DEC 10th 2009
Perhaps this paradox can give yet another chance to open the doors of perception in a confused world. I had hoped that at least Barack Obama, a man for whom my respect is profound, could make a speech about war and peace without recourse to the word evil, but I was mistaken.

By using that word, Obama leapt from the context of practical leadership in the 21st century, the allied defence and enforcement of an international social contract and
the rule of law, to the realms of philosophy and religion without so much as a nod to psychology or psychiatry on the way.

As a student of the above over the past 70 years and as one who respects the steps taken by many to enhance our understanding and improve our application, who would be the first to claim their is a connection between all these sciences, I nevertheless hold it inadvisable to mix them randomly in the same public address destined to reach a global audience whose cultures and environments are so varied in historical development and current expression.

The complete text of Obama's speech to the Nobel Committee is at the link below (unless moved later).


but I wish to take the paragraph below to see if it is possible to use what I believe to be a potential source of misunderstanding for the very opposite end.

<< I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago - "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life's work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak - nothing passive - nothing naïve - in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism - it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.>>

In that last sentence, Obama himself comes close to correcting his mistake. However it leaves us with an ambiguity. Does he apply the limits of reason and the imperfections of man to the acts of both sides in such conflicts? Or does he imply that evil is no more than an imperfection of man and the limits of reason, manifest in those whose purposes he finds it his duty to thwart by means which may reach to the lethal in the last resort?

The use of the word 'evil' is sometimes applied to individuals who have indeed reached a state of dysfunction and damage where the very notion of empathy is absent. The symptoms can be observed in animals as well as humans. There is no doubt that to repair an animal or human who has developed such symptoms is not easy, as the state they are in, which may relate to embedded genetic propensities as well as lifetime environmental history, will have elements of distrust and fear that militate against the acceptance that any help from others can be more than a trick to get through their defenses with a view to their destruction or enslavement.

The classification 'evil' is applied with more confidence to groups, gangs, and movements that exhibit antisocial behaviour. These are considered to be more accountable than a troubled individual unsupported in a desperate and lonely struggle to survive. Any group formed to pursue common aims has perforce to discuss these and be conscious, at least to some shared level of perception, of the consequences of their actions. Those who accept a society of fellowship under a rule of law, a social contract enforced by a sovereign authority, a civilized society with some security, transparency and freedoms, will class as evil any association that deliberately sets out to limit, reduce or destroy that status locally or nationally. Criminal gangs, mafias etc. feeding off economies they cannot or will not join legitimately, fall into this category, though they may attract and include among their number the desperate, fearful and lonely individuals who find shelter in their ranks.

When it comes to insurgents who conspire together in ruthless actions, here again here will be those who lead and those who follow. The leaders will be driven by mixtures of personal ambition and competitive instinct to maintain their status amongst their family, tribe, followers etc. The followers will be driven by more basic survival instincts. Then there are the suicide bombers who are promised either protection for their families, virgins in the afterlife or at least hero status a servant of a higher power or, in some cases, just a choice of death. Here we class as 'evil' any action that is deliberately designed to target civilians or include them without regard, including in particular those who train and arm the suicide bombers and send them off as guided missiles

So we can agree with Obama, with the above qualifications, that evil exists in the world because we say it does. It exists in all countries. We use the word to describe certain sorts of behaviour. Because of the rebellious violence that ends in the death of innocents when avenues of peaceful democracy, however imperfect, are offered, we can say it exists in Afghanistan and Iraq; but if ever there were countries where it is scarcely surprising that such behaviour is common it must indeed be those where every vestige of civilized existence as been blasted to hell for decades and every means of legitimate self-support in agriculture, commerce and industry has been destroyed.

Supply and demand are the forces that sustain all life from the moment a child is born and a mother's breast answers the need. The demands for oil and drugs are in the hands of the developed world. Whereas oil has many uses beyond the recreational it could well be argued that our careless consumption has already reached the level of abuse. In the case of drugs all use beyond the prescribed medical is decidedly abuse. The violence in Mexico, let alone Afghanistan, is directly attributable to demand in the United States. This is but one reason of many for which I would advise President Obama to stay off the subject of evil and his role of Commander in Chief of the 'forces of good' in any global battle. The reason we should stay the course in Afghanistan is one of pragmatic necessity to make up for past mistakes and put in place a potentially self-renewing, sustainable (within an international cradle) regime.

Why do we make so many mistakes? Let us look at recent comments on Iraq at the Chilcot enquiry

A senior official has told the inquiry into the Iraq war that "amateurs" who did not have the experience to perform were put into key roles in the country.

Lt Gen Frederick Viggers, Britain's senior military representative in Iraq, said lives had been lost as a result.

He said senior officials, including ministers, needed more training to deal with the complexities involved in mounting an invasion.

The trouble is rather, in  my view, too many professionals. Professional politicians, professional soldiers, professional businessmen. They all knew their own job but the job in hand was not one where any of them had any experience. It would be great to give people advance training in rebuilding an Iraq or Afghanistan on new lines, using the inherent talents of the nationals so as to build a new open, inclusive society, starting with the locations and materials they knew, rebuilding and grafting new structures.

That was never possible, there being no such training ground. The possible job was to imagine how to make sure there was employment for all and security and respect for authority, until gradually leaders emerged and structures consolidated. This was a job, protected by soldiers and sanctioned by politicians, for amateurs, for people with imagination and a love of the task and of the world that would give them the understanding of what they had never trained for. Above all it required the return to Iraq, as to Afghanistan, of all the talented people who had fled from either the tyranny or the violence and fanaticism and denial of basic human rights. Iraq is still an inhospitable environment for most returning refugees.

There are people who can do what they know because they have practised it, and there are people who can do things that they, and perhaps nobody else either, have done before. I am sure General Viggers was driven up the wall having the schemes of professional western politicians dished out for professional soldiers to implement in Iraq, and the same surely happened for the Americans in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It is clear that until men arrived on the scene who were more than just soldiers and politicians, namely Petraeus and McChrystal, men who were amateurs before they were professionals and transcend the limitations of the trades, there was no connection with a potential reality.

So, I would agree with General Viggers when he says:

"My sense was we had held the line. We contained what was unfolding chaos," 

And asked what lessons had been learnt, he replied: "A raft of lessons - few of them learnt, I sense."

My advice to America, get off your charger of the Champion of Good against Evil. If you are feeling Biblical, I recommend a passage on moats, eyes and beams. America's appetites for economic growth and consumption are the source of environmental problems that risk many more wars in the future unless restrained. Right now you have brave soldiers doing a tough, necessary job, opposing a violent, disturbed mix of confused tribal people with nowhere to go and nothing else to do. They are being exploited by international terrorists of al Qaeda who also have nowhere to go and whose chance of integration into civil society is nil. These people can perhaps merit the classification of evil more than many others. Many are going to die, both guilty and innocent on both sides.

The Nobel Peace Committee have given your President their Peace Prize because they know he is working for peace on terms that the people of both Afghanistan and Pakistan can live with. The prize is an international statement that this aim is understood. To walk away would not achieve it, and in Afghanistan the position must be resolved, not kept going for another half century. Forget about the idea of a 'Just War', necessity is the only criteria. What we have here is a war it is necessary to finish. Then, if you could turn your attention to Copenhagen, there is a chance you could avoid starting so many in the future.

OCTOBER 8th 2010
Here we go again,  and this time the paradox rears its head in a different angle. The Nobel Committe awards the Peace Prize to a human rights activist in China.
It praised Mr Liu for his "long and non-violent struggle" and highlighted its belief in a "close connection between human rights and peace"

I would say there is, on the contrary, an undeniably close connection between human rights and war. The western nations have a history of going to war over human rights and even starting wars over human rights. Whatever we may have to say about human rights in China, the lack of them is closely associated with peace in that country and very possibly in the regioning wars. We may regret this, even deplore it, but it is a fact.

Mr Liu's indefatigable campaigning for a multi-party democracy may be admirable, but human rights and democracy and multi-party politics are three distinct ideas that should not be confused. It is pretty clear that Mr Liu, now in jail, was not given what we in Europe or the US would consider a fair trial, but that is yet another issue. This award is the Nobel Peace Prize, and for the life of me it seems we have gone from one absurdity to the extreme of another.

Obama was given the award before he had the chance to contribute much to peace, Mr Liu's contribution to peace is at this point unfathomable. The award is unlikely to bring any more peace within China or between China and other countries. The management of China, a huge country with a common written language but no universally spoken common language, is not a subject on which the Nobel Committee is a notable authority.

They justify this political award by saying: "If China wanted to avoid such an award being given to Mr Liu they would have had to do something for peace themselves. They seem to have overlooked the fact that it was in the cause of keeping the peace they locked this guy up without giving him the grandstand of a fair trial. Perhaps we have a language problem here and the word 'Peace' means something else in Norwegian. No doubt Mr Liu deserves a prize for something and his family can use the money if they ever see it, but this prize at this time for these reasons?


I have to say also that although I am not a Roman Catholic I would certainly not give a prize of any sort to the pioneer of in vitro fertilization, which really is the last thing we need on this planet. But Nobel did give us dynamite, so it's not all bad news.

NOVEMBER 20th 2010
Here's a good commentatry from

Kerry Brown, a Senior Fellow at Chatham House's Asia programme