Patriotic Collaborators?

I think this will be my last word on the topic, only because I’m getting the feeling nobody else in here is enjoying this as much as I am, but also because eventually one worries that one will end up repeating oneself. Nonetheless:

Daniel Larison’s latest calls me out for using an extremely atypical example (Adenauer) to respond to his general statement. He’s the “exception that proves the rule” – except that that phrase doesn’t mean “the fact that exceptions are rare proves the rule is true” but rather “the fact that we say he’s an exception proves that there is a rule – were there no rule, you would not need to highlight an exception.”

And, in that case, fine: I agree. Quislings are the rule in collaboration; Adenauers the extreme exception. That’s why “quisling” without the capital letter means what it does. So much granted.

But the statement, “Adenauer is exceptional among collaborators for being a patriot,” raises the inevitable follow-up: what makes him exceptional? Which was kind of my point: it does matter (among other things) why the invader is there. By that I don’t mean that it matters that America came to “liberate” Germany not to annex it or lay it waste – that does matter, but much less. Rather, what really matters is that Germany’s prostrate condition was a consequence of a massive, unjust, aggressive war launched by an evil and criminal German regime. That is to say: the context of German war guilt is necessary to understand Adenauer’s patriotic decision to “collaborate” with the allies.

I chose Adenauer not because I thought he was typical, but because I thought he was an extreme that might test the rule. But there are much less extreme examples I could have picked that would have tested his rule, just not as powerfully, and I’ll use some of them now to try to show that the ethics of collaboration and patriotism are, historically, rather complicated.

I mentioned Petain a couple of posts ago as one of my “cases” for two reasons: because I wanted to chose an example “against interest” (I’m a Jew and, in general terms, a liberal, so Petain is “on the other side”), and because I wanted to pick a case that would draw fire. So let me pick two other examples now: the people who served in the Communist regimes of the Soviet satellite states, and the people who operated within those states as agents for the West.

Was everyone who served in the Communist regimes of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, etc. a traitor? Do we have to conclude that they were traitors from the fact that we generally acknowledge those who resisted the Communist regimes to have been patriotic in their resistance? I think in answering that question it’s important to consider that the former Communist countries have generally elected not to drive these people out of public life – indeed, many formerly Communist states have, at some point since 1989, been headed by ex-Communists who have renounced Communist ideology as such and retooled themselves as Social Democrats. The general view in the former Warsaw Pact countries is: the regimes in question were illegitimate satrapies of a quasi-imperial system centered in Moscow, but most of those who served those regimes should not be damned for it because, effectively, there was no reason to believe that the regimes were going to change, and therefore it was not treason to try to do the best one could within the context of the regimes as they were. In the roll of honor, the Lech Walesas lead the list, but the implicit message is that not everybody was expected to be Lech Walesa – and, more to the point, not everybody understood the facts the way he did, and with a different understanding of the facts came to different conclusions about what conduct was right.

You could take a harder line, and say that anyone who contributed to the upkeep of these regimes deserved punishment. That’s roughly the line that the French Communists took with respect to the Vichy regime. But, apart from the practical consequences of such a decision, it’s not at all obvious to me that such a decision would have been just, and even less obvious that it would have been more just than the “truth and reconciliation” approach that has predominated in that region.

And what about the Ryszard Kuklinskis of the world? Kuklinski did, after all, spy on his country for a foreign power. That’s pretty clearly treason, no? Once again, though, the Polish reaction is a bit more complicated, with a significant portion – but far from the entirety – of the country considering him a national hero. Why? Because they are convinced that his motives were patriotic – that is to say, he was trying to preserve his country from devastation and, perhaps, achieve its freedom.

What is my point here? My point is that while there are clear examples of treason, and a very rare handful of Adenauer-style cases of “patriotic collaboration,” there’s also a pretty substantial gray area, generally because the mere existence of imperial and/or hegemonic powers complicates the calculations of a patriot. It is the easiest thing in the world to say that those complications should be brushed aside by any true patriot – but that is an extremely exacting standard to apply in the world as it is. Recognizing that fact is vital when we look at the world today, where American power and influence inevitably shape the decisions of actors within nearly all countries around the world. Grant for the sake of argument that the American presence in Iraq is unjust. Grant, for that matter, that the American presence in Afghanistan is unjust. Are the only patriotic Iraqis and Afghans those who actively resist the American presence? The Maliki and Karzai regimes may be characterized as quisling regimes. Must they be so characterized, by definition – or might they also be characterized as patriotic if they act with a geniune concern for the welfare of their countries, and have a genuine intent to end the American presence as painlessly as possible?

It is beneath us as a nation, whatever our views of foreign policy, to be searching for Quislings to serve us abroad. It’s also incredibly stupid, as the pathetic Ahmad Chalabi affair should have made abundantly clear. But the preponderance of American power and influence mean that anybody who wants to do business with us – even our closest and oldest friends and allies – are going to have a bit of a quisling look about them sometimes, and certainly will be accused of same by their enemies. Interpreting everyone who resists us as patriotic and everyone who seeks to befriend us as a collaborator will serve us little better than interpreting everyone who seeks to befriend us as a true friend and everyone who resists us as part of some kind of axis of evil.