Thinking, hasbara and civil war

The obvious can be infuriating. It’s so . . . obvious.

But if something is obvious, and someone persists in doing the opposite, and that opposite is proving self-destructive, it’s a good idea to understand why the persistence in self-destruction.

John Boyd got it right. (See two previous posts) Out-think your opponent. React faster. Stay agile until your opponent begins to crumble mentally. Marc Bloch, the great French Jewish historian who served in both World Wars and would ultimately die as a member of the Resistance, reached the same conclusion. In 1940, demobilized from the Army after Germany’s devastating victory, he wrote, primarily for himself, a small book, Strange Defeat, his attempt to understand the catastrophe both as an historian and an experienced combat officer.

His conclusion: The Germans out-thought us.

Thirty years later, an American, George Plimpton, a founding editor of the Paris Review, embarked on a series of, well, call them attempts to understand what it’s like going up against the pros. He trained with and played a couple downs for the Detroit Lions football team. He boxed heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. Scary. But, he later admitted, the most frightening experience came playing bridge against Charles Goren. He was getting splattered all over the table and couldn’t begin to understand how it was happening.

So the Boyd Cycle simply expresses a great truth, in war and in fields other than war.

But in war and so much else, it matters not how fast you think, if you’re thinking the wrong thoughts. In the military art, this failure is sometimes known as “orienting in” on oneself, not “orienting out” on the enemy. The critical problem here is rigidity: of structure, of doctrine, and most of all, of inability to adapt to changing situations after the balloon hits the fan.

Again, a problem hardly confined to the military. The late Ted Levitt, Harvard Business School prof and popular author, liked to distinguish between the sales and the marketing mentalities.

The sales mentality starts with a product and tries to sell it. Typewriters, for example. The marketing mentality starts with a need and tries to fill it. Apps, for example.

Israel, as a product, ain’t sellin’ too well nowadays. Perhaps it’s time to ask why, and not to slough off the question with the standard responses. Anti-Semitism? Yes, of course. But only up to a point. The point at which we start losing the good people who aren’t anti-Semites and who are willing to support Israel’s existence and security, but not to write blank checks to a religious/military/imperialistic theme park.

Israeli Hasbara peddles this theme park. Its adherents offer reasons and justifications that make perfect sense to them – they’re oriented inward – but fail to move their listeners. The response: Do more of it and if it doesn’t work, blame the customer. And don’t forget to “Get the Facts Out” and let people (just people, or any groups in particular?) know The Truth.

Personally, whenever I encounter anything that promises to tell me “The Truth” or “The Facts” or “What You Need to Know” or “How to Think about” – I stop reading or hit the remote. Ditto for anything that uses the words “Shocking,” “Outrageous” or equivalents. Sorry, but it’s pressing buttons that aren’t connected to anything anymore.

Meanwhile, those Israelis and Diaspora Jews who don’t much care for the theme park, muddle about in a fog of their own. Long ago, I dismissed those people as practitioners of “impotence chic” – sigh, we can’t do anything but at least we can flaunt our moral superiority. OK, we must do something. Oh, well. One more Chardonnay and then we march.

So, to sum it up, the religious and political Right in Israel and their Diaspora enablers and supporters spew out the messages they like to hear, while the world grows weary of the self-righteous huffing. Meanwhile, the opposition weakly lobs forth such a miasma of clichés and moralisms (that they like to hear) that the world, for different reasons, grows weary of them, too.

So how can this change?

It can’t. Not until Israel makes a decision that may well tear this country apart.

In the beginning, there were many Zionisms. Now there are two. A Place among the Nations versus the People that Dwells Apart. They’re irreconcilable, as irreconcilable as were the slavery versus freedom issues that led to the American civil war. And now, like America in the 1850s, Israel’s discovering that the issue – what kind of nation will we be on this planet? – cannot be ignored forever. Will Israel finally join the world as a significant defender, perhaps a major defender, of human civilization and species survival. Or will we continue to pursue a set of policies based upon a bizarre tandem of religious primacy and We Get Away with It.

But we won’t be getting away with it much longer. The darkness is starting to close in on this country and this people. Meanwhile, violent Islamism metastasizes all over the world and the global ecology approaches catastrophic collapse.

Catastrophic collapses happen suddenly. But you can see the warning signs a long way off. And what’s true for nature and human bodies is also true for human artifacts, such as countries.

Israel must decide. But like the Americans of the 1850s, we hesitate. We know that those who favor the theme park are not averse to, and may indeed glorify violence against anyone who opposes them. Nothing new here. Jews have always been an intermittently fratricidal people. And as always, it’s been the rigorist, fanatic minority that wants it and practices it.

Or perhaps the theme park versus responsible nation controversy cannot be solved short of violence for another reason.

Two thousand years of mental rigidity.

For at least two millennia, Jews have had nothing to think about, to be responsible for, except themselves. Ourselves. Certainly this is understandable. The destruction of the Second Commonwealth, long centuries of powerless and oppression, the struggle to survive in an unforgiving world . . . they’ll make you orient inward, to your own tribe, your own faith, your own concerns.

But now, perhaps, the fundamental question becomes: Can Jewry, for the first time in millennia, think as a group, as a nation, as a Power, of anything beside and beyond ourselves? Can we do it in real-time and real-world?

And what kind of message would that send to a world that, anti-Semites and Islamists aside, might welcome it?

Chemo this week. Back after Rosh Ha’Shana. Shana Tova to all.

About the Author
Philip Gold made Aliyah from USA in 2010 after several decades as a Beltway "public intellectual" of sorts.
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