Fat Steve's Blatherings

Monday, December 19, 2005

The St. Onge/Monaco Dialogue continues: Human Rights and Atrocities


        Jerry Monaco of New York has been leaving long, thoughtful, rather impassioned comments on this blog.  You can find the previous ones here, here, and here.  My response to that last contribution ran so long, I've decided to break it up by subject.  Of course, this neat separation won't last, but I expect that, and don't mind it.

        All blockquoted material is from Jerry's previous comments, unless otherwise noted.


        You mentioned that you belong to Human Rights Watch, so I went to their web site to see what they think about Iraq.  I remain rather confused.  They thought it was bad that Saddam murdered people, but didn't think it was so bad that someone should invade and overthrow him.  They thought Saddam should be tried for his crimes, but didn't say who was going to arrest him and drag him into court, and especially didn't say how this could happen without an invasion.  They took no position on the proposed 2003 attack on Iraq, back before it happened, but allowed how the genocide Saddam committed in 1987-'88 would have justified an invasion.  Perhaps Human Rights Watch called for an invasion during that time period, but just forgot to post the press releases on their website?  But 2002-'03 wasn't '87-'88, and they had no position when invasion was a live option.  They were perfectly prepared to let Saddam stay in power, where he would have continued to murder people, and allow him to rebuild the stocks of chemical weapons that he'd used to commit genocide with.  If he had rebuilt his WMD stockpiles, and had committed genocide again, what would Human Rights Watch position have been?  I have no idea.  But apparently, preventing dictators from being in a position to invade their neighbors again and commit genocide again isn't important to Human Rights Watch, or you, judging by your comments.  Have I misunderstood?

        You write:
        Saddam Hussein got most of his supplies for weapons of mass destruction before the first Gulf War from U.S., Britain, France and Germany, because we sold them to him.

        Hmm, should I be glad or sorry we got paid?  (I mean that half seriously.)

U.S. companies, with the approval of Reagan and Bush the Elder, sold him the supplies that allowed him to construct chemcial weapons to gas Iranians and which he also used on the Kurds. The U.S.(& Britain & France) supported Saddam during the period of Saddam's greatest atrocities. I protested this support of Saddam Hussein by the U.S. in 1986 and so did the human rights organization that I belonged to, Human Rights Watch.

        I must say, I admire your careful choice of words.  A careless person might think you were accusing the U.S. of selling Saddam most of his armaments, and point out that Saddam's arms purchases came about 57% from the former USSR, 13% from France, and 12% from China, (that's a subtotal of 82%), while the U.S. sold him only 1% of the arms, and the U.K. and Germany less than 1% each.  But you didn't say we sold him "armaments," you said we sold him "supplies."  So, if no U.S. firm had sold him anything, if he'd bought all his "supplies" from the USSR and China, and then murdered the same people with them, would that have made it all right with you?  Or better, at least?  I would really like to know.

        You may have gathered from my posts that I am not exactly a big fan of Marxism. ;-D  But reading you has increased my sympathy for them.  "What is to be done?"  What were you and Human Rights Watch prepared to do to stop Saddam, or anyone else, from committing further atrocities?  As far as I can tell, form political organizations, assemble mailing-and-donor lists, raise funds, issue press releases, demonstrate, attend conferences, and possibly pat yourselves on the back over your superior morality.  Net lives saved, pretty close to zero, as far as I can tell.  It reminds me of another Jerry I know, Dr. Jerry Pournell, whose attitude to those who had the bad taste not to be born U.S. citizens is pretty close to "We're all right Jack, fuck you."  (In justice to Pournelle, I must say he uses different words to express it, but that seems to me what his viewpoint reduces to).  You express a different attitude, but operationally, you seem to come down in pretty much the same place, as long the people getting oppressed suffer at the hand of someone with no connection to the U.S.

        You say, more than once, that atrocities, terrorism, and murder are reprehensible no matter who does them.  I agree, though I'd add what Heinlein makes Jubal Harshaw say in Stranger in a Strange Land, that politics isn't always a choice between "good" and "bad," it's frequently a choice between "bad" and "worse."  When I do the moral calculus, I ask what better alternatives were available, and support the course of action that seems likely to lead to the lowest body count of innocents.

        How you, Human Rights Watch, and other such organizations reason about these matters I haven't even begun to grasp.  All I can discern is an apparent pattern that the more closely an evil act is associated with the U.S. government, the worse it is.  I don't understand that in the slightest.  But I do see that your approach to reducing the number of people murdered in this world is far different from mine.  I look to get results that reduce innocent deaths, while you and those like you seem to be interested in making grand gestures, even if it increases total innocent deaths.

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