The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 41.0°F | A Few Clouds and Breezy

COLUMN

No More Guilt, No More Checks

Kris Schnee

One of the disadvantages of being the biggest man in town is that you are also, automatically, the biggest and most obvious target.

Now that the Soviet Union can no longer be blamed for everything, and that China mostly minds its own business (and Tibet’s), the United States is being targeted as the scapegoat for every global wrong. Third World nations are now attempting to drive the US, through guilt, to be not only the world’s police force, but also its welfare agency.

Nor are the attacks limited to this country; essentially, this is a battle of poor nations against wealthy ones. In 1994 the president of the African nation of Rwanda was killed, and his death was followed by a ninety-day massacre. Members of Rwanda’s ethnic Hutu majority killed over half a million people of the minority Tutsi ethnic group before being stopped by Tutsi rebels in July 1994.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan commissioned an independent report on the event, which blamed the international community for failing to prevent the bloodshed. But a new report was released, on July 7 of this year, which brought specific, harsh charges against a large group of bystanders: the UN Security Council, the United States, France, Belgium, and the Roman Catholic Church. The new report says that all these targets are blameworthy for the Rwanda massacre, to the extent that they should pay reparations “in the name of both justice and accountability.” It also demands that Rwanda’s international debts be canceled in further apology, and recommends that the UN determine which countries should be obligated to pay and devise a “formula” for reparations. On what basis will such a formula be developed?

Pocket depth, most likely. This panel on Rwanda, formed by the Organization for African Unity, has pointed fingers at large and powerful organizations outside of Africa, and placed the blame and responsibility on them. Why, exactly, should the United States be held legally accountable for failing to do what it has no responsibility to do? If we accept this blame, our country will be dragged further into a role in the international community that we may not want. In effect, our country is being sued for failing to play policeman at our own expense.

Global warming is a hot international topic, and serves as another opportunity to be seized to demand money from First World nations. The weather has been getting a lot of media attention lately, says the Center for Media and Public Affairs; coverage of natural disasters more than doubled from 1997 to 1998. People are concerned about the possibility that global warming is occurring, and that storms, droughts, and other extreme weather events will increase as a result. The media obligingly provides increased coverage of the weather, and so people hear more about disasters and the possibility of global warming, and become more concerned.

Whether or not global warming is in the future, rising hot air definitely is. In this public climate of worry, the World Wide Fund for Nature made a demand at a UN event in March: that the world’s industrialized (i.e., wealthy) countries pay damages to the Third World for climate disasters, on the grounds that the First World is causing them through pollution. Since droughts, heat waves, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and every other disaster except earthquakes can be blamed on global warming, accepting this global guilt means Americans paying reparations for every lightning bolt and raindrop.

At the same event, representatives of OPEC proposed that the world’s oil-exporting nations should be compensated for sales lost due to environmental treaties. We have the opportunity to pay for burning too much fossil fuel, and then to pay for not burning enough.

Both the Rwanda report and the global-warming flap are cases where the US and other First World countries are being dragged into the role of world leaders, with the responsibilities but not the privileges of that role.

Are we willing now to accept guilt in a very real financial sense, for atrocities we never promised to prevent, and for climate change that may not even be happening? Once we let it be known that we will pay for every supposed wrong, we will find that this country has committed more sins than anyone now suspects.