Embracing the Empire
Bernard Kouchner, France’s new foreign minister, has a long and distinguished record as an advocate of intervention in countries where human rights are abused. As a co-founder of Doctors Without Borders, he stated that “we were establishing the moral right to interfere inside someone else’s country.” Saddam Hussein’s mass murder of Iraqi citizens is why he supported the war in Iraq. One should always be careful about attributing motives to other people’s views. But Kouchner himself has often said that the murder of his Russian-Jewish grandparents in Auschwitz inspired his humanitarian interventionism.
One may or may not agree with Kouchner’s policies, but his motives are surely impeccable. The fact that many prominent Jewish intellectuals in Europe and the United States – often, like Kouchner, with a leftist past – are sympathetic to the idea of using American armed force to further the cause of human rights and democracy in the world, may derive from the same wellspring. Any force is justified to avoid another Shoah, and those who shirk their duty to support such force are regarded as no better than collaborators with evil.
If we were less haunted by memories of appeasing the Nazi regime, and of the ensuing genocide, people might not be as concerned about human rights as they are. And by no means do all those who work to protect the rights of others invoke the horrors of the Third Reich to justify Anglo-American armed intervention.