Vanity and Force
In several cities across the nation today thousands rallied "against the genocide in Darfur". This is all well and good as far as it goes. Which is not far at all. As a massive exercise in moral vanity, this was a rousing success. As a serious attempt at ending what is happening in Sudan it doesn't even rise to the level of failure. To fail first you have to try.
What would it mean to try. On Monday Lawrence Kaplan wrote about the planned march in a piece titled "If Iraq Was Wrong, is Darfur Right?"
As in Bosnia before it, the victims of Darfur can be saved by one thing and one thing alone: American power. Unfortunately for the victims of Darfur, too many of their advocates have come to view that power as tainted, marred by self-interest and by its misapplication in Iraq. Hence, the contradiction at the heart of the Darfur debate, which pits the imperative to halt the persecution of innocents (Darfur activists have enshrined as their motto the biblical admonition not to "stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor") against a reflexive opposition to the only power that can actually do so.This puts most Darfur activists in the position of wishing for a goal but opposing the means to achieve it. A grandiose and rather public display of willful impotence. Kaplan concludes:
So, yes, march on Washington. Comfort your sensibilities. Testify to your virtue and good intentions. Offer assurance that your call to action is not a call for the unilateral or unprovoked exercise of American power. But don't pretend that Darfur will be saved by anything else.But pretend they do. Some live in a hermetically sealed pretend world. Here is George Clooney's father Nick Clooney: "We didn't stop the Holocaust. We didn't stop Cambodia. And we didn't stop Rwanda. But this one we can stop." Sorry to let facts intrude, Nick old boy, but we did stop the Holocaust. Much too late, no doubt but Allied troops liberated several camps, saving thousands of Jews from certain death. And even though "we" didn't stop the Khmer Rouge killing fields, the Vietnamese Army did by invading Cambodia in late 1978. By January 1979 the Vietnamese captured Phnom Penh and drove the Khmer Rouge into the jungle. (The US gave $100 million to the relief effort between 1979-82.)
What is the theme here? Marches and drum circles don't stop organized mass killing. Military force does.
For all their well-intentioned focus of the crimes of the Sudanese state in Dafur Clooney and the other Darfur activists are overly optimistic about the human condition. They do not see these marches as exercises in futility. They believe that somehow, through their positive vibes or righteous mojo that they can influence the Islamists who rule Sudan. Clooney and the activists fail to appreciate the degree to which sheer evil suffuses human existence. Not mere injustice, or crime, or indifference, but active, willful, determined evil.
How exactly are the atrocities in Darfur different from numerous massacres in Sudan since it achieved "independence" from Britain in 1956? Human slavery, the forced depopulation of tribes in the south, bombing villiages - this has been an ongoing effort for 50 years.
How are the atrocities in Darfur different from life in North Korea? 200,000 people, including children, work in labor camps in the far north. They live (actually they starve) on a few hundred calories a day while working in mines and forests. Malnurished. Beaten. Arbitrarily shot. Forced to stone the corpses of executed prisoners while chanting allegiance to Kin Jong-Il. (Read The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag for a moving account of life in the Yodok camp.)
Forced stavation is rather commonplace. In Zimbabwe, President Mugabe has reduced 700,000 people to homelessness and starvation in an effort to stay in power. Conditions are so bad that mothers abandon their children because they are unable to feed them, or really themselves. In the Congo, 1,200 people die each day from war-related hunger and disease. The death toll since the war began in 1998 is estimated at 4 million.
Cruelty and sadism are endemic. I wish as much as any 'activist' that the Sudanese government would stop killing and raping people in Darfur. But my vision of human nature tells me evil is an active force in the world, that there are no changes of heart, no epiphanies; that they will only stop killing under two conditions. Either a) when they are forced by a stronger military power or b) when there is no one left to kill.
"This is one world and we are all one family," Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of the Washington archdiocese told the crowd. "What happens to the people of Darfur happens to us."Actually, no. It is precisely because what is happening in Darfur is not happening to us that we have the luxury to march and sing and give speeches. If this was happening to us we would fight back.
So, if clapping and buying bumber stickers won't help these poor people, what will? Force. Power. Men with weapons. Clearly we are not going to bomb or invade Sudan. But are we unwilling to provide the people of Darfur the means to defend themselves? Are our values so inverted that we view violence in self-defense as worse than being killed, becoming refugees? Would the thousands marching today give money to buy the villages in Darufr weapons to fight against the Janjaweed? Or would they rather buy a "Save Darfur" t-shirt, thereby saving no one, but proving how much they care?