April 1, 2002


Jack O'Toole (aka Political Professional) does not believe that a democracy (Israel) is capable of the brutality that will be required to contain a hostile civilian population (Palestine) : Dejected, Dispirited and Depressed (O'Toole File, April 01, 2002, Political Professional.com) :
Israel's military response to the unremitting terror war being waged against it, while entirely justified, won't succeed; democracies are simply incapable of the kind of sustained brutality required to subjugate a restive and thoroughly radicalized people. (What happens when sixteen-year-old Palestinian girls bent on martyrdom start throwing themselves under Israeli tanks? Does Israel really have the stomach to roll over ten of them? A hundred? A thousand?)

As much as it depresses me to say this, the Palestinians are right about one thing: Israel faces a choice between capitulation and ethnic cleansing, and because it will never choose the latter, it will ultimately be forced to accept the former.

Victor Davis Hansen's most recent book, Carnage and Culture, actually addresses this idea quite well and comes to precisely the opposite conclusion : democracies are quite capable of being significantly more ruthless and more efficiently ruthless than other societies.

There are a few reasons for this, but the most important is that democracies believe themselves to be precisely the kind of uniquely decent societies that Mr. O'Toole is describing, and this creates a heightened sense of righteous indignation and moral superiority during wartime. After all, Yasar Arafat knows that he's craven murdering scum, but Ariel Sharon both knows that Arafat is scum and that he, Sharon, is a righteous warrior defending the chosen people. The rhetoric of democracy requires us to pretend that Arafat is the scarier of the two, but in fact there is no man and no people so dangerous as those who know themselves to have the moral high ground--it makes them capable of virtually anything.

Now, it will I'm sure be said that the Palestinian people, at least those in the street, are equally certain that their cause is just, but here the superiority of the democracy comes into play. For it is simply true that no political-economic system in human history has devised more powerful or efficient means of killing people than have the liberal democracies of the West. We tend to dwell on the cruelty of the Hutu vs. the Tutsi or the Serb vs. the Croat and think to ourselves how much more civilized we are than they. But when you tote up the killing and destruction that has been accomplished by democracies it dwarfs all those minor little bloodlettings. In fact, man has never waged war more fiercely than when two democracies square off against one another. The American Civil War should have served as the canary in the coalmine, warning us of how horrific combat between democracies would be. But that lesson remains unlearned even after the almost insane slaughterfest of WWI and the quite astounding killing of civilians in WWII. Machine guns, dum dum bullets, planes, subs, bombs, atomic bombs, napalm, etc.. Our capitalist economies are so good at innovating and then cranking stuff out cheaply, we just excel at killing.

Before we assume that Israel is not capable of destroying Palestine and killing Palestinians in the hundreds of thousands, because it is a liberal democracy, we would do well to recall the relative ease with which we killed Japanese and Germans in the hundreds of thousands, firebombing both and nuking the former. Harry Truman was fond of recalling that he didn't even have any trouble sleeping after ordering the bombing of Hiroshima. Curtis LeMay couldn't understand why the bomb was needed since he could kill just as many with his firebombings and he even took to planning the raids during periods when wind conditions were favorable, that is when high winds would whip the fires into unstoppable holocausts. Both were decent men and democrats (small "d"), but when the time came they were prepared to kill the enemy in world historical numbers, and did.

Neither Germany nor Japan represented a serious threat to American national security, yet we pursued a policy of unconditional surrender and maximum devastation because we were morally outraged and because we had the technical capacity to do so. Israel today combines both of those qualities. It is a mistake to believe that there are limits beyond which she will not go, just because she is a democracy and a decent nation. What is being decided now is not whether Israel will continue to exist, but whether Israel will allow Palestine to continue to exist. And every suicide bombing tilts the scales a little further....

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 1, 2002 9:09 PM
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