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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Unending moral equivocation

I don't normally pick out a particular foreign policy argument on the Internet as the object of my criticism, but I am making an exception here, because I want to record why I am removing Tim Bray's blog from my list of recommended links.

Bray states: "That Israeli document paints a picture of an armed truce that had been holding pretty well since May of 2000. The number of incidents was ...." [link added]

Bray tells us 21 murders ("incidents"!) of Israelis over six years should be acceptable to Israel, and should not be interpreted as acts of war. If a string of murders by a foreign military is not an act of war, then what is? And if Israel should accept the ongoing murder of its own without a fight, then what exactly should it reject with force? The implication is: Nothing.

Bray: "The "hiding among civilians" myth offers solid evidence that in fact Hezbollah does not do this down south where the fighting is hottest."

Bray seems to think it is important that there are some places where Hezb'Allah does not (supposedly) use human shields. As irrelevant as that is, the truth is that Hezb'Allah's entire strategy and existence rests upon Israel being blamed, even by most of its "friends," for Lebanese casualties of war. PrairiePundit calls it the "victim offensive." And it is a strategy that works. Ironically, Bray wants to minimize the importance of this aspect of Hezb'Allah's behavior, while it has completely won him over.

Bray reserves his highest contempt, not for those who seek to slaughter every Jew in the Middle East (as a start), but for those "individuals right here in the civilized world who are egging on one side or the other": "they'’re willing to fight to the last screaming bleeding victim, as long as it's a couple of continents away from their comfy chair. ... They're not just scum, they're cowards."

In other words, it is immoral and cowardly to intellectually support a friend who is fighting a war. If you're not willing to move to Israel where the katyushas are falling, you have no right to talk about Israel's right to militarily defend itself. Well. I feel helpless to do other than point out that this is a bizarre conclusion.

But altogether Bray's position sort of makes sense -- provided you turn off the part of your brain that makes moral judgments. Ignoring that Hezb'Allah is an oppressive, theocratic, militant state-within-a-state, using Lebanese civilians as shields, existing primarily to destroy Israel, being in no danger of disarmament by anyone besides Israel, building up its cache of arms year after year with Syrian and Iranian aid, continuing to murder Israelis year after year, and threatening to murder many more Israelis with tens of thousands of rockets on any given day -- then, yes, Israel is wrong to take up arms against Hezb'Allah.

Bray's blog has appealed to me in the past because he says many smart things about software engineering. He cuts through a lot of the field's nonsense. And besides content, I also like his writing style: he's not trying to be a fancy writer, his posts aren't wordy or cute or apologetic, he is straight-forward and blunt.

However, when it comes to moral issues, being a smart engineer is no help. Bray spouts amoral, pacifist, lethal nonsense on his blog like this from time to time, and I'm ready to unsubscribe. So be it.

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13 Comments:

  • At 4:17 AM , Anonymous skeptikwon said...

    You really need to learn a lot more before you make these crazy statements.

    Israel has breached the ceasefire numerous times too and Lebanese have been killed and kidnapped. You also forget that they murdered tens of thousands of Lebanese in the occupation.

    The abductions of the Israeli troops was in response to abductions in Lebanon by Israeli troops in the days before.

    Tit for tat? Or a planned escalation by a weak Israeli PM being led along by a dumb IAF led miltary?

     
  • At 10:39 AM , Blogger Brad Williams said...

    Why did the Israelis occupy Lebanon, what was their motivation?

     
  • At 5:33 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    "In other words, it is immoral and cowardly to intellectually support a friend who is fighting a war."

    Nope, it's immoral and cowardly to cheer on those who are directing military force against civilians.

    But I have to admire "amoral, pacifist, lethal nonsense" as a turn of phrase.

    -Tim Bray

     
  • At 8:13 PM , Blogger Gabe said...

    You write: Why did the Israelis occupy Lebanon, what was their motivation?

    I assume with this comment you're hinting at Israel's moral legitimacy in occupying Lebanon? But the thing is, when Israel commits and facilitates war crimes, what difference does it make if they were justified in occupying another nation for 18 years?

    Writes the NY Times:

    An Israeli government commission found Mr. Sharon guilty of indirect responsibility for a massacre of Palestinian refugees by Christian militiamen in Sabra and Shatila in 1982. He was removed from his job as defense minister.

    This is one of my biggest problems with "pre-emptive" war and "occupation" such as the one in Iraq now and the one in Lebanon for 18 years: the unintended consequences and innocent death end up negating any good that is achieved through the military action. I mean, if these wars actually achieved peace that would be one thing. But they don't even do that.

    Innocent civilians are dying on both sides. And the rockets may stop for a while (though so far they haven't). But they will start flying again. War without diplomacy doesn't change anything. When the dynamics remain the same, you can drop all the bombs you want but psychopathic groups like Hamas and Hizbollah will always grow back. You attack a group without addressing any of the underlying issues and you've achieved nothing but short term peace while the enemy regroups for the next attack.

    It doesn't matter if Israel is morally justified in attacking Hizbollah. The moral highground doesn't stop the rockets. True and honest peace does. Fundamental changes and concrete diplomacy do. The occasional use and threat of force never hurt either. But I don't think the word "occasional" is in Israel's vocabulary. (See 18 year occupation of Lebanon; also: the ongoing occupation of the West Bank.) Israel increasingly relies on war to solve their conflicts. And with every soldier they train and every bullet they fire they actually chase true lasting peace further out of reach.

    Then again, I believe your philosophy-in-progress is that Armed Forces must intentionally kill civilians in order to achieve victory, so I'm not sure there's much of chance that you and I could even have a diologue about this issue. At least the Israeli and US Armies pretend to try not to kill civilians.

     
  • At 2:47 PM , Blogger Brad Williams said...

    First, I reject the notion that there's such a thing as "war crimes" -- just as I reject the validity of "international law." The US is, or should be, a sovereign nation, and the US government's first priority ought to be to protect the life and liberty of her citizens, using whatever force is necessary, to neutralize threats.

    I question if there are very many innocent adults in southern Lebanon. An innocent there would be someone who despises Hezb'Allah and has done everything he or she could do to get away from Hezb'Allah-land -- to a nice place where individual rights are more-or-less respected, like Israel. Clearly many of the locals have positive or mixed feeings about Hezb'Allah, and have supported them in some way, ideologically if nothing else.

    Of the actual innocents getting killed by IDF bombs and bullets -- children and people who couldn't get away from Hezb'Allah before the war and so are now being used as part of the "victim offensive" -- this is part of the tragedy of war. It is heartbreaking -- I have two children myself. But if Israeli lives are saved by these bombs, then Israel is in the right. Somebody has to pay a price once murderers get into power and build up an arsenal of 10,000 rockets; if the local population (most of which probably helped them get into power anyway) can't remove them, then a country being threatened has the right to use all necessary means to end the threat.

    And the numbers don't really matter. If 10,000 in an enemy country die in a war to save 100 in a rational, right-respecting country, that is what the good government should do. For the 100 who are saved, there is no other option.

    Finally, we have to remember that none of this is necessary, WW4 didn't have to start, and it doesn't have to go on and on, laying waste to thousands of lives. People don't have to want to violate the liberty of others -- they choose to, and that is the cause of wars, NOT Israelis trying to neutralize lethal threats.

    That's the gist of my position.

     
  • At 2:50 AM , Anonymous skeptikwon said...

    Do you, for even a second, believe that the muslims of South Lebanon could move to Israel? Brad, no offence, but you really need to learn a lot more. Israel is not a liberal democracy for anyone but Jews.

    Non Jews are not welcome and the small number of Israeli muslims and christians are very badly treated. I've seen all this for my own eyes.

    For many years Hizbollah provided the only security and basic services for these people and protected them from a very brutal military occupation, so clearly they don't see them as terrorists.

    Not many countries in the world see Hizbollah as "terrorists" because they don't actually fit the definition. The Israeli troops appear to have been in Lebanese territory on one of their thousand or so cross border transgressions since the ceasefire in 2000.

    Where are the civilians that Israel has kidnapped?

    International law is very real Brad. How would you like it if your community/town/city was ruled by the sort of bigger/badder is a law unto itself that you are proposing for the middle east?

    Most of us don't see much good about your version of democracy anyway and see you as athreat to world peace and, by extension, democracy and freedom.

    Israel is less under threat from anyone else than they are a threat to everyone else. They are, without a shadow of a doubt, the most aggressive nation on this earth. Look at the record.

    Israel has to learn to live within its borders like civilized countries do. Stopping the killing would be the mark of a sane rational society.

     
  • At 2:55 AM , Anonymous skeptikwon said...

    'In one of the most dramatic development in the fighting Friday, an Israeli unmanned plane fired at the convoy, which included a 350 joint Lebanese army and police force as well as 500 civilian cars. They left Marjayoun after hours of U.N. mediated negotiations which succeeding in receiving Israeli assurances for the convoy's safety.

    The attack came as the convoy was en route from Jib Jannin to Kefraya in the south of the Bekaa valley, security officials said. They said most of the casualties were civilians.

    "The Israeli forces had been told in advance of the convoy's passage, and had given it the green light," UNIFIL spokesman Milos Strugar said. '


    The famed Israeli intelligence can't be much good if they don't know hundreds of civilians are heading out of the south at their orders, especially after UNIFIL told them about it. I'm afraid this further attack on civilians is more proof that the Israelis just don't care if they kill Arab civilians.

    Not a war crime?

     
  • At 9:50 AM , Blogger Brad Williams said...

    Yes I know that Lebanese cannot move to Israel, the only way across the border for many years has been in an IDF tank. I said that rational Lebanese should move to a free country "like" Israel. I admit that is not the clearest writing, so it may have sounded like I think rational Lebanese should move to Israel.

    How would you like it if your community/town/city was ruled by the sort of bigger/badder is a law unto itself that you are proposing for the middle east?

    That IS how my home is ruled -- by the US gov -- and I like it very much, thank you.

    You are not grasping that there is no alternative to having the strongest force rule. That is the nature of the world, he who holds the gun is in charge. It is actually a case of identity: he who holds power, holds power. Note that no one can hold the U.S. accountable to "international law" besides -- the U.S. So how is that law? It cannot be enforced, there is no one to enforce it -- so it is not law at all.

    Israel is less under threat from anyone else than they are a threat to everyone else. They are, without a shadow of a doubt, the most aggressive nation on this earth.

    I'm trying to understand you, can you tell me what you see as Israel's motivation in its wars, if its not defense against those who want to destroy her?

     
  • At 11:57 AM , Blogger Gabe said...

    You write: I question if there are very many innocent adults in southern Lebanon. An innocent there would be someone who despises Hezb'Allah and has done everything he or she could do to get away from Hezb'Allah-land -- to a nice place where individual rights are more-or-less respected, like Israel.

    A stance like this one not only fails to grasp the realities of life as a villager in a broken third world nation, but it shows a lack of understanding of the history of Hizbollah, Islam and especially of Lebanon.

    I don't believe someone who appears as intelligent as you do would actually reduce your true thinking to something as unsophisticated as, ‘civilians should just vote for someone else or move somewhere better.’ You're talking about people who live on literally pennies a day and you want them to find the money to uproot an entire family and move to another nation? Please, spare me.

    I would love to enter in a real debate with you, but I'm not sure that's possible as long as you speak in terms this severely simplistic. Sadly I suspect perhaps this isn't a forum for an exchange of even partially complex ideas.

     
  • At 4:26 PM , Blogger Brad Williams said...

    You're talking about people who live on literally pennies a day and you want them to find the money to uproot an entire family and move to another nation?

    Gabe, I didn't say that anyone in particular could move away from Hezb'Allah, my point is that a truly innocent adult would want to get away. The more general point I'm trying to make is that it is not just those carrying guns who are culpable, those who want to kill all the Jews have a whole chain of ideological supporters who share in their guilt.

     
  • At 9:41 PM , Blogger Gabe said...

    Point taken.

    But what exactly do you propose a theoretically impartial Southern Lebanese person do? Who or what do they have to turn to? Granted they could go out in the street and demonstrate against Hizbollah's crimes. But then the only people on earth providing them with schools and hospitals (Hizbollah) will probably pack up and abandon them. And that's if you're lucky. Try demonstrating against Hizbollah and they might just attack you in the streets.

    Which choice would you make?

    I agree that Hizbollah adheres to a terrorist ideology but do you not acknowledge that they in fact engage in more than terrorist activities? They provide virtually the only social services available in Southern Lebanon. That in no way justifies any of their violence. It merely speaks to the complexity of Hizbollah and allegiances in Southern Lebanon. It also speaks to how little resources the disenfranchised people have at their disposal.

    These are very poor people that live in a war-ravaged region that virtually hasn't known peace for going on 30 years. This situation is too complex to be writing off large groups of people because they share a neighborhood with Hizbollah and they don't dedicate their meager existence to preaching peace not hatred. Do you know what they dedicate their existence to? Surviving. Literally. Forget finding work, they just try to find food and shelter for their family. So I think I'll cut them some slack for not having the time to educate Hizbollah in the ways of diplomacy.

    I think you over-simplify the choices that Lebanese villagers face. They're caught between two impossible sides, and in the meantime, bombs are dropping on their towns and villages.

     
  • At 3:49 PM , Blogger Brad Williams said...

    This situation is too complex to be writing off large groups of people because they share a neighborhood with Hizbollah and they don't dedicate their meager existence to preaching peace not hatred.

    How could Hezb'Allah be there if the population overwhelmingly hated them? In fact what we see is that Hezb'Allah has widespread support among that population. Crowds wave Hezb'Allah flags; children hold up Nasrallah's picture; grandmother's praise Hezb'Allah and declare "Death to Israel!" These civilians who support Hezb'Allah but may never pick up a gun themselves are guilty, that is my point.

    I understand your point that the civilians see Hezb'Allah as providing health care and other services. So how can I blame these peasants for liking the organization which forms their civil infrastructure and protects them from a perceived foreign enemy?

    Context is everything. Whatever else they may be, Hezb'Allah exists in order to threaten Israel. To know that (and I do not accept that adults in the region do not know that) and then to continue to support them for any reason makes one a conspirator with murderers. Yes, my "don't support murderers" stance is simple -- what do you propose as an alternative? Supporting murderers is okay if they feed and clothe you? Even if you had to smile to them when they come to your door in order to survive, an innocent person would secretly despise being in the situation, and would want out of it -- that's why I said an innocent would want desperately to get away.

    I'm not sure, maybe you are saying that many people in this situation have no way of knowing or understanding the truth, that Israel is not the aggressor and that Hezb'Allah is guilty to the bone marrow. If these peasants are ignorant, how can I blame them, right?

    Levels of intellectual culpability is a tricky topic. But thinking about your questions has brought me to this conviction: one cannot escape 100% of the blame for the implications realized or not of one's beliefs and actions. We are responsible for our convictions -- that's not a law, its reality. For example, if I believe that dirt is food, reality will hold me responsible for acting on that false belief. And if I am a poor, uneducated peasant and I support Hezb'Allah because they run my hospital and they protect me from the supposed aggressors to the south, then that does condition my intellectual culpability -- but notice that IN FACT I am supporting murderers, so I am partly the cause of their actions. There's the culpability, even though obviously less than that for the men who physically launch rockets into Israel.

     
  • At 9:09 PM , Anonymous skeptikwon said...

    Brad,

    Israel is an expansionist state. They wish to control all of mandate Palestine and cleanse the region of nonJewish peoples.

    This is the Likudist manifesto of Eretz Yisrael. The northern border under this plan is the Litani River.

    It is important to differentiate between defence of Israel and defence of occupation/s.

    You don't seem to grasp that all of Israel's neighbours act in response or defence against, repeated Israeli invasions, terrorism and violence.

    Get out and read, Brad, and stop succumbing to the Israeli propaganda that you are subjected to in the US media. AIPAC owns your congress and the neocons are Likudists in American clothing.

    Israel is a terrorist state, it is time to cut the money off and make them live within their borders and negotiate a just peace.

     

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