years ago terrorists murdered Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.
That terrible week, I happened to be at a meeting of free-market
economists and philosophers on Lake Geneva. The morning after the
massacre, the chairman of the meeting announced that in response
to requests from several members, our proceedings would begin with
a minute's silence in memory of the murdered sportsmen.
requests go through on the nod. On this occasion, however, there
was an objection. Enoch Powell, a leading British conservative politician
of the day, argued that there was no reason for a meeting of economists
to single out for mourning one event from all the tragedies and
atrocities disfiguring the world and he cited several from
that day's papers. If we had been meeting in Germany where the murders
had taken place, he could understand and support such a mark of
respect and sympathy. But we were in Switzerland. We should simply
continue with the society's business.
debate ensued. A motion to observe a minute's silence was passed
by a majority that was substantial but not unanimous. It was held.
And the meeting continued not, however, without bruised feelings
on all sides.
One of those
present was the great philosopher of classical liberalism (and member
of Chicago University's Committee on Social Thought), F. A. Hayek,
who a few years later told a British journalist that it had changed
his high opinion of Powell in one respect. Powell had been technically
correct in his objections to the moment's silence. He was entitled
to raise them. Still, his raising those objections to a simple mark
of respect requested by many present showed him to be unbalanced,
excessively logical, and unable to distinguish between greater and
from this incident can be applied to the controversy over the International
Olympic Committee's initial objections to the carrying of the tattered
Stars and Stripes, rescued from Ground Zero, by the U.S. athletic
delegation at the opening of the games. Technically the IOC was
correct: The Olympic Games are an international sporting event.
They are designed to rise above all political questions even
such non-controversial positions as opposition to terrorism
and to give equal time to all nations, not to single out one nation
for particular attention.
As the IOC
itself soon realized, however, to have employed these arguments
to insist on banning the World Trade Center standard would have
been excessively logical and unbalanced. America has both suffered
a great blow and achieved a great victory; its tattered flag signified
the nation's steadiness under fire; and its position at the head
of the U.S. delegation was a splendid mark of defiance that took
the enemy's apparently successful strike and entirely reversed its
meaning like the small British expeditionary force that landed
in France in 1914 adopting the Kaiser's dismissal of them as "contemptible"
and referring to themselves thereafter as the "Old Contemptibles."
Enoch Powell had conceded in principle 30 years before, the fact
that the Games were being held on American soil made a difference.
It gave all the nations represented a chance to express their solidarity
with the U.S. by standing aside for a moment and giving the Stars
and Stripes a special pre-eminence. For all these reasons the IOC
was right to give way.
Yet the lack
of balance was not all on one side. The reaction of Americans
as best it can be gauged through the prism of the U.S. media
was too indignant. It did not take into account the IOC's necessary
concern for Olympic traditions. And it was too querulous, combative,
and even self-pitying.
September 11 recedes into the past, the initial popular reaction
of somber and dignified patriotism has been gradually infected by,
and mixed with, lesser emotions in particular, a shriller
nationalism that either complains or boasts constantly that the
U.S. has been deserted by its friends and allies and has to act
alone against terrorism.
As an account
of recent reality, this is false. American special forces in Afghanistan
were assisted not only by the Northern Alliance but also by the
special forces of Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Not
entirely coincidentally, these same nations also formed the military
committee that planned the intervention to restore order and establish
the conditions for civil democracy in East Timor (in which Australia
played the main role on the ground.) And the armed forces of the
English-speaking world frequently intervene in unison, partly because
they are better able to communicate and cooperate with each other
technically, and partly because they see the world in roughly the
"Europeans" played a more subsidiary role but mainly
because their armed forces were ill-equipped and because the U.S.
could find only secondary tasks for them. France, Germany, Italy,
and others volunteered all the same and as you read this,
1,800 Germans are sailing off the African coast to be ready to assist
U.S. action in Somalia. The failure of European nations has been
in their allocating small amounts of their budgets to defense, not
in refusing to allocate troops to help in Afghanistan.
It is true
that some European nations are genetically indisposed to give the
U.S. military support, usually the Belgians but on some occasions
the French. That is good reason for the U.S. to resist the kind
of common European foreign and defense policy that would give them
and similarly minded nations a veto over military action by nations
like Germany and Britain. At present, however, the U.S. encourages
such integration while
muttering under its breath about the "unhelpful" Europeans.
And since September
11 a third tier of support has been available to the U.S. in the
form of Russia and its remaining client states. U.S. troops have
been operating out of bases in the formerly Soviet central Asian
"stans" an impossible dream even a few months ago.
The U.S. is obliged to listen to some advice it may not like in
return for these various levels of assistance. But it is not obliged
to take that advice. And on the whole it seems a modest price to
pay for help even if on this occasion much of the help was
more symbolic than useful.
to being false, the notion of America as an isolated Atlas also
fosters bad policy. The U.S. is the only superpower. But it does
not possess limitless resources. In the unforeseeable struggles
that lie ahead, it will need allies on occasion allies who
will sometimes disagree with the U.S. president's approach (though
rarely more so than the Democratic party.) We would do well to express
gratitude for their help and to treat their occasional disagreements
as legitimate. To indulge in a sulky unilateralism would be unbalanced,
not particularly logical and a case of that febrile macho boasting
that a critic of Hemingway once summed up as "false hair on