Jewish World Review Feb. 5, 2003 / 3 Adar I, 5763
We need to rise above our temporary anger and seek to preserve our bonds with our European cousins
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Winston Churchill -- who first stood almost alone for years against Britain's Hitler-appeasing government, and then, as prime minister led Britain alone for two years against Hitler's war machine -- nonetheless always defended the League of Nations.
He may have been the last European to defend the "Covenant of the League," even in the face of the League's pitiful failure to enforce its own provisions, even after World War II had begun.
In December 1939, Churchill, in cabinet, invoked the principles of the League in support of his proposal to pre-emptively invade neutral Norway to deprive Hitler of iron ore: "We are fighting to re-establish the reign of law and to protect the liberties of small countries ... Acting in the name of the Covenant, and as virtual mandatories of the League and all it stands for, we have a right, and indeed, are bound in duty, to abrogate for a space some of the Conventions of the very laws we seek to consolidate and reaffirm ... Small nations must not tie our hands when we are fighting for their rights and freedom."
Not much has changed since then. Once again European countries have slid into appeasement and rationalized it as prudence. Once again the international body created to keep the peace -- this time, the United Nations -- is being used as a shield to protect a lawless nation, rather than as a sword to vindicate the rule of law. And many of us who believe in the president's Iraq policy have fallen into justifiable contempt for the United Nations and those European nations, particularly France and Germany, who would use that body to defeat the purpose of that body.
Even such a steady and wise commentator as JWR's Charles Krauthammer has recently written that the United Nations is on the verge of moral bankruptcy and strategic irrelevance, that it will not recover and that "the world will be better off for it." With the United Nations putting Saddam's Iraq in charge of its weapons of mass destruction disarmament committee and Khadafi's Libya in charge of its human rights committee, such arguments would seem to be not only justified, but mandatory.
Meanwhile, France and Germany's contemptuous behavior -- which has generated rude and angry words from most of our national commentators (me very much included) -- is now causing more thoughtful and scholarly codification of this transatlantic estrangement. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Robert Kagan's just published book, "Of Paradise and Power," is being seen on both sides of the Atlantic as something of an articles of divorcement between Europe and America. Now, in the last weeks before war, it is worth pausing to consider whether our justifiable contempt for the United Nations and for much of Europe justifies our permanent estrangement from them. Perhaps, Winston Churchill still has something to teach us.
Of course, if the United Nations does not endorse our war with Iraq, we must go forward alone or with such countries as individually join our cause. But the words on our lips as our soldiers go forth into battle may have effects we will later regret. Churchill did not flout the League of Nations as he led Britain alone into battle. He embraced its spirit -- whatever technical details he may have abrogated. And six months later, as France was about to surrender to Hitler, he offered permanent political union with France and bid Britain's undying commitment to France's freedom -- even though he was furious with her contemptible behavior in the face of their common enemy. He did these things because he understood that Britain was bound by common heritage, civilization and interest with France, and because Britain must always stand for the principles of the League it helped to found.
Today, we need to rise above our temporary anger and seek to preserve our bonds with our European cousins -- despite their current behavior. If we have to go off to war without them, let us do so with good cheer -- not with angry words. While we hope that the war on terrorism will not metastasize into a clash of civilizations, that possibility must be considered and prepared for. If that terrible contingency does result, it is the Euro-American civilization that must be on the same side. Even if there is no great struggle in which we will need Europe's help, there is a thousand years of common heritage with them that we should cherish -- not scorn.
The United Nations, too, can be of value to us. We created it to help us manage a troubled world. It has fallen far from its purpose, but we should try to rejuvenate its values. Even in its current sordid state, it may yet prove useful to us in the upcoming war -- both to calm foreign peoples and (as the polls disclose) to strengthen the president's domestic support for war. Whether we get the United Nations' endorsement or not, we should act on behalf of the United Nations, confident that by our conduct -- and our victory -- we champion and strengthen the universal principles of justice which engendered its birth a half century ago.
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