the absurd observers

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Why Not a Second Lincoln Brigade?


In yet another column today, Nicholas Kristof calls upon the world to do more to prevent the genoicde in Darfur. In the article he chronicles the world's history of looking the other way as genocide occurs:
When Turkey was massacring Armenians in 1915, the administration of Woodrow Wilson determinedly looked the other way. The U.S. ambassador in Constantinople sent furious cables to Washington, pleading for action against what he called "race murder," but the White House shrugged.

It was, after all, a messy situation, and there was no easy way to stop the killing. The U.S. was desperate to stay out of World War I and reluctant to poison relations with Turkey.

A generation later, American officials said they were too busy fighting a war to worry about Nazi death camps. In May 1943, the U.S. government rejected suggestions that it bomb Auschwitz, saying that aircraft weren't available.

In the 1970's, the U.S. didn't try to stop the Cambodian genocide. It was a murky situation in a hostile country, and there was no perfect solution. The U.S. was also negotiating the establishment of relations with China, the major backer of the Khmer Rouge, and didn't want to upset that process.

Much the same happened in Bosnia and Rwanda. As Samantha Power chronicles in her superb book, "A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide," the pattern was repeated over and over: a slaughter unfolded in a distant part of the world, but we had other priorities and it was always simplest for the American government to look away.

Yet it seems to me that the political calculus in Darfur is decidedly different than in these other genocides. In this instance, there are not the same geo-political risks. The Sudan is a rogue nation with a pathetic military. A well equipped army would easily end the genocide there. While the usual amoral countries of the world would criticize intervention, the political fallout would be minimal.

Which raises a new question...

If America as a government is unwilling to act for whgatever reason, it should nonetheless permit and encourage individual Americans to fund and/or create a private army to combat Janjaweed. When Sierra Leone was facing the ravages of civil war in which children were being mutilated accrrss the country, they briefly hired a small South African mercenary force that was able to put a halt to the carnage.

The Lincoln Brigade today is hailed as a noble effort to stop the spread of fascism. They faced nearly insurmountable odds. Today, the enemy is weak and American power and wealth great. If private individuals were permitted to create an army and fight against genocide, the world would be well served. If America is too self-interested to take action, it should at least permit individual americans to do so.


  • Presumably the gov't has a larger interest in discouraging privately funded military forces and wants to maintain a consistent voice on the matter. There is a reasonable risk that arming third worlders could wind up creating problems that although less awful than genocide might have a more adverse impact on US interests. Even more cynically, although privately funded armies might generate revenue for American arms corporations, competition for mercenary soldiers would push up the price for US efforts in Iraq. . . .

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:17 PM  

  • While I agree that standing mercenary armies that fight for the highest bidder are not in the national interest, an specific army formed for the single purpose of stopping genocide is rather different. There is no question that the cause is just, it is simply a matter of America being willing to expend the resources in pursuit of that cause. Presumably, the government is reticent to compel Americans to pay for a war that it cannot defend as being vital to national security. Yet if some Americans are willing to volunteer and fund such an effort and it does not interfere with overall national interests, then it strikes me a a worthwhile idea.

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