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Superman Redux

Brainy Ethicist Needed.

by Barnabas
January 29, 2003

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Superman Redux_Barnabas-Brainy Ethicist Needed.
But like Bush, Wolfowitz is driven by a belief that the U.S. should use its power to promote freedom and battle tyrants. "I believe this country is what it stands for, more than anything else. It's more than a physical entity," Wolfowitz says. "If we're not true to our principles, we're not serving our national interest."
—“Bush’s Brainiest Hawk,” Time, January 27.

“I’m going to make a decent, God-fearing Christian out of him if I have to break every bone in his body!”
—Patrick’s trustee in “Auntie Mame.”

“For truth, justice, and the American way!”
—Superman, 1940’s


Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz may be the President’s brainiest hawk, but he is definitely not the President’s brainiest ethicist.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I have lived into my old age unaware that American principles include an obligation to impose, by force, freedom on other nations. To be sure, our nation was born in a fight for freedom from the British crown, but we weren’t trying to set the British free from their King. Imposition by force of a benevolent will on other nations “to promote freedom and battle tyrants” reminds me of the Boy Scout who helped six old ladies across the street, even though three of them didn’t want to go.

Freedom from oppression is sometimes the happy side-effect of war, at least when the free nations win; if they lose, greater oppression is the side-effect. Several democracies emerged following World War II. So did several dictatorships.

You cannot set people free by starting a war, because war is the end of the very things that make for freedom: cooperation, diplomacy, trust, fellowship. War is the antithesis of freedom. Its wholesale slaughters, ruined livelihoods, and smashed hopes are the quintessential expression of tyranny.

Good guys don’t start wars; they finish them. They fight wars that bad guys start, in order to end the disaster with as little loss as possible. At the end, a lot of people may be free that were not otherwise, but that is a happy accident instead of a predictable result. A great many others will be dead.

American principles as I learned them (I don’t know where Wolfowitz learned his), include the encouragement of freedom by generous example and persuasive argument. Then, if another nation chooses to wage war against us or our allies, we meet force with force. War with Iraq may be justified on these grounds; I have stated my opinion before that a state of war now exists between the United States and Iraq. Whether this requires escalation of hostilities at this time beyond my knowledge and competence to declare.

But this column is not about war with Iraq. It is about Wolfowitz’s untenable notion that we have a (moral?) responsibility to impose freedom on other nations. If his argument had merit, its logic would require us to attack mainland China. We would be picking on someone our own size, and just think how many more people we could liberate!

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