A lack of cultural sensitivity, a lack of historical awareness, a lack of political context, blended with sheer arrogance, pride and then completed with more than a little military clout – is a dangerous cocktail for any world leader to swallow – writes Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania in The Church and Life Newspaper.
In his Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Franklin Roosevelt, The Soldier of Freedom (1970), James McGregor-Burns quotes both Churchill’s and Anthony Eden’s distaste at how decisions regarding the self-determination and future freedom or enslavement of peoples were being made. He writes: “Roosevelt told Churchill and others that he and Eden agreed on 95 per cent of “everything from Ruthenia [Ukraine] to the production of peanuts!” Over Oysters at the Carlton, Eden told Hopkins he was surprised at the President’s intimate knowledge of geographical boundaries. He enjoyed watching the play of Roosevelt’s mind but he had misgivings. There was something almost alarming in the cheerful feckleness with which the President seemed to dispose of the fate of whole countries. He was like a conjuror, Eden felt, deftly juggling with balls of dynamite whose nature he did not understand”. (McGregor-Burns, 1970, p. 366). Whereas today we know of estimates as high as 100 million for the number of people of Eastern Europe who were murdered under the Stalinist regime, we now shudder to read Roosevelt’s assessment of Stalin: “I may say that I ‘got along fine’ with Marshal Stalin. He is a man who combines a tremendous relentless determination with a stalwart good humor. I believe he is truly representative of the heart and soul of Russia; and I believe that we are going to get along very well with him and the Russian people – very well indeed”. (McGregor-Burns, 1970, p. 416). So ‘well indeed’ did Roosevelt claim to know the will of the ‘Russian’ people, that he could not begin to fathom that this classification blanketed peoples in a genocidal euphemism, peoples who for centuries had resisted Russian imperialism. At the very time that The Big Three were creating a new political atlas – men on the ground such as Sheptyts’kyi were protesting the violation of their peoples and cultures by the Soviet dictator. Yet Burns not only portrays Stalin to be a man of questionable morality – for we see in the biography how Roosevelt shocked Churchill in agreeing with Stalin that an arbitrary number of 50,000 Germans need to be slaughtered at War’s end in order to punish the Germans for beginning the hostilities.
- The Shadowlands (cf. Job 19: 25)
- The Fullness of God (cf. Ephesians 3: 14 – 21)
- Last Man Kneeling (cf. Genesis 18: 23 – 33, LXX)
The way that these decisions over the life and death of peoples were being made at Tehran & Yalta should now horrify the intelligent modern reader: “Churchill was trying to play a close game of Realpolitik with the Marshal. Journeying to Moscow early in October, he and Eden had hardly sat down with the Russians in the Kremlin when he decided on a quick gambit. Stating that London and Moscow must not get at cross-purposes in the Balkans, he pushed across the table to Stalin a half-sheet of paper with a simple, stark list giving Russia 90 per cent predominance in Rumania and 75 per cent in Bulgaria, Britain 90 per cent in Greece, and dividing Yugoslavia and Hungary fifty-fifty between Russia and the West. Stalin had paused only a moment, then with his blue pencil made a large tick on the paper and passed it back to Churchill. There had been a long silence. The paper lay in the middle of the table. Then Churchill said: “Might it not be thought rather cynical if it seemed we had disposed of these issues, so fateful to millions of people, in such an offhand manner?” He proposed to burn the paper. “No, you keep it,” said Stalin.” (McGregor-Burns, 1970, p. 537). As McGregor-Burns concluded: Churchill’s capitulation to Stalin to enslave Eastern Europe occurred at a time where he could not refuse Stalin’s demands, for he, Churchill, had previously rejected, point-blank, the independence and right to self-determination of so many peoples that comprised the British Empire. How in fact could Churchill not give Stalin imperial dominance over: Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine, as well as Poland and other Eastern European nations, when at the same time Britain would not give self-rule to nations who had among their number inspired leaders such as Mohandas Gandhi (1869 – 1948).
Finally with the same cynicism the West demonstrated toward those earlier crimes, nothing was done about the genocide of the Biafrans by the Nigerians, or the Kurds by Saddam Hussein (whom the West could have helped, but didn’t remove from power), and of all educated Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge, whose political ambitions the West today, to our collective shame, continues to support
In her highly acclaimed work, Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth, Gitta Sereny describes how world leaders in making decisions based on inadequate data, or with one or both eyes deliberately closed can not only destroy the lives of present generations, but can set into action a chain of events that can bring once peaceful parties into conflict, or can destroy peoples – removing them entirely from the political and cultural map. Sereny’s vehement but articulate condemnation of the flippant nature in which such cataclysms may be conspired, spared no part of the political spectrum. Her summation is timeless in its relevance: “But personal and national immorality is not reserved to any one crime, any one place, any one ideology, any one people, any one group or any one person. The immorality of Hitler is thus equaled by the immorality of Stalin; the immorality of the Nazi torture camps in the 1930s and 1940s by the South Africa that murdered Stephen Biko and untold others in their prisons during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, and indeed by the increasingly emerging horrors of the past twenty-five years in various South American countries. The immorality of the Lidice massacre was duplicated by Americans in Vietnam; the murder of the Jews, however uniquely awful the technique, was numerically even exceeded (though the mind recoils at such comparisons) by the Nazi slaughter of non-Jewish Russians and Poles, and all of these were more than paralleled by the even now not fully known number of Russians whom Stalin, Yagoda, and Yeshov murdered no less determinedly than the Nazis murdered the Jews. Finally with the same cynicism the West demonstrated toward those earlier crimes, nothing was done about the genocide of the Biafrans by the Nigerians, or the Kurds by Saddam Hussein (whom the West could have helped, but didn’t remove from power), and of all educated Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge, whose political ambitions the West today, to our collective shame, continues to support.” (Sereny, 1995, p. 168).
Virtues are formed by prayer. Prayer preserves temperance. Prayer suppresses anger. Prayer prevents emotions of pride and envy. Prayer draws into the soul the Holy Spirit, and raises man to Heaven
A powerful nation, a powerful people, a powerful individual, must use power wisely. Plato in Laws VI, once noted that: “No one will ever make a commendable master without having been a servant first; one should be proud not so much of ruling well but of serving well – and serving the laws above all (because this is the way we serve the gods)”. (Plato, The Complete Works, 1997, p. 1438). A frustrated spectator of the machinations of The Big Three at the time of the creation of the United Nations, Jan Christian Smuts (1870 – 1950), would quite have easily have concurred with Plato, for Smuts claimed that any vision of Anglo-American ‘world-policing’ would be doomed to failure, if it did not seriously take into consideration during planning – social justice, and the long-term ramifications of decisions. In words that contain an element of prophecy Smuts stated that: “If you were to pit the British Commonwealth plus the United States against the rest of the world, it would be a very lop-sided world. You would stir up opposition and rouse other lions in the path. You would stir up international strife and enmity which might lead to still more colossal struggles for world power than we have seen in our day”. (Smuts, 1952, p. 444). Smuts concluded his analysis by saying: “Under no circumstances must we allow ourselves to be drawn into their domestic affairs, for that would only bring discredit and odium upon our shoulders”. (Smuts, 1952, p. 475). Such words of foreboding preceded the Vietnam War by over a decade – and also preceded the paternalistic, world-wind tours of Africa and Asia, by American leaders such as Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908 – 1973) – who on visiting the East-West cold-war battleground of Senegal, “insisted that a seven-foot bed, a special showerhead that emitted a needlepoint spray, cases of Cutty Sark, and boxes of ballpoint pens and cigarette lighters with l.B.J. inscribed on them accompany him to Dakar. Against the advice of the ambassador, who urged him to shun contact with villagers, he described as dirty and diseased, Johnson visited a fishing village, where he handed out pens and lighters, shook hands with everyone, including some fingerless lepers, and urged the uncomprehending natives to be like Texans”. (Dallek, 2003, p. 349).
The implications of leading ‘from below’ for the world in the 20th Century were disastrous, none better exemplified then the treatment of the former colonies of both the Western and Eastern super-powers.
A lack of cultural sensitivity, a lack of historical awareness, a lack of political context, blended with sheer arrogance, pride and then completed with more than a little military clout – is a dangerous cocktail for any world leader to swallow. Wrong can be perpetrated not only by action – but inaction and perpetrated by ‘good’ as well as ‘evil’ intent – depending on who the intention is good for, or not.
So how can a misuse or abuse of power be circumvented? Aldous Huxley (1894 – 1963) writes that politicians and world leaders must be contemplatives – people of prayer and Truth. He writes: “Political reforms cannot be expected to produce much general betterment, unless large numbers of individuals undertake the transformation of their personality by the only known method which really works – that of contemplatives. Moreover, should the amount of mystical theocentric leaven in the lump of humanity suffer a significant decrease, politicians may find it impossible to raise the societies they rule even to the very moderate heights realized in the past”. (Huxley, 2005, p. 261). Huxley’s call was for leaders of nation to make decisions based on eternal Truths and not material ends. It is a call similar to that as prescribed by Garrigou-Lagrange when he wrote that true wisdom seeks to embrace all things and all peoples. When an individual sees things ‘from below’ they in effect view the world in light of earthly pleasure, material interests or selfish ambition. (Garrigou-Lagrange, 1937, p. 131). What we must demand of our world leaders is the application of St. Ephraim the Syrian’s (306 – 373) teaching: “Virtues are formed by prayer. Prayer preserves temperance. Prayer suppresses anger. Prayer prevents emotions of pride and envy. Prayer draws into the soul the Holy Spirit, and raises man to Heaven.” Thus from above we see with greater breadth.
Only by mutual forgiveness, mutual respect, and mutual love will a long-term solution be discovered to an Age-old crisis – only by looking at the problems ‘from above’.
So how can this view ‘from above’ be applied to a real world scenario? In the case of Palestine, if the British had considered the situation ‘from above’ they would have acknowledged that the horrendous suffering and deplorable displacement of the Jewish people not only during the Holocaust but for centuries prior to this, could not be permanently resolved by harm inflicted on another people, by forcing others to roam, as they, the Jews, had roamed. To his great credit, the British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, when interviewed in the New Statesman magazine in November 2002, categorically stated that Britain’s imperial history was a direct cause of many of the world’s political problems – including the Palestine/Israel issue: “The Balfour declaration and the contradictory assurances which were being given to Palestinians in private at the same time as they were being given to the Israelis—again, an interesting history for us, but not an honourable one.” (November 5, 2002).
With regard the crisis in the Middle East, men such as the Egyptian Anwar al Sadat (1918 – 1981), and the Israeli, Yitzhak Rabin (1922 – 1995), have realized by the enormous transition of their lives, that a metanoia, a change within the spirit of a national leader, is the key to a just and peaceful future. How great this change needs be is evident in the life of Rabin. In 1977, a United Nations report stated the following: “The Israeli army authorities also deliberately pursued a policy of “beating and breaking” against Arab citizens in the cities, villages and camps of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. On 18 January Israeli Minister of Defence Yitzhak Rabin ordered soldiers of the Israeli army operating in the occupied territories to use their truncheons to beat citizens and deliberately to inflict fractures and severe bruises. These Israeli policies and practices led, inter alia, to the killing of 27 male and female citizens and the wounding and injury of hundreds more. With regard to the victims of the “beating and breaking” policy, sources in the occupied territories indicated that 600 Arab citizens of the Gaza Strip were taken to hospital for the treatment of fractures in various parts of their bodies…” (UN’s received report -DOCUMENT S/19537). Less than two decades later, the same man who had ordered the “breaking of bones”, spoke on the evening he was assassinated: “I was a military man for 27 years. I fought so long as there was no chance for peace. I believe that there is now a chance for peace, a great chance. We must take advantage of it for the sake of those standing here, and for those who are not here — and they are many. I have always believed that the majority of the people want peace and are ready to take risks for peace. In coming here today, you demonstrate, together with many others who did not come, that the people truly desire peace and oppose violence. Violence erodes the basis of Israeli democracy. It must be condemned and isolated. This is not the way of the State of Israel. In a democracy there can be differences, but the final decision will be taken in democratic elections, as the 1992 elections which gave us the mandate to do what we are doing, and to continue on this course. I want to say that I am proud of the fact that representatives of the countries with whom we are living in peace are present with us here, and will continue to be here: Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco, which opened the road to peace for us. I want to thank the President of Egypt, the King of Jordan, and the King of Morocco, represented here today, for their partnership with us in our march towards peace. But, more than anything, in the more than three years of this Government’s existence, the Israeli people has proven that it is possible to make peace, that peace opens the door to a better economy and society; that peace is not just a prayer. Peace is first of all in our prayers, but it is also the aspiration of the Jewish people, a genuine aspiration for peace. There are enemies of peace who are trying to hurt us, in order to torpedo the peace process. I want to say bluntly, that we have found a partner for peace among the Palestinians as well: the PLO, which was an enemy, and has ceased to engage in terrorism. Without partners for peace, there can be no peace. We will demand that they do their part for peace, just as we will do our part for peace, in order to solve the most complicated, prolonged, and emotionally charged aspect of the Israeli-Arab conflict: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This is a course which is fraught with difficulties and pain. For Israel, there is no path that is without pain. But the path of peace is preferable to the path of war. I say this to you as one who was a military man, someone who is today Minister of Defense and sees the pain of the families of the IDF soldiers. For them, for our children, in my case for our grandchildren, I want this Government to exhaust every opening, every possibility, to promote and achieve a comprehensive peace. Even with Syria, is will be possible to make peace. This rally must send a message to the Israeli people, to the Jewish people around the world, to the many people in the Arab world, and indeed to the entire world, that the Israeli people want peace, support peace.” (http://www.mideastweb.org/rabin1995.htm). What the world needs are less leaders who believe they are Gods – and more men and women who truly love and believe in a merciful, benevolent, and all-encompassing God, and in the brotherhood of humanity. In Rabin’s Address we hear the Israeli Prime Minister speaking of a problem that both peoples, the Palestinian and the Jew, must solve. Only by mutual forgiveness, mutual respect, and mutual love will a long-term solution be discovered to an Age-old crisis – only by looking at the problems ‘from above’.
Would it not be a better world to be ruled by love and justice and not have nations bought and sold like inanimate, unfeeling, pawns, knights and rooks on a chess-board, or as cursed Greek warriors in a Homeric tragedy – the mere play-things of self-indulgent Gods?
The implications of leading ‘from below’ for the world in the 20th Century were disastrous, none better exemplified then the treatment of the former colonies of both the Western and Eastern super-powers. Was the welfare of these nations ever factored in to the relationship they bore with their ‘older brother’? Without doubt there would have been no Viet-Cong without French abuse on the Indo-China peninsula; nor a Communist Cuba on the doorstep of the United States, if Havana had not been the dumping ground for American vice; nor a Pol Pot (1925 – 1998) without colonialism; nor a Communist China, if Chiang-Kai-Shek had been more firmly supported against the Japanese; nor South America a quagmire of fascism and communism – if these nations had been nurtured and not abused by the West and fostered as independent nations and not merely as places of cheap labour. Would there have been a terrorist Libya, a Middle East on the boil, a squalid, volatile, Africa, if the world powers had considered as a workable maxim, the words of St. Thomas Aquinas that: “One may never do evil so that good may result from it”, or the words of Christ: “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.?” Would indeed we have poverty in the world to such a great extent if our leaders governed according to the Divine wisdom that “charity always proceeds by way of respect for one’s neighbor and his conscience: “Thus sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience . . . you sin against Christ.” Therefore “it is right not to . . . do anything that makes your brother stumble.” (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994, par. 1789). Would it not be a better world to be ruled by love and justice and not have nations bought and sold like inanimate, unfeeling, pawns, knights and rooks on a chess-board, or as cursed Greek warriors in a Homeric tragedy – the mere play-things of self-indulgent Gods?
This article was published in The Church and Life Newspaper, April 2017.