I have an embarrassing confession to make: When I was young, one of my favorite shows was Hogan’s Heroes. I found it a weekly marvel to see the dashing, clever Colonel Hogan run rings around the Germans. Nor was I at all perturbed by the asymmetry of it all, with the Germans portrayed as bumbling nincompoops, as compared to the ridiculously accomplished POWs. To me, it seemed eminently logical that the good guys would be smart and competent, while the bad guys would be yahoos — evil, but still yahoos.
As I child, good and competent versus evil and incompetent seemed like a fair fight. And I still think that way.
I mention this all because of the usual cries of outrage about the asymmetry in Israel’s attack on Gaza. The thinking on the Left (and you can see it in a thousand op-ed and news stories from America and the rest of the world) is that Israel, because she is vastly more efficient and effective when it comes to warfare, should not fight back. “It’s not fair!” is the cry that is raised when Israel, having suffered through thousands of rocket attacks, finally says “Enough” and goes in with surgical precision to remove the rocket launchers and the men who fire them. The usual suspects, even those who concede that Hamas is an exceptionally malevolent organization, just can’t stomach the sight of bad men — men whose entire life purpose is the slaughter of innocents — themselves getting killed.
I see things entirely differently. In the case of Hamas, evil is measured by intent and acts. Members of Hamas have as their stated goal the desire to kill as many Israelis (especially vulnerable civilians) as possible. Their acts are entirely consistent with those goals. For months now, they have fired as many missiles as they possibly could into Israel. The know that what they lack in ability will eventually be made up for by sheer volume and dumb luck. (As an aside, keep in mind that a large part of the Soviet strategy against the Germans was to force the Germans to use up time and munitions against the millions of bodies, so many tragically unarmed and untrained, that the Soviets kept throwing in their path.) The evil that is Hamas is made even more manifest by the fact that, to offset their incompetency, the Hamas soldiers hide amongst the women and children. If you can’t be efficient, be diligent and surround yourself by soft camouflage, right?
Because Hamas is devoted to evil acts, it should not be rewarded for its ineptitude. It is entirely appropriate that it be defeated. It’s ludicrous, therefore, for the world to argue that the only appropriate way to defeat Hamas is to approach it with an equal degree of primitive weaponry and inefficient tactics. That way lies madness.
Sadly, though, Israel itself buys into this madness. A moral country, she is horrified by the depravity into which Hamas (or Hezbollah) pulls her and, every time, when she is on the cusp of a determinative outcome, she pulls back to save the innocents. One has to ask, though, how many innocents (by which I mean children, who have no control over the situation in which they find themselves) are ultimately saved if Israel repeatedly leaves enough of Hamas standing so that it can regroup and continue its self-imposed apocalyptic battle? Sometimes, total conquest is the most merciful end to a battle.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m reading Rabbi Joseph Teluskin’s Biblical Literacy: The Most Important People, Events, and Ideas of the Hebrew Bible. He recounts God’s mandate when the Jews left the desert and entered Canaan: kill all the Canaanites. To modern sensibilities, this is a horrific directive, and one with which modern Jews and Christians have struggled mightily. Yes, it was the normative approach to conquest three thousand years ago and, yes, God mandated it, but those two explanations don’t assauge our distress at the death of the innocents. I do think, though, that there is a certain pure logic in it, a logic that arises once one decides, for whatever reason, to conquer a land.
Keep in mind that we’re not talking border or territory skirmishes when I say this. Instead, we’re talking about conquest. The Jews conquered Canaan because it was their God promised land. The Allies conquered Germany and Japan because those two nations, having started the war, made it apparent that only complete conquest would end it. And Israel, clinging to her 300 x 150 mile patch of land, considers herself already the conqueror having won the land through purchase, League of Nations Directives, UN mandates, and the spoils of previous defensive wars.
The fact is, you cannot be said to have conquered a land — you cannot remake it in your own image — if there remains a critical mass of hostile indigenous people. The Bible shows that, despite God’s mandate, the Jews did not kill all the Baal worshipping Canaanites, and these people proved to be a practical, military and moral thorn in Israel’s flesh for centuries to come. Conversely, the Allies did defeat a critical mass of the indigenous people in Germany and Japan and were able to rebuild both countries as strong Democratic entitities. And modern Israel, repeating the errors or her Biblical forbearers, has “conquered” a land without ever having taken it over. Her morals are exemplary; her tactics, less so.
My thinking is now, as it was when I watched Hogan’s heroes: that evil is incompetent is a blessing and should not be treated as a curse. It also doesn’t give evil a pass. If you have visited your moral compass, if you truly believe that the opposing party is not merely misguided but genuinely evil and determined on your destruction, and if you decide that the only way to deal with that opposing party is warfare — YOU MUST WIN THAT WAR. There is no middle ground of compromise. There is only victory. As the Allies showed after WWII, victory can be incredibly magnanimous, must you must have victory before you have magnanimity. Do it backwards, and your ass is cooked.