Passover and the suffering necessary to end tyranny

Tonight marks the first night of Passover, the ancient Jewish holiday celebrating the Jews’ release from bondage and, I think, their reaffirmed commitment to God.

I wrote the following post last year for Passover, and republished it once more a few months ago.  It focuses on Iran, but I think you could easily substitute Syria, Gaza, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, or any other totalitarian regime, whether theistic or anti-theistic, and the article would be the same.

***

An antisemitic Jew I know, rather than seeing the Passover ceremony as the celebration of freedom (the world’s first and for a long time only successful slave revolt), and of justice and morality (the Ten Commandments), derides the whole ceremony as the unconscionable and immoral celebration of the genocide of the Egyptian people. What troubles him so much is the fact that, after each plague, when Pharaoh seems about to soften and let the Jews go, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, leading to the necessity of yet another plague, culminating in the death of the first born.

I know that some people have tried to explain away this part of the story by saying that it is simply dramatic license, meant to increase the tension and danger of the Jew’s escape from Egypt. After all, if it had been easy, it wouldn’t have been much of a story. You know, Moses asks, “Hey, Pharaoh, can we go?” and Pharaoh answers “Sure.” That’s not a narrative with much punch or heroism, and God’s involvement is minimal or, at least, unexciting. It’s much more exciting to have an escalating series of plagues, with the audience on tenterhooks as to whether those pesky Jewish slaves will actually be able to make a break for it.

This reasoning is silly. There’s a much more profound purpose behind the ten plagues, and that is to remind us of the tyrant’s capacity for tolerating others’ suffering, as long as his power remains in place.

What Pharaoh discovered with the first nine plagues is that life can go on, at least for the ruler, despite an increase in the burdens placed upon his people. A blood filled Nile River may, at first, have seemed appalling, but the red receded and life went on. Pharaoh still held together his government. The same held true for each subsequent plague, whether lice or boils or wild animals or frogs, or whatever: As long as Pharaoh could maintain his power base, he was okay with the incremental decimation visited upon those he ruled.

Sheltered in his lavish palace, Pharaoh might worry about a populace starving and frightened, but that was irrelevant as long as that same populace continued to fear and worship him. The people’s suffering, ultimately, was irrelevant to his goals. It was only when the price became too high — when Pharaoh’s power base was destroyed because his citizens were destroyed — that Pharaoh was convinced, even temporarily, to alter his evil ways.

Human nature hasn’t changed much in 3,000 years. Think, for example, of both the Nazis and the Japanese at the end of WWII. For the Nazis, it was apparent by December 1944 (the Battle of the Bulge) that the war was over. Hitler, however, was a megalomaniac in the pharaonic mold, and his high command, either from fear or insanity, would not gainsay him. Rather than surrendering, the Nazi high command was willing to see its country overrun and its citizens killed. Only when the death toll became too high, and it was apparent that nothing could be salvaged from the ashes, did the war on the continent finally end.

The same held true for the Japanese. Truman did not decide to drop the bomb just for the hell of it. Even the fact that it would impress the Soviets was an insufficient reason for doing so. What swayed Truman was the fact that his advisers told him (credibly as it turned out) that the Japanese Bushido culture would not allow Japan to surrender even when surrender had become the only reasonable option. Instead, the military warned Truman that, although the Americans would inevitably win the war, if Truman didn’t take drastic action, victory would take another year, and cost up to 100,000 American lives and at least that many Japanese lives (including Japanese civilians).

Truman therefore had two choices: another year of war, with the lost of 100,000 Americans and many more than 100,000 Japanese; or an immediate stop to the war, with no more American casualties and at least 100,000 Japanese casualties. Put that way, the choice was a no-brainer. The outcome would be the same for the Japanese, but Truman would save the lives of more than 100,000 Americans, British, Australians and Dutch. (One of those Dutch, incidentally, was my Mom, who was on the verge of starving to death in a Japanese concentration camp.) The Japanese high command was Pharaoh. No amount of smaller plagues could stop the command from its chosen path. Only a large plague would swiftly lead to the inevitable conclusion.

But what about the innocent lives lost as a result of Pharaoh’s, the Nazi’s, and the Japanese high command’s intransigence? As the Japanese tale shows only too well, the innocents were always going to die, with the only question being whether they would die quickly or slowly. The same holds true for the Germans, whom the Nazis had long ago designated as cannon fodder to support their intensely evil regime. That’s the problem with an evil regime. If you’re unlucky enough to live under that regime, whether or not you support it, you’re going to be cannon fodder. Pharaoh will let you die of plagues, and the Nazi and Japanese leadership will let you be bombed and burned — as long as they can retain their power.

Iran is no different. Although the people bleed and cry under the brutish regime, no plague, including rioting in the streets, has come along that is bad enough to break the back of that tyranny. The people continue to die by inches, and the regime threatens everyone within bombing distance.

Liberals believe that it is immoral to impose serious consequences against the Iranian regime because there are innocents who will suffer from those consequences. What these liberals fail to understand is that, when power doesn’t reside in the people, but resides, instead, in a single group that is insulated from all but the most terrible strikes, imposing small plagues against the country (freezing a few bank accounts, public reprimands, vague threats) is utterly useless. These small plagues, no matter how much they affect the ordinary citizen, do not affect the decision-making process in which a tyrant engages. The only thing that will move the tyrant is to destroy his power base. Everything else is theater.

With that, I’d like to wish all of you a Happy Passover. Whether Jewish or not, I hope that the Pesach celebration serves as an occasion for all of us to remember that, though the price may sometimes be high, both for slave and master, our ultimate goal as just and moral human beings must be freedom. So please join with me in saying, as all Jews do at this time of year, “Next Year in Jerusalem.”

Cross-posted at Right Wing News

The Bookworm Turns : A Secret Conservative in Liberal Land,
available in e-format for $4.99 at Amazon or Smashwords.

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Comments

  1. says

    Many Leftist leaders understand that very well, for it is the foundation of their power and they didn’t get to where they were moving through the dark relying on luck

    The power base is an advanced concept in war and strategy. It forces humans to look beyond their immediate 5 senses to contemplate and imagine the future. Something which isn’t what humans do all the time nor are all humans talented at such. The ancients that thought up of how to harness fire and keep feeding it fuel so that it can burn and cook food and warm them during the winter, without killing them in their caves, were able to imagine the future. If every human did such, technological development would have been much faster. But only a few were adept at such or had the time for such entertainments.

    Strategy is the art of looking beyond the immediate tactical problem at hand and thinking of how to deal with problems deep into the future. For many people, fighting and winning battles is “good enough” for them. They think they have won. But it is strategy, destroying the enemy’s power base and logistical pipelines that will truly end a war.

  2. says

    Bookworm: Liberals believe that it is immoral to impose serious consequences against the Iranian regime because there are innocents who will suffer from those consequences.

    Some certainly do, but most probably think it is just ineffective in many cases. Whether you appreciate it or not, Iran is not a dictatorship. Power is distributed through various conservative institutions, including religious and electoral. Because power is distributed, it will be very difficult to dislodge. Sanctions do put pressure on the government, though they are not sufficient in-and of-themselves to force change. Any real and lasting reform will probably have to come from within. 
     

  3. Charles Martel says

    “But it is strategy, destroying the enemy’s power base and logistical pipelines that will truly end a war.”

    Then we need to start discussing a strategy for defeating the left and radically curtailing the federal government.

  4. Charles Martel says

    “Whether you appreciate it or not, Iran is not a dictatorship.”

    Of all the pathetically delusional things that our resident basement troll has ever said here, this one takes the cake.

  5. says

    Zachriel: Whether you appreciate it or not, Iran is not a dictatorship.

    Charles Martel
    : Of all the pathetically delusional things that our resident basement troll has ever said here, this one takes the cake.

    Instead of waving your hands and casting aspersions, try to argue your point. Start with the definition of dictatorship, a form of government in which absolute power is concentrated in a dictator. Would removing a single person collapse the government? Probably not.

    Iran is a theocratic republic and power is diffused widely through the religious hierarchy, as well as large numbers of interlocking government institutions. 
      
    Danny Lemieux
    : Iran is not a dictatorship: it provides its people with clear rights of free expression, …

    Non sequitur. There are many forms of government other than dictatorships which oppress people, including as John Adams pointed out, simple democracies. 
     
    “If the majority, then, must govern, and consequently often near half, and almost always a party, must be governed against their consent, it is the majority only who will remain secure out of the reach of tyranny, and free from the arbitrary disposition of any commanding power. The minority, on the contrary, will be constantly within the reach of the tyranny, and under the arbitrary disposition of the commanding power of the majority.” — John Adams
     

  6. Charles Martel says

    But Danny, don’t you understand that the organs of oppression are dispersed? For example, in a typical anti-government demonstration involving 1,000 protestors, the local mosque is assigned to brutalize 300, the Republican Guard goons are in charge of 500, the street cops get 100, and the remainder are free-for-all targets.

  7. SADIE says

    The phrase “ma nishtanah” is sometimes used colloquially by some Jewish families in an ironic sense, to express the opinion that some behavior or situation under discussion is not unusual. For example:
    Child: “Dad’s in a bad mood today.”
    Mother: “Ma nishtanah?” (What has changed)
     
    Updated:
     
    Zach: Iran is not a dictatorship.
    Sadie: Ma nistanah?
     
     

  8. Charles Martel says

    “Iran is a theocratic republic and power is diffused widely through the religious hierarchy, as well as large numbers of interlocking government institutions.”

    Please name three centers of religious power and three interlocking government institutions that you alluded to above. Also, please provide a description of clerical hierarchy in Islam.

  9. Charles Martel says

    =SIGH=

    Wiki, Wiki, Wiki, Wiki, Wiki!

    Binky! Binky! Binky! Binky!

    Never an original thought, never an original essay, never an opinion that shows the ability to reason or conclude independently of an approved leftist source.

    (Also, the pointed absence of any response to my request for a discussion of clerical hierarchy in Islam.)

  10. jdrose says

    A PASSOVER GIFT… While the “Palestinians” plot for international recognition of their terror state this Sept., what “SYMBOLIC facts on the ground” can Israel create to demonstrate the absurdity of the “Palestinian” claim to Eretz Yisrael?  Answer: “The Gate of Israel”
    When renowned artist Marc Richard Rubin was creating his requested Biblical exhibition “The Light of Truth” for Holocaust survivors in the early 2000′s , http://www.marcrubin.com/or.ivnu one night while listening to music under the headphones he heard a voice so loud, he thought someone else was in the room. He wrote down what the voice said, and as Marc related, his pen seemed to write by itself;  he struggled to hold onto it.
    What was revealed to Marc was the schematics and reason for the “Gate of Israel”.http://www.marcrubin.com/pylon.ivnu As December 21,2012 (inevitably on Shabbat) approaches, I cannot think of a more pro-active, positive and unifying action Israel can take than to build these gates. Imagine a dedication ceremony on that date!
    The blueprints are a seed. Only the PEOPLE of Israel  can bring the Gate of Israel to fruition.
     

  11. tjmoseid says

    Another possible reason for God hardening Pharaoh’s(Egypt’s) heart is that Pharaoh’s(Egypt’s) reaction to the Israelites leaving had to be delayed until the Israelites were far enough away to escape. So God was merciful to the Egyptians because the plagues were the minimum suffering they had to endure.

  12. says

    So the only thing Z has to offer on Passover is that Iran is not a dictatorship.

    He does because what, he thinks he can control the narrative here and “adjust” conservative thinking? What totalitarian Leftist clap trap. You hear that Z?

  13. says

    Charles Martel: Binky! Binky! Binky! Binky!

    We said that Iran is a theocracy, not a dictatorship. You respond with handwaving and insults. We suggest you try to form an argument. Instead, you ask questions. We answer those questions, including how the religious hierarchy is tied into the Iranian political system, and provide you a link so you can learn more. Now you respond, “Binky! Binky! Binky! Binky!” 
     

  14. Danny Lemieux says

    I think that you are all right…the word “dictatorship” is used in multiple ways to describe totalitarian government. By one definition, it is totalitarian rule by an individual, by other definitions, it just refers to totalitarian rule.

    Kind of like the word “decimate”, which long ago lost its original meaning (as in “Neda and other protestors were decimated by the dictatorship in Iran”). 

    But it does go to Charles M’s point about the Azariel’s group’s Orwellian obsession with demanding complete control over language and meanings as per the dictates of its Temple of Orthodoxy.

  15. says

    Start with the definition of dictatorship, a form of government in which absolute power is concentrated in a dictator.

    Z can’t even for hell’s sake and tidal waves, define what the hell he is!

    And he thinks he has the standing to call on others to “define” things? Well, let’s see here. Define the Z, Z. What are you constituted of, exactly?

    *snorts* More Bull.

  16. Charles Martel says

    Actually, even the definers don’t all agree on whether a dictatorship is always at the hands of one supreme ruler or can include several tyrants (Cuba, Contras, China, post-Stalin Russia). In any case, Zack has absolutely no notion of how the groups in his Wiki cut-and-paste relate to one another in actuality, as opposed to on paper. And, of course, he will not touch the simple question of how clerical hierarchy works in Islam.

    To repeat: Never an original thought, never an original essay, never an opinion that shows the ability to reason or conclude independently of an approved leftist source. If I were Frank Perdue, I’d describe him in certain avian terms. 

  17. SADIE says

    Sadie’s Seder Synopsis:
     
    I really like Passover. I like that the Seder plate represents all the human emotions with the holiday. As in all other years of observing the holiday, I am a bit tired after all the preparation, drinking four glasses (half-glasses for me) of wine at the Seder table. The highlight for me each year is dipping my pinkie finger into the glass of wine and calling out the plagues as a drop of wine falls from my finger onto a dish. It’s a complete and reoccurring cycle of a year, a history, a story told over and over again. Seder is in direct contrast to the ever changing news cycle-it is always a constant. There are no variations, the food, the Seder (which actually means ‘order’) is just that – no more no less. The story, the Haggadah (the telling of the story) is repeated in a prescribed order. I am aware that some families and friends do a shorter version or a longer version. That’s fine with me….
     
     
    ….It’s when someone starts to revise the story and creates a version to suit his own agenda, I have a problem- a really big problem. I now have an urge and need to alter the basic Ten Plagues and add an 11th!
     
     
     
    Passover recalls the bondage and suffering of Jews in Egypt and the miracle of the Exodus, but U.S. President Barack Obama says its message is reflected in Muslim uprisings.
    In his annual message, prior to his third straight participation in the Passover Seder, President Obama stated, “The story of Passover…instructs each generation to remember its past, while appreciating the beauty of freedom and the responsibility it entails. This year that ancient instruction is reflected in the daily headlines as we see modern stories of social transformation and liberation unfolding in the Middle East and North Africa.”
    http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/143637

  18. Charles Martel says

    The Jew haters in Germany were happy to “liberate” art and prized personal possessions from the Jews in their midst. Why wouldn’t a Jew hater like Barack Obama “liberate” the Haggadah to suit his own ends?

  19. says

    Danny Lemieux: I think that you are all right…the word “dictatorship” is used in multiple ways to describe totalitarian government. By one definition, it is totalitarian rule by an individual, by other definitions, it just refers to totalitarian rule.

    Which is why we provided the definition we were using, which typically refers to power being concentrated in a single entity or person, and was clear from context. This returns to the original point. Power is distributed in the Iranian government. This is a result of the turmoil of the Revolution, and the reaction to it. Because power is distributed, that makes it very difficult to dislodge. 
     
    Bookworm: Liberals believe that it is immoral to impose serious consequences against the Iranian regime because there are innocents who will suffer from those consequences.

    Zachriel: Some certainly do, but most probably think it is just ineffective in many cases. Whether you appreciate it or not, {power in Iran is not concentrated in single entity or person}. Power is distributed through various conservative institutions, including religious and electoral. Because power is distributed, it will be very difficult to dislodge. Sanctions do put pressure on the government, though they are not sufficient in-and of-themselves to force change. Any real and lasting reform will probably have to come from within. 
     

  20. Danny Lemieux says

    Iran’s dictatorship is not all that different from China’s “party dictatorship”. Speaking of which, the two are drawing closer and closer as a developing alliance. China is believed to be the source of much of Iran’s nuclear technology, these days.

  21. says

    Bookworm never mentions the word dictatorship.  Z highjacks the thread by pointing out Iran is not something BW never accused it of being and we argue about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.  It is enough that Iran is a brutal regime that oppresses its own people and hates America.  Sort of like Communist Russia in the Cold War days.  Everything else is just semantics. 

  22. says

    Leftist propaganda is designed to mislead and divert people’s attention from the real issue, while hammering them with emotional waves.

    Iran is a faithful bosom buddy of the Left. For the Left hates America as well.

  23. says

    Don Quixote: Bookworm never mentions the word dictatorship. 

    Let’s try it again. 
     
    Bookworm: Iran is no different. Although the people bleed and cry under the brutish regime, no plague, including rioting in the streets, has come along that is bad enough to break the back of that tyranny. The people continue to die by inches, and the regime threatens everyone within bombing distance.
     
    This is a reasonable point. A government can become detached from the concerns of the people. 
     
    Bookworm: Liberals believe that it is immoral to impose serious consequences against the Iranian regime because there are innocents who will suffer from those consequences… The only thing that will move the tyrant is to destroy his power base 

    Some certainly do, but most probably think it is just ineffective in many cases. The only “serious consequence” sufficient to affect a deeply entrenched theocratic oligarchy would be a war far worse than Iraq. 
     
    Don Quixote: It is enough that Iran is a brutal regime that oppresses its own people and hates America. 
     
    Bookworm criticized people for objecting to “serious consequences” against the Iranian regime sufficient to “destroy to their power base”. Such an action would be impractical because power is distributed, and the government has strong support in many sectors of society. 
     

     

  24. Charles Martel says

    Zach has no idea what he is talking about. Providing a Wiki reference amounts to 10 seconds of labor. Notice that he will not (cannot) describe in detail the actual power relationships mentioned in the Wiki item he ripped off.

    Notice, too, that he has no idea how Islam works in matters of governance—an ignorance that is fatal to his conceit of being able to remark intelligently on the thesis we’re discussing here.

    He ran into this problem on the intelligent design websites that he used to pester. When people pointed out his misuse or misunderstanding of teminology (obviously derived from uncareful reading of his Wiki sources), he simply ignored the criticisms and pretended that they had not been made and that they had not been devastating to his arguments.

  25. says

    Martel, I noticed early on that I was rather comfortable amidst people who worked with their hands, whether it was hands on work, security, the military, or just killing people or animals.

    Most other people at the time didn’t share my enthusiasm. Word play is ultimately unsatisfactory because it can never end. That’s why I became more and more enamored of the physical arts. For there, what you do is set into the fundamental fabric of reality, and no one can argue it away.

    The virtual reality the Left creates for their own delusion and self-entertainment may be rather comprehensive, but it is still virtual. Which is to say, a man that has been beheaded, will not be resurrected regardless of how many Leftist advocacy groups take to the streets. Such is Divine Law. There are many divine laws in fact. Following them brings prosperity and security. Violating them, as the Arabs do, brings misery and weakness.

  26. Charles Martel says

    Zack, I can prove my point very simply:

    1. Please tell us about the distributed power in Iran. How is it distributed? By organization? By region? By city? How do they interact? In other words, how do you know, aside from a hurried visit to Wiki, how power in Iran works?

    2. Please tell us how religious authority in Iran is arranged hierarchically. For example, does an imam in Qom outrank an imam in Shiraz, and if so, by what authority? Whose fatwahs are Iranians bound to follow?

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