The violence of a backward moral code

Eric Lanser

“The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is my own government. For the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.” Martin Luther King, Jr.Above is the quote appearing on the most recent anti-war poster around campus. The quote was made in reference to the war in Vietnam and is meant to apply today. It is the slogan of many anti-war organizations.

Was this statement, however, even true then? Dr. King made this statement in 1967. Stalin’s systematic disposal of the kulaks and political dissenters and Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” had already passed. China’s “Cultural Revolution” was just gearing up. These were just three of the catastrophes contributing to the 100 million deaths attributed to communism in the 20th century.

Worse yet, he made it in the context of opposing intervention intended to curtail the expansion of the very communist states and ideology that purveyed “the greatest… violence in the world” ever. Quoting Dr. King on this topic today is thoroughly careless, if not dishonest. It amounts to an outright appeal to authority in defiance of the past century’s history.

Of course, the aim of the poster is to integrate this falsity about America’s past with her current actions. Appearing on the bottom of the poster is the statement: “One year there is one year too long. No more war in Iraq.”

If the poster is supposed to criticize “violence” why would it oppose the overthrow of Saddam Hussein? No comment on his horrific history of oppression is necessary here. And, clearly, no pointing out of facts would dent the armor of those opposed to what America stands for per se.

This is because many of the anti-war protesters of the past and today hate America on principle. Notice nary a peace activist protested the Soviet Union’s violence against its own citizens and its neighbors, or China’s military aid for North Korea’s dictatorial regime. Nor, today, do peace activists protest Iran’s overt sponsorship of terrorism. They only protest when America acts, and acts in its self-defense.

What’s responsible for this? No, it’s not inconsistency on the part of leftists or peace activists. It is because of the basic moral foundation of those (and indeed, all of today’s popular political) movements – altruism.

Altruism is the doctrine that “the good is the good of others.” The good is giving up values for the sake of those who lack them. Notice that altruism doesn’t answer the central questions of ethics: “What are values?” and “How does one obtain them?” It turns the act of giving up values into a value itself. Sacrifice isn’t merely a means of helping out the needy, it is an end in itself. To earn and enjoy values is an evil, to give them up is the only good.

It is only through the lens of this inverted ethical code that the U.S. is called ‘violent’ while Saddam Hussein, Soviet Russia, and the world’s other dictatorships continue their slaughter in broad daylight.

It is America that is opposed by altruists because its citizens still possess the fading remains of individualism, productivity, and pride. By altruism’s standard of self-sacrifice, there is no greater evil than “the pursuit of happiness.” Regardless of America’s actual actions she will always be criticized by altruists. For the ideological basis of America and happiness on earth, both withering under the violence of a backward moral code, I cannot be silent.