Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Cost of Self-Interest

Nixon wanted to plan the removal of all U.S. troops by the end of 1971, but Henry [Kissinger] cautioned that if North Vietnam then destabilized Saigon in 1972, it could have an adverse effect on the president's reelection. He recommended a pullout in the fall of 1972, "so that if any bad results follow they will be too late to affect the election." He had nothing to say about the American lives that would be lost in the service of Nixon's reelection. After two years serving Nixon, Kissinger was as cynical about politics as his chief.
Robert Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power, (New York: Harper Perennial, 2007), 257.
To a degree, every politician is self-interested. The glory that comes with being elected to a position certainly fosters the feeling. Once given the position and the power associated with it, the desire to remain in it has to be strong. In the case of Nixon & Kissinger, it appears that many of their decisions were based more upon reelection in '72 than in making the best possible solutions. How would Vietnam had ended for the United States had Nixon simply been concerned with ending the conflict instead of using it to bolster his image? Certainly Nixon & Kissinger are no different from most politicians. However, the evidence points to men who, in particular, were so consumed with power & position that they lost track of reality. Were the lives of soldiers - both American and Vietnamese - really worth another term in office?

The question is when does it become acceptable to think of one's own personal needs & desires before acting for the good of the masses? What sacrifices become okay so that you can keep your authority, power, and title? Ethics become a very tricky thing to hold onto because they almost certainly face getting cut so that we can hold onto whatever it is that we think we need. After all - we don't reelect or hold onto unpopular leaders. As long as we refuse to see the cost of self-interest, we will continue to hold onto it as a means to prop ourselves up. The cost in human lives will always be great with this line of thinking. But in the end, each of us is so concerned about our own needs that we willingly hold onto a broken system because none of us are willing to sacrifice ourselves to stop it.


Jason said...

great post. sadly, it's so true.