The Problems of Doing Good

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The Problems of Doing Good In 1938 Mao Zedong summarized one of the most important problems with warfare in Problems of War and Strategy: "War can only be abolished through war, and in order to get rid of the gun it is necessary to take up the gun." American intervention in Somalia began as a peacekeeping mission to ensure that food donated by goodwill organizations got into the hands of the civilians who were starving; since the theft of these donations by Somali soldiers was widely reported in the international press. As the conflict progressed, our presence shifted and evolved into nation-building. The United States was essentially living out Zedong's warning, and we were soundly criticized for it. Was the mission ethically justified? The only reasonable and logical conclusion that can be reached is that entering the conflict in Somalia was the product of very poor judgment. Before entering a conflict a nation should, at the least, stand to gain something if she wins. Everyone lost during the Somalia hostilities: statistically we did not save many Somali lives, we increased our notoriety throughout the world for getting involved in things that don't concern us, American soldiers died, and funds that could have been appropriated elsewhere were spent without concern for their investment. As if this weren't bad enough, it was clear from the start that the only reason we got involved was out of a sense of pity. Humanitarian support through military intervention is as much of a paradox as George Bush caring about a poor third-world nation. The action raises this ethical question: is the act of saving Somali lives worth the loss of American lives? Historically our armed forces have served only to protect the freedom of democracy and maintain national security. Humanitarianism falls into neither of those categories. The problem lies in the reality that the United States has no vested interest in the outcome of a civil war in Somalia. It does not affect us economically, politically, socially, it does not affect our allies, the integrity of trade agreements, and it had no bearing on national security or foreign policy. The truth is that conflict in Somalia should not have even made its way onto the Whitehouse agenda because it does not affect us at all. Equally important as the fact that American men and women died to bring food to Somalis, is the ethics from the standpoint of the Somalis.

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