The Current War and WWII
Some analogies to consider
Many Israel supporters wish to frame the Hamas assault as “Israel’s 9/11.” I do not like that analogy.
I think that a better analogy is with Pearl Harbor. An act of terrorism is an act, meaning a single event. This was not such an act. It was an attempt to start a war with the initiative on the side of Hamas. Tactically, it was barbaric and designed to instill fear in the population, but so was Germany’s strafing of fleeing civilians in the early days of the invasion of Poland. Barbarism and terrorizing are common to military campaigns. They are by no means limited to terrorist groups.
Why would Hamas start a war? Maybe they thought that they would win, because other anti-Israel forces would join them, and the rest of the world would sit back and allow Israel to lose. For now, that outcome has not materialized, but that does not mean that Hamas’ hopes were baseless.
Another thought is that Hamas does not care if it fails in the short run. The view of anti-Zionists is that they have to just keep trying, and eventually they will conquer Israel. So maybe years from now there will be a more powerful anti-Zionist army, inspired by the “heroic sacrifices” of Hamas.
The main reason I prefer the Pearl Harbor analogy is that it tells you how to react to those people who try to sound neutral by advocating for an immediate cease-fire, “proportionality,” an end to violence, etc. My response would be to imagine telling that to an American a few days after Pearl Harbor.
Imagine on December 10, 1941, someone saying to a typical American, “Of course we condemn Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor three days ago. It was barbaric. But what we need to do now is stop the violence and make sure that the United States’ response isn’t disproportionate.” The average American would tell you where you can take your craziness.
It is fair to equate Hamas and other opponents of the Israeli occupation to Nazis. We in America like to think of the occupation as referring only to Israel’s control over territories it won in the 1967 war. But to the anti-Zionists, every inch of Israel’s territory is the occupation. They obfuscate this for Western consumption, but to themselves they say “From the Jordan River to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
Rob Henderson, in an unintentionally well-timed post, discussed the problem of evil.
Many people view the crimes of Nazi Germany, Maoist China, the Soviet Union, and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia through the eyes of the victims.
But to understand evil, it would be wise to view it through the eyes of the perpetrators.
Had you or I been an ordinary German, Chinese, Russian, or Cambodian person living under those regimes, we would in all likelihood not have resisted. We would have been supporters, either actively or passively.
…In real life, violent groups seldom put evil-sounding words in their name. They might even give themselves a nice-sounding name like “anti-evil.”
And evil acts are often performed by people who think they are doing something good.
…Most people who hurt others do not regard their actions as evil. They might acknowledge that they have harmed or exploited someone. But they will usually say their action was justified or that the victim deserved to be treated that way.
Many academics academics who have analyzed the moral psychology of the Nazis have pointed out that they felt justified in their behavior. They thought that they were cleansing the world of the threat to humanity posed by the Jews. Historians note that Nazi ideology strongly appealed to Arabs who resented the presence of Jews in the decades prior to the declaration of a Jewish state in Palestine.
Henderson emphasizes that none of us is immune from the possibility that we might engage in evil that we believe is justified. Those of us with a conservative outlook believe that it is the restraints provided by tradition and social institutions to keep us from turning toward evil impulses. Ideologies that call for the destruction of traditions and institutions are especially prone to engaging in mass murder. Think of Communism and all of its relatives.
Anti-Zionism is just such an ideology. I recommend Jeffrey Herf’s essay. No single excerpt can capture his insights.
Neville Chamberlain today is regarded as foolish, because the Munich Agreement failed as an attempt to restrain Hitler. But as of today, I think that the precedent of Chamberlain bodes well for how President Biden will respond.
After Munich gave Hitler the Sudetenland, Hitler soon humiliated Chamberlain by swiftly overrunning the rest of Czechoslovakia, which Hitler had promised not to do. This turned Chamberlain into the biggest hawk in his government, because he took Hitler’s betrayal personally. Most of England’s elites still wanted to do whatever they could to avoid fighting Germany, but Chamberlain was no longer in that camp. He committed England to join the war if Poland were invaded, and he followed through on that commitment.
Moreover, the day that the war started, he brought Winston Churchill into the government, even though that was probably personally repugnant to Chamberlain and certainly not the preference of England’s elites. At that time, Churchill evoked in elites the sort of allergic reaction that Donald Trump gives them in this country today.
I am not here to praise Neville Chamberlain or, for that matter, President Biden. But Mr. Biden does have a high regard for his own personal honor, and I suspect that he is seething over the way that this invasion started so soon after he made the deal to release billions of dollars to Iran. My guess is that even if he is surrounded by young aides who are hesitant to fully back Israel, President Biden himself means it. I suspect that he has conveyed some clear red lines to Iran; and unlike the detached and cynical Barack Obama, Biden will stick to his red lines.
Look, I don’t claim to be able to read Joe Biden’s mind. And I do not like his administration’s track record of playing footsie with Iran. But precisely because Iran so flagrantly humiliated him, I am willing to trust that he is intensely ticked off at the regime there.
Having said that, Israeli columnist Caroline Glick has a much darker view.
We need to take out Hamas not only in Gaza but also in Judea and Samaria, which is the Palestinian Authority. What we need to do is we need to take serious action to devastate Hezbollah and its war-fighting capabilities in Lebanon. We need to undermine the stability of the Iranian regime and take out its ability to transform the nuclear capabilities that it now fields into a nuclear arsenal.
These are things that Israel needs to do. And I don’t even think that there’s a question that we can get away with less. And my fear from the American embrace is that they’re here to prevent that from happening.
I hope that my speculation is closer to reality, but she is a much more experienced observer than I am.
There isn’t one. You might have expected Prime Minister Netanyahu to rise to the occasion, but he has not. Even his erstwhile supporters are deeply disappointed, by both the way that the government has conducted itself and by the lack of communication coming from it. Even if Netanyahu himself is too busy managing the war effort to act as Israel’s spokesman, he should have found somebody to serve as the face of the government, both internally and externally. Churchill himself, of course, found time both to meddle in war plans (with quite mixed results) and to give speeches that hit the right notes at home and abroad.
Earlier, upon rising to the level of Prime Minister in the midst of the chaos of the first day of Hitler’s assault on France, Churchill immediately formed a coalition government. As of early on the morning of the fifth day of the war, Netanyahu was still dithering and putting off forming a unity government, for which Israel is desperate. Many Israelis, not just long-time opponents of Netanyahu, are livid. More than one pundit has remarked that within a year both Hamas and Netanyahu will have been tossed from the political stage.
My next post will take a different tack. I spent a couple weeks in Gaza way back when Israel controlled it, and I will talk about how that experience affected me.