Thursday, January 08, 2009

Gaza Thoughts 1

1. Think Like a Nation, Not an Individual

It's important to remember that right and wrong to even a thoughtful, moral, intelligent, educated person is different for collectives, especially nations. A leader, a person responsible for others, must think above the individual. A simple example, when it comes to halakha, is the classic debate over allowing emergency-rescuers break Sabbath laws in order to save a life. The rescuer is allowed to break the Sabbath not only in running to save the life, but also to return back to his home. To small minds (and there are plenty of these even among rabbis), it is wrong to allow the rescuer to break the Sabbath to return home. While these miniminds will grudgingly acknowledge that a life is worth more than the Sabbath, that condition should end when the rescue has occurred, no? Well, say the wide-thinking and responsible leadership: if we refuse the rescuer from returning home, then he won't come in the first place for fear of ruining his day.

The miniminds rebut: how dare we impugn the noble heart of the Torah-True-Jew(tm)?!

The rabbis respond: Hey, we're with your rosy view of human nature, but over the years we noticed that people were not showing up to rescue others in need! We're the same ones who came up with sfeik-sfeika: the concept that when you have a doubt (safek) on top of a doubt (safek) then you are allowed to be lenient in halakha. So rescuers were applying the sfeik-sfeika themselves: maybe I won't get to the rescue site on time, and maybe others will get there before me, making my trip superfluous. Heighty-ho, I should just stay home with my family and not ruin Shabbos...

Yes, the Torah-True-Jew(tm) is noble; except that we rabbis have to think of the long term and of the whole community. And the sociological pattern (see the bystander intervention studies of 1960s BCE) is that unless there is an overarching moral compulsion, an even noble and intelligent individual will think in the short term and not do what's best for society. That's the job of the rabbis: to make social rules that better society. And we're saying that the rescuer can violate Shabbat to return home.

The miniminds still retort (and here there are many rabbis unfortunately in the group): OK, OK, we bow to the wisdom of the rabbis. Except that Yankel Shmoikel, my EMT cousin, doesn't want to return home on Shabbas and because he so noble, he will still rush off to rescue people on Shabbas! So there!

The rabbis again respond: Please do not violate the rabbis rules. We thought of Shmankel. Ya see, first of all, when you think you're above the law, when you second guess Societal Ethics using Individualist Logic, then you will most likely end up violating the law. We believe either/or: (a) that Shmankel will think of himself as noble but will subconsciously decide not to run off to rescue because he knows the burden, or (b) that Shmankel will decide that others will take care of the rescue, he's needed more in his house.

Ya see, one more reason (a noble one) for the rescuer to return home: because as a rescuer (especially a doctor/nurse/EMT) is needed to help others. If we had the fire-brigade rush off to the boonies on Shabbas, then get stuck there starting Friday night, then they won't be available for the inevitable Cholent-Blech fire across town. Etc.

This is a large issue and I'm bring the point up in brief (and I need to create a good overall term for this ethic) but the lesson is this: leaders think in terms of long term consequences and not for the individual case.

This applies to the Gaza war. A soldier can't think of individual cases, he has to follow orders. That's well understood. But the generals need to think of the big picture which can result in individuals getting killed. Even innocent ones. This is why war must be the last resort of any moral state. We just hope that the generals (and in the modern democratic state, the elected officials who command the army) think like leaders and are seeking the proper long term goals.

When Bush rushed off to war, we feared that his feeble moral intellect didn't understand the cost of war. Especially since he ran away from Vietnam, yet always felt that he was a solider. He threw lives away for political gain. This was also the specter of the second Lebanon War.

The Gaza War is real, though. Gaza was given over to the Palestinians who immediately turned it into a terrorist state hell-bent on Israel's destruction. Cease-fires didn't work and ultimately negotiation is fruitless without a partner. These are large, nation, issues that don't fall into most people's consciousness. They just think of the loss of life. And it's good they care. But it is morally wrong to apply an individualist code of ethics to national needs.

2. You Can't Compare the Morality of a Democracy with a Tyranny.

I wrote an op-ed back during the second Lebanon war (can't link to it because it would divulge my thinly veiled identity) that argued this point. Citizens in a democracy are sovereigns which means that the army's actions are the will of the collective will. If the war is unjust and wrong (as Iraq was) then the populace will rebel, either by ballot (like we did in 2006-2008). Citizens of a tyranny do not have the power to change the government's mind; if the war is unpopular then so what; if the tyrants want to use the citizens as soldiers so be it. As such, citizens of a tyranny aren't really civilians the way that citizen's in a democracy are. Just think of the Japanese and Nazi citizens during WWII - they did not have a choice to change the government's mind short of rebellion. Note that rebellion is what actually ended World War I - both the Russian Revolution but more importantly the rebellions in Germany.

Let me emphasize that point again: World War I ended only because the a tyranny was (almost) overthrown. I'll get into the tragedy of the end of WWI elsewhen, but suffice to say that democracies have civilians in the true sense but tyrannies do not. The only ethical thing to do, from the democratic point of view, is to end all dictatorships. However, since that would require almost non-stop warfare, it's not really possible to do that (despite what Bill Kristol and George W. Bush wanted).

The next best thing would be the idea proposed by John McCain: the League of Democracies. During the election, the League concept was discredited by the cognoscenti because McCain is an airhead and there's guilt by association. But I think it just makes sense: democracies need to band together to protect themselves from the common threat of tyrannies. For the reason set above: that tyrannies can commit crimes against democracies who cannot respond in kind. But there's strength in numbers!

The Gaza situation is a case in point: if there were a League - which is broader and more relevant than the cold-war dinosaur NATO yet not soaking with sordid dictatorships like the UN - then the moment a rocket flew from Gaza into Israel the whole League would declare Hamas a threat. It's basically what we did in the first Gulf War and as a permanent function, a super-NATO as it were, it would help everyone. And like we're seeing with NATO, it may induce countries to drop their tyranny earlier than expected to get the benefits.

3. When Will It Ever End?

There's the short term and the long term ends, and the realistic ends and my pipe-dream ends. The short term end of this war is in the hands of the Israelis. The leadership of the major industrial nations have to balance their public opinion reactions (and since Israel absolutely irrevocably sucks at PR - it's like a point of pride to Israelis to act like arrogant boneheads) with what they recognize as the goals of their nations.

Any country that has to deal with angry Islamic citizens will call on Israel to cease as soon as possible; countries that don't care about this subgroup (e.g. US) will be less circumspect. But all the major countries have as a vested national interest to have Hamas be destroyed. Gaza is totally Hamas and Hamas is a vicious, implacable terrorist group. There's no positive for Hamas; this is one reason why the PLO is helping Israel with the battle. So the nations of the world will let Israel do as much as possible to weaken Hamas.

The war, plus the general world condemnation of Hamas, may serve to topple the Gaza government and give it into the hands of Israel. There is no way for Israel to make peace with the Palestinians until the P's can speak with unity and until Hamas is driven into an angry ineffectual nub (like "Islamic Jihad" - remember them) then there's no short term peace plan.

And I repeat, if we had a League of Democracies then it would be very hard for Hamas to shoot more than one day's worth of missiles without getting a return smackdown from the worlds' Democracies. And the smacking wouldn't be violent at first - there'd be an economic carrot and stick from the League first.

Ah, but you'll respond, won't the tyrannizes of the world pick up the economic slack? Indeed. That's a problem with the Arab-Israel conflict, there's world interest in the players. But this leads to second solution, the long term one, which I think will eventually put a lot of this to bed: alternative fuels. More on that in the next post.

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