Evil is Like Declaring War

Picked up the Christian Century yesterday and came across this quote from Kofi Annan, saying he was "uncomfortable" with the word "evil."

Since the Century piece is not online, I found the same quote here:

"There is something about the word, when we apply it to another human being - and more especially to a group of human beings - that makes me uncomfortable," he told the group.

"It is too absolute. It seems to cut off any possibility of redemption, of dialogue or even coexistence."

At first, I thought, he's out of his gourd.

Or maybe he just hasn't seen this headline in the Independent, about UN soldier exploiting teenaged refugees for sex

Hungry, frightened and helpless, young women in the Democratic Republic of Congo are selling their bodies in exchange for food and shelter. And the men expecting such 'payment' are the UN peacekeepers

Or this interview from Fresh Air, with General Romeo Dallaire, whose book details the atrocities he witnessed as commander of UN Peacemakers in Rwanda--atrocities he was unable to stop.

Since I respect the work of the UN and Secretary General Annan, I tracked down a transcriptof the speech.

A few highlights:

  • Personally, I do not feel either as a Christian or even as a simple human being that I have a right to make such an absolute judgment about any of my fellow human beings, however evil the acts they may have committed.

  • I tend to think that there is some evil even in the best of us and some chink of light and hope and human feeling even in the worst of us.

  • once we have classified people as evil, we may easily think ourselves entitled and obliged to suppress them.

  • Thinking of people as evil can lead us to become evil, or at least to do evil things ourselves.

  • Sometimes I wish I could share the moral certainty of the pacifist, of the person for whom the prohibition of violence is absolute, so that no matter what is being done to innocent people, even to one’s own family, one must always turn the other cheek rather than fight back.

  • there are times when the use of force is legitimate and necessary, because it is the lesser of two evils. But the lesser of two evils is still an evil and we should not forget that.

Annan has identified the blind spot in our current foreign policy--we are convinced of the rightness of our cause, and of the absolute evil of the enemy.

It's a dangerous blind spot, because once you conquer your enemy, you've got to find a way to live with them. So unless we are going to kill every single former member of Saddam Hussein's government, and every al-Qaida sympathizer, we've got to find a way to live with them. We won't ever have enough bullets to kill them all.

Is violence always the lesser of two evils? I thought that for a long time, but C.S. Lewis's essay, "Why I am not a pacifist" has made me rethink that.

If military force is always a lesser evil, then there is no honor, no valor, no nobility in it.

But protecting the innocent from tryrant, or those who would enslave them, is a honorable things. Those who lived under the Nazis would certainly not think of the soldier who liberated them as evil. Nor people living in South Korea--especially when you see the state of North Korea--they'd not see those who died in the Korean War as evil.

If I differ with Annan it's on this point--people can choose to be evil. We all have our small demons--greed, lust, anger, to name a few--and none of us is pure--but we can chose to embrace them and let become their servants, or we can choose to try and exorcise them from our lives.

It's not our job to label one evil, as if in the labeling, I make them evil. But when someone embracing evil, it is our job to call the Devil by his name, and to stand in his way.


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