The Dark Side of Defending Freedom

BRUSSELS – The price of freedom, it is said, is eternal vigilance. But that price can take the form of morally squalid decisions in which innocent people bear the brunt of the cost of freedom’s defense.

Under the cover of the Cold War, Western governments were regularly forced to make many strategically realistic but morally noxious decisions. Dictators like Zaire’s Mobuto and Indonesia’s Suharto were embraced on the principle that “he might be a bastard, but at least he’s our bastard.” In addition, all sorts of dubious “freedom fighters,” from the Contras in Nicaragua to Hissene Habré in Chad to Jonas Savimbi in Angola received Western arms and political backing. Even the genocidal Khmer Rouge were, for a brief time, partly defended by the US in their forest redoubts after their eviction from Phnom Penh.

Twenty years after the Cold War’s end, the West has at times recognized its duty to make amends to those who were, in a very real sense, the “collateral damage” of that ideological struggle. For example, the countries that were consigned by Roosevelt and Churchill to Stalin’s un-tender mercies are now mostly part of the European Union. But there are other, untold stories of people who paid a heavy price for the West’s freedoms that have not gained much attention.

The fate of the Chagossians, the former residents of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean, is particularly harrowing. The way in which the inhabitants of this archipelago were systematically dispossessed and thrown off their land in the name of Western strategic interests is a human tragedy for which the West can and should make restitution.