Counterpoint: The war in retrospect

Should we have waited until a missile struck a kindergarten so our reaction would then be proportionate?

david forman 88 (photo credit: )
david forman 88
(photo credit: )
In his letter to the Atlanta City Council (September 12, 1864), US Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman wrote: "War is cruelty, and cannot be refined. You don't know the horrible aspects of war. I've been through two wars and I know. I've seen cities and homes in ashes. I've seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I confess that I am sick and tired of fighting. But those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I tell you: 'War is hell.'" Anyone who preaches about the morality of war, without having experienced it, hasn't the slightest idea of what he is talking about. This is not to say that certain wars are not morally justified. Also, there are ethical standards that one should adhere to when waging war; and the way that a country wages war is a reflection of its character. But the very act of war is in itself immoral because inevitably civilians will find themselves caught in the crosshairs between warring factions. While a nation can go to war with virtue on its side, it will necessarily sacrifice its virtuousness during the fighting. One enters the battlefield with the objective to win. In the process, not only will innocents be killed, especially if the enemy operates under the cover of a civilian population, but soldiers will be killed by friendly fire and missiles gone astray will strike unintended targets. Then there is the matter of attacking apartment buildings, mosques, hospitals and schools that have been turned into munitions factories or arms depots. There is no such thing as a "clean" war. Therefore, we Israelis can serve ourselves best if we examine our war with Hamas through a practical lens rather than through a moral prism. HERE ARE some practical questions: 1) Did we strike Hamas hard enough that it will think 100 times before it dares to launch missiles into Israel again? 2) Did we further hammer the point home sufficiently so that Hizbullah knows that it would not be in its interest to renew its rocket attacks? 3) Did we send a clear message to Syria and Iran that an assault on Israel would wreak a catastrophic response? And 4) Do our Arab neighbors now understand that we will no longer play the "nice guy," but will fight to the end to guarantee our survival? It has been postulated that one of the reasons Anwar Sadat made peace with the Jewish state was because prime minister Menachem Begin, unlike his predecessors, was perceived as an extremist - scaring the living daylights out of the Egyptian president. Now, after the war in Gaza, every Arab country and every terrorist organization knows that Israel, no matter which political party heads the government, will no longer play by conventional rules, feeling itself restricted by international pressure or restrained by internal moral discussions. From now on, should we be forced into war with our sworn enemies, we will use all the power at our disposal to defeat them. If they come after our civilian population, their civilian population will be endangered tenfold. FURTHER, WE must liberate ourselves from making moral comparisons to demonstrate to the world how ethical we are. Quite the opposite - we should use the behavior of other nations to justify our actions. After all, even if we were to prove not only the justice of our cause, but the utter brutality of Hamas, it would matter little. The cards are stacked against us. We are a superpower, a mammoth Goliath fighting an ill-equipped David. Does this mean that we should not unleash our strength to combat a terrorist ministate that turns our life into a living hell through a constant and indiscriminate barrage of bombs being fired into the country with the sole purpose of killing as many innocent people as possible? Like any nation, Israel not only has the right, but the responsibility to use its entire military might to protect its citizens. In 1999, for 78 days (three-and-a-half times longer than the war in Gaza), American and NATO forces conducted relentless air strikes over Belgrade, which included the bombing of hospitals, schools, bridges, residential buildings, factories, power plants and water refineries - that resulted in huge collateral damage and the loss of untold innocent lives - to put an end to Serbian atrocities. In 1982, Great Britain sent an armada to protect its citizens on the Falkland Islands next to Argentina. In the 1970s, those Palestinians who survived the late King Hussein of Jordan's wholesale slaughter were exiled to Lebanon, once considered the Switzerland of the Middle East, where they turned its capital, Beirut, into a heap of rubble. And let's not forget the leveling of Dresden by the Allies during World War II. SINCE ISRAEL WITHDREW its army from Gaza in 2005, more than 6,000 rockets were fired into the South. The world would tell us that our recent response was disproportionate; America, NATO, England, the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the allied armies of World War II were never subjected to a similar torrent of hypocritical criticism. Would proportionality be achieved if Israel fired 6,000 rockets exclusively at civilian targets in Gaza? Proportionality is not measured by the number of innocent civilians killed, or even by the number of enemy combatants killed. It is measured by the dimensions of the threat against its population and the means that must be employed in proportion to the threat - that is, what force is required to eliminate that threat. Should we have waited until a Grad missile struck a kindergarten, killing dozens of children, so our reaction would then be judged proportionate? It is the duty of any country to act before such tragedy strikes - before the threat becomes reality. We should make no apologies for the war except to express our sorrow for Palestinians who are so willingly sacrificed because of the bellicosity of those of their brethren who cry out for our ultimate destruction. Genocide and the threat of genocide, indiscriminate and intentional attacks on innocents, using civilians as human shields constitute war crimes. By such criteria, Hamas and Hizbullah and their ideological sponsors, Iran and Syria, should be put on trial for war crimes - not Israel, which has the absolute right to defend itself. If, in the process, civilians are killed, it is the harsh and natural outcome of war. (Current accusations that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza are incredible; especially coming from Turkey, given its genocide of Armenians, as well as the murder and deportation of thousands of its Kurdish citizens as recently as the 1990s. And Spain - how many innocent people did it kill in the carpet bombing of Najaf when they were part of the US-led coalition in Iraq?) Every moral issue has its practical counterpart. The moral right of any country to defend itself necessarily results in the immoral acts that define war. No amount of righteous self-flagellation can alter this incontrovertible fact. We can debate the moral implications of our war with Hamas as much as we want, even patting ourselves on the back for agonizing over the immorality or morality of war itself. (Would that the Palestinians engage in even the slightest measure of moral breast-beating for endangering innocent lives - ours and theirs.) In the end, more than anything else, the war in Gaza was a practical necessity; and, as such, our incessant discourse about the ethical implications means very little, because as General Sherman said: "War is hell."