In Haaretz, Yossi Sarid takes the opportunity offered by Israel’s Yom Hazikaron (“Day of Remembrance”) and the publication of Amos Elon’s, The Pity of It All: Jews in Germany 1743-1933, to draw some important moral lessons for Israel in its current intractable war with the Palestinians. What’s more, Sarid’s moral lessons can just as easily be applied to Bush’s misadventures in Iraq.
Elon dwells on the Jewish and non-Jewish intelligentsia which ardently waved the flag in support of German’s entry into one of the most disastrous and least necessary wars of the last century: World War I. He notes that even Zionist progressives like Martin Buber supported the cause. How can such otherwise wise and far-thinking people be duped by such nationalist frenzy?
Sarid uses this portion of the book to criticize a similar acquiescence among Israeli intellectuals to the 1967 War. We might also profit by wondering at a similar betrayal by our liberal elected officials and others who should’ve known better: why did they not question more vigorously the assumptions or arguments that led us to war against Iraq?
This book is a universal warning against the charms of damnable wars and the mendacity of their mongers. It’s a red…warning light against the sweep of emotion and outbreak of adrenalin whenever people go to war in the name of the peace they claim in vain…Every war that could be avoided and is not is foul and forbidden; every war of choice is born in sin, and the sin brings with it a punishment; every war that is meant to satisfy the urges of expansion is cursed, and will chase down its initiators and bring them down; every war that results in occupation is bound to get complicated, corrupt and eventually fail; every war meant to teach a lesson, pay back the enemy in their own kind, to avenge or even just deter, will end in great sorrow and innocent victims; every war that does not have defined and achievable political goals will bring forth only a worse reality than what preceded it, that which gave birth to the war in the first place.
By those standards, Israel did not have wars, just adventures. Only the War of Independence was a life or death war – a war of no choice – and if we had not won it, we would have not survived. The Six-Day War is portrayed as a war of national salvation, but it was not. The threats posed to Israel at the time could have been foiled with limited military actions, without entrapping the country in the trash-bin of occupation from which it has yet to escape. When almost everyone wept at the thrill of being at the wall-of-destruction’s memory and in excitement over the Third Commonwealth, only a few wept over the destruction. There were many intellectuals then who hurried to march in step to form the Movement for the Greater Land of Israel; most have since regretted it.
The ultimate allegiance we owe in deciding whether to continue fighting senseless wars like the Intifada or the Iraq war is not to some sense of national destiny, but rather to the fallen who’ve given their lives in wars that need never have been fought in the first place:
There are 22,123 fallen people counted on this Memorial Day. The pain of losing them only worsens: The more war one knows, the more pain one knows. Today we bow our heads over their graves in eternal sorrow, but also with a terrible sense of missed opportunity: many, many who we loved could have lived and did not need to die. Bereavement and failure, together.