Monday, September 23, 2013

Humanitarian Intervention and Exceptionalism

Trey Smith

Last week, Starbucks asked its American customers to please not bring their guns into the coffee shop. This is part of the company's concern about customer safety and follows a ban in the summer on smoking within 25 feet of a coffee shop entrance and an earlier ruling about scalding hot coffee. After the celebrated Liebeck v McDonald's case in 1994, involving a woman who suffered third-degree burns to her thighs, Starbucks complies with the Specialty Coffee Association of America's recommendation that drinks should be served at a maximum temperature of 82C.

Although it was brave of Howard Schultz, the company's chief executive, to go even this far in a country where people are better armed and only slightly less nervy than rebel fighters in Syria, we should note that dealing with the risks of scalding and secondary smoke came well before addressing the problem of people who go armed to buy a latte. There can be no weirder order of priorities on this planet.

That's America, we say, as news of the latest massacre breaks – last week it was the slaughter of 12 people by Aaron Alexis at Washington DC's navy yard – and move on. But what if we no longer thought of this as just a problem for America and, instead, viewed it as an international humanitarian crisis – a quasi civil war, if you like, that calls for outside intervention? As citizens of the world, perhaps we should demand an end to the unimaginable suffering of victims and their families – the maiming and killing of children – just as America does in every new civil conflict around the globe.
~ from American Gun Use Is Out of Control: Shouldn't the World Intervene? by Henry Porter ~
Can you imagine the outrage and contempt of most Americans if the United Nations seriously entertained a resolution to intercede in this American civil war? Any nation that had the temerity to suggest that the UN needed to send peacekeepers to our shores would be denounced -- threatened even -- in the strongest terms possible. This would be one of those rare situations in which Americans of almost all political persuasions would unite together to say that the UN has no business telling us -- the exceptional Americans -- what is right and what is wrong.

And yet, this is what the US does all the time. We constantly stick our noses into other people's business. If something is going on in some nation and we don't like it -- it somehow threatens our overly broad national interests or national security -- we easily can come up with a host of reasons why it is our supreme role to step in to discipline recalcitrant leaders or factions and/or to aid the downtrodden. We often package it as a humanitarian effort, but these actions too often terrorize, kill and maim the innocent.

If the shoe was on the other foot -- the world joined together to try to end the humanitarian crisis of American gun violence (one that we refuse to address on our own) -- do you think our leaders and most of the public would welcome the aid with open arms?

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