Friday, July 07, 2006

Morale Building and Consequentialism

By: The_Bell
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In response to a post I made last Thursday, the poster Ele_ replied with a defense of Israel that included this interesting argument – "The whole Israeli army is on the move because of just one captured soldier? And every soldier in this army knows that should it happen to him or her, it would be the same. Now that's morale building!"

The "one captured soldier" is bespectacled, baby-faced Corporal Gilad Shalit. Hamas militants and other Islamic extremists operating within Gaza took him captive. The point of my post was that Israel was using his capture as justification to wage an undeclared war, including invasion and regime change, against the Hamas-led Palestinian government.

Ele_'s counterpoint intrigued me. Are the spirits of the members of Israel's armed forces buoyed in the knowledge that the entire army – the entire nation – is willing to go to war for each of them? What of Corporal Shalit? Hopefully his morale is high because it is all he has at the moment. Freedom, I am afraid, is still lacking for him.

The militant's who seized Shalit demanded that various Palestinian prisoners held by Israel be released in exchange for him. The Israeli government refused to negotiate and has responded with increasingly violent attacks into Gaza. The militants warned that failure to comply with their demand would mean, "we will consider the soldier's case to be closed."

Many thought that meant Shalit would be killed. Certainly that was the fate of Nachshon Wachsman, the last Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas, who died in 1994 during an Israeli commando raid on his captors' Jerusalem hideout.

However, a spokesperson for the Hamas government suggested a more sinister meaning. "If [Israel] continues every day to kill and target and attack, it won't get the soldier, alive or dead."

That is exactly what has happened to date. All word about Shalit and his condition has been shut down from the Palestinian side. He has become a ghost. Can a non-entity even have morale, heightened or otherwise?

Last week, Wachsman's mother, Esther, wrote an editorial in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that criticized Israel's government for inconsistency in dealing with abduction cases. "I am not calling for the release of murderers, but [Israel's leaders] should not insult our intelligence because they have negotiated and they have given in to terror," she stated. And indeed, Israel has swapped prisoners in the past to win the release of captured citizens, both alive and dead.

It is, once again, the convenient flexibility of the BuSharon Doctrine in full force. As the conservative, aristocratic Prussian statesman, Otto Von Bismark, once observed, "Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war."

Bismark was not much of a soldier himself, so it must be presumed he started his wars without too much second-guessing. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has it even easier – his dying soldier is nowhere to be seen.

Soldiers are asked to bear the ultimate sacrifice for their country. For that, we, their fellow citizens, owe them our thanks and our support for their safety and well being, even if we disagree with our government over the cause that placed them in harm's way. Yet the thing that no soldier who has seen combat would ask is for their country to sacrifice itself for him/her by opening itself to the greater violence of widened war.

Soldiers often form brotherhoods among themselves in which each willingly risks their life for those of their comrades. Yet soldiers cannot declare war, no matter how justified their grievances against their enemies. Only nations may do so.

Invading Gaza and deposing Hamas may be good things for Olmert politically. They may well even be good things for Israel from a national security/foreign policy perspective. But let's not pretend it isn't all-out war and let's not pretend it is motivated principally by a deep respect for the sanctity of the life of each and every Israeli soldier.

Israel's defenders are most apt to fall back on the argument that its government "had no choice" regarding escalation in Gaza. Yet less than two weeks after September 11, Slate own William Saletan was framing this argument.

This is the problem with the consequentialist argument for revising U.S. policy in the Middle East. Maybe it's true, for other reasons, that we should rethink our position in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, withdraw our troops from Saudi Arabia, or ease sanctions on Iraq. But if we do these things to avoid further attacks on our cities, we're granting terrorists the power to dictate our acts by dictating the consequences.
Keep in mind that Saletan's argument was not a tirade against pacifism but one against allowing terrorists to force our actions to fit their desires. In that sense, there is no difference between saying "we have no choice but to fight" than saying "we have no choice but to withdraw." And a state of perpetual violence is exactly what the Islamic militants who captured Corporal Shalit hoped to re-ignite between Israel and the Palestinians.

Roger Scruton, the British philosopher, expresses it from a different angle. In his 1987 essay, "Waging War on the Individual," he defines terrorism's greatest offense.

Terrorists often claim to be fighting wars, and to be doing no more than is necessary in war. This is nonsense. War is certainly the natural expression of collective resentment; but it occurs between organized groups and is fought openly, against a collective enemy. It is possible to fight a war with undiminished respect for the rights of the enemy individual. Indeed, that is the duty of every soldier. But the terrorist must disregard this duty and disobey the law of war. His feelings towards the individual are abolished by his loathing of the group, and it is this – rather than his cowardice, cruelty, or intemporate hate – that constitutes his true moral corruption.
Prime Minister Olmert is using the hypocrisy of the BuSharon Doctrine to wage war against a group he despises in the name of respect for his own soldiers. In doing so, he breaks a long-established Israeli policy to avoid/minimize harm against Palestinian civilians. In truth, he loathes Hamas so completely that he has already made one Israeli soldier disappear by playing the game his enemy desires of him. And, as Ele_ observes, "every soldier in [the Israeli] army knows that should it happen to him or her, it would be the same."

The thing that some people never get about love of country is that it does not equate to blind acceptance. Sometimes the best and most honest thing you can do toward your object of love is to tell it, "Shame!" I sympathize with the Israeli people and government. I empathize with the Israeli people and government. I just do not particularly admire their current actions in Gaza or their justification for them.