People trying to wrap their heads around the horrific violence in Israel on October 7 and for days afterwards, followed by an Israeli assault on Gaza – people who want to understand all this need to fathom one simple fact: this is war. And war is not like peace, not at all.
Most people in the wealthy countries of the world today are not prepared to understand war. The long peace prevailing in most years since 1945, especially since the end of the Cold War, has rendered us the most privileged and pacific generations in human history. Few serve as soldiers, and few study military history, which has lost favor to variety of subjects from identity politics and gender studies to computer science and business.
War, however, hasn’t gone anywhere. War is still a terrible reality for the populations of the poor countries of the world and for one rich country: Israel. Surrounded by a sea of enemies, Israelis commit to years of military service while most Americans, for example, tend to kick back and enjoy the good life. But even Israel let its guard down, with the terrible result visible now for all to see.
Or do they see it? Universities do many good things, but they are also responsible for a great deal of foolishness. In 1933 the Oxford Union resolved not to fight for King and country. In 2023 31 Harvard student organizations blamed Israel for Hamas’s war of aggression, followed by various student groups at other elite universities. Those Oxford students lived to regret their vote, and I am confident that the Harvard students one day will too. I rather imagine that some of them will end up partnering with Israeli tech companies.
Meanwhile, for Israelis, the illusions are over. War is always a shock when it starts. Afterwards, it seems inevitable. War stirs the emotions. All the more reason to remain calm and rational during wartime.
War has its rules, but they are not the rules of peacetime. In peacetime, we pray for peace. In war, we pray for victory. “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition,” as the song says. Peace remains the goal, but peace is possible only with victory.
More than 1200 Israelis have been killed by Hamas and nearly 3000 have been wounded. The American equivalents of these numbers, allowing for a much larger population, are respectively nearly 45,000 dead and 100,000 wounded. Nearly 45,000 dead is halfway to Hiroshima, or almost so: estimates of the dead there range from 70,000 to 140,000. It is only to be expected that a country that has suffered the blow that Israel has will respond by trying to destroy the military capacity of the enemy permanently.
And with an enemy like Hamas, the only possibility is complete destruction. Civilized militaries aim at military targets but sometimes, unfortunately, cause civilian casualties. A regime that purposely targets civilians, however, and that purposely locates its weapons in civilian buildings, is not merely the enemy of the one country that it is pledged to wipe from the face of the earth: Israel. It is a common enemy of all peoples and nations. Hamas is such a regime. Its power to wage war must be destroyed.
Meanwhile, in the world of media and propaganda, the circus is always open. The mobs claiming victim status - after launching a war - and howling for Jewish blood, are nothing new in history, unfortunately. They should be ignored as much as possible.
This is war, and war isn’t pretty. Israel needs to destroy Hamas so thoroughly that no one will want to mess with Israel again any time soon. That is the message that Israel needs to send. A message to Hamas. A message to Hezbollah, the formidable military force that rules Lebanon and watches and waits, contemplating an attack on Israel in turn. And above all, a message to Iran, without whose support Hamas’s assault would not have been possible.
Israel doesn’t need a single American soldier to fight its battles. But it does need arms and diplomatic support from the United States, which America should supply unstintingly.
War is hard, but without the hard men and women who fight it, peace would not be possible.
“War is a violent teacher,” wrote Thucydides 2500 years ago. That still rings true today.