This urge to see the victim class as virtuous and the oppressor class as villainous leads people in countries like the United States and Britain to sympathize more with our enemies than our defenders. This is not new.
“England is, I believe, the only country in which, during a great war, eminent men write and speak publicly as if they belonged to the enemy,” said Lord Salisbury a century ago. Now you can add America to the list. ~Michael Barone
It takes a certain kind of boldness to try to conflate the miscarriage of justice committed against the Duke lacrosse players (who were nonetheless, it must be said, not exactly living as virtuously as they might have done!) with opposition to the Iraq war. That would align Mr. Bush and his supporters with the wrongfully accused lacrosse players, and make the antiwar opposition into a collective Nifong, which works nicely at first as a way of taking a cheap shot at the integrity of war opponents but otherwise comes off sounding completely cracked.
It takes a certain stunning indifference to justice to borrow a line allegedly from the (otherwise quite admirable) Prime Minister who presided over the nakedly imperialist and aggressive South African War and then think that you have somehow proved something important (i.e., that opponents of the Iraq war “sympathize” with the enemy) by using it. It has struck me as something of a credit to Britain that there was at least some real opposition to the entirely unjustified attack on the Afrikaner republics. It meant that, in spite of Gladstone-style imperialism and the rhetoric of liberal “uplift,” there were some British people who were able to recognise something terribly wrong when they saw it and were willing to say something about it. Opponents of the South African War, like Anti-Imperialists on our side of the ocean at the very same time, could be proud that they took the side of right rather than that of might and domination. If Mr. Barone wants to align us with opponents of past aggression and imperialism, he is most welcome.
But this has absolutely nothing to do with imputing virtue to America’s enemies, nor does it have anything to do with sympathy for such enemies. There is no such sympathy, at least not among antiwar conservatives (and not really among virtually all opponents of the war). If there is any sympathy for non-Americans, it is for those civilians who have suffered on account of the war.
Opposing bad government policy, in this case an invasion of another country, has everything to do with applying standards of right to our own behaviour. This is done in an attempt to actually encourage the just and, perhaps, even slightly virtuous conduct of national affairs insofar as this is possible with something as inherently corrupting as state power. Perhaps, just perhaps, if Mr. Barone would like to see fewer reflexive attacks on “villainous oppressors,” he might stop supporting policies that could be reasonably described as unjust and oppressive. That doesn’t mean that false attacks, such as we saw in the case of the accused lacrosse players, will cease, but that Mr. Barone and company will have a bit more credibility in complaining about miscarriages of justice at home when they are not supporting a war that cannot be reconciled with the requirements of justice.
Like our ongoing war of aggression, the South African War left Britain badly isolated and despised by her many rivals as well as by the great neutral, the United States, where pro-Boer sentiment was widespread and very public. Back then, condemning wars of aggression and rejecting imperialism were the normal American responses. Now this is considered something of an exotic and fringe phenomenon. So much for the idea of progress. This isolation and international hostility led Joseph Chamberlain,
Ulster England’s contribution to the history of debased militaristic-cum-socialistic “conservatism,” to spin the extremely negative consequences of the imperialist adventure as Britain’s “splendid isolation.”
This quote from Lord Salisbury (a figure of civilised aristocratic Toryism to whom most modern conservatives in either country would normally not pay any attention) has been making the rounds during the past couple months on the blog right and in the conservative commentariat because of Andrew Roberts, Mr. Bush’s approved court historian, who has written A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900. The quote comes from this book. You have undoubtedly heard about Mr. Roberts’ work in one way or another in recent weeks, especially after it became public that Mr. Bush favours this historian. I have not read the book (and I am not really in any hurry to), so I will not pass judgement on whether it is the rather tiresome rah-rah justification for various Anglo-American war crimes of the last hundred years that its critics say it is or whether it is the magnificent contribution to modern historiography that its admirers believe it to be. What does seem clear, however, is that pro-war writers have decided to latch on to this one quote as a shorthand for expressing their contempt for opponents of the war, as if they are somehow demonstrating their moral superiority by tying themselves to a chain of unjustified Anglo-American invasions of different countries (e.g., Boer war, Suez, Vietnam, etc.). It makes some sense that war opponents would liken supporters of the invasion to Suez or Vietnam hawks, but it will never cease to amaze me that the supporters are only too happy to accept these comparisons (even after they have strenuously denied that the Iraq war bears any resemblance to these other wars–which is what they would have to say, since at least two of them failed).