Sunday, July 30, 2006

Not A Gentleman's War, Nor Hope's Hook

This morning, as I (reader-iam) sat watching CNN and listening to a reporter relentlessly question the woman whom she was interviewing about the morality of Israel killing civilians, clearly under the assumption that Israel is cold-bloodedly, profligately "targeting" them for death and destruction, I happened to be reading this story featuring photos of Hezbollah, smuggled out of East Beirut and published in the Sunday Herald Sun (Australia).
The images, obtained exclusively by the Sunday Herald Sun, show Hezbollah using high-density residential areas as launch pads for rockets and heavy-calibre weapons.

Dressed in civilian clothing so they can quickly disappear, the militants carrying automatic assault rifles and ride in on trucks mounted with cannon.

The photographs, from the Christian area of Wadi Chahrour in the east of Beirut, were taken by a visiting journalist and smuggled out by a friend.
The images include one of a group of men and youths preparing to fire an anti-aircraft gun metres from an apartment block with sheets hanging out on a balcony to dry.

Others show a militant with AK47 rifle guarding no-go zones after Israeli blitzes.

Another depicts the remnants of a Hezbollah Katyusha rocket in the middle of a residential block blown up in an Israeli air attack.

The Melbourne man who smuggled the shots out of Beirut and did not wish to be named said he was less than 400m from the block when it was obliterated.

"Hezbollah came in to launch their rockets, then within minutes the area was blasted by Israeli jets," he said.

"Until the Hezbollah fighters arrived, it had not been touched by the Israelis. Then it was totally devastated.

How dare those Israelis! Immoral, unfeeling, disproportionate bastards, corrupt tools of the decadent, imperialistic West! Unlike Hezbollah, they fight with abandon, cynically tossing aside any notion of boundaries or respect for life along with the bodies of their victims.


[Sheikh Naim] Qassem, a founding member of Hezbollah in 1992 and deputy general secretary, claimed Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, has remained in Lebanon and has not taken refuge outside the country as has been rumoured.

“The Israelis have said several times that they were targeting the general secretary and some of his leadership in bunkers because they are certain that they are indeed in Lebanon. Hezbollah’s leadership is used to being in the field.”

Qassem admitted Hezbollah had been preparing for conflict since Israel withdrew from south Lebanon in 2000. He claimed it had not been convinced that Israel’s aspirations in Lebanon were over, despite its withdrawal.

“The fact that Israel kept the Shebaa Farms (a strip of disputed land on the border), held on to the prisoners and its continuous reconnaissance flights over Lebanon were all indications of its aggressive intentions towards Lebanon,” he said.

Of course, Israel has proved Hezbollah's wisdom by responding to that group's continued presence and growth in influence in Lebanon over the past six years and refusing to ignore the fact that other parties to the brokered agreement that led to Israel's withdrawal from that tragic country had reneged in their commitments.

See? See? We told you that Israel was up to no good! It insists on responding to our ongoing provocation and stated desire for the Jewish state's elimination from the face of the earth!

As it happens, I've come to the opinion that it's more likely than not that Israel has made some fundamental miscalculations in its attack on Lebanon, most especially in terms of its timing, but also in an apparently overly optimistic assessment of both the desire of rank-and-file Lebanese for Hezbollah's expulsion and the strength and ability of Hezbollah itself. A good chunk of the rhetorical response from kibbitzers in the U.S., particularly with regard to calls for "striking while the iron is hot" in expanding war into other countries (however malign) has been irresponsible at best. And the handling of the situation by the U.S. and other governments has been remarkably unfocused, disorganized, and even tin-eared, given the pre-eminence of the Mideast situation over the past several years (not to mention the previous quarter century, at least).

All of that, however, is a far cry from assigning the majority of ultimate moral blame for the carnage, civilian or otherwise, in Lebanon to Israel, much less the U.S., Britain or the West generally, rather than Hezbollah, which appears to have little problem with swaddling itself in blankets of civilians.

After all, Israel may be be choosing where to aim its high-tech arrows, but Hezbollah is responsible for the calculated placement of the targets, and for cynically painting the bull's-eye as red as red can be.

Ah, but with the West's advantages, its vaunted values, its supposed superiority and strength, shouldn't it take the higher ground and condem Israel for letting fly? Shouldn't Israel, and its "puppet-masters" (a misnomer if ever there was one: The last thing that Israel should be considered is a puppet), answer to a higher set of rules and self-restraint?

Coincidentally, just before coming inside to check both cable news channels and the internet for updates this morning, I happened upon a reprint of a piece of dialogue from the 1943 film The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (admittedly propaganda, but transcendent), cited in James Bowman's Honor: A History****:
"I read your broadcast (says Theo) [a former WWI German officer with whom the film's British main character, General Candy, had a duel way earlier in the century but ended up befriending], up to the point where you describe the collapse of France [in WWII]. You comment on the Nazi methods, foul fighting, bombing refugees, machine-gunning hospitals, lifeboats, lightships, bailed-out pilots and so on, by saying that you despised them, that you would be ashamed to fight on their side and that you would sooner accept defeat than victory if it could only be won by those methods."

"So I would."

"Clive, if you let yourself be defeated just because you are too fair to hit back, the same way they hit at you, there won't be any methods but Nazi nethods. If you preach the rules of the game while they use every foul and filthy trick against you, they'll laugh at you. They'll think you're weak, decadent. I thought so myself in 1919."

"I heard all that in the last war. They fought foul then, and who won it?"

"I don't think you won it. We lost it. But you lost something, too. You forgot to learn the moral. Because victory was yours, you failed to learn your lesson 20 years ago and now you have to pay the school fees again. Some of you will learn quicker than the others. Some will never learn it--but you have been educated to be a gentleman in peace and in war. But Clive, dear old Clive, this, this is not a gentleman's war. This time you're fighting for your very existence against the most devilish idea ever created by the human brain, Naziism, and if you lose there won't be a return match next year, perhaps not even for a hundred years."

Disheartening, that vision, but unfortunately resonant--as is this poem, which has been running through my head for several days:

I keep hanging up my hopes
On the signs of the seashore preparing itself
For the oncoming summer
The ring of sand doesn't care for the meaning of writing
Nor is the cycle of the wave visible to the naked eye.

I am a friend of the friend of the sea
And an enemy of the enemy of the land
Between these two there's nothing but air
Some of it melting in the speeding wind
Some of it slow as a tortoise.
Between speed and slowness
I inhale the loneliness that's left.

My watch has become useless for all
Except for the one who wears it
There's a time lag between the other side
Of the sea
And the other.

A place is marked only by the one who loves it
So Ill hang up my hopes
On the scaffold of distant hope
Once here once there
And when the right time comes
My watch will be left with no hands.
--Naim Araide

****(Bowman's book is a fine piece of work, and--in a first for me, I think--I recommend it heartily despite not having finished it yet. Far from being a polemic (which, frankly, I expected, and I'm delighted to be wrong), it's a thoughtful review of changing definitions of honor over time, and the struggles, both individual and aggregate, over and with evolving cultural attitudes toward the concept, in theory and practice. Yet (unlike my previous sentence!), it's neither dry nor highfalutin', but deftly explores its topic with reference both to history and art, especially literature, but not confined to it. Over my lifetime of reading widely and voraciously, I can think of relatively very few books which were so immediately relevant in myriad ways that I knew, within a few chapters, that I would be re-reading them--probably immediately upon completion--and pondering deeply. This is one.)