Ruminations, November 7, 2010
Taking responsibility; Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Allen West
When we regard people who are charged with responsibilities – especially politicians — we are often jaded and cynical. We seem to feel that many politicians avoid taking responsibility for their actions and make excuses. But that’s not true of all people; and if we are cynical about those who avoid responsibilities, we have to admire those who take responsibility for their actions. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Allen West are among those who have taken responsibility and taken it seriously.
Bonhoeffer was not a politician but a 20th century German and a Lutheran minister. Having become a minister, he traveled to the United States in the 1930s to study at the Union Theological Seminary. While there, he became a pacifist. He came to believe that killing is wrong anytime anywhere. Period.
Bonheoffer returned to Germany and faced the growing power of Adolf Hitler and became one of a minority to use the pulpit to speak out against Hitler, especially Hitler’s Jewish policies. Over time, Bonhoeffer became convinced that there was only one way to stop Hitler: assassinate him. Bonhoeffer joined a plot to kill Hitler. This was no small step for a pacifist who believed that killing is wrong. The plot failed and the conspirators were caught and Bonhoeffer was hanged. Before dying, he wrote: “When a man takes guilt upon himself in responsibility, he imputes his guilt to himself and no one else. He answers for it. … Before other men he is justified by dire necessity; before himself he is acquitted by his conscience, but before God he hopes only for grace.”
Allen West was a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army. Before deploying to Iraq, he told some of the parents of the troops under his command that he would do everything that he could to keep the troops safe. In Iraq in 2003, West was informed that a detainee had information about a planned attack on U.S. troops but was unwilling to reveal the information. West entered the interrogation room, threatened the detainee and then West fired his pistol near enough to the detainee to frighten him and convince him that West would in fact kill him if he continued to hold back the pertinent information. West’s behavior violated the standards of conduct for handling of and interrogating prisoners and he knew it — but the prisoner provided information and the attack was averted.
West’s violations were reported to his superiors. Who reported him? West himself. That’s what a battalion commander does. West was found guilty for violating articles 128 (assault) and 134 (general article). As Bonhoeffer wrote, “When a man takes guilt upon himself in responsibility, he imputes his guilt to himself and no one else. He answers for it. … Before other men he is justified by dire necessity; before himself he is acquitted by his conscience, but before God he hopes only for grace.”
Last week West won a seat to the House of Representatives from Florida’s 22nd district. You may disagree with his politics or his votes but he does deserve respect.
G20 and the battle in Seoul
The G20 (20 countries with the largest economies) will meet next week in Seoul, South Korea, to discuss the global recession, currency reform – and trade wars.
It’s all related and, if the pre-conference comments are any indication, it will be controversial and could get nasty (remember, these are diplomats and “nasty” is a relative term).
The controversy is spinning around the United States. The U.S. wants to discuss trade especially bilateral trade with China. Other countries want to discuss the quantitative easing (QE) in which the U.S. is engaging. (See Quantitative Easing: What is it and why is it? http://foamcage.com/independent-in-hartford/quantitative-easing-what….)
It seems that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will stand alone on QE at Seoul. His rationale for QE is that it will drive down interest costs for American companies seeking loans, avert the possibility of deflation and create some ambient inflation that stimulates the U.S. economy. At the same time, Bernanke feels that the Fed has the tools to halt runaway inflation if it threatens. Everyone acknowledges that a strong U.S. economy is vital to the world recovery. Everyone also acknowledges that QE is a risky strategy.
Other countries are concerned about the possible inflationary effects that QE will have and how it will lead to a cheaper dollar driving up the price of their currencies leading to asset price inflation (also known as “economic bubbles”). It also undermines the efforts of the G20 to create an orderly and stable currency exchange, and confidence in the global recovery.
Bernanke will also again pressure China to revalue the renminbi (yuan) and point to the current accounts dilemma (China and the U.S. have almost a mirror image; China is plus $300 billion and the U.S. is minus $300 billion). But Chinawon’t budge. (See “Why should China revalue their currency?” http://foamcage.com/independent-in-hartford/the-exchange-rate-battle-with-china-is-the-tea-party-a-fringe-group.) Meanwhile, Cui Tiankai, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister, said, “We believe a discussion about a current account target misses the whole point. If you look at the global economy, there are many issues that merit more attention — for example, the question of quantitative easing.”
Brazil’s finance minister, Guido Mantega, referring to the general tenor of currency exchange and QE, said, “We’re in the midst of an international currency war, a general weakening of currency. This threatens us because it takes away our competitiveness.”
And, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble, referring to QE making the dollar cheaper, said, “What the U.S. is accusing China of doing [undervaluing its currency] the U.S.A. is doing by different means.”
Yikes. For Bernanke, it’s going to be, shall we say, a challenge.
Quote without comment
Former President George W. Bush, in Tyler, Texas, October 19, talking about walking his dog after leaving the presidency: “Ten days out of the presidency, there I was with a plastic bag in my hand, picking up that which I had been dodging for eight years.”