The Power of Guilt

The Obama administration is wrestling with whether or not to get minimally involved in Syria, meaning there will be limited military strikes,  letting Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad know that the United States does not approve of his apparently having used sarin gas against his own people.

Fourteen hundred people were killed.

While it is annoying and frustrating that the United States is so often running to the aid of other countries, sometimes, it seems, with a hidden nationalistic and imperialistic agenda, perhaps our nation in this instance is acting out of a sense of guilt. We did nothing during the Rwandan genocide (http://spectator.org/archives/2013/09/06/the-rwanda-legacy), a fact which apparently still haunts former President Bill Clinton, and we did nothing to help the Jews who were slaughtered during the Holocaust. Not only did we, but other nations were silent as well. As a result, way too many people died. We as a nation bear a burden of guilt for our non-action.

President Obama, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, said that he was elected to end wars, and indeed, much of his time and energy has been spent ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Even he, however, as much as he seems not to believe that war is the answer to all issues, seems to be  haunted some by guilt.”When people say that it is a terrible stain on all of us that hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered in Rwanda, well imagine if Rwanda was going on right now and we asked: ‘Should we intervene in Rwanda?'” the president said. “I think it’s fair to say that it probably wouldn’t poll real well.”  ( http://edition.cnn.com/2013/09/06/politics/us-syria/index.html?hpt=hp_t2)

It is frustrating that the conflict in the Middle East just will not end. It is equally as frustrating that “we the people” really do not know all of what is behind decisions to go to war; we were not privy to that information in the past and we are not privy to it now.  But there is something to be said for being a superpower and turning a blind eye and deaf ear to the suffering of others.

Some would argue that the nation turns that same blind eye and deaf ear to the suffering of its own citizens.  Ironically, our nation seems to feel no guilt for the way too many of its own people live.  In spite of the superpower image, far too many people here live in poverty, some in that predicament even though they work. They do not make a living wage, but there’s no outcry and no guilt felt about that. Likewise, there are far too many people in this country suffering and dying from treatable diseases, but there is no guilt. In fact, there is a fight against working to get health care for all Americans.

But guilt (and, probably, a hidden agenda) seems to be a driving factor in the debates over whether or not to get involved in Syria. Should Congress vote President Obama’s resolution down that would make the way for our intervening in Syria, and al-Assad continues his attacks on his own people, the guilt will grow exponentially. We are trying to make up for ignoring Rwanda and Hitler…

Here’s an observation, though. Guilt doesn’t work. Guilt only makes individuals and nations act impulsively, doing things they later regret. And, it too often turns out, the dissemination of an action based on guilt is wasted energy, because the situation that produced the guilt doesn’t go away.

It would seem that instead of jeopardizing the lives of even more Syrians, and, of course, Americans, that there is a diplomatic answer to the problem and presence of al-Assad. A boycott or some such participated in by all of the members of the United Nations, for example, might get his attention.  We would be doing something, not ignoring the suffering of the Syrian people, and therefore would still be in position to assuage our guilt. A military attack, I am afraid, is only going to stoke the fire of irrationality that al-Assad has already shown. He wants that kind of fight, and guilt is pushing us to play his game.

It doesn’t seem wise.

A candid observation …

 

 

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