October 20th 2018


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Internal strife at Fortress ABC by Peter Westmore

EDITORIAL The state is separating children from families

CANBERRA OBSERVED Liberals are bare favourites for Wentworth

DEREGULATION Sugar growers are getting burned on churned-up playing field

EUROPE Attempt to discipline Hungary divides the EU

CHINA Social Credit System gives complete control of every citizen

EDUCATION Curriculum refinements will not fix schools

BANKING ROYAL COMMISSION Banks' failures are a symptom of social malaise

HISTORY Moby Dick and American exceptionalism

SHAKESPEARE Tick-tock: clues to the timeless appear of the Bard

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Trump to UN: we'll do it our way; you do it yours

MUSIC Well-tempered scale: might put an alien in a bad temper

CINEMA Alpha: Beautiful beginnings

BOOK REVIEW Essays towards reconstruction

BOOK REVIEW Can society survive the decay of religion?

LETTERS

CLIMATE CHANGE Hockey 1, hockey 2: Good science contradicts IPCC's two-degree alarmism

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HISTORY
Moby Dick and American exceptionalism


by Dr Lucy Sullivan

News Weekly, October 20, 2018

In the course of Captain Ahab’s search for Moby Dick to visit retribution on the great white whale for his perfectly justified self-defence which resulted in the loss of Ahab’s leg, there are a number of encounters with other ships mid-ocean. Two are British, and captained by Englishmen who have also suffered loss of limb in encounters with the whale.

Moby Dick was evil and deserved to die.

In contrast to Ahab’s impassioned and obsessive animosity, the English captains treat their injuries lightly and seem to regard them as honourable badges of a fair contest between equally legitimate rivals – “May the best man win!”

I cannot but think that Melville, in presenting this contrast, not once but twice, was deliberately identifying a striking difference between the two nations, or perhaps America versus Europe, in their ethics of conflict.

For America, the adversary is wrong, morally indictable; whereas, in the European tradition, each side has the right to defend its interests. There can be internecine struggle, but both sides are essentially good fellows.

This polarity was illustrated at the very birth of the American nation. After their surrender, terminating the American War of Independence, the British threw a banquet to which the leaders of their two adversaries, the French and the Americans, were invited. The French accepted, but the Americans turned the invitation down.

Was this mere pettishness? Rather, I think, a deep sense of their righteousness, and the villainy of their adversary, forbade their mixing with their former enemy amicably as equals, now that their dispute was settled. The British, by contrast, were not harbouring rancour, even in defeat. This American peculiarity of assuming theirs is the moral high ground has informed its diplomatic relations and exercise of military power to this day.

When Napoleon was defeated by a European alliance, he was given a small island, Elba, in the Mediterranean Sea, to govern. After his audacious renewed challenge to Europe, he was merely put on a more remote island, Saint Helena, in the Atlantic, where he died of natural causes.

Saddam Hussein, the legitimate head of a sovereign nation, but one with a non-European system of government, was, by contrast, shamefully put to death by the U.S. military, the victors in a conflict initiated by the United States, not by Saddam’s country, under what had become their code of criminality: namely, that to differ from U.S. institutions of government is indefensible.

Napoleon was not treated as a criminal despite representing a government that had committed appalling atrocities on its own people and setting about invading and subjugating all the states of Europe, to impose a rule alien to their tenets of legitimate government.

When the U.S. entered European politics as a result of its participation in World War I, it was able to impose its view of conflict on Europe, and for the first time the defeated side was treated as miscreant and punishment meted out. Austria had its empire dismembered and Germany was forced to pay heavy reparations, which economist John Maynard Keynes deplored at the time, and have since been considered a major irritant that contributed to Germany’s devolution into its World War II version of nationalism.

The U.S. is infecting its allies in the Western world with its one-sided view of justice, to the detriment of world peace. With their support, the U.S. now freely attacks, without the former European nicety of formally declaring war first, or promotes unrest in any country whose system of government differs from its own. Like the Piaget toddler, it cannot conceive that its wants and preferences and values are not necessarily those of other cultural traditions.

It attacks militarily if it dares. If it doesn’t, it maintains an attitude of hostility and freely casts aspersions of perfidy. Would the U.S. take no action against internal assaults on its polity? But it treats any such action as oppression in disapproved regimes.

Captain Ahab took the whole crew of his ship, bar one, to their deaths through his imperviousness to what is “fair”. Should we not take such blind obsessions as a danger in world politics as well?

Possibly Donald Trump, with his business experience, brings a wind of change.




























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