The tragedy of imposing virtue

Virtuous behavior can be of great personal benefit and sometimes useful in encounters with others, for example: compassion, friendship, honesty and loyalty. But it is immoral to impose virtues on others, especially by government force. On many past occasions it has led to unintended negative consequences—even disasters for America.

Unsolicited intrusions into the lives of others result in resentment, hostility; even violence. Take, for example, the tragic history of federal imperialists and the supporting political classes injecting us into strife within other countries (usually despite objections by most of the American people).

And, believe it or not, after all the losses of “blood and treasure” over the past 150 years to preserve unions and “make men free,” our federal politicians and bureaucrats are inclined to do it again—trying to convince us that bombing a sovereign country that does not threaten us is “the right thing to do.”

“Madness,” exclaimed a British doctor witnessing death and destruction between British and Japanese forces during WWII from a hillside in Southeast Asia above the blown up “Bridge over the River Qwai.”

The result of our war to save Vietnam from itself probably is the worst (certainly the most promoted) relatively recent example of inhumanity to impose virtue. In addition, many other excursions to inflict “democracy” and “justice” in Korea, Kosovo, North Africa and several Middle Eastern countries have cost us dearly—in lives, badly wounded, property and ill-will.

We can’t seem to learn that foreign cultures don’t follow our prescriptive patterns of life and governing. For that matter, we haven’t even followed our own: those that our Founders’ spelled out clearly in the U. S. Constitution.

A former Washington Post editor and critic recently discussed this problem in a Post article explaining the tragedy of regarding “war as virtuous.” Henry Allen begins with his personal experience in Vietnam when children there looked at American soldiers with hatred and even rejected candy they handed out.

Allen couldn’t then understand why: “Weren’t we fighting a war for liberation, another good war in the American tradition of good wars? He has come to realize, “we fight for virtue,” but “saving people from themselves”…”doesn’t work out.” (link)

We’ve heard the unscientific, but clear, concise definition of insanity: continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results. At least crazy people have the excuse that they can’t help themselves. What excuses do we get from our political leaders who pursue immoral acts in the name of virtue?


About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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