Joseph Chan on Confucianism and Democracy

In IS210 today, we viewed a short clip from this interesting lecture by Professor Joseph Chan given at Cornell University. Professor Chan of the University of Hong Kong talks about the shared moral basis of contemporary Chinese society. With Leninism/Marxism/Maoism being discredited amongst most Chinese, the search begins for a new moral basis/foundation for society.

As Professor Dick Miller says in his introductory remarks:

In China, as in the United States, people feel a great need for an adequate, shared, ethical basis for public life. There, as here, people don’t think that freedom to get as rich as you can is an adequate basis.

So, what is that basis, if the official ruling ideology of the political regime no longer seems legitimate. Liberal democracy? Confucianism. There are adherents in China of both of these as the proper ethical foundation. What does Professor Chan have to say about the compatibility of Confucian ideals with democracy? Watch and find out. It’s a very informative lecture.

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Support for Capital Punishment

On Thursday in POLI 1100, a general discussion about the distinctions between democratic and non-democratic regimes focused on the use(s) of violence by governments as a means of control. This led to a discussion of the use of, and support for, the death penalty. As many of my students knew, the death penalty is not used in Canada or Europe (with the exception of Belarus) but is used in the United States. Most of the class, however, was surprised to learn that, despite the differences in policy, until quite recently a majority of both Canadians and Americans supported the death penalty. The graphic below shows the supports of a Gallup-Ipsos survey carried out in 2004, in which Canadians just barely oppose the death penalty (although, as you can see, it is not a majority), while Great Britons (55%) and US Americans (64%) both have majorities supporting the death penalty.

Although support for capital punishment is decreasing in many countries, in many European countries a majority of the population still is in favour of the death penalty for those convicted of murder. What about Japan? In a poll released in February 2010, a record 85% of Japanese supported the death penalty!

What do you think about these results? Are they as you expected? What does this say about the political culture of the countries in question?

Japanese American Internment During World War II

Students in my Intro to IR class have turned in papers dealing with ethics in international relations. One of the papers has an interesting quote by a Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt (who [my student claims] ultimately ordered the internment).

According to my student (AA), this is what Lt-Gen. DeWitt said to members of a Congressional panel:

“I don’t want any of them [persons of Japanese ancestry] here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty… It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty… But we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map” (Mullen)*.

*Here is the source: Fred Mullen, “DeWitt Attitude on Japs Upsets Plans,” Watsonville Register- Pajaronian, April 16, 1943. Reproduced by Santa Cruz Public Library, accessed April 6, 2008.

Pope Benedict XVI a Foreign Policy Radical

The Pope delivered a speech last week to the United Nations in which he argued–as have many radicals over the last few decades–that the will of the international community to act in order to solve important global problems is being undermined because a few states have accrued too much power.  The Associated Press has more:

NEW YORK – Pope Benedict XVI warned diplomats at the United Nations on Friday that international cooperation needed to solve urgent problems is “in crisis” because decisions rest in the hands of a few powerful nations.

In a major speech on his U.S. trip, Benedict also said that respect for human rights, not violence, was the key to solving many of the world’s problems.

While he didn’t identify the countries that have a stranglehold on global power, the German pope — just the third pontiff to address the U.N. General Assembly — addressed long-standing Vatican concerns about the struggle to achieve world peace and the development of the poorest regions.

On the one hand, he said, collective action by the international community is needed to solve the planet’s greatest challenges.

On the other, “we experience the obvious paradox of a multilateral consensus that continues to be in crisis because it is still subordinated to the decisions of a few.”

The pope made no mention of the United States in his speech, though the Vatican did not support the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which occurred despite the Bush administration’s failure to gain Security Council approval for it. At other moments on his trip, Benedict has been overtly critical of the U.S., noting how opportunity and hope have not always been available to minorities.

The pope said questions of security, development and protection of the environment require international leaders to work together in good faith, particularly when dealing with Africa and other underdeveloped areas vulnerable to “the negative effects of globalization.”

Iraq is a Minefield

Have any of you ever realized that you just may be in a minefield? It’s a difficult conundrum because you don’t want to just stay there, but you also don’t want to move. It seems as though there is no good choice to make. That, according to an analyst at the National Defense University, is the US fate in Iraq currently.

During our relatively short discourse into international ethics, we discussed Table 2.1 from Amstutz’s book, which demonstrates the Three Dimensions of Moral Judgment.

Here it is:

We notice that in order to evaluate the morality of a foreign policy decision, we must judge the motives behind the decision, the means used, and the final result of the decision. A new paper by Joseph J. Collins, of the Institute for National Strategic Studies of the National Defense University analyzes the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003. According to the author,

To date, the war in Iraq is a classic case of failure to adopt and adapt prudent courses of action that balance ends, ways, and means.

The paper is an interesting and nuanced read and I encourage you to take a look. Here is the first page:

Measured in blood and treasure, the war in Iraq has achieved the status of a major war and a major debacle. As of fall 2007, this conflict has cost the United States over 3,800 dead and over 28,000 wounded. Allied casualties accounted for another 300 dead. Iraqi civilian deaths—mostly at the hands of other Iraqis—may number as high as 82,000. Over 7,500 Iraqi soldiers and police officers have also been killed. Fifteen percent of the Iraqi population has become refugees or displaced persons. The Congressional Research Service estimates that the United States now spends over $10 billion per month on the war, and that the total, direct U.S. costs from March 2003 to July 2007 have exceeded $450 billion, all of which has been covered by deficit spending. No one as yet has calculated the costs of long-term veterans’ benefits or the total impact on Service personnel and materiel.


The war’s political impact also has been great. Globally, U.S. standing among friends and allies has fallen. Our status as a moral leader has been damaged by the war, the subsequent occupation of a Muslim nation, and various issues concerning the treatment of detainees. At the same time, operations in Iraq have had a negative impact on all other efforts in the war on terror, which must bow to the priority of Iraq when it comes to manpower, materiel, and the attention of decisionmakers. Our Armed Forces—especially the Army and Marine Corps—have been severely strained by the war in Iraq. Compounding all of these problems, our efforts there were designed to enhance U.S. national security, but they have become, at least temporarily, an incubator for terrorism and have emboldened Iran to expand its influence throughout the Middle East.

As this case study is being written, despite impressive progress in security during the surge, the outcome of the war is in doubt. Strong majorities of both Iraqis and Americans favor some sort of U.S. withdrawal. Intelligence analysts, however, remind us that the only thing worse than an Iraq with an American army may be an Iraq after the rapid withdrawal of that army. The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq’s future stability said that a rapid withdrawal “almost certainly would lead to a significant increase in the scale and scope of sectarian conflict in Iraq, intensify Sunni resistance to the Iraqi government, and have adverse consequences for national reconciliation.” The NIE goes on to say that neighboring countries might intervene, resulting in massive casualties and refugee flows. No one has calculated the psychopolitical impact of a perceived defeat on the U.S. reputation for power or the future of the overall war on terror. For many analysts (including this one), Iraq remains a “must win,” but for many others, despite the obvious progress under General David Petraeus and the surge, it now looks like a “can’t win.” To date, the war in Iraq is a classic case of failure to adopt and adapt prudent courses of action that balance ends, ways, and means.

Alan Dershowitz Defends Torture…”in Extraordinary Circumstances”

In a previous post, I linked to a series of articles published by the Washington Monthly, the contributors to which all were firm in their belief that torture is never justified. I mentioned in class the other day that one of the tenets of my teaching philosophy is to create a strict wall of separation between my own political beliefs and the substance and content of my teaching. Torture is the one area where I make an exception as I believe that this is not a partisan issue (a claim that is supported by the partisan views of the contributors to the Washington Monthly special report on torture–Republican, Democrats, and Independents all contributed to the report) and that torture is morally wrong and the United States government should never use it as official public policy.

In order to provide some balance to the debate, however, please find below an interview of Alan Dershowitz, who–by his own admission–supports torture only in “exceptional circumstances”, by veteran British journalist David Frost. Dershowitz, a professor at Harvard Law School, is the most erudite of those who support torture. Most of the comments of those who support the use of torture by the US government aren’t nearly as thoughtful as Dershowitz. Here are some examples from Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard:

Andrew Sullivan is yet again calling the president a “war criminal.” This time in response to today’s New York Times article revealing that the Bush administration has subjected terror suspects captured abroad to ‘severe’ and ‘brutal’ interrogations.

Sullivan has a history of trotting out the charge of “war criminal,” sticking the label on George Tenet, Donald Rumsfeld, Pentagon counsel Jim Haynes, and Berkeley law prof John Yoo.

And for what? The Times indicts the Bush administration for exposing terrorists captured abroad to “head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures.” Boo hoo. And why does the Times consider this such a dangerous policy? The reporters end the story with this quote, from former Navy lawyer John Hutson, which they must believe to be compelling:

“The problem is, once you’ve got a legal opinion that says such a technique is O.K., what happens when one of our people is captured and they do it to him? How do we protest then?” he asked.

As Jules Crittenden notes in response:

[The] article neglects to mention we are fighting an enemy that considers powerdrills into kneecaps and videotaped beheading of captives business as usual. That in fact, we have yet to face an enemy in the modern era that observes anything approaching the standards we do. Germany, Japan, North Korea, North Vietnam, Iran, Iraq. Disorientation, isolation, beatings, starvation, summary executions, torture … of the bone-breaking, organ-smashing, electrocuting, bloody-drawing variety.

That is, real torture. And it trivializes the seriousness of it to apply the word to “head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures.” It also trivializes the seriousness of real war crimes for someone to throw around the charge so promiscuously. A quick search of Sullivan’s blog for “war criminal” turns up 34 hits, all of them referring to members of the Bush administration. No doubt hit number 35 will be Andrew’s attack on the war criminals of the Worldwide Standard.

Here is another example from Goldfarb:

I haven’t really been following this issue, mostly because I’m pretty sure that whatever the government is doing to these terrorists wouldn’t “shock my conscience.” Like my man Scalia says, sometimes you’re going to have to take these terrorists and “smack them in the face.” But, some folks are more easily shocked than I am, and they are in full moral outrage mode this morning with the release of a 2003 memo by John Yoo (now a professor at Berkeley!) approving “harsh interrogation techniques.” Oh, the humanity!

Unfortunately, in a sad twist of fate, Andrew Sullivan has taken the week off, and so there will be no calls for a new Nuremberg trial featuring the prosecution of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and everyone else Andrew doesn’t agree with. But if you need your fix of self-righteous lefty demagoguery, Glenn Greenwald is a pretty good substitute with his post on “John Yoo’s War Crimes.”

Ken Roth Lecture on Human Rights and the Environment

We watched a video of a lecture given by Ken Roth (the Executive Director of the human rights NGO, Human Rights Watch) on the link between human rights and environmental degradation.  You can watch the entire lecture on youtube.  It is also embedded below.  Here is the description of the lecture:

Human Rights Watch Executive Director Ken Roth explains how environmental abuse has led to human rights violations in Darfur, Nigeria, Indonesia and Angola in the first of this season’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Distinguished Lecture Series at the University of San Diego. Series: “Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Distinguished Lecture Series” [10/2007]