The Moral Agonies of Asymmetrical Diplomacy
At a birthday dinner with friends last night, the Israeli assault on Gaza came up. One friend said having to helplessly watch the violence infuriated him and made him ill. Another said it made him want to cry.
I said there was something in this kind of asymmetrical bloodshed that our mainstream media and most Americans willfully avoid thinking about. That’s the humanity of the suicide bomber. Our TV correspondents are so jaded by violence they report X number of human beings were blown to pieces by a suicide bomber. The term has come to represent an inhuman archetype of pure evil. The human being is lost.
I said to my friends, at least we should appreciate -- I added the word “respect” -- a man or woman willing to sacrifice his or her life for a cause. Even if we oppose that cause. We honor men who jump on grenades to save their buddies and people who pursue an action beneficial to comrades that any sane, rational person would see as suicidal. In traditional Japanese culture, suicide was an honorable act to atone for shame; kamikaze pilots were treated like royalty before they set off on their final missions. Of course, the men on the US destroyers and cruisers they sank did not share the same cause and, thus, did not share in that honoring. Israelis honor the suicide pact of 960 rebels under assault by a Roman legion atop the mesa known as Masada over 2000 years ago.
At this point, another friend spoke up in a disturbed tone. She said she knew someone killed by a suicide bomber. “And I don’t appreciate what you just said.” I may have made things worse by replying: “You don’t understand my point. Actually, I’d be fine with shooting suicide bombers. But, of course, they’re already dead.”
So let’s get this straight: As a military veteran peace activist for over 30 years, I condemn the delivery of bombs to kill people and destroy things by F16s, drones and suicide bombers. This is in the spirit of the famous scene from the film The Battle of Algiers in which a guerrilla leader has been captured by the French military and is presented to the French press for questioning. (This, of course, would never happen under today’s rigid regimes of secrecy.) A reporter asks him how he can justify satchel charges detonated in public cafes attended by French civilians. He smiles and says, “We’ll gladly trade our satchel charges for your jet bombers any day.”
War is the abandonment of morality to expediency. And whether or not Americans know it, they are morally up to their necks in the atrocity going on in Gaza.