James Allan

Bombs and democracies

For someone who is not himself a US citizen I am probably one of the most pro-America people on the planet.  Forget all the talk of the European Union preventing war on that continent these past seven decades. War was prevented because the US, at great cost to its taxpayers, stationed all sorts of troops there to counter the very real threat from the Soviet Union.

And it kept spending that sort of money on defence, other countries’ defence, even while European countries basically gave up on the very idea of defending themselves, shrank their defence budgets to little more than token levels, and relied almost wholly on the US to let them become social welfare states par excellence, at least until they recently became so bloated and uncompetitive that their overall budgets are collapsing even though they spend next to nothing on defence.

Of course if you believe that the world is some sort of ‘we are the world’ Coke commercial, all lovey-dovey and nice, then you don’t need to spend on defence. You can just talk things out at the UN General Assembly or join some supra-national organization or other or maybe just try to reason with whichever Kim is currently starving his own citizens to death in North Korea.

But if you are at heart a Hobbesian, like me, and believe that the world will always be dangerous, and especially to those countries doing well – which rules out all non-democracies in the long term – then defence spending is one of a country’s core obligations to its citizens (along with controlling its borders and being able to deport ne’er do wells, obligations many of our judges seem intent on undermining, as it happens).

The US has carried too many countries for too long on this defence front. At the very least people in those other countries under its benevolent protection ought to be grateful. But for many they are not. Gratitude is not something anyone can ever expect in life.

I am spending half a year in San Diego, where there is the second-biggest US naval port in the world. One of the signs you occasionally come across here is along the lines that ‘the US Navy does more for world peace than any other organization’.    And when you think about it, that’s true. 

World shipping and trade and freedom of the seas? All made possible by the US navy (not unlike the role of the Royal Navy a century and more ago).   Keeping rogue countries deterred? Check. Servicing all the other parts of the US military around the globe and keeping connected with strong allies such as Australia? Check.

I mention all that because, as I said, I’m very pro-American and perhaps, too, because the default attitude of our national broadcaster is subtlely but pervasively anti-American.

But I also mention it as a lead in to a comment on the recent Boston terrorist bombings. I do not want to reiterate what you all know already, that these two men from Chechnya had been offered a life in the US that virtually no other Chechens on the planet could ever hope for, in terms of wealth, in terms of educational and other opportunities, in terms of tolerance of their views and backgrounds — everything. And yet instead of gratitude they murdered an 8-year-old boy, made his mother a vegetable and blew off the leg of his little sister, to name just a few of the sick results.

And they did that in the name of religion, however distorted and at the extremes their vision of that religion might be. The problem for us in the West is that, statistically speaking, it’s overwhelmingly only one religion that is producing these monsters. And that raises a host of issues that many metropolitan elites would prefer not to address but that one day will have to be. In my view, the sooner this is done the better.

But leave all that aside and return to one little noticed aspect of those Boston bombings that touches on my general admiration for the US. And I will be blunt now. 

You see Americans are now finding themselves the victims of terrorist attacks on their home soil. I despise all these attacks.

When I was younger, this native-born Canadian, who was something of an anglophile, at least until the UK got itself entangled in the democracy-enervating and, on balance, awful European Union, used to see on TV many IRA bombings in the United Kingdom. These were bombings of innocent people that were similarly ruthless, pitiless and as despicable as what we’ve just seen in Boston. 

And which city in the US was probably the one where more money was raised by the IRA from US citizens than any other? Why that would be Boston. And how seriously did the US take stomping on the IRA back then? Well, not all that seriously it seems to me, at least nowhere near as seriously as they’re taking terrorism now. I doubt very much that the FBI was all that concerned about seeing who was plopping money into the hats being passed around Boston’s Irish Catholic bars back then, money that was clearly meant for the IRA.

My hope is that some of the people in Boston who in years gone by gave money to what may have seemed to them at the time to be some sort of romantic cause are now today throwing up in their bathrooms with remorse and regret.

Thinking the US is the most obvious force for good in the world today, as it is, does not preclude you from seeing its faults and hypocrises. 

James Allan is Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland (on sabbatical at the University of San Diego School of Law)

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