The Bad in the Good and the Good in the Bad

EDITORIAL, 7 Nov 2011

#190 | Johan Galtung - TRANSCEND Media Service

The world is ambiguous, with forces and counter-forces, for good and for bad.  Contradiction is the rule, with bad in the good and good in the bad, etc.  And there are verbal contradictions; there is the opinion, and the other opinion, as Al Jazeera says, valid and invalid, whether such verbal debates reflect non-verbal contradictions or not. Thus, this column and author reap counter-arguments, and any author should be grateful to opponents.  What can I learn?  Factual mistakes?  Logical?  How to be so clear as to avoid misunderstandings?  Or state assumptions, like ambiguity?

More particularly, there were strong reactions in Tübingen, Germany, on 16 July, when I compared Hitler’s killings during World War II–including shoah–to US killings all over the world since WWII.  There was a reaction to my keynote address to the World Humanist Congress in Oslo on 12 August (this column 15 August)[i], and to a talk at the University of Oslo on 30 September on the background for the horrors in Norway on 22 July.[ii]

One recurrent theme is democracy vs. autocracy, the USA being the former and Hitler’s Germany the latter.  They cannot even be compared–ruling out a key method of understanding–the assumption being that democracies can do only good having a mandate from the people and autocracies nothing good, having no such mandate.

This approach is at odds with the ambiguity of reality and leads to inability to remedy such ills of democracy as a war-prone people seeing democracy as a license to kill, and to inability to understand why Hitler was attractive to so many, like by opening for social mobility through the divide between “common people” and the “well-conditioned”.  Democracy may see itself as infallible and engage in massive direct violence whereas autocracy may try to reduce structural violence.  Ambiguity, in other words.

But Democratic Peace, democracies do not fight each other?  Wrong: the 1973 US-supported coup against Chile’s Salvador Allende; the France-EU-supported Front de Libération Nationale-FLN 1990 coup in Algeria; the 1999 US-NATO war against a Milosevic reasonably elected by Serbians; the Israeli siege of Gaza with a democratically elected Hamas.  That thesis is for members of the inner club.  But, abolish the UN Security Council’s veto and allow the UN General Assembly override, or better, a UN Peoples’ Assembly directly elected, and we are in peace business, with global democracy.  The thesis is empirically wrong, logically flawed by confusing intra- and inter-state, and imposes Western style multi-party national election democracy as opposed to transparency and dialogue democracy.[iii]  Ambiguity again!

Like the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Charter 08 and Liu Xiaobo for freedom of expression.  But how does Liu use free speech?[iv]

How can China achieve real change? Liu:

Three hundred years of colonization.  It took Hong Kong one hundred years to become what it is.  Given the size of China–it would need 300 years.”

“The free world led by the U.S. fought almost all regimes that trampled on human rights…The major wars that the U.S. became involved in are all morally defensible”.

“No matter what, the war against Saddam Hussein is just!  The decision by President Bush is right!”

“When looking back on the Middle East war at the inception of Israel, Israel was battling with the entire Arab world, with the fire stoked up by Arabs”.

He has the right to endorse colonialism, all US-led wars, leave unmentioned UN resolutions and the peaceful resolution that ended the Cold War and probably will do so in the Middle East.  But by endorsing him as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, the committee put freedom of expression above the struggle against colonialism, the UN, peaceful resolution, the human right to life, etc.  The prize could have been given to Charter 08, not to Liu.  Ambiguity again.

The same applies to Israel.  Yakov M. Rabin’s A Threat From Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism[v] distinguishes between transnational Judaism and nation-state zionism in Israel.

There are the beauties of everlasting dialogue, also about oneself for self-improvement, and the ideas, used by zionism, of chosen people (Exodus 19:5-6) with a promised land (Genesis 15:18-21).[vi]  In no way can critique of the zionist state of Israel, with its “New Religion”, violence, disregard for UN resolutions, and no vision of peace beyond undefined “defensible borders” be silenced with the word “anti-semitism”.  Thus, the monster who killed 77 Norwegians with a bomb and guns on 22 July this year, mentioned “Israel” 359 times in his Manifesto; his christian-zionist leanings have to be pointed out as well as his templar-free mason affiliations.  Ambiguities all over, bad in the good.

But, if there is ambiguity in everything, then how about my own peace vs. war-violence?  Just the same.  Peace harbors the absence of the challenge, the excitement of violence, and in war, the presence of dedication, heroism, sacrifice.  Like health may harbor complacency and disease a deep reflection on the meaning of life and death.  But consciousness about ambiguity may help us overcome the tyranny of false dichotomies.  Neither peace nor health should be taken for granted–if they are, they are soon lost–but be seen as something to work on every day, one way or the other.  As for excitement: transforming conflict offers more challenge than most people can absorb.  So does a fight against cancer.  Be prepared.

Buddhism combines deep meditation with a long, healthy life.  So does dedication to peace.  Nevertheless, we can learn from disease and war, from the good in the bad, and work even better for health and peace, knowing more.  This is what the philosopher-psychologist William James did in his superb Essay “The Moral Equivalent of War” (1906), using the good in the bad as a bridge to the good.  Like in Gandhi’s satyagraha brigades, with their latter-day imitations, up to the Arab Spring: dedication, courage, heroism, sacrifice.


[i]. Staffan Gunnarson, Vice-President of the European Humanist Federation,

Yes, I critique the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu, but I do not extend this to Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov; I have found in them no glorification of colonialism and war.  Obviously not in Ossietzky either.

Yes, I find important similarities between what happened in Norway on 22 July, killing young laborites and the Norwegian killing of what they call taliban: use of massive violence  for political purposes (aka fascism); very poor theories of how violence will work, removed from reality; legitimation in history and christian-zionist ideology in one, and democracy as license to kill in the other; the enormous suffering caused in both places; and the defiance, the violence will not work!

Yes, I do not believe in imposing upon Afghanistan our form of life by means of violence; this is also known as colonialism and imperialism.  Afghanistan, like all societies, needs change, and it is coming, from neighbors and other countries in the ummah, peacefully; not from infidels by means of war.

Yes, China and Cuba do not have multi-party national elections, but that in no way rules out extremely important human rights contributions, like lifting 400 million from misery to lower middle class from 1991 to 2004 (in line with the East Asian theory of socio-economic rights first, then civil-political, “opening up” as the Chinese say and practice), like lifting tens of thousands of women out of prostitution when Cuba was a brothel for North America into literacy and dignity.  Multi-party elections or not capture only a little fraction of the human condition.

It must have been problematic for Gunnarson that the huge congress audience rewarded my speech with a standing ovation.

[ii].  John Færseth, “Galtung leker med ilden”, Dagbladet (a Norwegian tabloid) 5 October 2011.

 Yes, I see the membership in the Free Masons and the Templars as important because of oaths among members and the secrecy: ties of loyalty that constitute a collectivity of solidarity, support, perhaps also cooperation on that day of his atrocious attack on categories of people, those working in government buildings and AUF (Workers’ Youth League) members at Utöya.  Just like the collectivity of Norwegian-NATO soldiers killing an Afghan category they call “taliban” in Afghanistan; oaths, secrecy, solidarity. The Norwegian author Erik Rudström, like others, assumes ties with organizations such as Skull and Bones at Yale and the secret services.  The refusal of the Norwegian secret services to be investigated (for its lack of warning) by anybody but themselves–so far accepted by the government, a blow to Norwegian democracy–is compatible with that hypothesis.

Yes, to catch him would have been easy: a list of everybody with a gun license in Norway, a list of everybody who bought that major bomb ingredient, the artificial fertilizer of Oklahoma-McVeigh fame, the hints from Poland, a list of highly anti-Muslim websites, and he is in the intersection.  Elementary, trivial.

Yes, there are conspiracies in history; like the American, French and Russian revolutions, like the two world wars, like the 240+ US interventions in other countries.  True, such theories remain hypotheses until they are overwhelmingly confirmed by facts.  Read Anthony Sutton’s books about Skull and Bones and judge for yourself.  My conclusion: interesting, but I need more evidence like for “the USA inflicted 9/11 on itself”.

Yes, Rudström mentions “The Zion Protocols”, says he does not know who wrote them–the “Elders”, the Russian secret police or Maurice de Joly–but read them as a guide to our world and judge for yourself.  My conclusion: interesting, but I need more evidence.

For Norwegian readers my talk was published in Morgenbladet on 7 October 2011; read it and judge for yourself.

[iii].  For details, see Chapter 3, The “Democratic Peace” Hypothesis: An Epistemological Fraud”, in Galtung, Scott, Democracy*Peace*Development, TRANSCEND University Press, No. 2, 2008.

[iv].  See Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong, “The ‘Right Dissident’: Liu Xiaobo and the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize”.

[v].  London: ZED, 2006.

[vi].  For a recent critique of the chosen people idea, see Gideon Levy “Jewish people are just that, people, and far from chosen”, Ha’aretz, 9 October 2011.  Exactly, “just that, people” and as such not unambiguously good, incapable of ever doing wrong.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 7 Nov 2011.

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6 Responses to “The Bad in the Good and the Good in the Bad”

  1. “…China and Cuba do not have multi-party national elections, but that in no way rules out extremely important human rights contributions, like lifting 400 million from misery to lower middle class from 1991 to 2004 (in line with the East Asian theory of socio-economic rights first, then civil-political, “opening up” as the Chinese say and practice)….

  2. I agree with Mr. galtung.

  3. Alberto Portugheis says:


    You are dead right.The thing is that China can lift millions from misery to lower middle class, because they are honest, that is, they admit to be an autocracy, unlike USA, Britain, Switzerland, etc, etc, who fool their citizenship with the word “Democracy”.

    All these wars in the world, one after another occur precisely because 99% of the population in each of thos “democratic” countries does not realise they are continuously being offered packs of lies.

    USA is the largest military DICTATORSHIP on the world.

    Unlike Johan, I don´t see any “ambiguity” in what happens in the world. What happens is what we allow, consciously or not, to happen. The truth is the truth and cannot be divided in truth and lie. Equally, a lie is a lie, and cannot be lie and truth at the same time.

    Governments use thei Education Ministry, Media outlets, etc, to bring up populations that will notsee they are being lied, cheated, fooled. Very easy for people in positions of power.

    Hitler often said it “the masses are so stupid and gullible, you can make them brlieve anything”. He gave as an example the fact that before he came to Germany there were a handful of people who were not sympathetic to the Jews, but years later they were 60 millon anti-Jews simply because of his brain-washing them, using a technique for brainwashing populations.


    • Dear Alberto, Bishnu was quoting Johan. Please read 5th paragraph of footnote 1. Just to clarify. Thanks for your active participation.


  4. […] al Convegno Umanista Mondiale a Oslo il 12 agosto scorso (vedi questa rubrica del 15 agosto)[i], e a un colloquio all’Università di Oslo il 30 settembre sui retroscena all’orrore del 22 […]

  5. Majid Shaghaghi says:

    Thank you Mr. Galtung ,
    as I had mentioned previously in a comment on this site,
    it is rather the ” relativist” nature of western world which could legitimize whatsoever ,
    what you tend to call ” ambiguity factor” is due to the very “relativist ” mindset prevalent in western world as to interpret and define all those cherished terms according to the potential benefits they can yield to merely certain exclusive club of nations,
    people talk a lot about human rights and many general concepts …but in fact the practical approach with regard to universal human dignity and respect for peace for all nations alike is carried out selectively as the interest of the most powerful demand it,