Generous Orthodoxy  

Friday, April 01, 2011

Intervention in Libya: a preposterous argument

T. S. Eliot, in Murder in the Cathedral: “This above all is the greatest treason: to do the right thing for the wrong reason.” I love Mr. Eliot, but if that were true, we would be too tied up in knots ever to do anything. I suggest that it is better to do the wrong thing for the right reason than to do nothing. We are going to screw up no matter what we do; it is God who validates and vindicates our actions on behalf of others.

Thinking along those lines led to this: If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a hundred times--we can’t solve all the problems of the world, we can’t intervene in every crisis, we can’t get involved in every calamity, we can’t save all every endangered population, etc. etc. etc. But suppose you have come upon a terrible car crash. The cars are full of injured families and children. You can’t pull but one to safety before the gas tanks explode. Does that mean you won’t save the one since you can’t save them all? Suppose you see several children struggling in a riptide and only one of them is close enough for you to rescue. Are you supposed to let them all drown? As someone said on NPR yesterday morning, if a doctor has two critically injured patients in a refugee hospital, and he only has the resources to save one, will he let them both die? The argument is preposterous.

There are many factors that made military action in Libya a viable possibility. These factors are not present in the case of, say, the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Congolese have not asked for our help. The French and the Italians are not close at hand to press for action and to be supportive. There is no UN resolution. There is no Sub-Saharan African League issuing a directive. There is no air force to bomb. There is no possibility of intervening without ground troops, and that is politically off the table (viz. Somalia). And so forth.

From a Christian point of view, violence is always a deal with the devil. Non-violent resistance is the way of the cross. Yet such deals must sometimes be made, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer acknowledged with his analogy of the spoke in the wheel of the runaway cart. The Libyan deal will have many negative repercussions, this being a seriously fallen world; however, the one argument that makes no sense is the one about “you can’t save ‘em all.” An for a superb column along these lines by David Brooks, see this link: