Saturday, February 16, 2008

War, Peace and the Liberal Tradition

Does history provide any kind of model or pattern for the present?

Robert Bothwell, in an excellent historical essay which appeared in this morning’s Globe and Mail, sketches the face of the Canadian Liberal tradition toward the perennial issues of war and peace. I read the article more than once.

Bothwell adds detail to the topic which I have been wondering about over the last week and planned to post about, although my attention was directed more towards the future not the past. I have been thinking about the potential unintended consequences of “peace-making,” and military interventions in “failed states.” These two terms are in scare quotes because, to me at least, their potential ambiguity represents a set of pitfalls whose presence may be covered over by seemingly noble though unrealistic intentions.

One danger originates in a darker aspect of the human mind which is the tendency to exaggerate the diabolical qualities and powers of external enemies. Military involvement so easily invites the simple perceptions of good and evil which the media, acting in its role as entertainment, propagates in bold patriotic terms. The linked article provides numerous examples of this from our history. We also have examples from the present debate over Afghanistan. "Support the troops" "Fight them over there, so we don't have to fight them here" etc. But when does bluster start getting in the way of peace-making? I have been wondering about whether the perhaps enlightened intentions of intervening in failed states might always be undermined by other less innocent impulses.

I’ll post more about this some other time, but that is the general direction of my thinking at the moment.

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