The military policy of the United States has been governed by altruism since at least World War I, when Herbert Croly, the proto-fascist and Progressive writer, advocated that America involve itself in that war as a “tonic of a serious moral adventure.” The shocking news is that, if an American soldier murdered sixteen Afghani citizens in cold blood, it is a direct consequence of that policy.
The messianic President Wilson could not pass up what he saw as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help remake the world. As historian Arthur Ekirch writes in The Decline of American Liberalism, “The notion of a crusade came naturally to Wilson, the son of a Presbyterian minister, imbued with a stern Calvinist sense of determinism and devotion to duty.” He was goaded by a host of Progressive intellectuals, such as John Dewey and Herbert Croley, editor of The New Republic, who wrote that “the American nation needs the tonic of a serious moral adventure.”
In terms of a self-sacrificing foreign policy, you can’t get more altruistic than that. It has been the rule of thumb ever since, with only superficial variations on the theme.
To forego any counter-arguments, it is not the purpose of this column to argue for or against why the U.S. involved itself in that war and in World War II, as well. America was already regarded as an enemy by Germany before our entry into either war; it may have become embroiled in those conflicts regardless of the rationality or irrationality of our policy. Speculation on this particular issue is not the subject here.
First, it would be helpful to clarify exactly what I am referring to when I say that our foreign policy has been governed altruism, and it would be especially helpful if we got it from the horse’s mouth, that of French philosopher, Auguste Comte:
Altruism (also called the ethic of altruism, moralistic altruism, and ethical altruism) is an ethical doctrine that holds that individuals have a moral obligation to help, serve, or benefit others, if necessary at the sacrifice of self interest. Auguste Comte’s version of altruism calls for living for the sake of others. One who holds to either of these ethics is known as an “altruist.”
The word “altruism” (French, altruisme, from autrui: “other people”, derived from Latin alter: “other”) was coined by Comte, the French founder of positivism, in order to describe the ethical doctrine he supported. He believed that individuals had a moral obligation to renounce self-interest and live for others. Comte says, in his Catéchisme Positiviste, that:
[The] social point of view cannot tolerate the notion of rights, for such notion rests on individualism. We are born under a load of obligations of every kind, to our predecessors, to our successors, to our contemporaries. After our birth these obligations increase or accumulate, for it is some time before we can return any service…. This ["to live for others"], the definitive formula of human morality, gives a direct sanction exclusively to our instincts of benevolence, the common source of happiness and duty. [Man must serve] Humanity, whose we are entirely.”
Two articles were published almost immediately after news of the crime broke, Ralph Peters’s angry article on Family Security Matters (FSM, March 13), Soldiers Murders Afghans – Generals Murder Solders: It was Only a Matter of Time Before One of Our Men Broke Down,” and Daniel Greenfield’s bitter and sardonic Sultan Knish article of March 12, “The Blood Price of Afghanistan.”
By contrast, the MSM reported the killings with an almost palpable tone of glee, a tone of near relief that finally, American troops can be accused of something heinous, and America itself implicated in the crime. CNN decided to quote the dismay of one of the head savages in Afghanistan:
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said the soldier acted alone and turned himself in after opening fire on civilians. U.S. President Barack Obama called the killings “tragic and shocking,” and offered his condolences to the Afghan people in a phone call to his counterpart in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, the White House said.
But no condolences offered for the numerous Americans, Canadians, British, and Australians killed in cold blood by Afghans?
But the attack is likely to further more anger at international forces following deadly riots over the burning of Qurans by U.S. troops.
Oh, yes, let’s bring up those Korans with the scrawled Muslim marginal notes that were burned. Let’s fuel the anger by mentioning that subject.
“The Afghan people can withstand a lot of pain,” Prince Ali Seraj, the head of the National Coalition for Dialogue with the Tribes of Afghanistan, told CNN. “They can withstand collateral damage. They can withstand night raids. But murder is something that they totally abhor, and when that happens, they really want justice.”
Really? The Taliban and other Afghans “abhor” murder? But not honor killings, rape, torture, beheadings, ritual disfigurements, beatings, and whippings, all prescribed or sanctioned by the Koran? All a matter of everyday practice in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Syria, Libya…well, you know the map. ABC opined:
In the wake of the Quran burnings, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, visited troops at a base that was attacked last month and urged them not to give in to the impulse for revenge.
The tensions between the two countries had appeared to be easing as recently as Friday, when the two governments signed a memorandum of understanding about the transfer of Afghan detainees to Afghan control — a key step toward an eventual strategic partnership to govern U.S. forces in the country.
Now, another wave of anti-American hatred could threaten the entire future of the mission, fueling not only anger among the Afghans whom the coalition is supposed to be defending but also encouraging doubts among U.S. political figures that the long and costly war is worth the sacrifice in lives and treasury.
General Allen ought to caution the troops on revenge – but, revenge on whom? Revenge on the politically-correct officer corps that instructs the troops to not fight back, to not show disrespect for the Afghans and their brutal and primitive culture, to not feel resentment for being a mere sitting-ducks “police force” to contain an enemy the policymakers dare not name, to not resent being guinea pigs in an altruistic war to bring “stability” to a part of the world that has never known it and never will?
And the transfer of those Afghan detainees? Did the “memorandum of understanding” lock the Afghan government into a promise to detain the “detainees” in the rottenest prison in the country? Or did the Afghan signers of the memorandum sign it with tongue in cheek?
And, oh, gee, we mustn’t do anything that will unleash another wave of anti-American hatred and murderous anger, like exterminate the Taliban, withhold financial and material aid to a corrupt government, or urinate on Taliban fighters, or even so much as sketch a cartoon of Mohammad in a Koran. No, we, the policymakers and the MSM, will only focus and dwell on American actions, and not Afghan crime, for after all, if we weren’t there, there wouldn’t be any Afghan crime.
Right. Before the Americans arrived, Afghanistan was the playground of the rich and famous, with immaculate beaches, five-star hotels, a friendly and outgoing populace, health spas, ski resorts, and crime statistics so low they put the Amish country to shame.
Ralph Peters’s column netted several score comments from readers of FSM. It resonated with those readers, because he was able to paint a picture of the obscene decrepitude that is Afghanistan, a decrepitude America should never have tried to correct, because it is the natural state of the country.
If there’s a “battle cry” in Afghanistan, it’s “Blame the troops!” Generals out of touch with the ugly, brute reality on the ground down in the Taliban-sympathizing villages respond to every seeming crisis in Afghan-American relations by telling our troops to “respect Afghan culture.”
But generals don’t have a clue about Afghan “culture.” They interact with well-educated, privileged, English-speaking Afghans who know exactly which American buttons to press to keep the tens of billions of dollars in annual aid flowing. The troops, on the other hand, daily encounter villagers who will not warn them about Taliban-planted booby traps or roadside bombs, who obviously want them to leave, who relish the abject squalor in which they live and who appear to value the lives of their animals above those of their women. When our Soldiers and Marines hear, yet again, that they need to “respect Afghan culture,” they must want to puke up their rations.
And that’s the country and populace we are sacrificing blood and treasure to bring “democracy” to a hellhole. But the “democracy” was already there. The squalor and the brute culture is what the Afghans want. They voted for it at an invisible ballot box, the ballot box of stagnation and status quo.
Right now, our troops are being used as props in a campaign year, as pawns by dull-witted generals who just don’t know what else to do, and as cash cows by corrupt Afghan politicians, generals and warlords (all of whom agree that it’s virtuous to rob the Americans blind).
What are our goals? What is our strategy? We’re told, endlessly, that things are improving in Afghanistan, yet, ten years ago, a U.S. Army general, unarmed, could walk the streets of Kabul without risk. Today, there is no city in Afghanistan where a U.S. general could stroll the streets. We may not have a genius for war, but we sure do have a genius for kidding ourselves.
And the moral code that allows us to kid ourselves is: Altruism. After all, altruism can do no harm. It cannot be corrupted. It cannot corrupt.
Altruism took us to Iraq and Afghanistan, and altruism will be the death of us there (and of more U.S. troops). Purists claim that you can’t corrupt altruism, that only good can emanate from it. But, there you are. Mr. Peters identifies with justifiable anger just how that can be and has been done. He puts his finger on the cause of such crimes by excoriating the policies that have governed the conduct of American operations in Afghanistan.
Is it really better to give than to receive? Altruism says so. But all the U.S. has received in return for expending American lives and incalculable wealth in that hellhole is hatred, scorn, and death.
It’s interesting to note that the advocates of self-sacrifice rarely volunteer to sacrifice themselves, if they have cannon fodder available and the funds to send the cannon fodder in their place. Altruism is eminently corruptible, and the Afghan murder incident is merely the most visible instance of it. The advocates indulge in their altruism by proxy – with other men’s lives. They consider themselves virtuous. In reality, they are a unique species of coward – men who know the consequences of the moral code they expect others to abide by, but refuse to themselves, because they know it means death and dishonor.
That is the dirty little secret of every altruist who has ever championed self-sacrifice. And when someone goes insane and violates that code, they howl in indignation. They disavow any knowledge of its inevitable consequences. They pose and pontificate about that “higher cause” and spit on its victims.
Altruism can also corrupt, and cause one to sacrifice or surrender one’s most cherished values – or to employ force to compel others to surrender them.
Daniel Greenfield’s Sultan Knish article is nearly literary in its explication of that altruist “military” policy.
The alleged attack on Afghans by an American soldier in Kandahar, where 91 soldiers have been murdered last year alone, is already receiving the full outrage treatment. Any outrage over the deaths of those 91 soldiers in the province will be completely absent.
There will be no mention of how many of them died because the Obama Administration decided that the lives of Afghan civilians counted for more than the lives of soldiers. No talk of what it is like to walk past houses with gunmen dressed in civilian clothing inside and if you are fired at from those houses, your orders are to retreat.
No, no POTUS, no MSM anchor or pundit, no Charlie Rose or “Washington Week” host will raise those issues. After all, self-sacrifice demands that our soldiers expose themselves to the whim and malice of their enemies. Isn’t that what soldiering is all about? So, please, don’t bore our liberal/left elite with such stories.
Air strikes are for days gone by. The American soldier in the ISAF is expected to patrol and retreat, to smile and reach out to Afghans while they shoot him in the back. After risking his life to hold back the Taliban, he is expected to take it calmly when his government announces that it is trying to cut a deal with the Taliban. As he waits out the final months until withdrawal, seeing his friends lose their limbs and their lives, knowing that the enemy has won, that he has been betrayed and is being kept senselessly on the front line for no objective except the diplomatic position of a government that hates him, that is taking away his health care, his equipment and his job; how does he feel?
Who knows what motivated the staff sergeant to kill those Afghans? He was a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, with several tours of duty. While his crime was inexcusable, Greenfield here, as well as Ralph Peters, describes the irrational “war-fighting” conditions our soldiers are expected to behave in.
The Panjwai district, where the shootings happened, is the cradle of the Taliban. Smiling civilians plant IED’s and children serve as lookouts. Obama’s Surge pushed hard into Panjwai and the Taliban pushed back. American soldiers were caught in the middle, dying for a handful of dusty towns where the inhabitants took their presents and shook hands with them, and then shot at them from cover.
That describes very well the surreal environment our troops must endure. Well, there were the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) of yore, with whom university presidents and professors negotiated. And there is the Taliban for a Democratic Society (Taliban from talib, meaning an “army of Islamic students”), with whom our government is negotiating a surrender. Some things never change; only the garb and the ideology. Only this time it is the heirs of the SDS negotiating with the TDS. That fact alone deserves book-length treatment.
Does our military actually expect to have first-class soldiers who are also armed social workers? Does it really expect our soldiers to develop pride, honor, and dignity by instructing them to become sacrificial animals? Does it really expect an altruistic “war-fighting” policy to not inculcate contradictions, contempt, and confusion in the minds of our soldiers – and still expect them to remain steadfastly sane and loyal?
Altruism is not a guide for living, but a prescription for dying. Novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand noted:
What is the moral code of altruism? The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.
Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good. (“Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 61)
Do not confuse appeasement with tactfulness or generosity. Appeasement is not consideration for the feelings of others, it is consideration for and compliance with the unjust, irrational and evil feelings of others. It is a policy of exempting the emotions of others from moral judgment, and of willingness to sacrifice innocent, virtuous victims to the evil malice of such emotions. (“The Age of Envy,” Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, p. 136)
The appeasement practiced by past presidents and policymakers was horrific enough. The wholesale destruction or surrender of values was inevitable. They thought they were being diplomatic and practical. But the appeasement being practiced by our leadership today – in Iraq, in Afghanistan – is consciously calculated to destroy, and destroy not only our military, but, in the long run, America itself. It represents a deliberate, intentional surrender of values, with full knowledge of the consequences.
Our “war-fighting” policy from the beginning — just after 9/11 — has been one governed by altruism.
It was not in our self-interest to “spread democracy” in Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan. It was in our self-interest to eliminate states that sponsor terrorism in our own self-defense. That has not happened. Obama can blame George Bush for inaugurating that policy – although don’t expect him to mention that – and Obama can blame himself for perpetuating it. But he won’t blame himself. He doesn’t give a damn. He hates this country, its freedom (what’s left of it), and our military.
Appeasement is altruism in action. And the only destination possible by that policy is an endless, nihilistic abyss.
It is time that Americans called the appeasers and altruists to account for their actions. It is time they were judged in the court of reason.