In this episode, the editors discuss articles by Peter Burns and Alberto M. Fernandez about the Armenian Genocide and President Joe Biden’s official recognition of it. Then they discuss a 1946 article saying Americans shouldn’t be worried about being “suckers” when they help other countries, along with Mark Melton’s introduction that looks at the historical context, especially the 1946 US loan to the UK.
Tooley: Hello this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy, with another episode of Marksism, with fellow editors and fellow Mark(c)s, Marc LiVecche and Mark Melton. We’re looking at three pieces from Providence this week, two of which are about Armenia, specifically the presidential recognition of what happened to Armenians during World War I as a genocide by the Ottoman Empire, a historic declaration appreciated especially by the Armenian diaspora. And thirdly, a piece by one of Reinhold Niebuhr’s colleagues back in the 1940s about the chronic concern by Americans that they’re going to be suckered or exploited in terms of their generosity to other nations. But starting out with Armenia, we have an excellent piece from Alberto Fernandez on of course Turkey not being pleased with the declaration of what the Ottomans did to the Armenians as a genocide. And of course, the warnings that Turkey will be going after America’s own historical misdeeds. It’s peculiar on some levels that Turkey is so defensive about what happened under the rule of the Sultan 100 years ago in that the Turkish Republic is not, arguably not, a continuity with the Ottoman Empire. But of course, Erdogan prides himself as sort of maybe a revived Sultan, himself a nationalist, and very much wants to connect with the Ottomans. I would also say that characters like Erdogan, autocrats, including the Chinese and many others who often threaten that they’re going to respond to human rights critiques of themselves with critiques of America’s human rights failings, they think that’s going to intimidate us, when in fact democracies are intrinsically self-critical. And America perhaps surpasses all other democracies in this regard. So, these kinds of critiques we’ve already fully absorbed, and surely could not be intimidated by them. But Marc LiVecche, your thoughts?
LiVecche: Oh, absolutely. If you’re a doubter that America is exceptional, we are exceptionally self-deprecating. So, bring it on, Turkey. There’s nothing, as Alberto says, there is nothing that you can say about us that we haven’t said about ourselves far better, far better researched, etc. He cloaks it under I think he calls it liberal or progressive “puritanicalism.” So, Erdogan and such folks can say all they want about our ignoble past and present, but we can absorb it and it’ll be fine. If that’s the price of giving the Armenians a little bit of vindication, and rightly calling crimes what they are, then I think we should be happy to pay that.
Tooley: Now previous presidents have held back from calling what happened a genocide at a concern for relations with a NATO ally. Obviously, those relations with Turkey have been increasingly estranged of late, so you could say that it just was more realistically possible to denounce Turkey now than it would have been 20 years ago. But what do you say, Mark Melton?
Melton: Well, I mean, when Turkey was more of a close ally, then this was going to be a more difficult decision to make. But they’ve already made a lot of decisions in the past several years that, I mean, there will probably be some hits, but I think they will be short-term hits. There’s talk about losing access to the airbase that we have there, but we’ll see how that actually plays out. I think we also have some strategic flexibility where, hopefully, we’ll be able to move those assets somewhere else in the region if it comes to that. But I mean, if Turkey is going to be buying s-400 missiles from Russia, I don’t see significant enough downsides to not declare that this Armenian genocide happened at this moment. It’s calling what it is for what it is and talking about the history, and I think there is a strength for democracies to be critical of their histories and to be honest with it. Because if you don’t, then you run into a risk what Turkey is going to run into where if you try to create a pumped-up image of yourself, then it becomes easily debunked. And once people realize how easily debunked it is, there can become a disillusionment. This is an argument that C.S. Lewis made when he talked about love of country. He warned against drawing upon history too much to justify one’s love of their country or their home. And instead, C.S. Lewis talks about focusing in on the culture of the people, like many other things, that can be lovely. He says the history has to be very carefully done, and I think that the situation with Turkey kind of exemplifies it, where if they refuse to admit what happened with Armenia, then as people realize what actually happened, there is a risk to the unity of the country and the government’s ability to promote its national mythmaking. So, I think that is a strength that democracies have, and I’m not worried about China or Russia or the United States trying to pull a, “Why doesn’t the West or America talk more about its history?” We do, all the time. It’s very much out in the open. We know what happened. So, yeah.
Tooley: Well, of course Fernandez points out the obvious, that America is going through a chapter right now in which many parts of our culture are demonizing America and imagine America as not just sinful, but among the very worst of nations. So, that’s not obviously a healthy trend, and hopefully one that will be self-correcting. But we do have that to contend with. Related to that topic, Mark Melton, you posted a piece from 1946 from Reinhold Niebuhr’s Christianity & Crisis by an individual prominent in his day as the long-time chaplain to the University of Chicago, as well as a professor at the divinity school there, pointing out that Americans tend to believe they are being suckered and exploited in terms of their generosity to other nations. In particular, in 1946, many Americans thought they were being suckered by British pleas for a large loan to their post-war bankrupt nation. And the chaplain argues that in fact Britain had lost a great deal during World War II, having fought the Germans two years before America entered the war, and now was nearly economically prostrate, and it was in America’s own interest to help Britain revive economically. The load in fact did go through. Less than what the British initially had requested. Of course, with the Marshall Plan, there was additional funding for the British and many other Western European nations, an act of great generosity, but also an act of enlightened self-interest, as the Western European economies were revived, as their democracies revived after Nazi occupation and World War II, and they were better able to resist the inroads of the Soviet Union during those early years of the Cold War. But any thoughts, Mark Melton?
Melton: Right. So, this piece I found interesting. There’s been several pieces that are looking at 1946 in Christianity & Crisis where they briefly mentioned British loan, and so this is another one where he briefly mentioned British loan, and it’s something that we don’t talk about as Americans very often. And even in British circles it’s not hardly discussed. In fact, one of the documentaries I watched on it was hosted by a British ambassador to the US, and he said he didn’t know anything about this until after he was an ambassador. And so, in this situation, you have the Labour Party, having defeated Winston Churchill, and Winston Churchill was America’s ally and we had a close relationship with him. And he’s half American, so he’s got a good relationship with the Americans. And this Labour Government, which is producing socialist policies like the NHS and other things, or they want to do these things, and then America is very reluctant to give money to the British at this point because they feel that, I think economic warfare was one description of it. John Maynard Keynes was a proponent of this. In fact, he called justice, that America owed Britain this stuff. And Americans were like well, we lost over 400,000 people too, and we don’t want to be caught in an economic warfare with a colonial Britain that has an imperial system. And so, there were some, including Christianity & Crisis authors, who were more optimistic about relations with Russia going forward than they were with Britain. It seems that there’s an expectation that Britain is going to be a potential rival. It’s not really until a couple of years after this or shortly after this that we begin to realize, and the public, what the Soviet Union is really doing in Eastern Europe and other countries. In government circles there was knowledge of this, but out in the public there’s less knowledge. And so, there is a huge opposition to this loan. Initially, the British asked for grant, a $5 billion grant, which as a share of GDP, I calculated out to be about $450 billion dollars. If someone was asked for the US to give them $450 billion dollars, that’s about the same share of GDP for the US to give, and especially to a country that Americans thought could be a rival. This wasn’t popular. A vast majority, 60%, of Americans opposed the loan, but it went from being a grant to being a loan; it was still unpopular. And so, my argument that I write, so in this piece, if I’m pronouncing his name correctly, Gilkey, he basically has a very moralist, sentimental argument for why the US should be more generous. And my point that I’m making, when you have that kind of argument, you’re sometimes preaching to the choir. Now considering who the Christianity & Crisis authors were, it probably was the choir. But if you’re trying to convince a larger swath of the population, I think you need to have more of a realist argument. That would have been that Russia is going to be more of the rival here; it’s better for us to have a prosperous Britain who can be an ally and a partner and trade with us. When you have arguments like that, it may not produce the optimum results, but I feel that when I hear a Christian realist, that seems to be a constant refrain. That we’re not going to have the optimum results. But you need to have I think some combination between the realist and moralist argument if you’re trying to be effective, and not just preach to the choir. So, that’s kind of the gist of the intro that I wrote to this article.
Tooley: Marc LiVecche, do Americans still think of themselves as suckers? If you look at the polling, Americans tend to think that we disperse trillions and trillions of dollars in foreign aid, when it’s actually less than 1% of the federal budget and a pretty much microscopic part of our GNP. So, your thoughts?
LiVecche: Yeah, that’s interesting. I didn’t know that stat. I suspect it’s buried deep in the American psyche that we don’t want to be taken for psyches. We’re like the dwarves in the seventh book of Narnia, the last battle. The dwarves, you’ll recall, don’t want to be taken in, and here they are sitting in sort of the antechamber to heaven. But they still won’t believe the things around them, because they don’t want to be taken in. I think it cuts to our sense of what it means to be, maybe as men, what it means to be manly. We have to be street smart, we have to be travel savvy; people who get suckered are chumps. They’re fools. I remember in my own days in Eastern Europe an awful lot of beggars on the streets. And they would ask me for money, and I knew better. I knew. I’m travel savvy. I know they’re just going to go and drink booze. They say they’re going to buy food or feed their babies, but I don’t want to be taken in. And then one Christmas Eve, I’m walking down the streets in a Czech village, and some guys come out of the shadows, and they’re obviously intoxicated, and they wish me a Merry Christmas, and they asked me for some money. And they solemnly swear that not one penny will go to food, it will all go to drink. And I find myself giving money to them, because I’ll buy a friend a drink. But I didn’t get taken in, right. That’s the thing. So, yeah, we don’t want to be taken in, and I think Melton’s critique about this notion that however idealistic Americans want to be, at the end of the day, you probably do have to have an interests-based argument in order to get us to do what’s right. That’s not always true, I think. I think we still have a very idealistic foreign policy, and rightly so. But as a little bit of a teaser, I’ll be interviewing Elbridge Colby next week based on an article that he recently wrote for National Interest where he’s talking about interests, not values, being sort of the centerpiece of the kinds of alliances we ought to be making across the globe. And it’s going to cut a lot of people I think the wrong way because it’s going to sound like he’s suggesting ethics don’t belong in international affairs, because we don’t want to be taken in. But it’s not what he’s saying. He’s making a very subtle argument that needs to be heard. So, I think it dovetails rather nicely with the Gilkey piece.
Tooley: I think it was Bismarck or someone like him, some savvy European, who commented that a nation that bought the Louisiana Purchase and Alaska was hardly a sucker. So, America likes to default to that perspective. Marc LiVecche, Mark Melton, thank you for another episode of Marksism. Until next week, bye-bye.