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Friday, July 25, 2014

War And Peace - Israel, Hamas, And The Necessary Casualties Of War

War and Peace is not a celebration of war, but close to it.  There is individual heroism, military strategy, and the din of battle. War and peace co-existed.  Early 19th century Petersburg was as glittering and sophisticated as ever while the Battle of Borodino was fought.  Russia’s best and brightest followed their dreams of glory and the women they loved.  They were heroes and courtiers, knights and troubadours, and leaders.  They were all ambitious, anxious to distinguish themselves or fall nobly in battle, and their honor would be confirmed by battlefield courage.

The Russians were always at war. In the 18th century alone Russia fought Poland, the Turks, the Swedes, and the Persians at least once.  The 19th century was only slightly calmer, but started off with the Napoleonic Wars described by Tolstoy.

The rest of Europe was no different.  England alone fought the Hundred Years’ War, the Eighty Years’ War, the War of the Roses; and constant wars against the Dutch, Spanish, French, Scottish, Irish, and Portuguese.  England was racked by twenty-five bloody civil wars between 1088 and 1746.  Minor skirmishes, internal conflicts, palace revolts and rebellions are not even counted.

Before the Battle of Agincourt described in Shakespeare’s Henry V, the king visits his troops in disguise to gauge the mood of the enlisted men.  They tell him that the king has brought them to France to fight a war based on his own dubious claims and that although it is their duty to die for him and for England, they are unhappy that they will perish for such a cause.

Tolstoy’s battle scenes are incomparable in their descriptions of slaughter and mayhem. Nearly 50,000 men were lost in the Battle of Borodino alone – in cavalry charges, infantry assaults, behind embankments, in trenches, and on open ground ; by cannonball, rifle, pistol, and sabre.  Nineteenth and early 20th century battles whether fought in Russia, Europe, or the United States were unprotected, bloody affairs.  Ten million men were killed in World War I who had little chance of survival, scrambling across no-man’s land to withering enemy machine gun fire.

Life was cheap.  At the time of the Napoleonic Wars life expectancy in Russia was barely 35 years, and the likelihood of dying at a young age from pneumonia, dysentery, accidents, and infection – or war.  A young man knew that if for some reason he were not to die at Borodino, he would die after, regardless of the cause.

The slaughter and scale of death and injury was far greater at Borodino than many battles, but death was always a certainty; and when Tolstoy philosophized about the reasons why men so willingly went to battle, he knew that the causes were rooted in class, tradition, and psychology. The chances of death in war were high; but they were high in civilian life as well.  War at least gave the peasant a chance at the recognition and respect that he never had in civilian life.

War is very different now, and American wars are fought as much as with soldiers’ safety in mind than in victory.  The days of all-out war are gone, at least for the time being.  Perhaps the last expression of this moral commitment was the Invasion of Normandy in 1944.  Thousands of men were sent ashore to face the machine gun fire of German soldiers in fortified pillboxes and entrenchments.  Death, if not certain, was likely.

Now there is a very different calculus of war. The defeat of the enemy – Iraqi, Afghani, or Vietnamese has been conditional on limited American casualties.  Battlefield generals have always calculated personnel losses when defining military strategy.  If too many men were lost, then the battle would be lost.  Marcus Aurelius fighting his last wars against the restive German tribes did indeed calculate risks to the cavalry and to his infantry, but was not making moral decisions, only practical ones.  American generals now consider the moral implications of G.I. deaths.

The wars of the early and mid-20th century and those before were also only marginally concerned with civilian populations, unlike today when ‘collateral damage’ is always to be avoided and risk to non-combatants carefully calculated.  American persistent but recent moral rectitude and sense of democratizing mission demands such calculations.

It was most definitely not so during World War II when we firebombed Dresden and Tokyo and dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – all deliberate attempts to incinerate civilian populations.  The only relevant objective was the defeat of the Nazis and the Japanese.  Any other consideration was irrelevant.

In the Vietnam War, perhaps because American leaders were never really convinced of the rightness of their cause, a special emphasis was placed on ‘winning the hearts and minds’ of Vietnamese civilians.  This effort was designed to both show American beneficence and generosity and to gain local allies.  As history has shown, this idealistic notion never worked, nor ever had a chance of working.  The Vietnamese showed themselves to be a brutal, implacable enemy which had only one thought in mind – defeating the Americans by killing them.  Ho Chi Minh of course understood the psychology of war and knew how to rattle American forces through the uncertainty and unpredictability of attacks, by quickly removing their dead, and by the placement of landmines; and he understood American history and current political opinion and knew that we would get tired of war.  Yet he was determined and unstoppable in his fight to kill and remove.

America is now in a struggle with an enemy who shares the brutality of Genghis Khan and operates under a moral system which is antithetical to ours.  The creation of an Islamic caliphate, one in which strict Koranic and Sharia Law are established, practiced, and enforced, is the only goal.  Moreover it is a goal with spiritual ends.  Like the West’s medieval Crusades, the march of Islamic militancy is in the honor of God, the establishment of His kingdom.  Of course secular and venal interests will always be important and the fights of al-Qaeda, ISIS, al-Shabab, and others have territorial and economic interests driving them as well; but the struggle is fought for higher ends.

The death of civilians, therefore, has no relevance since the ends of battle are religious and spiritual.  The ends justify the means far more than any secular struggle. What we consider heinous crimes – blowing up school buses, crowded markets, and residential neighborhoods – have no moral implication per se.  They are only necessary measures to assure the final and ultimate moral end.

We cannot possibly win this war.

The only country that understands the enemy is Israel, and they fight with the same moral rectitude and purpose as their radical Islamic opponents.  They will brook absolutely no threat to the Jewish homeland, and civilian Palestinian deaths are the price the enemy must pay for its aggression and permanent hostility.  The Israelis know that they are fighting an enemy who uses a territorial imperative – a Palestinian state – only as pretext for the annihilation of Israel, the ridding of Arab lands of the infidel, and in preparation for universal Islamic rule.

Hamas is not and never has been a government, the representative of a peace-loving citizenry.  It has always been a military wing of international radical Islam, bent on the expansion of its power and influence.  The building of a modern, economically productive, and socially progressive society has never been the goal of Hamas as it is most nations.  It has only one thought in mind – Israel’s destruction.  Radical Islam is expansionist by expressed design.  Israel is only self-protective but defiantly so.

The point is not to revisit the complex politics of the Middle East, nor to explore opposing positions; but to justify Israel’s warfare.  Unlike America, which has lost its resolve and has been weakened by corrosive movements to establish ‘diversity’ as a national and international priority.  Radical Islam is not simply another culture to be respected and understood for its principles, traditions and history.  It is the enemy to be defeated if not annihilated.

Wars have always been fought and always will be.  As Shakespeare well knew, until the engine of human nature is neutered, we will continue to be self-interested, aggressive, and violently so. 

We have idealistically and ignorantly assumed that the world after the fall of Communism would be a more congenial and respectful place.  While the specter of nuclear Armageddon may have been temporarily removed, the world is a far more violent place than it was when the Russian Bear had some claws.

If there will always be wars, then why not set out to win them? We have diddled with our wars in recent years. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were undertaken because we thought that we could easily defeat them.  These countries were not like Iran or Russia of whom we are scared.  We pick our wars for the wrong reasons.  Israel and Radical Islam fight for the right reasons.  They have clear goals and objectives, a visceral commitment based on moral principle and history.  Casualties, whether military or civilian, are necessary in life-or-death struggles.

Israel is to be respected, not vilified; or at least understood for the historical imperative according to which it is fighting.  Most importantly it should be valued as the only country which has named the enemy and has had the moral courage to fight it.

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