Franklin D. Rooosevelt gave a speech in 1942 that became a source of inspiration to Norwegians fighting the German occupation. The occasion was a handover ceremony of a ship to the Norwegian Navy. This is a well known quote:
If there is anyone who still wonders why this war is being fought, let him look to Norway. If there is anyone who has any delusions that this war could have been averted, let him look to Norway; and if there is anyone who doubts the democratic will to win, again I say, let him look to Norway.
Roosevelt praised the Norwegian resistance on several occasions, which may have been a response to an impression made by an American journalist that happened to be in Oslo the day the Nazis marched down the main street. He described shocked bystanders, but he was wrong to interpret this as indifference and acceptance. The Norwegian politicians may have been naive believing they could remain neutral, but there is no doubt about the willingness to fight, and there were a lot of unsung heroes all over the country, as well cooperation with Britain and the USA. The phrase look to Norway has had a nice ring to it ever since, but it’s just a distant memory now.
There seems to be a negative version today aimed at one of our neighbours. Look to Russia seems to be the slogan today. If it’s bad you can be sure Russia did it. No investigation or journalism is needed. We already know the truth. I noticed a comment on Facebook today where someone referred to an opponent’s argument as whataboutism. This is supposedly old Soviet tactics, and now Trump’s solution, which to many people is the same. It’s an attempt to discredit the opponent or to derail the discussion. If for example the USA accuses Russia of violating civil rights Putin could respond with multiple whatabouts from the USA. My own country likes to talk about how Russia and China violate human rights while the UN say we do the same, especially with regard to the prisoners and children’s rights.
We may conveniently pretend that whataboutism is a Soviet trick, and thus confirm the Trump-Russia connexion, but this is very old, probably as old as humankind. It starts in kindergarten, and these days politicians from both US parties can say what about Bill Clinton? The problem with moral indignation is that most people or the country they represent have done the same thing in the past, if not in the present as well. When we watch news coverage from a demonstration in a foreign country we don’t like, and the police break up the crowd with tear gas or water, we frequently say that only a totalitarian state would do that. A demonstration isn’t necessarily about creating chaos, but it is usually about change and using your democratic right to be heard in a society that wants to limit the people’s influence. So what about Ferguson, Paris, Belgium, London, Catalan, Australia and other countries?
Whataboutism was a new term to me, but it sounds very familiar. I wrote about the Hitler card or reduction to Hitler a while back, which means that sooner or later someone is going to compare someone else to Hitler. It happens in a lot of debates. They are both old rhetorical tricks and should be ignored without going into an argument where you defend yourself. It’s interesting how quickly we develop a moral indignation when we can point to someone else. It may feel amusing when China, Israel, Russia, North Korea or a number of Muslim countries point to our lack of democracy or respect for human life, but we don’t have any reason to feel superior. I guess this worked a long time ago, but Internet put a stop to it. Media did ocassionally intervene before that too. What about the Vietnam War and Watergate? What about Kissinger and the Russians? What about Kennedy and the Russians? What about most of Europe and eugenics before and after Hitler? What about most Western countries and the indigenous population?