Theodore Roosevelt famously stated, “It is not the critic who counts.” While it is easy for the critic to sit comfortably in the Upper West Side and criticize Israel after the Hamas attack on October 7, 2023, offering solutions is much, much harder. To you, dear critic, my question is this: What would you do?
Imagine a world in which an extremist armed group called the Nationalist Front of Mexico, which has ruled Mexico for two decades, launches a surprise attack on the United States. Its rockets fall on major U.S. cities, taking down buildings, and killing hundreds of people. Imagine them crossing the border into the United States. They send tens of thousands of armed troops through the air, the sea, and the land, and capture Austin, Albuquerque, Houston, Phoenix, San Diego, and others, where they place Mexican flags. Then, they walk from street to street, systematically slaughtering everyone in sight: old people waiting for the bus; disabled people in the post office; families in their homes.
They axe parents to death in front of their children—and then set the children on fire. When people barricade their homes, they set those homes on fire. Then, as the houses burn, they coolly light cigarettes and chuckle. They are proud of themselves for sticking it to the big man. They do not try to hide any of this; instead, they film themselves and send it to each other, to see who can torture these Americans better. They even upload it to social media. Then, they parade the dismembered bodies of these poor Americans in the streets of Mexico City, where thousands sing songs praising God and spit on the bodies that are nested in anatomically impossible positions on the backs of their white Toyota pick-up trucks.
Imagine that this carnage, in the end, kills around 50,000 Americans, with thousands kidnapped and taken to Mexico City. In the tunnels underneath the city, in the basements of hospitals, American girls and women are repeatedly raped by gangs of men. After the U.S. military eventually re-captures those cities, what they see is unimaginable. Forensic scientists find families whose eyes were taken out, whose limbs were cut off, before they died. They find toddlers who were raped before they were beheaded. They find twenty children tied into a rope before they were all set on fire. Imagine this happening now, on this sunny fall day in 2023—today. What would you do? What would the United States do?
Remember that Mexico City is densely populated. If you send bombers to vaporize the entire city, you would surely achieve your goal—but you would kill millions of innocent people, and we don’t want that. These are people whose lives are ruled by these reconquistadors in Mexico. This is not the land of peace and love; in Mexico City, same-sex sexual activity will get you thrown off a building—or lynched on the street (though legally, it leads to a 10-year prison sentence). It is a place where children are sent to schools where they learn all the beautiful ways in which the U.S.A.’s destruction will be done—how shooting, stabbing, and running over American citizens will be a fun, socially acceptable way to resist. Imagine how Americans would feel; the death toll was so high that everyone knew someone. Maybe it was your child, or cousin, or your ex-girlfriend or employer.
Now, imagine that the Army decided to attack. Because the National Front does not stand a chance against American firepower, it likes to play dirty. They shoot missiles from kitchen windows, schoolyards and hospitals, and firing-pits in the middle of roads of residential neighborhoods. Each of these reconquistadors had several wives and a dozen children, all living with him in his house where he fires those rockets. Imagine they have also dug an intricate tunnel system underneath Mexico City, spanning hundreds of miles. These tunnels would serve them during the war. They understand that when they launched an all-out war to eradicate America—though some Americans believe they want to reestablish Mexico in its original borders, others, whose vision is more acute, understand that to them, the entirety of America is an abomination, and needs to be abolished. American troops would want to enter Mexico City to eliminate them—and they do not want to make their jobs so easy. So they have built these tunnels, where they manufacture missiles from water pipes intended to quench their people’s thirst.
Now, suppose that the existence of the United States was very controversial, filled with people who claimed they had a historical stake in the land, but we won’t get into that; suffice it to say that both sides believed they had a claim. Imagine then that protests break out in the United States, siding with Mexico’s right to defend itself. Imagine that thirty-something student groups at Harvard University—along with virtually every other major university—write a letter saying that the reconquistadors had a right to decapitate babies and slaughter women in their homes as they were undergoing stress-induced premature labor, because they were defending themselves against harsh American rule. As their argument goes, it’s resistance. (Imagine America had placed economic sanctions upon Mexico after discovering that the National Front smuggles implements of war inside diapers.) The students argue that the United States is entirely responsible for this conflict because it has denied the Mexicans land that is rightfully theirs, and how else were they supposed to resist the most powerful military in the world? We have been too colonial for too long, they argue. Raising the flags of Mexico, they chant, “Decolonize the States,” and, “From Pacific and Atlantic Sea—Mexico Will Be Free.“
This is what we are dealing with in Israel, right now. It is easy to criticize Israel—after all, it is a state filled with Jews, the most hated ethno-religious group in history. It also fits neatly into the narrative provided by the progressive left, designed chiefly to reduce the cognitive strain caused by nuanced thinking: the powerful are evil; the powerless are good. If Israel has superior power compared with Hamas, that must mean Israel is bad, and Hamas is good—never mind the fact that Israel is an economic and entrepreneurial powerhouse and the only democracy in the Middle East, and that Hamas is a fanatical religious organization whose members actually believe that the number of virgins they’ll meet in heaven is directly proportional to the number Jews they murder. Let’s put all that aside: The morality of war, the civilian casualties, the “historical context” of the conflict. Put in our shoes, what would you actually do?
In our hypothetical scenario, it seems like a ground invasion is imminent. The secretary of Defense says that the National Front of Mexico would have to be eliminated, a statement which the students immediately condemn as genocidal. Imagine that the American military started distributing millions of posters throughout Northern Mexico City, saying that the area would become an active war zone—and that residents must clear the area before it becomes an active war zone. But the National Front does not want that; it publishes a statement citing the U.S posters as “fake news” and “psychological warfare,” and encourages its population to remain in Northern Mexico City, to prevent the States from using its firepower, and to make it look evil when it inevitably does.
To eliminate this organization, the United States would have to kill all of the organization’s members and commanders—or wait for them to come out of their rabbit holes with white flags. Because the U.S. values life and is committed to international standards of humanity, it would like to avoid inflicting pain upon innocent civilians inside Mexico City. As the U.S. invasion looms, the students protest. They claim that war is always evil; that all lives matter; and that violence always begets violence. They protest in support of Mexico, because it is the underdog, and they believe that because underdogs in the West are innocent and deserve better, that must mean that is always the case. The worst of them call for the annihilation of the West, for killing every American—or the academic term for it, decolonization. The best of them ask for an immediate unilateral ceasefire on the American side, because there cannot be peace when there is war. Why can’t we end this violence? They ask. Why can’t we all be friends?