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Suffering from Charitable Powell Syndrome

By Bruce Walker
web posted April 22, 2002

Colin Powell is one of those individual like Jimmy Carter, George McGovern and Neville Chamberlain, whose personal life and whose real accomplishments are beyond reproach. Carter, lest we forget, sought to enter the Naval Academy at Annapolis, idolized the brilliant, tough, and incorruptible Hymen Rickover, married a woman he loved and stayed not only faithful but loving to her, and had a mother who late in life joined the Peace Corps to help the poor of India.

Jimmy Carter, the man, is not the cause of problems in this world but rather the solution. If we all conducted our lives like Jimmy, there would be no wars, no genocides, no one on welfare, no fatherless children and no crime (and so on). Conservatives in particular have problems with good men who live good lives as liberal leaders because we truly abhor "the politics of personal destruction" and seek instead to make the world a better place by the personal choice of each of us to be responsible and decent.

The same is true of George McGovern, who piloted a B-17 over Italy and Germany, seeing his buddies bleed slow deaths on the frigid planes as decimated squadrons return from dropping bombing on cities of women and children. His concern for the poor was derived from the private charity of his father towards the true hunger families suffered, and which McGovern witnessed firsthand, during the Depression. If McGovern, the man, wants to describe the true horror of war or the true grimness of hunger, I will listen - but to the man and not to the politician.

Neville Chamberlain was likewise an honorable gentleman who Churchill spoke of fondly in his memoirs. Like any sensible person, Chamberlain was horrified by the slaughter of the Great War, which killed or maimed nearly an entire general of Frenchmen, which brought into the world the monstrous evil of state Bolshevism, and which denied Germans in Austria, Danzig, Sudentenland, and Alsace the right to live in a republican German nation.

These men have seen poverty and injustice in their lives, and have drawn well-intentioned (but utterly wrong-headed) conclusions. Jimmy Carter saw racism first-hand in the South, but foolishly joined the Democrats, whose one party rule over one third of America for a century created the very nightmares of lynching, segregated public facilities and disenfranchised citizens. His tour of duty on a nuclear submarine taught him the destructive potential of global war, without the context of Soviet malevolence.

McGovern, comprehending first-hand the awfulness of war, did not also see that war exists upon peoples and liberties regardless of whether good nations and peace-loving peoples seek to avoid war or not. The silent, grim testimony of 1.7 million Cambodians should remind us that the absence of war is democide and horror, if the only combatants are evil.

Chamberlain missed chances to support British policies to end the expansion of Hitler before he had gained critical territories that could have allowed the democracies to end his reign without leaving Eastern Europe to the tender mercies of Stalin.

Yasser Arafat and Colin Powell on April 14 in RamallahPowell restrained one President Bush and kept Saddam Hussein in power eleven years ago, and he is trying to keep Arafat, the Fuhrer of the Palestinians, in power as well. Why? Surely part of it is that Colin Powell, a Vietnam veteran, dislikes war as much as most combat veterans. But that does not fully explain the issue.

President George H. Bush lost buddies in the Pacific and three times in downed Avengers he should have lost his life. Few political leaders had much immediate contact with war and its horrors as Winston Churchill - before he became Prime Minister of Great Britain. Dwight Eisenhower had the awful burden of ordering Operation Overlord where thousands of his charges would bleed and die. Bob Dole suffered personally more from war than any American statesman, and yet in Bosnia he supported the use of American power to end Serbian atrocities.

What gives? Why do some instinctively understand that peace comes from the power and the will of free and good nations to resist evil, and why do others doubt their moral worth? The answers are not always clear, but in the case of Jimmy Carter and Colin Powell, some factors must be at play.

Carter grew up amid comfortable, though not wealthy, circumstances and he was allowed to attend one of the finest universities in the world at taxpayers' expense. He took advantage of his advantages, but he also seems to have felt guilty about these very advantages.

Colin Powell grew up as an "Afro-American male in America" but with a huge asterisk. As Dr. Thomas Sowell has so brilliantly explained, there is no "Afro-American" group per se. Secretary Powell came not from the inner cities slums, but from the East Caribbean elite of the black community. Brought up in a home in which good English was more natural than in most American homes, and instilled with those strong middle class values with Caribbean blacks have typically possessed, Colin Powell represented the penultimate injustice of "Affirmative Action" and similar programs.

Because Powell was already articulate, studious, serious, and stable, he would have thrived in Harlem or Chicago or many other large cities of the North whatever federal favoritism towards blacks, and because he was obviously talented and diligent, he rose through the ranks of officers with relative ease.

Secretary Powell knows this, and he feels guilty about it. As a consequence, he sympathizes with the poor of the world and reflexively rejects notions that the poverty and misery of Palestinians are the result of immoral behavior and dishonest philosophies. This plays funny tricks on one's mind: recall that September 11th was not instigated by the desperately poor but the desperately rich.

Colin Powell, of course, is the antithesis of creepy thugs like bin Ladin and Hussein, but he has the same blind spot that Neville Chamberlain and George McGovern had for evil masked in the trappings of serious grievances. The solution to problems in the Middle East and Central Asia and the world in general have specific sequences. First, those truly interested in happy, free and prosperous people must have and use whatever military power is needed to disempower those who want chaos and mayhem. Second, those same serious benefactors must establish a government that allows freedom and tolerance to gain root - this means time, and it means ignoring those parochial customs unanchored in the natural rights of men. Third - and last - it means that benefactors (America) provide modest economic and military support, as well as its good offices in settling disputes peacefully.

Great nations can toy with a Charitable Powell Syndrome until Hitler and Stalin begin to peek from behind the corner of history. That is precisely what is happening today. Hitler and Stalin are heroes to millions. This is not the consequence of poverty, ignorance or international humiliation. It is the same fateful choice which knowingly allows peoples to make death camps, gulags, and killing fields. It is, today, a luxury that this last great bastion of freedom and democracy cannot afford.

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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