In response to:

Inquisition in Czechoslovakia from the December 4, 1969 issue

To the Editors:

It was good to read in your paper, December 4, 1969, Mr. Morgenthau’s critique of the Inquisition in Czechoslovakia.

This inquisition is very similar to the inquisition that occurred in the Fifties, which was at that time forced upon Czechoslovakia by the Soviets by just another form of occupation.

This time the occupation of Czechoslovakia took place after the Declaration of the Soviet Government in 1956 when the methods applied under Stalin were condemned and a solemn promise was given never again to interfere with the sovereign rights of the socialist countries.

But what struck me most about Mr. Morgenthau’s article and where I see an even greater danger for Czechoslovakia than the documents of the Czechoslovak Minister of Education is that Mr. Morgenthau accepts the occupation of an independent country as a kind of rational necessity. He condemns only the extreme disproportion between means and ends. Mr. Morgenthau accepts that “the functional employment of certain means for achieving certain interests defined in terms of power is also subject to moral judgments.” But he asserts: “What makes the immorality tolerable is the proportionate relationship between means and ends.” In other words, an occupation of an independent country by a world power may be “subject to moral judgment” but it creates a “tolerable morality” if the proportion of means and ends is not too immoral. There is no doubt that Mr. Morgenthau would not accept a Soviet occupation of the United States as something which is “subject to moral judgment” only. I doubt whether he would use the same language if France, Germany or Italy were occupied. He certainly would not put the emphasis on the proportion between means and ends.

According to the views of Mr. Morgenthau the problem of the occupation of an independent country, of depriving a nation of its sovereign rights, is not an absolute principle on which world policy is to be based but a purely quantitative question. Czechoslovakia has only 14 million inhabitants; apparently different ethical norms must be applied for nations with 50 or more millions.

Mr. Morgenthau thinks that from “the Soviet perspective, it cannot be termed irrational, that is, without an objective connection with the interests and power of the Soviet Union.”

There is no doubt that from the point of view of the Soviet leadership the occupation of Czechoslovakia was rational. It was rational, in so far as the Soviet policy is oriented toward Russia’s maintaining the position of a leading world power. In order to be a world power, Russia then occupies quite a number of European countries and perhaps eventually China, if China does not accept the Soviet leadership position. Just because the Soviets decided to fulfill the dreams of some Czars, shall the sovereign right of any nation be sacrificed?…

Mr. Morgenthau expresses his opinion that Czechoslovakia cannot stand alone and refers to Palacky, a Czech historian of the nineteenth century. It seems for Mr. Morgenthau not too important that at the time of Palacky there was no Czechoslovak republic and especially there was no United Nations Organization and the solemn declaration of this Organization as far as human and nations’ rights are concerned.

Mr. Morgenthau further argues that Czechoslovakia had never a choice between independence and alignment. Are independence and alignment really contradictory? Are not all countries of the Atlantic pact independent? In my view their independence is due to their alignment. Nations must have the right to look for such alignments that are important for their independence. If Czechoslovakia would have considered alignment with Germany, thinking that Germany could guarantee her independence, it must be her right to decide. As a matter of fact, nobody in Prague and nobody in Moscow and no doubt nobody in Washington and Bonn thought that Czechoslovakia was going to align herself with West Germany. Germany is not a power that could give an acceptable guarantee for the independence of any nation, not even of the German nation.

The real aim of Czechoslovakia was to be independent and be aligned with the Soviet Union. But since the world power policy of the Soviet Union could not accept any form of independence of Czechoslovakia, she did not tolerate either. The Soviet Union chose military occupation….

There should be no excuse for the occupation of any nation, and we should recognize that there does not exist a greater crime in international politics than a military occupation of a country. But to accept the occupation, a deprivation of all basic and human rights, and to cry just because of the disproportion of means and ends does more harm than the inquisitive methods of the Czechoslovak Minister of Education, however inhuman they are.

Prof. Eugen Loebl

Vassar College

Hans J Morgenthau replies:

I understand, respect, and share Professor Loebl’s moral indignation at the military occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union. I can well understand, given his present position, that emotional abhorrence, derived from a moral absolutism, is the only reaction available to him. I, however, cannot afford to substitute moral indignation for political analysis. And political analysis of a very elementary kind tells me that the weak are always at the mercy of the strong. The strong may have no “right,” whatever that may mean, to abuse the weak, but they will do it anyhow when they deem it in their interest to do so, and it will avail the weak nothing if they and benevolent bystanders express their moral indignation. The weak will be saved from abuse by the strong only by becoming strong themselves or by being protected by one who is strong.

This is what all history teaches us and what Machiavelli and Marx have formulated in philosophic terms. It was Marx in particular who demonstrated the futility of moral indignation in view of the capitalistic exploitation of the proletariat and the need for the proletariat to develop power sufficient to break its chains. I find it odd that I must remind Professor Loebl of this elementary observation, applicable to nations no less than to classes.

This Issue

March 26, 1970