…doesn’t negate the past or necessarily help the future…

After deliberate examination, with the aid of the best lights I could obtain, I was well satisfied that our country, under all the circumstances of the case, had a right to take, and was bound in duty and interest to take, a neutral position. Having taken it, I determined, as far as should depend upon me, to maintain it, with moderation, perseverance, and firmness.”

~ George Washington, Farewell Address, September 19, 1796


Where’s the line?  At what point do we decide that it’s worth the cost in lives and treasure to intervene in the course of another country and culture’s doings?  Global events have seemed to teach us the harsh lesson that perhaps we do at some point have a moral duty to do something.  The Holocaust springs to mind for most.  And yet, as terrible as it was, it’s impossible to know if earlier intervention would have changed anything, or merely sped up the already-pending World War.  There have been countless tragedies and depravities since the dawn of human civilization up through the modern age.  There have been horrific acts of senseless violence we’ve willfully chosen to ignore even after the events of World War II.  The Founders stood by and watched the extremely bloody and terrible French Revolution without intervening because they saw no good any interference could do, the situation in France was so tumultuous.  (And right they were, because France went from bloody internal war to bloody internal and external wars and took decades to settle itself, but settle itself it eventually did).  So perhaps the real question is: Is there an obvious path of interference that will help?  Because if there isn’t, then why are we becoming entangled in the affairs of other nations?

Our Founding Fathers were pretty smart.  They knew that interference doesn’t always work.  Interfering for the sake of it or because we are horrified doesn’t always lead to any real resolution of the problem.  Often times, interference actually deepens the problem or makes the issue and the players that much more complicated.  As we contemplate action in Iraq yet again, let us bear in mind that we toppled one dictator who committed terrible acts whose future actions we were concerned about, only to leave and eventually have him replaced by a group whose even more terrible acts and more concerning potential future actions have us edging to go in again.  We are interfering without any real plans that lead to real results.  This is why the Founders were so extremely against interference in the affairs of foreign nations at all.  Because the cycle becomes endless, and more lives are lost intervening for no purpose.  Once you become entangled in foreign affairs, it can be nearly impossible to break free ever again.

Res Publica

Documentation without Representation:

George Washington, Farewell Address, September 19, 1796

Electronic Text Courtesy of The Avalon Project at Yale Law School

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