Wednesday, August 09, 2006

War: What Is It Good For?

War is good.

That’s the upshot of Hyman’s editorial on the conflict in Lebanon and Israel. Mocking those who critique Israel’s “disproportionate response,” Hyman says that what needs to happen to bring peace to the Middle East is for one country to assert its strength and become dominant (presumably Israel, although he doesn’t actually name the country).

War is necessary for peace. Sound familiar?

Hyman’s argument is based on a false definition of “proportionate.” Hyman says that an Isreali response that wasn’t “disproportionate” would necessarily be one that led to stalemate. That, of course, is nonsense. One can respond proportionately, but still decisively (e.g. going after the captors/killer of Israeli soldiers). One could even respond disproportionately, but do so within in ethical limits (e.g. wiping out Hizbollah, while not killing hundreds of Lebanese civilians in the process). Admittedly, from a practical standpoint, it’s difficult to pursue a disproportionate response and stay in the realm of ethical conduct. Even with the best of intentions, disproportionate responses have a tendency to punish those who have done nothing to deserve it.

But Hyman seems to think that all-out war is an acceptable, and even necessary, step to take toward solving the crisis in the Middle East.

I can understand his point of view. I mean, wars have raged in that part of the world for three thousand years, and look how far things have progressed! I’m sure just a little more conflict and killing will tidy things up nicely.

And this is the larger fallacy in Hyman’s argument. One can debate all day long about what constitutes a proportionate military response vs. a disproportionate one, but you’re still left with the idea that military aggression is a reasonable way to deal with diplomatic issues.

It’s not surprising that Hyman would take such a position. After all, it’s the centerpiece of Bush foreign policy. If a nation or group is not with us, they’re against us, and if they’re against us, we sure as hell won’t talk to them.

Invade or ignore. Those are the two options the Bush Doctrine allows when dealing with adversaries. And both end up making matters worse (e.g., Iraq, North Korea).

Some have suggested that the Bush administration’s antipathy to actual diplomacy is because of a perception that it’s somehow “unmanly” to talk with one’s adversaries.

I suppose, but only if one equates masculinity with knuckle-dragging, chest-beating, monkey-man behavior (which is particularly ironic coming from an administration that’s firmly in the corner of Intelligent-Designers).

Talking is always better than killing. I don’t think you need to be a rhetorician to believe that. I think you just need to be a human being.

The Hymans (and Cheneys, and Rumsfelds) of the world will say, “I suppose you think everything would’ve been just fine if we had sat down and had a nice afternoon tea with Adolph Hitler, huh?”

No. When your adversary refuses to enter into a meaningful dialog, and when they choose to use force, sometimes the plowshare must be turned back into a sword.

But the kidnapping, even killing, of a handful of Israeli soldiers is not the invasion of Poland. It’s a criminal act perpetrated by thugs who should be tracked down and brought to justice. It’s not a reason to start a war that kills hundreds and hundreds of innocent people. Hyman has it right, but doesn’t know it, when he cites Sean Connery in “The Untouchables” as an example of how to win a fight. Connery’s character advocated going after the criminals themselves with gusto, not mowing down a street full of innocent Chicagoans with Tommy guns in an attempt to pick off a particular crook. Yet that’s exactly what Hyman is defending.

The real division in the Middle East is not between Jew and Arab, Israeli and Palestinian. It’s between those who think that violence is the proper way to solve problems, and those who believe such problems must be worked out through peaceful compromise. This division slices through all existing national, ethnic, and religious groups.

The Bush administration has made it clear that they stand with the warmakers. By refusing to engage with all parties, they’ve managed to exacerbate the problem to the point where violence has broken out, a violence that they seem to think could have a positive effect. Hyman goes a step further, almost gleefully welcoming war as some sort of mammoth trial by combat in which things can only be finally settled after a great spilling of blood.

But, as the history of this very region demonstrates beyond doubt, war begets war. There is always an atrocity that must be punished, an attack that must be answered, a death that must be avenged.

And as long as those who are willing to kill to solve problems are given the power to set the agenda, that’s a cycle that will never be broken.

No, war isn’t the answer, Mark. It’s time to give peace a chance.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.02


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