There is some kind of disease rampant in our society right now, which causes people to invert normal moral reasoning. Complex things are suddenly simple, and simple things are suddenly complex to the victims of this disease. Powerful is weak, and weak is powerful. Those suffering from this disease are immune to facts and reason. Mere empirical data has no sway with them. It is maddening to watch the tortured analogies being spewed by "experts" and politicians, bloggers and pundits all turning things into their opposite. It is as if they are living in photo-negative world where black is white, and white is black.
Let me give you an example. This is a quote from Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, used by Senator Jon Kyl who spoke in favor of a resolution supporting Israel's actions in Gaza. The whole text is here. He says:
Some geopolitical conflicts are morally complicated. The Israel-Gaza war is not. It possesses a moral clarity not only rare, but excruciating.What? With all due respect Senator, have you gone out of your mind? Not complicated?
So I suppose that this current conflict has nothing to do with a century of western imperialism and interventionism in the Middle East. I suppose that this particular conflict is completely hermetically sealed off from the events that established Israel in the first place, or which led to their illegal occupation of territory beyond their internationally recognized borders in the 70's until today. It certainly must have nothing to do with systematic resettlement of palestinian groups, a collapsed infrastructure, the continual involvement of foreign powers on all sides (the US and Britain from the West, Syria and Iran from the East), or an entrenched culture of retaliation. It also was not precipitated by an 18 month siege during which even students were prohibited from entering or leaving the Gaza strip by the Israeli military.
Knowingly or not the Senator is relying on some form of Just War theory in order to make his argument that in this conflict Israel is justified, but he must not know very much about Just War theory, because in no way can Israel's current aggression be regarded as Just. To be just it must be proportional - the body count alone shows it is not the case. To be just it must not put innocents at risk - a vast majority of casualties on both sides have been civilians so far. To be just it must have been a case of last resort - given the enormous disparity in power between these two forces no one can make a credible argument that Israel had no other options available to them.
When we begin making simple things complex and complex things simple we are doing a very dangerous thing.
For example, various sides will describe this conflict as if it were essentially a religious war between Jews and Muslims. Apologists for Israel do this whenever they scream "antisemitism" at anyone who criticizes Israel. Supporters of Hamas, Hezbollah and others are just as bad when everything is "Zionism". This is not principally a religious conflict. Certainly not a straightforward one. Israel is a secular democratic nation. It does not act on behalf of the Jewish people or inspired by Jewish beliefs. Palestinians are not uniformly Muslim, and even those that are Muslim, are frequently more driven by claims of basic injustice and a sense of national identity than by religious ideology. The roots of this conflict are complex and have as much or more to do with economics and international relations than with religion.
On the other hand, there is an aversion to seeing simple truths. Here are two:
Launching military assaults on schools, mosques and residential neighborhoods is wrong. There is no justification for this. Yes, Hamas is despicable for using human shields. But if a criminal bank-robber is using a human shield the police do not take the risk of killing the hostage. They negotiate.
No matter what the provocation, the party with the greater power is the one who bears the most responsibility for the conflict. Power means not having to respond. Israel is a nuclear power with an extraordinarily well equipped and trained military. Hamas is a bunch of lunatics with some homemade mortars. If 5 year olds are throwing rocks at a teenager, the teenager does not have the right to go beat the crap out of the kids.
When it comes to simple truths like these, people will make all manner of complicated excuse for their side. Apologists for Israel have been hammering the point for years that the Israeli army does everything in their power to avoid civilian casualties (except, you know, not fire at civilians). Their attacks are surgical and they give forewarning etc... etc... whereas Hamas flagrantly aims directly for civilian targets. This fact only serves to highlight the disparity of power at play here. Hamas has supposedly been doing their best for years to kill as many Israeli civilians as possible and still they have managed to kill only a tiny fraction of the number that Israel has.
The worst aspect of this topsy turvy disease is that the victims hurl insults at anyone who tries to point out the inverted logic, as though disapproving of Israel's military action meant we wished harm on the citizens of Israel. I deplore all violence, and I refuse to participate in the wild justification of mass-scale murder, whether it is our nation, an ally, or an enemy that commits it. It's that simple.
Addendum: Go read this blog for an intimate human portrait of the situation in Gaza. It is co-written by persons on either side of the Gaza-Israel border.