From the CBC: Ta-ta to the age of virtue

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Ta-ta to the age of virtue, by The Ideas Guy

A Viewpoint on Humanitarian interventions

First, agreeing with everything that sounds reasonable and humane makes you feel virtuous. This is a Canadian specialty. It’s a cozy feeling, especially during a long winter.

I fully empathize. Which is why my head sometimes goes back and forth as if I’m in a 49th parallel ping-pong tournament for the morally challenged.

That’s the way I felt when I attended the second Munk Lecture at the Royal Ontario Museum recently (we were recording it for CBC Radio’s Ideas).

The question before the house was: “Be it resolved that if countries such as Sudan, Zimbabwe and Burma will not end their man-made humanitarian crises, the international community should.”

We is us

Well, that’s a no-brainer, I thought. Who believes in massacres, especially after the Holocaust, Rwanda, Cambodia (add your loathsome favourite).

In fact, before the debate, an astonishing 79 per cent of the audience agreed with the proposition.

That’s quite a figure. Almost nothing gets that kind of agreement except the most benign mom- and apple pie-type issues.

Gareth Evans, a human rights advocate and former Australian foreign minister, started the proceedings with a five-minute speech. He was compelling in his arguments.

Intervene and start early with diplomatic and economic means, he said. Military options should be saved till the end.

Evans, the compassionate politician, told the assembled that the “national interest” isn’t just some messy abstraction. Intervening prevents a failed state from infecting the international body politic. Terrorists with weapons of mass destruction take up residence in such places (consider the alleged hiding places of Osama bin Laden).

Countries like Sudan and the Congo breed instability, drug trafficking and global pandemics. It’s “strikingly obvious,” Evans said, that it is in our interest to intervene before the pestilence spreads.

Your money, your children

Evans was seconded by Mia Farrow who was described as a “famous actress” by the moderator, the CBC’s Brian Stewart.

Farrow, when she spoke, displayed no hint of Hollywood glamour. In fact, she seemed a cross between studious graduate student and a policy wonk.

Farrow is also no fly-by-night celebrity grandstander. She has been to Darfur, where an estimated 200,000 people have been killed, 10 times. She has raised 14 children (10 of them adopted). She wears an amulet around her neck from a woman named Halima whose husband and three children were murdered.

Farrow quoted the Nobel Prize-winning author Elie Wiesel on the fact that so few people cared what was happening to Jews (and others) during the Holocaust. She doesn’t want the innocents to suffer again.

On the other side of the debate were the realists. They were brutally effective.

Not inhumane, they just threw cold pails of water onto the moral proceedings. John Bolton, a former UN ambassador under George W. Bush, was almost callous, though, when he told the audience: you want to intervene, OK. Just do it with your money and your kids. Not mine.

Read the rest of this great article here.

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