NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Moral Equivalency" Loses Out to Calls for Action

September 19, 2001

Moral equivalency is the notion that one political and philosophical approach is no different from or better than another. Since the end of the Vietnam War, critics of this approach argue, moral equivalency has soured the public policy debate with the notion that American methods and motives in foreign policy are inherently malign. As a result, we were overly restrained in our use of power. This led to, among other things, gutting our intelligence apparatus.

Even in the wake of the terrorist attacks, such diverse figures as Pat Buchanan, libertarian Harry Browne, and leftist essayist Susan Sontag have all argued, to varying degrees, that American policy has reaped what it has sown.

But now, critics argue, they seem to be in the minority:

  • There is a national consensus that military power has legitimate uses.
  • There is also agreement that the dominant duty of a national government is to protect its people.

Even some '60s radicals and self-identified peaceniks -- while not entirely giving up their mistrust of government -- now say a military response to a large-scale violent attack is appropriate. One who "hated the outpourings of patriotism" sparked by the Gulf War accepts the necessity of military action. And Chicago Seven defendant Lee Weiner (charged in connection with riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention) did something he's never done before -- hung an American flag outside his house.

Sources: William Murchison, "'Moral Equivalency' Crowd Can't Drown Out Cries for Justice," Dallas Morning News; Rachel Zimmerman, "Some Peaceniks Back Retaliation By the Military, Wall Street Journal; Jonah Goldberg, "Repugnant Commentaries Place Blame on America," Washington Times, all September 19, 2001.

(WSJ subscribers)


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