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The Ethics of Battle

Michael Walzer--a political science professor at Princeton University and author of the book Just and Unjust Wars--has an article out in The New Republic where he discusses the ethics of the war Israel is currently waging in Lebanon.  Walzer is exceptionally clear on the core principle that there can never be attacks on civilian targets and that this also argues against some of Israel's attacks on the economic infrastructure of Lebanon and Gaza.  That said, he also makes the following points:

I was recently asked to sign a condemnation of the Israeli operation in Gaza--a statement claiming that the rocket attacks and the military raid that led to the capture of Gilad Shalit are simply the inevitable consequences of the Israeli occupation: There "never will be peace or security until the occupation ends." In the past, I am sure, some Palestinian attacks were motivated by the experience of occupation. But that isn't true today. Hamas is attacking after the Israelis departed Gaza and after the formation of a government that is (or was until the attacks) committed to a large withdrawal from the West Bank. Similarly, Hezbollah's attacks came after the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon. The aim of these militants is not to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel; it is to destroy Israel. Admittedly, that is a long-term aim that derives from a religious view of history. Secularists and pragmatists have a lot of trouble acknowledging such a view, let alone understanding it.

By contrast, the Israeli response has only a short-term aim: to stop the attacks across its borders. Until that is achieved, no Israeli government is going to move forward with another withdrawal. In fact, it is probably true that the Hamas and Hezbollah attacks have made any future unilateral withdrawals impossible. Israel needs a partner on the other side who is, first of all, capable of maintaining security on the new border and who is, second, actually willing to do that. I can't pretend that the Israeli military operations now in progress are going to produce a partner like that. At best, the army and air force will weaken the capacity of Hamas and Hezbollah to attack Israel; they won't alter their resolve. It will probably take the international community--the United States, Europe, the United Nations, some Arab states--to bring the Lebanese army into the south of the country and make it an effective force once it is there. And it will take a similar coalition to sponsor and support a Palestinian government that is committed to two states with one permanent and peaceful border and that is prepared to repress the religious militants who oppose that commitment. Until there is an effective Lebanese army and a Palestinian government that believes in co-existence, Israel is entitled to act, within the dialectical limits, on its own behalf. 

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Afetr reading this very thoughtful and well-meaning piece, I realized that Mr. Nixon is way too optimistic (this is not to fault Peter; he has a good heart and an incisive mind). But when I look at a map of the middle east, I see this tiny country of Israel surrounded by hostile Muslim nations who's citizens are, at absolutely best, indifferent to the fate of that Jewish homeland, and at worst actively hate it. I see no basis for hope or optimism.There are those of us who believe that, from everything we've read and observed, the hostility is rooted in, and an intrinsic part of, the Islamic religion. I know, I know, its supposed to be the "religion of peace", but as I read the Quran and study the life of Muhammad, I don't see that.Perhaps I'm wrong. I would surely welcome evidaence to the contrary, but I'm extremely pessimistic.

Bob:While I'm flattered by the suggestion that Michael Walzer's prose could be mistaken for my own, I think I need to make clear that the thoughts expressed above are primarily those of Professor Walzer...:-)

Peter:I am trying desperately to get my foot out of my mouth while I post this (and I made an appointment with the dentist to extract the shoe leather from between my teeth).Well, I still think you have a good heart and an incisive mind, based on your comments on other issues. As for myself, I'm still trying to master the fine art of engaging one's brain before operating the mouth.In any case, I remain pessimistic about the Israel/Hezbollah situation :([

We can all agree that Israel has the right to live in peace and security. And NO ONE can defend Hezbollah...But I have to question Michael Walzer's statement that Israel has "only a short term aim- to stop attacks across its borders." If that were the only goal, would it have been necessary to kill - at last count - over 400(non-Hezbollah) civilians, displace 700,000, and destroy 4 billion dollars worth of civilian infrastructure that took fifteen years to rebuild? Are these the "dialectical limits" within which Israel is entitled to act?

As I understand Israel's strategy, it is fourfold:1) Find, capture or kill as many Hezbolla fighters in Lebonan as possible, especially in southern Lebanon2) Find and destroy as many Hezbollah missiles as possible in Lebanon, especially southern Lebanon3) Create a roughly 20-mile Hezbollah-free buffer zone in southern Lebanon4) Induce a U.N. peace force to occupy the buffer zone with authorization to use whatever force, including lethal force, necessary to prevent further Hezbollah attacksMy pessimism is rooted in the U.N.'s utter failure to do just that the last time Israel pulled out of Lebanon, and the fact that islamo-fascists are very much like marxist-leninists in one regard: In their ideology, whatever advances the cause of Islam is justified (just as the marxist-leninists asserted that whatever advances the Revolution is justified). Therefore for them, any cease-fire is simply an opportunity to retrench and rearm.We may indeed be in the first stages of WWIV (if the Cold War could be considered WWIII). And the really hard part is that we cannot be neutral.

This is one of those absurd social situations for which there are no reasonable solutions. I am every bit as pessimistic as Bob Schwartz, but I do not place as much stress as you do on the intrinsic characteristics of Islam. Much of the hostility to Israel is a consequence of the way Israel was established.

There are just too many simplistic statements flying around, uncontested, that Islam is a religion of violence. If we are going to go that route then we must admit that it can be argued that Christianity is also.Islam has many peaceful elements in its history and theology. The problem may be that since the enlightenment passed right by them while England colonialized them, they are quite bitter since they were once equal in strength and scholarship (if not better) than the West. We have to find ways to let them restore their pride in their way of life where they can stand by side with the West.Isn't that the key?

Bill:I appreciate your point, which is well made. I have often wondered what happened to the brilliance of Old Islam, especially the work its scholars did that enabled the the creation of polynomial algebra, combinatorial analysis, numerical analysis, the numerical solution of equations, the new elementary theory of numbers, and the geometric construction of equations arose. These are important to me, as I am an electronics engineer.Nevertheless, one makes choices. I could descend into bitterness if I dwelt on things that happened to me in my youth, but I choose not to.If I am a Hezbollah decision-maker and choose to hide or launch (or both) missiles in places that will insure that innocent men women and children will be slaughtered by Israeli missile targeting those places, then I am responsible for that slaughter, not the Israelis. My bitterness could not be used as justification. Just a thought.

Yet Israel is now killing children in Lebanon. And who grieves for the Iraqis? http://www.suntimes.com/output/greeley/cst-edt-greel28.html

Bob Schwarz wrote"he hostility is rooted in, and an intrinsic part of, the Islamic religion"For what it is worth, here is a link to an article on "Forgivness in Islam" http://www.islamonline.com/cgi-bin/news_service/spot_full_story.asp?serv...(I live in a state which is 25% Muslim and 20% Christian.)Sunil Korah

Bob SchwartzSorry for spelling your name wrong in my earlier postSunil Korah

Sunil:I've been called a lot worse ;))Thanks for the link; I'm going to check it out. For the record, I want very much to be convinced that Islam is indeed a religion of peace and that is not just a rhetorical statement. Someone convince me, please...