What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
photo credit: Invisible Children
In just three days, the half-hour video produced by Invisible Children to highlight a Ugandan warmonger oppressing little kids has reached over 12 million people. (Edit: in less than a week, it has been viewed 70 million times.)
Many of those millions are now loudly parroting the message advanced by the video’s creators: the federal government is needed to intervene and help take out this monster once and for all. The narrator claims that in order to find Joseph Kony, the ring leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, “the Ugandan army needs the technology and training” which must be offered by the United States government.
Due in large part to the activism of this same organization, Barack Obama deployed 100 combat-equipped soldiers in 2010 to help regional forces capture or kill Kony and senior leaders of the band of rebels. In a letter explaining his action, Obama stated that “deploying these U.S. Armed Forces furthers U.S. national security interests and foreign policy and will be a significant contribution toward counter-LRA efforts in central Africa.”
While it is laughable to claim that killing a bad guy half a world away who poses absolutely no threat to America would further the “national security interests” of the United States of America, one thing the intervention certainly does is further America’s “foreign policy” which has for decades entailed one intervention after another.
Invisible Children wildly celebrated this feather in its cap, though likely seeing it as just the beginning. Thus, the video. The idea is to further generate awareness, and then encourage activism, ultimately applying pressure on politicians in Congress to maintain and increase the troops on the ground. As the narrator further exhorts, “if the government doesn’t believe that people care about arresting Kony, the mission will be cancelled.”
The conflation of caring about Kony’s arrest and supporting the federal government’s involvement in that process saturates much of what Invisible Children does. In doing so, they readily admit that the use of military forces to capture and/or kill Kony would be a war waged “not for self defense,” says the narrator, “but because it was right.”
This is a subtle though dangerous connection, one where the “right thing” is almost universally agreed upon, but where the means to achieve that end is rightly problematic to some. Keep in mind what the narrator said: the use of the military to pursue Kony would not be an action done in self defense. Even so, they claim, it would be “right.” But something cannot be right unless done in the right way. Stopping a bully at school is the right thing to do; stopping him with a shotgun is not. Helping an unemployed neighbor pay his bills is the right thing to do; funding that “charity” with the money you stole from another neighbor is not. Fighting back in defense against an aggressor is the right thing to do; chasing that aggressor back to his home land and then bombing his loved ones and countrymen is not.
Stopping Kony is the right thing to do. To that end, Invisible Children’s efforts to generate awareness are definitely praiseworthy, as are any efforts to encourage individuals to donate their time and resources to bringing about that goal. Where they cross the line is believing and advocating that the military of the United States government should be involved.
In the early 1820s, several European countries were attempting to re-establish control over South America, jockeying for power by clashing with each other militarily. There was significant support in the united States of America for lending military and financial support to the various independence movements throughout South America. (Sound familiar? This same story has repeated itself dozens of times in the past two centuries.) In response, then-Secretary of State (and future President) John Quincy Adams stated the following in an Independence Day address before the House of Representatives:
America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity. She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights.
She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own.
She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart….
Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.
She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.
She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.
She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet on her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power.
She might become the dictatress of the world; she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit….
Her glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.
History has repeatedly proven the folly of America’s deviation from this policy. This government has on numerous occasions involved itself beyond the point of extrication, under the guise of destroying monsters and assisting foreign independence.
This has application to many interventions, including the one which seeks to bring Kony to justice. Joseph Kony is a monster. But he is one of many. If and when captured or killed, another will rise to take his place. And even now, there are hundreds of other warlords and evil men inflicting their nefarious designs on the individuals they have dominated. America was not founded to be the policeman of the world, nor do there exist sufficient financial resources and moral authority to do so.
Truth be told, America has itself become a monster by violating the very principles and practices outlined in Adams’ speech. Recall that in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ taught his followers a lesson of hypocrisy and priority—one which has direct application to this situation:
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
Kony is capturing and killing innocent people. So is the federal government. Fancy videos and emotion-fueled activism show the horrors of what this Kony has done half a world a way, but where is the outcry and galvanized opposition to what our own government is doing half a world away? Where is the concern for the sanctions and blockades imposed on nations which create suffering, starvation, and death as a punishment for innocent people who have done no harm? Where are the throngs of teenagers clamoring for the government to stop dropping bombs on cities they can’t even pronounce? Why are there not well-funded educational campaigns raising awareness of the torture, intervention, war profiteering, and destruction inflicted upon foreign people by Americans in military costumes?
That story is not popular, nor is there a single scapegoat as easily vilified as there is with the Lord’s Resistance Army and Joseph Kony. It’s comfortable for us to see monsters in distant lands and support their extermination, while coming to terms with the monsters who infest our own government is neither comfortable nor convenient. Thus Invisible Children casts a bright spotlight on Kony’s “mote” while the “beam” in America remains in relative darkness. In focusing on Kony while refusing to hold our own government to account, we become hypocrites who do not see clearly.
The video’s narrator affirms that “arresting Joseph Kony will prove that the world we live in has new rules.” In contrast, opposing, removing from power, and holding to account (through impeachment and criminal charges) those responsible for our interventionist, immoral, and offensive foreign policy—one which causes the death and displacement of millions of "invisible children"—would prove that the world we live in has reaffirmed the old rules of justice and morality, and that America’s motto once again is, as Adams said, “Freedom, Independence, Peace.”