In the comments section of an earlier post, Jen asked me about whether I had read the book "Manuel Noriega, America's Prisoner," and what I thought about U.S. involvement in Panama generally. She also asked about the book "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man."
I'm afraid that I have read neither book. I will make note of them and try to add them to my 2015 reading pile. I am sure I would learn something from them. The larger issue, though, of U.S. involvement in Panama, and in many countries around our globe, is easier to address.
There are essentially two ways to assess American (or any sovereign nation's) involvement abroad. One is purely philosophical: should they be involved at all, or should they never, under any circumstance meddle in the affairs of another sovereign nation. The other consideration is more practical: under which circumstances might it be justified for the U.S. or any other nation to involve itself in the machinations of countries which may or may not welcome outside involvement? Then, if the necessary circumstances exist, who makes the decision, the country where the perceived problem exists, or the United States or other nation which feels that its interests are challenged in some way?
Let's look at these issues from those perspectives. Should the United States or any other country meddle in the affairs of other sovereign nations? From a purely philosophical point of view, I would say no. The government of the United States has a responsibility to protect the legitimate interests of its citizens at home. If U.S. individuals or companies move elsewhere, they should be on their own. No nation can police every other nation. It isn't practical. It isn't even possible, at the best of times. Most importantly, in most cases, it isn't ethical.
Given my libertarian leanings, I think that any regular reader of this blog would have noticed that I think we should all simply mind our own business, both individually and as groups, large or small. Whether a group is a committee, a religious denomination, or an entire nation doesn't matter. We need to mind our own affairs and leave others alone to mind theirs.
Is that it, then? No country should ever meddle in the affairs of another, regardless of the circumstances or of real or perceived threats that might exist?
Human stupidity abounds. It will be with us long after all of us living today are gone. Many people prefer not to think or to make important decisions themselves. They like to delegate decisions. They trust their elected or appointed officials to do the right thing. The problem is, the elected officials are really no more qualified to make decisions than each of us is individually. Don't believe me? Look around. Are we living in a perfect world? Does everyone get along? Has hate been eradicated? Are wars a thing of the past? Are our schools safe? Are we safe on the streets of our own cities? Are we safe from the long and invasive arm of our own governments?
Ask yourself as many more similar questions as you like, and then supply as many no's as are necessary yourself. Was there a single yes as answer to a question in your list? Probably not.
We have trusted our elected officials to take care of all of these things for us, to guide us, to think for us, to spend our money for us. But... they have let us down. No matter where we live, if our elected officials make decisions, we are stuck with them. The effect can be as simple as a deterioration in the quality of our life, or as final as having our life eradicated completely. I don't know about you, but I prefer to live and die on my terms. I know best what I am willing to fight to the death for, like my own family and possessions, and under which conditions I never want to die, like in a police raid based on faulty information or in an un-winnable war protecting the life and property of people who really don't want my help anyway.
Is it ever proper for one sovereign nation to involve itself in the affairs of another? Let's set any philosophical arguments aside for the moment and consider the matter from a purely practical point of view. My personal background and family history always become part of the consideration when I ponder this issue. I was born in Germany just after World War II. Millions of innocent people died in that war. Would external intervention to take out Adolf Hitler before his influence and power reached their respective peaks have made sense? What if Hitler had been assassinated by a hit squad from outside Germany? Would his followers have carried on, without his mania and focus? I don't know, but it is something I have thought of often. I might have gotten to know two uncles who were lost in the war, and two brothers, Erwin and Albert, who died of starvation and disease just months before I was born.
Maybe the world would have been a better place, had Hitler been taken out. But, was it the place of America or some other country to intervene? Or should the Germans who saw where things were headed in Germany done it themselves?
To me, the entire issue serves to underline why governments are inherently evil and why we as citizens are at best naive, and at worst very, very stupid to put our trust in them. Wars are not caused by the individuals who go about their lives minding their own business. Wars are caused by governments which decide where and when to fight and for which causes. I can understand responding collectively to invading forces from outside one's home country. I have more trouble understanding collective invasions of one country by another for purely political, territorial, business or religious reasons.
Jen, in my usual fashion I have not provided any definitive answers but have instead posed more questions, offered more to think about. It is very easy to get on board any cause with which we can identify emotionally. Eradicate evil: would you support a war that would make that promise? What about if the promise were instead to wipe out everyone who didn't share your skin colour? Would you support that? You wouldn't, and I wouldn't, but many others would. And those many who would eradicate entire other races are not all white supremacists.
What about a war that promised to destroy everyone who worshipped differently than you, or not at all? You wouldn't support it, I wouldn't either, nor would any other enlightened people, but there are large numbers of those who would support such a thing and who are, in fact, engaged in those activities right now. Their efforts are, for the moment, mostly as individuals, but what will happen when entire nations set themselves against others based purely on what they think their god or their prophet wants them to do?
That is why I think that we are long past the point where we should trust our governments to do our thinking for us. They have done an abysmal job. We need to think for ourselves, to accept responsibility for our individual actions, and to the extent to which we delegate responsibility to others, we need to hold their actions and them personally responsible as well.
And for those who prefer to think that (insert any foolishness you have seen in any nation other than your own) can never happen 'here,' wherever that might be, I assure you, you are mistaken. Under the right circumstances, when there is high unemployment, when enough people are hungry, when people feel caged and impotent, anything can happen. Scapegoats will be found. Purges will take place. Reason will disappear. It has happened in many places, many times, in our human history. It can happen here, and chances are, it will. You and I are powerless to control the massive governments we have created and we have become enslaved. We may not like it, but we will do the bidding of our masters.
That is the inevitable result of each of us not accepting responsibility and delegating it to others. You see, things are exactly backwards these days. Does anyone still seriously believe that government works for us and that politicians and bureaucrats think that they are our servants? Really?
We, you and I and every other individual in our respective countries are the masters. Politicians and bureaucrats are our servants. We need to make them remember that reality. And we need to make them act as you and I would act individually. Unless our neighbour throws junk in our back yard, or threatens our children, or interferes in our lives in some meaningful way, we leave him alone. We mind our own business. That is what our governments need to do as well. And if another Hitler comes along, let's consider what can be done to remove him before there is World War III and there are millions more lost in senseless hatred.
How and what could we do?
That would make for a very interesting discussion, wouldn't it?