Monday, July 24, 2006

The War in Lebanon

I’ve been quite surprised to see so many voices on the Internet and elsewhere complaining that Israel’s strikes against Hezbollah in Lebanon are in some way disproportionate or unjust. I do feel sorry for the civilians in Lebanon who are apparently being used as human shields by Hezbollah. I do feel compassion for Lebanon as a whole because they are in part deceived by Hezbollah and in part unable to eliminate them from their country even if they have the desire to do so. And there is no question but that war is always a terrible and tragic thing. The only problem is that there are some things worse than a two-sided war.

Hezbollah started this particular war. They have fired far more than 2,400 anti-personnel rockets into Israel from locations within Lebanon. They have also invaded Israeli territory and captured and killed Israeli soldiers. It should be obvious that such acts are unjust and are acts of war. But what Hezbollah has done goes beyond mere war. Hezbollah is not the representative of the nation state. Nor are they an indigenous revolutionary movement seeking freedom from a tyrant. As a result, their status is inherently in violation of the laws of war. Second, Hezbollah is using unguided rockets which are aimed in a vaguely general way, not unlike the V1s and V2s used by the Germans during the Second World War. Such rockets can in theory be used against military targets. But they work much better against civilian targets since civilian targets are usually much larger and much “softer.” Hezbollah has deliberately targeted civilian targets throughout Israel with their attacks. The rockets used are designed specifically to cause human casualties. They are packed with buckshot or ball bearings designed specifically to kill and injure human beings. Deliberate use of unguided rockets as a terrorist weapon against innocent civilians and is also a violation of the laws of war. It is fundamentally unjust. As if all this wasn’t enough, Hezbollah does still more. They locate their rocket launchers and their other weapons caches in areas in which civilians will be injured and killed if anyone attempts to destroy a launcher or weapons cache. They put their rocket launchers in peoples’ houses and villages. They put them in mosques. In fact, Hezbollah has deliberately installed much of their military hardware in Christian communities and Sunni communities so that when these military targets are hit, people whom they do not value and whom they wish to arouse against Israel will be the victims. So Hezbollah is in effect waging war against the people of Lebanon. They have drawn the righteous wrath of Israel down upon the heads of their somewhat more innocent neighbors. At the same time, they profess to have no political goals against these neighbors, nor do they claim that the government of Lebanon is inherently tyrannical. As a result, their actions vis-à-vis Lebanon are also unjust and in violation of the laws of war.

Even if Israel is not always perfect, even if you believe that the world made a mistake in allowing the creation of the State of Israel (which I do not), even if you sympathize with the economic problems of the Palestinians (which are largely their own fault. If they invested as much money in business as they invested in terror, they would be doing quite well), it is still the case that the actions of Hezbollah weigh far worse in the balance.

Israel is quite just in seeking the military destruction of Hezbollah’s unjust and illegal force. They are justified in using whatever force is necessary to do so. It is unfortunate that relatively innocent people in Lebanon are dying because Hezbollah has been allowed to place their weapons of terror among them. But under the circumstances that simply cannot be helped. In the long run, the world will be better off is Hezbollah is eliminated as a force in the Middle East. If people cannot get away with unlawful terrorist tactics, perhaps they will try diplomacy or other tactics more in keeping with law and morality.

Naturally there are risks to Israel’s action. Their self-defense will alienate some people in the Middle East who are ardent fans of Hezbollah despite their methods. But one suspects that there is not really anything Israel could do to gain these peoples’ approval anyway. Second, because Hezbollah is effectively targeting Lebanon itself through their choice of emplacements, Lebanon is being degraded and will be less effective as a state for a period of time in the future. Again, this may have negative results in the short run. But, once again, it cannot be helped. The allies in the Second World War could not simply allow Germany to take over the world because innocent people would be killed if they responded. Likewise, we could not let the Japanese take over and dominate the world during the Second World War even though innocent people were killed in resisting Japan. There have always been innocent victims in war and no one should underestimate the heartache, pain and suffering that these people undergo. Evildoers cannot be allowed to get away with evil deeds simply because combating them will also cause a certain amount of unintended collateral human suffering. This is because the evildoers are creating human suffering to begin with. And human suffering deliberately caused is actually worse than human suffering caused indirectly. It may not seem to be the case to those experiencing the suffering, but it must, in fact, be true. When we have a cavity in our tooth, we are willing to experience pain at the dentist in order to prevent the further decay of the tooth. When we have decay among the world of nations, we must experience the pain of war in order to remove the decay and cancer that could easily cause even worse problems down the road. This is an unpopular thing to say in today’s world of moral equivalents. It is easier to try to claim that no one should ever use violence for any reason. But then doing this empowers the people who are willing to use violence despite our remonstrances.

What is particularly odd in today’s world is that people are often willing to excuse the use of violence by aggressors and then become upset about the use of violence against the aggressors. Likewise, if someone wisely seeks to prevent the aggressor from his announced and intended course of action, people disapprove of the preemptive use of force to stop the aggressor before he goes out and kills first. Neither of these objections really makes any sense even though they are understandable. When it is difficult to make moral choices and when people claim to have disagreements about morality, it is easiest to throw up one’s hands and claim that you cannot tell the difference. It is also much easier to appeal to the moral scruples of those who actually have them than to appeal to the moral scruples of those who are international criminals. But stopping the moral in their combat against the immoral merely empowers the immoral rather than ending war or combat. In a difficult moral world, we have to make difficult moral choices. Human motives are always mixed and human beings are always sinful and imperfect. No army or nation or people will ever be completely right in everything they do. All are sinners and fall short of the glory of God. But this does not mean that some groups and some violent acts are not worse than others.

This moral reality is well depicted in literature. One of the wonderful things about Tolkien’s trilogy, the Lord of the Rings, is Tolkien’s understanding of the moral complexities of war. In Tolkien’s world, men, elves, dwarfs and hobbits are all sinners. None of them are morally pure. All of them have fallen to unjust wars and squabbling with the other races from time to time and unjust wars among themselves. Nevertheless, the elves, dwarfs, men and hobbits which are essentially loyal to the free peoples of Middle-Earth, still have moral supremacy over the forces of Sauron and Mordor. The forces of Mordor no doubt believe they are revenging themselves for their defeat in past wars, for their lack of natural resources and for their general villanization by the free peoples of Middle-Earth. Perhaps it requires the iron hand of Sauron to unify their chaotic forces into an army that does not destroy itself. Nevertheless, this does not make Mordor less evil than the free peoples of Middle-Earth. Nor does it make them less worthy of being resisted. It is also the case that some men have been tricked into allegiance with Mordor . Their involvement with evil and their subsequent death is all the more tragic and sad because they could have lived like other free men.

Our human wars are clearly not as clear cut as the mythology of Tolkien. But there are still causes that are better than others and there are still justices and injustices in this world. While no one should say lets do evil that good may come of it, it is still good to resist what is more evil. Let’s always be eager to examine ourselves first and to seek God’s help to eradicate the evil in our own hearts. But let us also be unwilling to rise to the cause of those who are unjustly under attack or who are unjustly oppressed. These choices are difficult but not making them is a moral failing in itself. The exercise of all virtue and righteousness requires courage. Courage to face the choices we have to make, wisdom to evaluate those choices and see the world as it truly is, and the Word and Spirit of God to guide us in that endeavor.

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