An act of moral cowardice? Discuss

This week I didn’t ask a question which I should have.

The person I should have asked is one of my American cousins who was over for a holiday. I have a lot of American cousins: my father was one of seven children, and most of his siblings followed the Irish dream of a better life in America. This particular cousin is a professor of political philoshopy which generally puts him higher in my regard than, say, the American cousin who appeared in ‘Bowling For Columbine’, espousing the ‘hell yeah, guns are great’ argument. The fact that the Professor sent me a copy of Plato’s ‘The Last Days of Socrates’ when I hit puberty probably counts in his favour too, though that did plant in my mind the idea that he might be a little Weird, an idea supported by some of his later comments, such as saying I looked like a Pre-Raphaelite painting. However, it’s not his attitude to me I have problems with. It’s his attitude to his government. He thinks Bush is great, and what Bush is doing is good and right and just.

To be fair, I don’t know this first hand, as it’s not something that has ever come up in conversation between us. However, at a recent funeral of one of the Uncles, the professor got into conversation with Beloved and the talk turned to current affairs. Beloved is not easily riled, but he found himself so appalled at the man’s stance and at his inability to admit any contrary view, that in the end he walked away. Unfortunately I didn’t witness any of this, having been cornered by the evangelical Christian known to the rest of us as Cousin visit-explanatory-pamphlets-upon-the-ungodly.

Not knowing the truth for myself made me even more eager to ask the question. The question being: how, as an intelligent, highly educated and rational person, can you believe America is justified in its actions? I wanted to ask this not to provoke an argument but because I genuinely want to know whether he supports the premise that America, alone amongst every nation in the world today, has the right to interfere with, even invade, other nations of whose regime/politics/attitude it disapproves? Could someone that smart really think that?

But I chickened out. I hate confrontation. Plus, he argues for a living and I’m just an indignant liberal who tends to open her mouth without thinking. I might have tried to ask the question if it had just been the two of us, but as well as Beloved we were in the company of the professor’s wife, who faintly disapproves of me, and one of my English cousins, a professional artist who may be the only surviving member of my family who comes from the same planet as me, and who hates confrontation even more than I.

The conversation did drift into dangerous territory by itself at one point. I made an offhand comment on the lack of actual news in newspapers. He agreed and said that when it comes to Iraq, ‘95% of the news is only 5% of the truth’, as all we ever hear about is how many of our soldiers have been killed. For a happy moment I thought I was wrong about him, and I opened my mouth to agree. I intended to point out that we only got to hear about Iraqi deaths when they ran into the dozens, implying that one US or European solider’s life must be worth, oh, about twenty or thirty Iraqi civilians. But he carried on over me saying that the problem with the media in the US was that they were so anti-Bush that they never reported ‘all the good work our people are doing over there’. I should have tried to ask for an example but I was too busy being incredulous that he thought devastating a country then rebuilding it in a way that maximissed profit for yourself and your allies could ever qualify as ‘good work’. By the time I’d recovered the conversation had been steered into less contentious territory.

So, I don’t know the answer to my question, not for sure. The brave and militant part of me calls me a coward, says I should not judge without knowing the facts. The cynical and craven part (which usually wins out) says I’m happier not knowing. Because if an intelligent man like him really sees no problem with his country imposing its will on the world, whatever the cost in human lives and suffering, then I suspect there isn’t much hope for the rest of us.

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