Sunday, June 01, 2008

Gates on Moral Obligation

Helmut said it here a bit more clearly (and more than two weeks ago): "The junta's intransigence has risen to the level of genocidal intransigence. The junta's paranoia amounts to deliberate starvation of Burma's people."

But Helmut is not yet a ranking official, so it's nice to see that Robert Gates has given the issue some thought:
BANGKOK — In the strongest remarks yet by a high-ranking American official, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Sunday that Myanmar was guilty of “criminal neglect” for blocking large-scale international aid to cyclone victims and that more Burmese civilians would perish unless the military regime reverses its policy.
He's certainly on the right track. (I mean "on the right track" here in the way that teachers have always used that cliche -- we really mean, "thanks for saying something, but what you said is kind of stupid.")
When asked whether the Myanmar government’s actions were tantamount to genocide, Mr. Gates stopped short of that accusation. “This is more akin, in my view, to criminal neglect,” he said.
Considering the situation, Gates concluded that “We have really exercised our moral obligation above and beyond the call." Do we have a greater moral obligation to changing regimes where it most benefits us? More likely, we have a greater rhetorical obligation to talk about being driven to action by moral obligations (in, say, Iraq) when we might be perceived as being motivated above all by material interests. When we're not at all motivated by material interests, we have a rhetorical obligation to avoid language (like "genocidal intransigence") that we use to express our moral obligations to action.

Can we get Gates to read Singer?


hank said...

One word to Mr. Gates re "criminal neglect":


barba de chiva said...

Ah, yes.

MT said...

If they talked about genocide in the lead up and found no evidence when they got there, imagine the hell to pay!'s not looking like genocide or even civil war to me. (What's the argument? are only Karens or secessionist regions receiving no help? Not as I've read) Maybe it's like decimation under the Romans. Anyway, we have a perfectly good non-specific word: Call it an "atrocity." Maybe it's even a "holocaust." But why erode our ability to refer to other atrocities specifically with loose use of "genocide?"

helmut said...

Maybe not looking like genocide at this point. That's difficult to say - mostly because the moral and legal definition of genocide is elusive - but it at least looked like it a couple of weeks ago. You seem to be assuming that genocide means annihilation of a particular ethnic or racial group. Not necessarily. I'm not clear on how you think my usage is loose, though. "Genocide" may lack specificity, but it does exclude other forms of atrocity from its definition (by def. here, I mean moral and legal def.).

Barba's point, though, is the political one. The question is always perhaps the most serious: at what point do political considerations become morally significant when the underlying issue is itself morally grave?

MT said...

at what point do political considerations become morally significant when the underlying issue is itself morally grave?

When is it not O.K. for a democratically elected government to lie to the governed?

Welcome to Koanville.

MT said...

NOUN: The systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political, or ethnic group."

AHD 2000 ed

That's the only sense of the word in that edition of the AHD, and it's seeming deviations from that sense that led me to talk about "loose" usage.