Thursday, November 23, 2006

Pacifism Doesn't Always Work Out So Well

I can respect the desire to be a pacifist, but pacifism combined with freedom is a luxury afforded only to those protected by sufficient military might to prevent the weak from being preyed upon by the strong. Generally, pacifism is most often associated with subjugation because the natural tendency of men and nations is to contest for power and resources. Steven LeBlanc writes in his book Constant Battles about how man has fought since our species has been on the planet. There has never been an era in history not marked by near constant warfare. The only thing that keeps men and nations from warring is sufficient bounty for all. The best mechanism for insuring bounty for all is a democratic government that allows entrepreneurial rights and protects people’s property and individual rights.

Democracies fight more wars because their economic power gives them a presence in places far from their own region and allows them to project military power. So, when a local despot oppresses threatens a democracy’s interests, or the democracy’s people, the democracy has to respond because frankly, the people of the democracy, the voters, want it. Think back to President Bush standing on the rubble of the World Trade Center when he said: "I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon," The crowd roared its approval, and the President enjoyed his highest approval ratings. Why? Because the people of America wanted to strike back and Bush, the politician, was going to do exactly what the voters wanted. This aggressive pursuit of despots across the world has been a trait of modern democracies. America destroyed the Barbary pirates off the coast of Libya in the early 1800’s, allied European democracies crushed the Chinese “Boxer Rebellion,” America destroyed the Spanish in Cuba at the turn of the 20th century and Australia ended the slaughter of innocents in East Timor at the turn of the 21st century. In each case I just sited, a democracy responded with overwhelming force to relatively minor provocations. Why? Because, such actions were popular.

Now, would pacifism have been a better policy? I think the answer to that question depends on what you value. If you value the preservation of life above all, and the absence of suffering brought on by injuries caused by weapons, then yes, pacifism is the best policy. But if you care about liberty and freedom in addition to safety, it is hard to see how pacifism delivers those things. A tyrant will take all that a pacifist state has and enslave the people. Peace will reign, but at a cost that is unacceptable to free people. The people in democracies will see injustice somewhere in the world, and demand their governments stop it.

Is trying to create a democracy the best policy after deposing a despot? Perhaps not, but Winston Churchill addressed this question directly in a speech to the House of Commons in 1947: “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

For those who love peace, as we all do, an imperfect democracy is preferable to a stable dictatorship. Perhaps the most compelling justification for this statement is one that is more germane to this class. Democracies establish mechanisms to safeguard rights and which reward the peaceful resolution of differences. When two democracies have a conflict, both sides can send negotiators to the table to resolve differences, even if the negotiations take years. The US and Canada periodically meet to resolve differences over fishing areas along their maritime boundaries. Never a shot is fired. On the other hand, the North and South Korean navies are in a constant state of readiness during the blue crab harvest, often firing on each other because there is no mechanism for a peaceful resolution of this problem. South Korea and Japan, a couple of democracies, also have joint fishing areas that are mutually patrolled with no rancor. Democracies can resolve problems because both sides are predisposed to utilized civilized resolution mechanisms. Democracies do not have a similar luxury when there is a dispute with a despot.

Speaking of Japan and South Korea; they stand as testimony to the successes that are possible when one country imposes democracy on another.