Saturday, July 29, 2006

Mike Rappaport

Charles Krauthammer's most recent column on the world's response to the Israeli-Hezbollah war -- Life in an Orwellian Universe -- is one of his best.  And that is saying something.  Be sure not to miss it.

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Mike Rappaport


Krauthammer cites the actions of the United States and Great Britain during WWII as precedents for Israels' response against Hezbollah. But this does not in any way address the question of proportionality precisely because there is a strong argument that both the United States' actions against Japan and the British firebombing of German cities were unjust. Or do we not think that decimating a civilian popluation is unjust? (Perhaps we don't; but that's another argument.)
Further, when Krauthammer asserts that "one has every right — legal and moral — to carry the fight until the aggressor is disarmed and so disabled that it cannot threaten one's security again. That's what it took with Japan," he is simply wrong if he means by that last sentence what I suspect he means: that the U.S. had "every right--legal and moral" to drop two atom bombs on civilian populations because that "was what it took" to win the war. Even if it were the case that that "was what it took," that fact alone does not justify the action in question. As far as I can tell, then, Krauthammer's defense of Israel's response by appeal to these other cases actually makes that response look more unjust than it is.

Posted by: bill | Jul 31, 2006 11:57:15 AM

Perhaps a part of his point is that a country attacked (as Israel has repeatedly been) has the right to wage warfare so as to minimize its own casualties even if it increases collateral damage to the residents of the attacking country. Within limits, there is some merit to this argument.

Posted by: krm | Jul 31, 2006 3:16:57 PM

Bill's argument misinterprets Krauthammer's article. Here is an excerpt of that piece:

"When the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor, it did not respond with a parallel "proportionate" attack on a Japanese naval base. It launched a four-year campaign that killed millions of Japanese, reduced Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki to a cinder, and turned the Japanese home islands to rubble and ruin. Disproportionate? No. When one is wantonly attacked by an aggressor, one has every right — legal and moral — to carry the fight until the aggressor is disarmed and so disabled that it cannot threaten one's security again. That's what it took with Japan.

Britain was never invaded by Germany in World War II. Did it respond to the blitz and V-1 and V-2 rockets with "proportionate" aerial bombardment of Germany? Of course not. Churchill orchestrated the greatest land invasion in history that flattened and utterly destroyed Germany, killing untold innocent German women and children in the process."

I interpret Krauthammer implicitly to be making two points. First, and most important, the entire conduct of World War II was not proportionate according to the standards applied to Israel. Forget about firebombing German cities, which Krauthammer does not even mention. A land invasion kills untold innocents, yet no one thinks it was illegimate (apart from the firebombing of cities). If Hitler had asked for a ceasefire in 1944, would the US had been required to accept it? Of course not, but people take that argument seriously with respect to Israel.

Second, whether or not one agrees with the Hiroshima bombing, other countries take much more extreme actions than Israel regularly in their wars; yet people still expect Israel to live up to a higher standard.

Posted by: Mike Rappaport | Jul 31, 2006 11:24:33 PM