acknowledging their own ferocious and pointless violence over the past 20 years and longer.
“The West ” is very good at blaming everyone else for external instability and violence but never acknowledges the negative consequences of its own violence and preparations for violence.
Here in the UK, for example, hospitals and schools and local authorities are being starved of funds but the Ministry of Defence has paid £1.2 billion for drones that have flown for 146 hours. Although justified in terms of surveillance, these machines are also capable of targeted extra judicial executions. The direct and indirect costs of these don’t figure into the production and deployment costs.
Or to take another topic issue the replacement of the Trident nuclear submarine system.
Replacing Trident with a new nuclear weapons system will cost at least £100 billion. The lost opportunity costs of this are enormous. This money could pay for: (i) Fully funding all A&E services in hospitals for 40 years (ii)Employing 150,000 new nurses (iii) Building 1.5 million new homes (iv) Tuition fees for 4 million students or (v) Insulating 15 million homes.
Instead of seeing this social expenditure as a guarantee of security the British public and many politicians from all sides of the political spectrum do not wish to give up the nuclear deterrent and other weapons of minor or mass destruction. Instead of worrying about the negative consequences of their deployment and the catastrophic consequences of their use the British public in large numbers says it gives them “peace of mind”.
And in the United States, its hard for President Obama to persuade the National Rifleman’s Assocation of the wisdom of gun control when he is willing to deploy his military guns, drones, planes, submarines and aircraft carriers to kill anyone who threatens or appears to threaten the interests of the United States.
The reality is the West is morally corrupt and impotent to take a strong stand for a less violent world as long as it is so reliant on violence. What is very obvious when moving from New Zealand ( where there are high levels of skepticism about the utility of the military and coercive power) to the UK where the opposite prevails is that this “love in ” with violence is deeply engrained in a political system that is highly hierarchical, highly entitled and where the military is elevated to a determinant position in the UK moral and political order.
A recent (December 2014) You Gov, poll, for example, found that something interesting. There is a growing mistrust with political leaders on issues of war (among other things), but there is no corresponding trust in peace organisations that exist to oppose it.
Only about one in four British voters say they trust the leaders of anti-war groups to tell the truth when it comes to debating military action (23%), compared with a large majority who don’t (64%). On the other side British popular views of military leaders is almost the exact reverse: 60% say they trust senior members of the UK Armed Forces in debates on military action, versus only 29% who don’t.
So obedience to authority and obedience to military authority is deeply engrained in the British Psyche. This is the challenge for the 21st century. How do western political leaders committed to the use of violent means for political purposes begin changing their mind sets and practice to behaviour which it much more ethical and consistent. If they do not they will be doomed to impotence in relation to all those individuals and groups and other states who choose violent means for their own purposes.
Until western states can acknowledge their own violent imperial past and present and commit to some principled non violent alternatives. They will have no effective moral authority in relation to interpersonal, inter group, or inter state violence. All that is needed is some political courage and a willingness to stand up against the crowd….