Friday, March 18, 2011

Making decisions

For those who believe in absolutes, the answers are always easy.  If, for example, you don't believe in the death penalty, then it is easy to say that never, regardless of the question of guilt, regardless of the severity of the crime(s), the death penalty is never "right."

That specific choice is actually rather simple, but only because there are viable options to be utilized.  Saying "no death penalty" doesn't mean you have to say "no punishment."

Other situations are different, with less clear-cut results.  Although I don't wish to discuss the "right to life" directly, there are nuances in that stance.  It is easy to say "no" to an abortion, but not all abortions are equal.  Yes, they have the same result for the unborn, but their case can be radically different, at least from a societal perspective.  Do we force a woman who has been raped to give birth?  Clearly that's much different than a woman who simply made bad choices.  Do we force a woman to continue a pregnancy, knowing that it likely will end in her death, and quite likely the death of the unborn too?  Again, decisions based purely upon an absolute runs up against reality.

On Thursday we saw that very discussion played out at the United Nations.  The Security Council debated what to do with Libya.  There are a number of "facts" which we can probably agree upon, namely that the existing regime is employing the military (a catch-all term including police and whatever else there is) to crush a rebellion.  The existing regime has denied all sorts of actions which we have seen on the nightly news.  The leader and his proteges have openly lied so much that we probably doubt anything he says, even if we likely believe him when he said he'll send his troops house to house to kill the rebels.  THAT we likely believe.

So, the Security Council debated, and in the end decided to act.  The vote was 10 to 0,with five abstentions.  Two of those five, Russia and China have veto power, but chose not to invoke it.  They both believe that intervening in other countries is wrong, but largely because they fear that very action in their own lands.  The most interesting abstention is Germany.

If we were to look at humanitarian disasters in the last 100 years or so, one that stands out would be Hitler's Germany.  The world stood by, content to believe it was an internal matter for Germans, and in many ways it was.  However, before the shooting war began it was obviously much more than that.  The German people know all too well what can happen, and they've created laws for themselves to both remind them and to prevent any replay.  60 years later, those may be a bit of overkill, but I applaud their dedication to the cause.

They have also more or less forsworn having a military that is built to fight an external war.  They know what happens when, as Churchill put it, the world changes from "jaw-jaw to war-war."  Post war Germany lived with both the knowledge of history and the Cold War threatening to again destroy the country just as the 30 Years War did in 1618.  They would provide the battleground, but little more.

Did the UN act too fast?  Should the world stay out of such matters?  At what point does the "internal situation" in a country become "everybody's concern?"  No one truly knows, and therein lies the problem.  There is no single point on a measuring tool that says "here is the point where things change."

In the end it appears likely that Libya will undergo a change in leadership.  Exactly how that plays out is unclear.  Did too many people have to die to make that happen?  Absolutely, but in a nation where there are no elections and no system in place to alter the government, that's the way things happen.

As Churchill once observed, "Democracy is the worst form of government...except for all the others."

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