Tuesday, February 03, 2004

In the last post I criticized Peter Singer's new book, One World: The Ethics of Globalization. The book does, however, make one trenchant observation I have not seen elsewhere: the events of September 11 are historically similar to the assassination of Austrian Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo on the eve of World War I.

Singer writes: Despite the clear evidence of the involvement of Serbian officials in the crime -- evidence that, historians agree, was substantially accurate -- the ultimatum Austria-Hungary presented was widely condemned in Russia, France, Britain, and the United States. "The most formidable political document I have ever seen addressed by one State to another that was independent," the British Foreign Minister, Sir Edward Grey, called it. The American Legion's official history ... used less diplomatic language referring to the ultimatum as a "vicious document of unproven accusation and tyrannical demand." Many historians studying the origins of the First World War have condemned the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum as demanding more than one sovereign nation may properly ask of another. They have added that the Austro-Hungarian refusal to negotiate after the Serbian government accepted many, but not all, of its demands, is further evidence that Austra-Hungary, together with its backer Germany, wanted an excuse to declare war on Serbia...

Now consider the American response to the terrorist attacks of September 11. The demands made of the Taliban by the Bush administration in 2001 were scarcely less stringent than those made by Austria-Hungary in 1914. (The main difference is that the Austra-Hungarians insisted on the suppression of hostile nationalist propaganda. Freedom of speech was not so widely regarded, then, as a human right) ... Yet the U.S. demands, far from being condemned as a mere pretext for aggressive war, were endorsed as reasonable and justifiable by a wide-ranging coalition of nations. When President Bush said, in speeches and press conferences after September 11, that he would not draw a distinction between terrorists and regimes that harbor terrorists, no ambassadors, foreign ministers, of United Nations representatives denounced this "vicious" doctrine or a "tyrannical" demand on other sovereign nations. The Security Council broadly endorsed it, in its resolution of September 28, 2001. It seems that world leaders now accept that every nation has an obligation to every other nation of the world to suppress activities within its borders that might lead to terrorist attacks carried out in other countries, and that it is reasonable to go to war with a nation that does not do so. If Kaisers Franz Joseph I and Wilhelm II could see this, they might feel that, since 1914, the world has come round to their view.


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