Bearing the burden

Posted: Jul 31, 2006 12:01 AM
Bearing the burden

No two wars are alike. Different players in different uniforms representing different constituencies fight for different reasons. When history seems to repeat itself with familiar schemes for gaining power, new scenarios of analysis and justification are nevertheless required.

In ancient wars, the killing fields were usually found far away from the places where civilians lived out their domestic lives. But sometimes battles overflowed into the cities and other centers of civilization, and civilians died, too. The Greeks, after all, could not have defeated Troy if they had not sneaked soldiers inside the walls in that infamous wooden horse. We all -- or most of us -- decry the death of a single innocent, but war never spares what we now euphemistically call "collateral damage."

It's a matter of degree with significant distinctions how each side calculates the death of civilians as a necessary cost of war. Israel has tried, with varying success, to keep their offensive arms away from places where women and children live, often at the price of their own casualties. But that's not always possible, particularly against a foe that mocks Western concern for life and boasts that his version of Islam welcomes and celebrates death.

Hezbollah hides its arms in private homes, inviting attack, and weaves its tunnels beneath the communities of civilian women and children. It's only with incredible chutzpah that anyone blames Israel for bombing those places where the enemy stockpiles its weapons and reserves. Israel aims at places where terrorists hide; Hezbollah aims at women and children where they live.

"We are doing something that no other country would do," Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, says in an interview with the German magazine der Spiegel. "We warn the people using Lebanese television, radio and flyers that we spread over the affected areas. We ask the people to leave their homes and get themselves to safety."

There's a growing understanding that Israel is in a fight for survival. The Hamas government, rising to power by popular election, attacked Israel from Gaza after Israel withdrew from its settlements in Gaza, giving eloquent lie to assertions that the occupation of Gaza was the reason the Islamists targeted Israel. Reluctant witnesses are forced by unfolding events to acknowledge who started this war. Even the Arab League calls Hezbollah's campaign of violence "dangerous adventurism."

The Lebanese know who is to blame for current misery. Michael Young, the editorial page editor of the Beirut Daily Star, says Israel must continue its campaign to weaken Hezbollah and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, as the means to strengthen Lebanese sovereignty.

Some of our European friends, who are usually reluctant to defend themselves and always eager to blame Israel first when fighting breaks out, nevertheless are beginning to understand how absurd their analysis looks when closely scrutinized. The Germans, irony of ironies, are trying to find ways to help Israel, as difficult as this may be.

When his countrymen were giddy with the success of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the Harvard-educated naval strategist who had organized the stunning operation, is said to have remarked that all Japan had accomplished was to awaken "a sleeping giant, and to fill him with a terrible resolve." Whether Yamamoto actually said it or not, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah would hardly characterize Israel that way (the Israeli Defense Force never sleeps), but he, like Yamamoto after Pearl Harbor, concedes that a brutal provocation can be answered by a terrible resolve.

The West should be busy taking into account the ferocity of the Islamist provocation, and what it means for the civilized world. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, put things into the correct perspective for us when he vowed last year to "wipe Israel off the map." This goal, he said, must be accomplished amid a "historical war that has been going on for hundreds of years." The conflict is not limited to Israel, but is "the front line between the Islamic world and the world of arrogance." The aim of Ahmadinejad and his fellow Islamists is not merely the seizure of the entire Middle East, but Islamic domination of the entire world.

Matthias Kuntzel, a German political scientist who studies the Nazi roots of Arab anti-Semitism, nurtured during World War II, observes that "the men and women of the Israeli military are currently fighting on the front lines against this apocalyptic program." He asks simply: "Should we not at least consider offering our solidarity?" It's a question the rest of us have to answer, whether we like it or not.