The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. - Edmund Burke
Ever notice the huge U.N. emblem that dominates meetings of its General Assembly - a giant, schematic globe encircled by olive wreaths, the symbol of peace? It may be the most prominent ironic comment in contemporary architecture.
For in that same hall, delegates from every bloody tyranny in the world look on unmoved as one horror after another unfolds, and one act of aggression after another is solemnly ignored. Or even encouraged. For when the U.N. isn't ignoring threats to the peace, it's aiding and abetting them. Its impotence is exceeded only by its impudence. Not even the Senate of the United States, which includes the imitable Robert Byrd, can boast as many pompous gasbags.
The massacres in Darfur are only the latest blot on the U.N.'s record at protecting human rights, or even human life. That record has been worse than neutral, for the U.N. has actively sided with some of the worst human-rights abusers on the planet. The U.N.'s Commission on Human Rights is notorious for including in its membership the very regimes it should be condemning: China, Cuba, Sudan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Libya . . . . In a triumph of irony, Libya was chair of the committee one year.
Having presided over the massacres in Rwanda and the genocide - excuse me, ethnic cleansing - in the Balkans, the U.N.'s secretary-general now expresses concern about the slaughter of the innocents in Darfur. To no great avail. The U.N. seems willing to do anything to stop the atrocities except take action. There hasn't been such a flood of crocodile tears since, well, the last time people were being massacred.
Kofi Annan has had a lot of experience at this sort of thing. He was promoted to secretary-general direct from his position as head of the U.N.'s ineffectual peace-keeping operations during the blood-soaked 1990s.
Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina . . . one disaster followed another on his watch. None interfered with the progress of his distinguished career. He also played enabler to Saddam Hussein's atrocities, opposing his overthrow and presiding over billion-dollar deals that helped Saddam maintain his grip on power. (Naturally the U.N. got a healthy commission.) Despite his efforts to stonewall the investigation, the truth is gradually coming out about the immense oil-for-food scandal and the U.N.'s role in it.
Does Kofi Annan now dare even use the word Genocide for what is happening in Darfur - lest he offend the cutthroat regimes he's been so careful to appease?
Soon enough Kofi Annan will be uttering the same empty pieties about atrocities in the Congo, for the U.N. is doing little enough or nothing to stop the slaughter there, too.
No wonder Daniel Patrick Moynihan - the late senator from New York, American intellectual and Irish wit - once summed up the U.N. as a "sordid circus." (How he is missed! He could say more in a couple of words than the U.N. in its wordiest resolutions.)
Let it be noted that this circus on the East River hasn't grown any less sordid since Ambassador Moynihan summed up its tragicomic deliberations. Some of us can hardly wait till John Bolton, the American ambassador-designate to the U.N., arrives on the scene to follow Pat Moynihan's outspoken example.
Why not make one small gesture to end this long-running farce by taking down that huge, hypocritical U.N. emblem with its olive branches and replacing it with a giant movie screen? The General Assembly could be converted into a theater for continuous showings of the film "Hotel Rwanda."
Nor would there be any shortage of subjects for future films, beginning with what is now happening in Darfur. Here is how a 29-year old military adviser to the African Union, a former Marine captain quoted in The New York Times, explains his mission there:
"Every single day you go out to see another burned village, and more dead bodies. And the children - you see 6-month-old babies that have been shot, and 3-year-old kids with their faces smashed in with rifle butts. And you just have to stand there and write your reports."
The captain has his orders. And the African Union has no troops, no equipment, and no international mandate to stop the slaughter. So it goes on, this bloody work of Sudan's bandit government in cahoots with Islamist militias determined to stamp out the infidel natives.
It's a familiar story by now. And once again the world's reaction to this horror is mainly to stand by and watch. To quote the Times' Nicholas Kristof: "The West, led by the Bush administration, is providing food and medical care that is keeping hundreds of thousands of people alive. But we're managing the genocide, not halting it."
As for the general reaction of the so-called civilized world, it could be summed up as: Ho Hum.
Someone once observed that most of the evil in the world isn't the work of those who deliberately set out to do it, but of good people who do nothing to prevent it.