UH-1D Helicopters in Vietnam, 1966

Regular readers will know that I mostly write about economics and European politics. This post is an exception: Today, I would like to talk about foreign policy.

More specifically, I would like to discuss the validity of what I like to call the hypocrisy argument (I don’t know whether there is an official name, but I like this one): The argument that the US has no right to intervene militarily against Country X, because the US itself has committed atrocities in Country Y.

There are several different variations. Some of the most popular include:
“Yeah sure, Saddam gassed the Kurds, but what right does the US have to complain about that? The US dropped napalm on Vietnam”

“Sure, Hamas are killing innocent Israelis – but that’s nothing compared to what the US did to the native Americans”

“The US has no right to occupy Afghanistan – OK, so the Talibans weren’t great when they were in government, but let’s not forget the US supported Pinochet”

Essentially, what the argument comes down to is that since the US isn’t by any means a perfect country, it has no right to wage wars against countries that violate human rights. By doing so, the United States is being a hypocrite.

To anyone who thinks that this is a valid argument against American neoconservatism, let me pose to you the following scenario:

You are walking down the street at night. All of a sudden, a man lounges himself at you and wrestles you down. This man makes his intentions clear – he isn’t interested in money, he is out to murder you.

Now imagine that in the midst of all this, a second man walks down the street. He is much bigger than the guy who is currently trying to murder you, and can easily stop him if he wants to. Do you think he should intervene? Unless you have a very strong death-wish, I imagine you do. Now, please imagine that the potential rescuer has himself committed murder in the past, but is now rehabilitated. Do you still think he should intervene?

You probably do. Whatever actions this man has taken in the past; right now under this scenario he is the only one who can save you, and whatever his past failures, you’d rather that he do. 

That is the position that the people (in particular the ethnic minorities) who live in oppressive totalitarian states – like Iraq, pre-2003 – find themselves in today. There is only one country that can save them, and that country unfortunately doesn’t have a spotless history. But, if you were living in a totalitarian country, do you really think you’d care? If you were a Kurd about to be gassed by Saddam Hussein, do you think you would care about what the US did in Vietnam? If you’re a woman in Iran about to be stoned for the crime of having been raped, do you think you would care about the regrettable treatment of the Native Americans? I don’t think so – as long as someone saves you, you probably couldn’t care less what else they’ve done.

The only people who care about the “hypocrisy” of the US preventing other nations from doing what they themselves have done historically, are upper-middle class liberals who have never experienced any real danger in their lives. Anyone who has, understands that this argument is completely irrelevant.


The next question is; could this not apply to other countries?

Russia is the most recent example of a country that has intervened in another country, using that country’s (supposed) human rights violations as an excuse. Yet, Russia has historically committed more human rights abuses than anyone (save for China and North Korea perhaps). Hence, when they intervene in Ukraine – even assuming they are right about the plight of the Russian minority – they are certainly being hypocrites. And, let’s not forget, they’ve never seemed to care about the right to self-government for the people of Chechnya.

To understand the difference, we really just need to look at the US and compare it to Russia as it is today: Yes, the US has committed human rights violations against Native Americans less than 100 years ago – but the US is not imprisoning journalists today for speaking up against the regime. Russia is still to this very day an undemocratic country, and if they occupy a country (or even just a region like Crimea) then that country can be expected to soon turn totalitarian as well. 

If Russia’s crimes were all in the past, then that would be one thing. But, as the political prisoners currently doing time in Siberia can testify, they are not. 

Another difference are the circumstances that existed when the “crimes” were committed – the US intervention in Vietnam may not have been perfect, to say the least, from an ethical perspective; however no-one can seriously doubt that the US was trying to protect Vietnam from turning into a totalitarian communist state. The US didn’t intervene in Vietnam to annex Vietnam; but to protect half of Vietnam from being annexed by the other half of Vietnam. The United States is one of few countries (the UK being the only other example I can think of) that are willing to sacrifice its own young men & women for the sake of somebody else’s freedom. 

Even when the US has supported (or, should we say, tolerated) seemingly bad regimes – Pinochet in Chile, Franco in Spain – they have done so to protect those countries from an even worse regime (that being a Soviet puppet regime). It is worth noticing that while the US supported, or at least tolerated, the apartheid regime in South Africa for a very long time, the US turned against the regime when they were confident of winning the cold war (and, having done that, they didn’t need the apartheid regime as a shield against communism anymore). None of the dictatorships that the US supported ever turned as oppressive as the communist dictatorships – do not get me wrong, Franco was a tyrant (and his modern-day successors are not a whole lot better), but Kim Jong-Il and Stalin were still a lot worse – whether measured by # of deaths, economic growth, or virtually any other variable. 

And contrary to liberal daydreams, the US didn’t invade Iraq to steal their oil – the US imports less oil from Iraq today than it did, pre-invasion, and it pays for all the oil that it imports – paying for oil is btw a lot cheaper than occupying a country, so the whole concept never made sense in the first place; but then, liberals have never been known for being good at economics. The US didn’t go to Iraq to steal their oil, just like it didn’t go to South Vietnam to steal their bambu or to Germany to steal their sauerkrats. 

When you stand up for freedom through military means, mistakes are bound to happen. It only takes one single soldier to commit a war crime, and when you invade a country, you tend to have so many soldiers that it’s more or less inevitable that one of them will misbehave. And, you are bound to become a hypocrite – fighting for human rights in one place, while some of your soldiers are violating human rights in another place. 

At the end of the day, however, I think you have to look at the big picture – which is that the US is the one thing standing between us and global tyranny. It sounds dramatic, but seriously – tell me who would be holding back Russia & China & North Korea & Iran if not the United States? These evil nations – and I do believe that term is appropriate – are only restrained because Americans are willing to sacrifice their children so that other nations can live in freedom.

And personally, I’m happy that they’re willing to do that. Even if that makes them hypocrites.

Thanks for reading . If you’re on twitter, you can follow me @nationstatist.

Photo credit: Luvi via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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  1. Thank you for writing on this site. Even though I only see your point about halfway. I guess you are considered a conservative by European standards, but that wouldn’t make you an American conservative by a long shot. America has intervened in many places in the world since our beginning. The Marine fight song goes “From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli, we will fight our country’s battles on the land and on the sea.” The Leftists in this country, many of whom are in the government, do not want us to fight any battles. Probably because we are fighting their friends. Now, with the Left inside our military, it is getting harder to find young men, who have been the backbone of the military, to sign up. You are right, we fight for freedom and not oil. I believe the oil in Iraq has gone to other places, like Europe. And the oil in the Ukraine pipelines goes to Europe as well. Your lines about all the dastardly deeds done by Americans are straight out of the Marxist handbooks I have read. We even have Marxist revisionists writing the textbooks in our schools today, and our kids hear about how horrible we are and have always been, instead of the truth. Still, some of our young people don’t buy it and chose to serve. I am grateful for their service and I am happy that you are as well.

    1. I am a conservative by American standards, and I have been so since I was 13 years old. What are you even talking about?

      You can admit to historical facts without becoming a liberal. I know very well that the circumstances behind for example the napalm bombing of Vietnam were a lot more complicated than liberals like to portray them – I have read several conservative history books (written by American conservatives, not European). That doesn’t change the main point: The US does not have a spotless record when it comes to foreign intervention. My point in this article is that that doesn’t mean the US shouldn’t intervene abroad.

      Do you seriously believe that the US has never committed atrocities? Sure, there were circumstances surrounding them that we have to consider when we read history, but that doesn’t make them justified by a long shot.

      To recap a few of my political positions: I support foreign policy intervention, I oppose abortion/gay marriage/gender quotas, I support the death penalty and an in general tough approach against crime. I opposed the stimulus package and the quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve, and I have written dozens of articles arguing against Obama’s economic policies. I oppose Obamacare. I support the FairTax.

      However, just because I support/oppose these things, doesn’t mean I can’t admit that there are arguments on the other side of the table too. The world is complex, and I hate when politicians and political activists pretend otherwise. That’s my problem with the Tea Party – I support 95 % of the policies they support, but I hate how they always degrade and speak hatefully of their political opponents, and I also hate how they simplify reality into “everything can be solved with spending cuts” (spending cuts are a great idea, but let’s not exaggerate how great they are).

      Let me share a story with you: In 2008, I was participating in a small pro-life demonstration (5-10 people). We were attacked by about 20 people, who threw bottles at us, pushed us, threatened us, and tried to tear apart our signs. I was targeted a lot more than the other demonstrators, probably because I was their age. In the midst of all this, a guy steps up next to me and pushes the attackers away, and shouts at them to leave me alone. This guy is about 5 ft 3″ – not big enough to physically defend me, but his extreme aggressiveness takes the attackers by surprise and they back off. I start to talk with him, ask him if he’s a member of our prolife group or what he’s doing here. He explains that no, he’s ProChoice, and he’s also a dedicated communist – but he believes in free speech and was happy to risk getting lynched (by fellow commies!) to protect my right to express my opinion.

      He stayed by my side for the remainder of the demonstration. When the Tea Party claims that communists and socialists are evil, they are calling people like him evil. When they say that they want to get rid of democracy, or that they are plotting to destroy America, they are accusing people like him. Yes, those things may be unfortunate side-effects of communism, but no communist actually supports them.

      Additionally, I had a communist teacher who stood up for me when I was bullied and who supported me so that I could graduate early from high school. And I won’t sit silently while the Tea Party accuses him, or the communist who stood up for me at the demonstration, of being evil.

      1. I read “Lies my teacher told me”, by James W. Loewen, long ago and what I found interesting was that it correlated so well with the views of my friends who had fought in Viet Nam.

      2. The problem is that while there is good and evil, that doesn’t mean somebody who supports an “evil” position is evil. And it doesn’t mean that the world isn’t really really complex – more complex than a Tea Partier can comprehend. Good people do evil things, evil people do good things – whether we do good or evil is largely dependent on circumstances.

        For the last time: I’m a neoconservative! I support military interventions! Did you even read the article? However, I will not lie about what has happened historically. I won’t lie and say that the US didn’t commit war crimes in Vietnam – sure, they were not nearly as bad as liberals make them out to be, but still. Or that the US didn’t participate in committing atrocities in Germany after WWII, while it was still occupied. Or that the US hasn’t mistreated native Americans. What you and Rebecca promote is a dangerous, blind patriotism where you tell yourself that your country is perfect rather than learning to love your country even though it isn’t. I love Sweden even though Sweden has committed many crimes in the past – why can’t you do the same with America?

      3. I have yet to agree with Rebecca on anything here, although I am sure she is a nice person in real life. On these issues we tend to be polar opposites.

        I consider myself a social liberal but a fiscal conservative. I am not against the government helping those in need, I just would like them to do it more efficiently and I think it could be done with a much smaller government. I see gay marriage as an equal rights issue and I advocate for free dependable contraception because I truly would like to eliminate the need for abortion except in those rare cases where there are medical issues and for rape when it is done the first trimester. I do not equate a fertilized egg as a human.

      4. What were the war crimes in Viet Nam? What were the war crimes in Germany? I heard some things about Sweden and war crimes. Sweden, however, had very little to do with bringing in the modern world. America had everything to do with it. No comparison. What exactly did the US do to the native Americans? Bruce Van and I have the opposite views on everything, as near as I can tell, yet you think we think alike. And you think there is some Tea Party philosophy that I have never heard of. How does being anti-Communist amount to blind patriotism? And, your ideas as stated above are not Christian ideas about good and evil. The Communists used to say about Americans they think “My country, right or wrong.” Sounds like you think the same way about us. With the Communists, it was a tactic to get to Americans. I can tell you, we Americans spend very little time thinking about how great we are, and our kids are being taught that we are and were downright awful….Not true.

      5. John, I have read Marx and Lenin and they wanted to destroy America-Christianity, Capitalism, and the rest of the foundations of Capitalism, such as private property. I can get on Leftist, Atheist websites and they say the same the same thing. Am I supposed to suspend reason and not believe what a communist tells me in writing? Sorry you haven’t read or heard all the anti-Tea Party stuff, it is all over the place. Sorry you don’t know about revisionist history. They teach it in the schools here. There are university textbooks on the subject. I don’t get it. When did you hear a Tea Party person call a particular communist evil? We are talking about ideas here, not a specific individual. We are talking about the fact of Russia, Red China, Viet Nam, Cambodia, and what goes on in South America and all over the rest of the world. The history of America before 1930 was the history of the American pioneers in every area. The history of the U.S. is the very start of Modern Civilization. I have a book right here by Lenin “On The United States Of America,” which is completely anti-American, and says how the Communists were over here sabotaging industry. I have old U.S. history books and they say one thing, the modern ones tell a different story . I also have access to some original documents and they are along the lines of the older books.

      6. Google “atheist websites.” There is supposed to be an atheist show on cable once a week. I have never watched it, but have discussed it with at least one atheist- and other Christians. The modern atheists state they no longer believe it is wrong to murder…I prefer the Christian websites.

      7. If you google Illinois IRAD, you will be able to get to some historical databases for Illinois and then as an example, you might go to Ogle County Naturalization Papers where you will find info on how immigrants were treated in the past . Or, in the emancipation area(slaves), or alms(poor), or you can look at some papers about the Black Hawk War (with the Indians) and get an idea of how history really was. Interesting first hand stuff on America. Nearly all the states have some historical documents on the net. Of course, it is only a sliver of info, but a place to start. If you don’t know any names to put into their search bar, just use a common name like Boyd, Williams, or Adams….

      8. Oh, I take it back about not saying anything bad about individual Communists. Every last individual Communist dictator living or dead is evil, as far as I am concerned and I hope the Tea Party people feel the same way.

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