December 15, 2009

THE ULTIMATE QUESTION...:

The FP Interview: Vaclav Havel: The playwright, dissident, and former Czech president speaks about the fall of the Berlin Wall, Barack Obama, and the hidden costs of moral compromise. (Interview by SUSAN GLASSER, DECEMBER 9, 2009, Foreign Policy)

FP: After President Obama's decision to postpone his meeting with the Dalai Lama, you said something to the effect that these small gestures seem harmless, but over time can have a powerful, cumulative effect. For the hardhearted realists, can you explain that effect?

Havel: We know this from our modern history. When [French Prime Minister Edouard] Daladier returned from the [1938] Munich conference, the whole nation was applauding him for saving the peace. He made a miniscule compromise in the interest of peace. But it was the beginning of a chain of evil that subsequently brought about many millions of deaths. We can't just say, "This is just a small compromise that can be overlooked. First we will go to China and then perhaps talk with the Dalai Lama." It all looks practical, pragmatic, logical, but it is necessary to think about whether it is not the first small compromise that can be the beginning of that long chain that is no good. In this case perhaps it will not be, but it was the first thing that came to my mind.

FP: You make it sound so easy. But how, as president, do you decide when these small compromises are worth it and when they might lead to something more dangerous?

Havel: Politics, it means, every day making some compromises, and to choose between one evil and another evil, and to decide which is bigger and which is smaller. But sometimes, some of these compromises could be very dangerous because it could be the beginning of the road of making a lot of other compromises, which are results of the first one, and there are very dangerous compromises.


...is whether the person doing the compromising has the moral core that forces them to draw lines. The growing doubts about our current president in this regard are amply justified.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 15, 2009 6:07 AM
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