Yesterday I learned that Madeline Albright died. On my list of favorite diplomats, she was second only to George Marshall, whose policies were largely responsible for maintaining peace in Europe for 70 years and turned our enemies into allies. Her personal encounters with the evils which exist in our world have undoubtedly enhanced her appreciation for the freedoms afforded by democracy. Several years ago, during the post 9/11 years, we learned about the torture of our prisoners. Of course, the “T” word was never used to describe “enhanced interrogation, waterboarding, or even worse, rendition” which involved sending prisoners or kidnap victims to other countries to be tortured. She was asked to comment and responded that she felt the greatest danger to our democracy was the loss of our ideals.
It seemed clear to me from her comments that she felt the moral high road strengthened a nation and that we must be eternally vigilant and stay the course in order to survive. Her family had twice fled their native Czechoslovakia to escape totalitarianism. Although raised as a Catholic, later in her life she was surprised to learn that she had been born into a Jewish family and that many of her relatives had been victims of the holocaust, which must have further strengthened her resolve. She cautioned that since democracy was fragile it required constant vigilance, but in spite of what she saw as threats to our way of government, recently expressed confidence in its survival. The current political climate characterized by hate-speech, conspiracy theories, disregard for truth, and actual attempts to subvert democracy will certainly put that assessment to the test.
As if that were not enough, we now find ourselves between the proverbial rock and a hard spot with another testosterone-overdosed dictator deciding to kill a few thousand neighbors. Former president Bush had assured us that he had looked into Putin’s eyes, had seen his soul, and was reassured, while Albright had described his eyes as “cold almost reptilian.” Putin’s behaviors for the past few years have corrected that disparity, and we now face 2 unpalatable choices, i.e. directly intervene and risk nuclear war or stand by and watch the carnage of innocent people. So, here we go again with another stupid war. But then again, aren’t all wars stupid? World War II has been referred to as the “good war” although I find it hard to believe there is a lot good about 73 million deaths and only God knows how many injuries and how much suffering.
We now hear debate on the TV and social media about war crimes, yet isn’t killing people always criminal, or does permission granted by Putin or Biden make it OK? Was there a footnote somewhere that listed exceptions to the rule? I am told that there are some Bibles in which the phrase is thou shall not murder rather than kill which would refer to the legality of the killing, but is God actually a lawyer? Does the proverb I often heard my Grandfather use, “it depends on whose ox is being gored?” apply? During World War II Dresden was destroyed with incendiary bombs resulting in a firestorm which killed at least 35,000 people mostly women, children and elderly. There were no military targets. Likewise, Germany’s blitzkrieg of London specifically targeted civilian populations, but we got the prize by killing 226,000 people at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and leaving other thousands behind to deal with all sorts of radiation caused illnesses.
Those who have been in combat will almost always say that “war is hell.” They often witness horrors they will never be able to forget and sometimes do things which leave them guilt ridden for life. I can see nothing good about any war, yet we continue to glorify it at the behest of our leaders. Were we to simply declare war illegal, it would greatly simplify the UN’s work at the Hague, although it would be quite stressful for those companies who build machines designed to kill people.