Sobrans -- The Real News of the Month

Where to Look for Evil

April 18, 2002

President Bush has been widely praised for speaking of an “axis of evil.” In speaking unapologetically of “evil,” we are told, he has rejected the moral relativism to which liberalism has inured us and has reminded us that there are indeed moral absolutes.

The effusive compliments are a bit overdone. It takes no moral insight to condemn your enemies as evil. To take only one example, Franklin Roosevelt did it all the time; but he was blind to evil in his friends, especially Joseph Stalin, and in himself.

That is the real test. Christians don’t just believe that evil is “out there”; they believe it’s in every human heart, the result of Original Sin. They believe that the first need of every human being is divine mercy and forgiveness; our first duty is to repent, not to condemn: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” That is not moral relativism, but the very opposite: humility.

How does this apply to war? May we defend ourselves against our enemies? Most Christians have agreed that we may, but we are also to pray for our enemies and respect limits. Deliberately harming civilians, for example, is forbidden. Roosevelt not only ignored this principle but set in motion the development of nuclear weapons that would kill as many civilians as possible. And he is still honored as a great president.

Americans, as a nation, don’t like to face the evil in themselves. Moral introspection is condemned as “breast-beating,” “self-flagellation,” and even “anti-Americanism.” And it’s true that critics of America often sound like prigs, not fellow sinners subject to the same temptations as the rest of us.

But to face the historic crimes of the U.S. Government, often supported by the general population, is only to acknowledge that we are all susceptible to sin and arrogance; and to do so may help us avoid repeating those crimes the next time they tempt us.

[Breaker quote: Loyalty 
and lying]Few wars pit angels against devils. As a rule, young men on both sides fight because their governments order them to fight. Of course each government insists that the enemy is evil itself: in the Afghan war, we are assured, American soldiers are “patriots” who are “serving their country” and Afghan soldiers are “terrorists.” Perish the thought that the Afghans see themselves as patriots defending their country against invaders!

After World War II, the victors — the United States and the Soviet Union — tried the losers for “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity,” gross violations of the rules of civilized warfare. This impartial judicial process resulted in many executions, making examples of those who committed atrocities under the cover of war.

Somehow, though, nobody on the winning side was charged with a single war crime. To some observers it seemed improbable that one side had kept its hands immaculate in a war that claimed tens of millions of lives, including countless inhabitants of German and Japanese cities who had been bombed to death. Skeptics drew the lesson, not that war crimes should be avoided, but that you should commit them only if you are sure your side is going to win.

Obviously, moral relativism is never the problem in wartime. The usual problem is fanatical self-righteousness, demonizing the enemy and justifying atrocities by one’s own side. In that atmosphere, any attempt to see the situation with true moral objectivity — to find sin, in some measure, on both sides — is apt to be denounced as treason.

A belief in moral absolutes should always make us more, not less, critical of both sides in any conflict. This doesn’t mean that both sides are equally wrong; it means that since we all fall short of moral perfection, even the side whose cause is truly righteous may commit terrible acts of violence in defense of that cause — and, worse, may feel quite justified in committing them. That is the difference between being righteous and being self-righteous.

Moral standards are absolute; but human fidelity to them is always relative. The patriot who says, “My country, right or wrong!” is often ridiculed, but at least he admits that his country may be wrong. He is a far cry from the more sinister sort of patriot who assumes that his country’s enemies are necessarily evil. Loyalty to your country should never require you to lie about it.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2002 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
Internet publications without express permission
of Griffin Internet Syndicate

small Griffin logo
Send this article to a friend.

Recipient’s e-mail address:
(You may have multiple e-mail addresses; separate them by spaces.)

Your e-mail address

Enter a subject for your e-mail:

Mailarticle © 2001 by Gavin Spomer
Archive Table of Contents

Current Column

Return to the SOBRANS home page.

FGF E-Package columns by Joe Sobran, Sam Francis, Paul Gottfried, and others are available in a special e-mail subscription provided by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. Click here for more information.

Search This Site

Search the Web     Search SOBRANS

What’s New?

Articles and Columns by Joe Sobran
 FGF E-Package “Reactionary Utopian” Columns 
  Wanderer column (“Washington Watch”) 
 Essays and Articles | Biography of Joe Sobran | Sobran’s Cynosure 
 The Shakespeare Library | The Hive | Back Issues of SOBRANS 
 WebLinks | Scheduled Appearances | Books by Joe 
 Subscribe to Joe Sobran’s Columns 

Other FGF E-Package Columns and Articles
 Sam Francis Classics | Paul Gottfried, “The Ornery Observer” 
 Mark Wegierski, “View from the North” 
 Chilton Williamson Jr., “At a Distance” 
 Kevin Lamb, “Lamb amongst Wolves” 
 Subscribe to the FGF E-Package 

Products and Gift Ideas | Notes from the Webmaster
  Contact Us | Back to the home page 


SOBRANS and Joe Sobran’s columns are available by subscription. Details are available on-line; or call 800-513-5053; or write Fran Griffin.

Copyright © 2002 by The Vere Company