In Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Beyond Vietnam speech, he states, in regard to "our enemies," that "surely we must understand their feelings even if we do not condone their actions." Jane Addams once said that "the essence of immorality is the tendency to make an exception of myself." These maxims, one about empathy and the other about hypocrisy, could be used as a more just way of viewing foreign policy, yet are continuously broken by United States‘ leaders.
One wouldn’t have to look far to see how the United States doesn’t follow these maxims. Just look at some of the current large-scale military occupations. In Iraq and Afghanistan, although full of other crimes, the United States has been far from empathetic. U.S. actions following the 9/11 attacks were acts of aggression sought to further its dominance in the world (see Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival, for example). This is in violation of international law, which states that countries are not allowed to perform "wars of aggression," which is a "crime against peace," and that peaceful means need to be pursued before military action. Acts of aggression were the worst crimes the Nazis committed, as was stated at the Nuremburg Trials. Peaceful means could include finding and eliminating the conditions that foster such attacks such as socioeconomic and political inequity. Another response to the attacks could be to do what we made India and Pakistan do after the Mumbai attacks - namely use what is called the "justice system" to find and legally punish those responsible. Any logical person would review the history of U.S. foreign policy and delineate its effects, which, when accomplished, could help us to "understand their feelings" (see, for example, the increase of terrorism in the Middle East due to an increase in U.S. military presence). Yet, this would be too empathetic and non-hypocritical as to hinder U.S. hegemony. Therefore, it is dismissed.
Another example, and of course there are many, was in the summer of 2008 when Georgia invaded Russia. It’s also worth noting here that the major U.S. media institutions prefer the reverse order, yet since it fails any analysis of legitimacy we can forget about that. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice blamed Russia for its acts of aggression, and, furthermore, arrogantly demanded Russia withdraw its troops. The hypocrisy should be obvious. Imagine Russia blaming the U.S. for its acts of aggression and demanding the U.S. to withdraw its troops from the Middle East. You can imagine that laughter. The United States can commit acts of aggression (as in Iraq, Afghanistan, and numerous others) anywhere and anyone who resists can face consequences. This only makes sense, as Noam Chomsky points out, if one assumes that the United States owns the world. One must also understand why Russia would retaliate to an attack from neighboring Georgia. Yet, besides distorting the actual act of aggression made by U.S.-backed Georgia, the U.S. has the audacity and hypocrisy to condemn some other country for a supposed act of aggression.
The issue with North Korea is another case in point. First, "surely we must understand their feelings even if we do not condone their actions." The action of testing a missile should face criticism and even outrage no matter who is doing it. Yet, even if we "do not condone their actions," it should be recognized why North Korea is conducting tests. In 1994, the U.S. signed an agreement with North Korea that said "North Korea would freeze its existing nuclear program and agree to enhance International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards . . . and that both sides would work to strengthen the international nuclear non-proliferation regime," according to the Federation of American Scientists. Since then (and of course before) the U.S. has diplomatically and militarily committed extensive amounts of aggression, which has destabilized whole regions of the world, including the country of North Korea. To name a few, the U.S. showed aggression diplomatically when they added North Korea to what was called the "axis of evil," the U.S. has invaded and militarily intervened in countries throughout the Middle East, and ever since the Korean War, the U.S. has had aggressive (from the perspective of North Korea) relations with South Korea (i.e. U.S. troops, and control over the South Korean military in times of war), and the U.S. continues to pursue the alleged "Missile Defense" system (otherwise known as a first-strike system by analysts). Surely these are facts that should be considered for causing North Korea‘s actions. Yet, it is left out of commentary because the United States can never be the culprit since they own the world. Putting all that aside, it is, yet again, obvious hypocrisy. The United States has long tested weapons of mass destruction throughout the world, has the largest (most capable) nuclear arsenal, and remains the only country to actually have used a nuclear weapon in international conflict. This last fact becomes so obvious that Obama actually has to address it and says the U.S. should "lead the way" in non-proliferation, yet the next day calls for North Korea to be punished. The United States never needs to face punishment, and in fact can even decline reparations and apologies to the Japanese population for its use of the atomic bomb. The U.S. always needs to be painted as the beacon of benevolence that owns the world. When accepting these assumptions, it then becomes easy for the world to be portrayed as turning into chaos around us.
The two maxims I present in this short piece aren’t impossible to perform. It is a choice that has to be made and where the decision is going to depend upon democratic public action. The decision is an important one, and depending on the choice, could stop large scale atrocities from occurring.