They Have Destroyed the Measure of Things

The current bombing of Yemen, initiated by Saudi Arabia under the pretext of the necessity of putting the rebel-ousted president of this ill-fated country back in his rightful place, has the U.S. State Department’s complete understanding. Psaki herself informed the public that the Saudis’ actions were lawful and reasonable.

Yet a year ago, when a conflict similar to the one in Yemen occurred in Ukraine — there the rebels ousted the lawful president Yanukovych — the U.S. unhesitatingly supported the coup’s organizers and recognized them as the legitimate authority, entitled to all manner of protection and patronage from the United States. A year ago Kiev wasn’t bombed, but if any neighboring power had decided, like the Saudis, to put Yanukovych back in his former place — especially with airstrikes — it’s not too hard to simulate the reaction of the U.S. and the international community they lead.

There are a multitude of instructive fables and parables on the subject. One may recall Grandpa Krylov:

A wolf once prowled outside a fold, and thence,

On peeping through the fence,

Saw that upon the best sheep of the flock

The shepherds quietly were feeding,

And that the dogs lay round unheeding;

So off he muttering went, feeling a spiteful shock:

“Ye would have made, my friends, a nice ado,

Had I done this instead of you!”

One may recall the story about the Siamese prince who in February of 1917 was studying in Petrograd in the Page Corps and joyfully welcomed the revolution, putting on a red bow right then and there. On being asked whether it was appropriate for a member of the Siamese royal house to welcome such things — after all, something similar could happen in Siam too — the prince smiled a thin Eastern smile and answered, “Siam is another matter altogether.”

One may use the expression “double standard.” One may, finally, state, “They have destroyed the measure of things created by civilization.” For one may measure with whatever measurement one pleases, but measure consistently. When the measurement varies arbitrarily depending on what is being measured, it means there is no longer any measure whatsoever.

And where there is no measure of things, there the laws of the primeval forest reign — welcome to the brave new world. In essence, it’s a very old world. In every age, the strong did what they wanted and justified their actions with a greater or lesser dose of hypocrisy. What is happening now produces an especially glaring and salient impression since two factors have coincided. On the one hand, the United States has proclaimed that everything that happens under the sun is its business — that is, its claims to intervention are of an across-the-board nature. On the other hand, the level of hypocrisy is also off the charts.

The conquerors of the past have been, in this respect, much more honest and more cynical as well. Napoleon and Hitler proceeded from, if anything, the principle that “Force never provides an answer,” and spoke far less — if they spoke at all — about the untold blessings of freedom and prosperity their interventions brought. Here, presumably, the traditions of Anglo-Saxon culture have an impact to some extent. Granted hypocrisy is a fault common to all mankind; nevertheless, no other culture in its high forms has paid so much attention to the denunciation of this sin. Take 19th century English literature, for example. They usually denounce it so much that it’s off the charts.

The combination of hypocrisy (“soft power”) and expansionism (“brute force”), and when both are present on a gigantic scale at that, triggers a corresponding reaction. Here not only believers but also even unbelievers can remember who else combines similar qualities and who is called a liar and slayer of man.

Though, they remembered fairly long ago. The other day, it was 16 years since the humanitarian bombing of Serbia. Back then the reaction to the hypocrisy really was one of shock. A mob raged in front of the American embassy in Moscow, and for many — and even very many — the process of rethinking many as yet unquestioned dogmas then began. “We so trusted you, comrade Clinton, perhaps more than we trusted ourselves.” But in 1999 they stopped trusting. As a matter of fact, the process that has led to Putin’s 86 percent rating today began then.

Now yet another address by Psaki and yet another use of a flexible measure of things — this time with Yemen and the Saudis — haven’t especially shocked anyone, but only given yet another reason for mockery. But in principle such a reaction is worse for the sujet de question than the boisterous protests of 1999.

The indignation back then was a crisis of faith in the all-mercifulness of the transatlantic power, and crises, generally speaking, accompany every faith and sometimes, as a result, the faith is ultimately made only stronger. Back then it was only a mental fork in the road. “I know that all the distant master’s commandments are the purest goodness. Or not?”

By 2015, the internal struggle has been replaced by a cold-blooded, “Speak, speak, it’s nice to listen to.” Obedience to the distant master is now possible only out of fear, and the fear is fading right before our very eyes. Obedience to the master out of conscience is an allotment of a very small flock.

When the representatives of the supreme ideology responded to the accusations of double standards with, “Never mind, you’ll stand there and listen,” they failed to realize that with such a form of communication, almost no faithful slaves will remain, only wily slaves, and even those will become fewer and fewer. There’s no way around the price of hypocrisy.

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About Jeffrey Fredrich 199 Articles
Jeffrey studied Russian language at Northwestern University and at the Russian State University for the Humanities. He spent one year in Moscow doing independent research as a Fulbright fellow from 2007 to 2008.

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