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November 11, 2004
Don't Make Me Come Over There And Be Generous To You
The death of Yasser Arafat is a good time to bring up one of my favorite subjects: geopolitical generosity.
After the peace talks at Camp David ended in 2000 without an agreement, everyone in the US media starting talking about how Arafat had inexplicably turned down Israel's "generous offer." For instance, here's Charles Krauthammer:
At Camp David, Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians an astonishingly generous peace with dignity and statehood. Arafat not only turned it down, he refused even to make a counter offer!
At the time, I didn't know exactly what had happened at Camp David. But hearing about Israeli generosity, I thought -- oh man, the poor Palestinians. That's because of what I call the Iron Law of Generosity: whenever one group of people talks about being "generous" to another, it means they're BEATING THE CRAP OUT OF THEM.
Take Andrew Jackson. Here's what Jackson said in a famous address to Congress in 1830:
Rightly considered, the policy of the General Government toward the red man is not only liberal, but generous.
Yes, how true. One particularly generous thing Jackson's soldiers did at the Battle of Horse Shoe Bend in 1814 was cut strips of skin off dead Creek Indians and then use them as bridles. And of course as president, Jackson generously enabled the Cherokee to experience the Trail of Tears.
Teddy Roosevelt felt just the same as Jackson:
In [our] treaties we have been more than just to the Indians; we have been abundantly generous... No other conquering and colonizing nation has ever treated the original savage owners of the soil with such generosity as has the United States.
Roosevelt was eager to extend this generosity to the Philippines. As one Kansas soldier sent there put it, "The country won't be pacified until the niggers [ie, Filipinos] are killed off like the Indians." We weren't able to be quite that generous, but did manage to give around 200,000 Filipinos the gift of not living.
We did a better job in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam period, where we generously massacred several million people. Or as David Lawrence, then-editor of US News & World Report, put it,
What the United States is doing in Vietnam is the most significant example of philanthropy extended by one people to another that we have witnessed in our times.
Unfortunately, Lawrence was wrong. The sad truth is that no Americans or Israelis have ever reached the philanthropic heights of the most generous man in history: Adolf Hitler. Just before the invasion of Poland in 1939, a British diplomat met with Hitler and filed this report:
Herr Hitler replied that he would be willing to negotiate, if there was a Polish Government which was prepared to be reasonable and which really controlled the country. He expatiated on misdoings of the Poles, referred to his generous offer of March last, said that it could not be repeated...
Of course, Hitler had an advantage over us -- he was leading the German people, the most generous human beings on earth. As Joseph Goebbels put it in 1943:
If we Germans have a fateful flaw in our national character, it is forgetfulness. This failing speaks well of our human decency and generosity, but not always for our political wisdom or intelligence. We think everyone else as is good natured as we are.
It was right around this time that distant relatives of mine were experiencing German good nature firsthand.
The point of all this is not to compare the Camp David offer to World War II or the holocaust. That would be idiotic; not all ways of beating the crap out of people are created equal. It's just to point out that when people get righteously worked up about how wonderful they are, and their enemy's lack of gratitude, you really need to keep an eye on them.Posted at November 11, 2004 03:52 PM | TrackBack