Monday, October 01, 2007

Neutrality






Every-once-in-a-while, I come across a subject and think, “Oh yeah, how could I have overlooked that one?” and thus, a new Linköpinglivin’ topic is born. Sweden, as one of the two most famous neutral countries in the West (Switzerland), is proudly neutral, proudly absent of war for over a hundred years (which makes their Viking ancestors turn over in their graves, I’m sure) and I have some thoughts about all this non-violence, non-war, neutrality stuff.

First of all, a brief description about what “neutrality” means. A country that has declared itself neutral means that it will not initiate or participate in any act of war. What it does not mean is that it won’t defend itself if attacked. Neutrality also includes not allowing other countries military access or bases and other stipulations regarding alignment. Sweden does indeed have a military and would, I suspect, defend itself valiantly if attacked, but the Swedish stance of neutrality has created peace throughout this land for over a hundred years – something not many countries in the world can claim.

The advantages of neutrality are obvious. No war. Also, the ability to remain outside of any alignment obligations during any lead up to war. Politically, it completely changes the discussion, negotiation and position for government officials, diplomats, ambassadors and representatives. 100 years of peace. Enough said, right?

Well…

As impressive as this peaceful reality is, as always with things political and global, it’s just not that simple. In discussions I have had with various Swedes about this topic, there are clearly some disadvantages to a stance of neutrality, though no one is questioning that this political stance is right for Sweden.

First and foremost, not fighting Hitler poses the obvious and massive moral question. Despite their neutrality, it is well known that Sweden gave safe haven to Jews from throughout Scandinavia and participated in other measures believed to help the Allied forces. However, it is also well known that Nazi sympathizers throughout Sweden (of which there were many throughout non-German Europe – power is frighteningly intoxicating) provided advantage to the Axis powers, as well. Perhaps some native Swedes with some historical perspective on this can share more in depth about the legacy of World War II, neutrality and Sweden.

Another disadvantage is the self-deception, particularly in young people, that accompanies a successful (read: no war) neutral stance. I get the distinct impression that many people here think they are somehow above war. That other, less civilized, countries are the ones that have to resort to war because they cannot figure it out diplomatically or as adults. After initially questioning the practicality and moral virtue of “neutrality,” I definitely believe it is important to have neutral countries that are willing to intercede from their position on behalf of many other nations when the time calls for it, but make no mistake, Sweden can be successfully neutral because other countries choose to fight. These countries working together with Sweden is a good thing, but neutrality is a convenience that only a few specially placed and specific types of countries can or should enjoy.

Another disadvantage of a neutral stance, similar to the first, is the message that is sent to all Swedish citizens. Neutrality is easily mistaken for isolation and isolation is easily mistaken for non-participation. And non-participation in today’s world is simply not an option. I am often concerned that Swedes, particularly the young people I work with, are satisfied letting the rest of the world just do it’s own thing and as long as everything is okay up here in Sweden, then all is well. Does neutrality inevitably lead to disengagement? No. However, there can definitely be an underlying sense of isolated arrogance up here that is perhaps one of the casualties of a neutral stance.

Sweden is well equipped to be a world leader in so many ways, and many of those ways Sweden does indeed rise to that challenge, but would there be a greater nationwide sense of responsibility and engagement without the neutrality tag?

I’ve said far too much to exclude my qualifier of “I’m no geo-political expert.” These are simply concerns, observations and considerations meant to provoke some thoughts and maybe even discussion on such a vital and all-important topic on Linköpinglivin’ (much less, in Sweden).

For those that are interested in more about the current flood of Iraqi immigrants into Sweden, the International Herald Tribune (the global daily English newspaper published by the New York Times) provided an interesting article last week which also included some accurate summations of the Swedish character:

http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/09/26/america/edcohen.php

Pictures above? What kind of pictures capture “neutrality?” I don’t know so I posted some pictures of me throwing axes and swinging from a 40-foot high trapeze (and the students who joined me) this past weekend. Here's to controlled and harnessed violence in a non-violent, neutral country.

3 comments:

Todd said...

Pictures 2 & 3 remind me of our childhood...hmmm...what is it...oh!!! I remember...

Remember that time when I was 2 years old and you hurled me off (Read: I fell, but I am fairly confident I was pushed) a bunk bed onto a mattress with a spring sticking out of it? Remember how I needed a couple hundred stitches (10) to repair the damage to my beautiful little face? Remember how pissed-off I was? So pissed of that it took 12 (2) nurses to hold me down.

Ok, that's the background. Now, remember about 6 or 8 years later when we were digging a tree stump out of Dad's backyard...and I "accidentally" took the shovel over my head and whipped it into the hole...only to find it stop suddenly on your head.

Now, look at pictures 2 & 3...substitute the ax for a shovel...but strangely enough, I had the same damn grin on my face.

Good times.

Östgöten said...

1814 Sweden forced Norway in a union and since that has Sweden not been to a war.... almost 200 years of peace.

Ang said...

Not sure what game Hunter (or other little boys) would play in Sweden. Right now his favorite make-believe play is "army man/war".

Looking forward to seeing you next weekend ... I can promise that there will be no ax throwing (much to Hunter's, Craig's & apparently your dismay). However there will be football games, apple cider mill, warm apple fritters and tons of family fun!