Sometimes, good and evil depend on your point of view

Luke, you will find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. - Obi Wan Kenobi

I'm almost done reading Bram Stoker's Dracula. I love the Coppola film adaptation, so it hit me that I ought to read the original story. It's quite fantastic, and I see now why it's hailed as such a classic. Dracula is not some emo kid like the vampires of Twilight or The Vampire Diaries – he's the stuff of nightmares: truly evil, perverse and frighteningly powerful.

Vlad Dracula
The character of Dracula, as many know, is loosely based on the real Dracula, Vlad III of Romania – otherwise known as Vlad the Impaler. What strikes me as interesting about Vlad III is that, to many of us in the West, he's viewed as one of the most horrible human beings who ever lived. His military campaigns against the Turks, who sought to subdue Wallachia into the Ottoman empire, were merciless – he slaughtered peasants, killed women and children, and promptly (and preemptively) killed anyone he thought was a threat to his power. Of course, he's most famous for his impalements. When he defeated armies of Turks, he would have survivors impaled – by the thousands, if the historical reports are accurate. For those under his rule, his justice was swift and cruel.

But here's the interesting part: if you speak with modern day Romanians, Vlad III is hailed as a national hero. He's seen as someone who brought order and economic stability to a crumbling state, and preserved the culture by fending off the invading Ottomans. Though barbaric by today's standards, it can be argued that in Wallachia, as was often the case in medieval states, the grip on order and stability was fragile and the threat of invading armies was imminent. Through his uncompromising cruelty to threats from without or within, Vlad III was both beloved and feared. And in those days, fear was perhaps the only truly effective weapon against conquest or disarray. 

I was thinking about this in light of the "Kony 2012" fad. I stand by my original statements on the matter, but there are some who say that we shouldn't take sides with the Ugandan government because they're guilty of many of the same atrocities as the LRA. But if my reading of Steven Pinker indicates anything, it's that Uganda is in desperate need of a more powerful, centralized state that empowers and protects its people. Right now, the biggest problem with the Ugandan army is its utter impotence in being able to quell threats such as the LRA. The cruelty to which many of these people resort is in many ways similar to the cruelty Vlad III used; they want to strike fear into their enemies that crushes them into submission, because it's simply not enough to win a battle here or there. It's not unlike the tribal "total war" – campaigns of fear – that Pinker discusses in The Better Angels of Our Nature.

To zero in exclusively on Kony is myopic and nearsighted; to help Uganda, we need a long-term plan that will bring order and stability to the country. While we can look at any side and call them evil based upon the cruelty they've done, we ought to consider the bigger picture – that sometimes, good and evil depend on your point of view.


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