The moral paralysis of citizens of democratic nations and their leaders fuels escalating crises.
August 8, 2023
In a 2008 essay entitled "Moral Paralysis," African-American economist Thomas Sowell cites Winston Churchill that “There was never a war in all history easier to prevent by timely action” than the Second World War and that Hitler could have been stopped early "without the firing of a single shot." Yet some 15 million soldiers and 38 million civilians died in the bloodiest conflict in human history. France, which in 1936 had a far more powerful military than Germany, was defeated in just 6 weeks. Why? Sowell observes: Moral paralysis. Churchill observed in 1932 that "France, though armed to the teeth, is pacifist to the core."
Around the world today, authoritarian regimes have rolled over democracies in Niger, Tunisia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, and have suppressed pro-democracy movements in Iran, Belarus, and Hong Kong, with hand-wringing but no concrete action from the West. Why? Moral paralysis.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine with systematized atrocities, summary executions, attacks on civilians, hospitals and infrastructure, has led to moralizing speeches but no concrete action from NATO and the West. Russia's shipments of stolen Ukrainian grain are allowed through Turkey's Bosporus Straits whereas Ukrainian grain infrastructure has been attacked. The West could have prevented the war entirely, and could stop it quickly today, but does not. Not a single "red line" or comprehensive strategy has been expounded by NATO or Western leaders: threats and ultimatums have come exclusively from Russia. Today, Iran openly cooperates with Russia in violation of U.N. sanctions to kill Ukrainian civilians. Iran's development of nuclear missiles has become an inevitability. Why? Moral paralysis.
Peace comes through principled strength, not from jingoism or appeasement. The challenge is not lack of resources, but lack of will: moral paralysis. This carries a heavy cost for all humanity.