My head and my heart are at war. Intellectually I understand, to put it simply, that “war is hell”. I believe that we are the good guys in this fight and that we truly make every effort, far beyond what other nations do, to minimize civilian casualties. I even understand that, like in World War II, sometimes great suffering must be inflicted to prevent even greater suffering. I’m not one of those moral equivalence types who think that all death is the “same”. It’s not. The death of a mass murderer is not the same as the death of his victims. Only a Vulcan would believe that death is merely the cessation of biological function. Humans empathize, moralize and categorize. It’s just what we do. I also know that Hamas is truly evil. They are not fighting for the rights of their people. They are sadistically using their people to fight for the right to destroy ours. I get all that, I really do.
But then I look at pictures of dead and wounded children and my heart breaks. As a father and a grandfather I can only imagine the agony of fathers and grandfathers just a few kilometers away from me. Yes, I know some of them are religious fanatics who have brainwashed themselves to believe that their dead children somehow represent a victory, but most people are human beings who think and feel as I do. So, in addition to the intense grief I’m already feeling for the precious soldiers we’ve lost (boys themselves mostly), I cry for and with them as well.
There’s another dimension to this. I continually ask myself why I’m so pained by these innocent deaths and yet don’t anguish as much over deaths and suffering of children around the world that, numerically, dwarf what is happening here. Though I live in Israel I am still a proud American and cherish my American heritage and what it has given to the world. Yet, why am I not as pre-occupied with the massive number of civilian deaths perpetrated daily by America and her allies in the critically important war on terror? And that’s without even mentioning the hundreds of thousands who have been brutally murdered by their own countrymen in places like Syria.
I really don’t have a good answer. It could be the sheer media density here in Israel that makes this conflict more telegenic than most. There is also the newness of this battle. The human attention span for such things is short and this is the issue du jour. Obviously, it’s physically close to home; a mere 90 second rocket ride away. Unlike in the US where the drone “pilot” could be sitting in an office in Arizona while his plane drops its payload 8000 miles away, I hear F16s, piloted by our young men and women, fly over my house on their way to their missions and I even sometimes hear and feel artillery shells as they pound their targets. That makes it very real. Then there’s the fact that, unlike Afghans, Pakistanis or Iraqis, our destiny is intertwined with that of the Palestinians. Our security, happiness and ultimately our ability to someday live together will depend on their sense of freedom and independence. Yet, the more of their innocents we kill, even under the “best” of circumstances, the harder that rapprochement becomes as more of their moderates become radicalized.
I don’t think I’m all that unique. Most people I know are bothered by the death of innocents. However, sometimes in the heat of war and especially in Israel’s case where “hasbara” (PR) is so important in the face of, sometimes, irrational condemnation based on ignorance or oversimplification of issues, our rhetoric can become hardened and sound insensitive. For example, while it’s important to point out the gross journalistic errors in reporting deaths and who’s responsible, one can easily lose sight of the fact that, regardless of who is responsible, we’re still talking about children playing on a beach or cowering in a school for shelter. Being “responsible” for the deaths of 230 instead of 250 children is a talking point, not a victory.
So, while we’re at war, and even when we’re not, our intellect and emotion must do battle as well. Generals and politicians may need to err on one side more than the other in order to effectively do their jobs. But we regular folks have the luxury of attempting to maintain a balance between our heads and our hearts that both allows us to believe in what we’re doing while also being sensitive enough not preclude the hope of a peaceful future.