In its slow and painful retreat from the conviction that Might is Right, the society of nations has come face to face with a new and hitherto unheard-of danger. It is threatened by overcompensation. Suddenly, Weakness is Right. God is on the side of the small battalions. Since it has been so amply demonstrated that wisdom and virtue do not reside among the powerful, it follows that they must be the special property of the frail.
Little bullies are just as dangerous as the big ones
This fashionable new kind of idiocy is quite as perilous as the idiocy it has begun to replace. For it, too, leads to the absolute suspension of morality, to the abandonment of equity, natural justice and moderation as proper considerations when sovereign nations treat with other nations.
Let any country establish the point that it has been treated outrageously by stronger countries in the past and it thereby acquires a license to commit outrages of its own. Let any nation prove the human community has done it wrong; it thereby proves that it itself cannot do wrong. Let Egypt or Israel or Syria or India or Greece demonstrate that it shared none of the guilt of the second world war and it then can goad the rest of mankind to the brink of a third world war without the least twinge of conscience or the tiniest feeling of responsibility.
It’s our belief that as recently as a month or two ago millions of people in nominally neutral and uncommitted countries found it possible to sympathize both with Israel and with Egypt in their complicated struggles in Gaza, Sinai and the United Nations. Much of their hostility toward each other is rooted
less in themselves than in the actions and attitudes— some ancient, some very recent—of the USSR, Great Britain, France and the USA. Wherever the blame lies for their dangerous impasse, it does not lie solely on Israel or on Egypt, nor does the sum of the blame lie on the two together.
But does the fact that it has been put upon and manipulated by larger nations relieve a small nation of its obligations to decent and lawful conduct? Is it now possible to justify any course of action—however callous, deceitful and contemptuous of the rights of others—by pointing out that someone else has been behaving just as badly? That Egypt’s Nasser believes this implicitly can no longer be doubted even by his most ardent apologists. That Israel’s BenGurion finds the idea at least mildly attractive is all too evident.
And in this may lie man’s last fatal paradox. At the precise time when the large nations began to be tormented by conscience and even occasionally to listen to it, the small nations began forgetting conscience. In so doing the small nations may well be throwing away our final chance of peace.
For we shall never have peace unless someone will make a start at forgiving the scars of history. If the defenseless victims of yesterday persist in becoming the self-righteous bullies and blackmailers of today, there can be little hope for any nation. Whether it be strong or weak will matter as little as whether it be “right” or “wrong.” The hydrogen bomb is much too clumsy an instrument to be capable of measuring the difference.
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