Sunday, July 30, 2006

R.I.P. Moral Clarity

It's fruitless to make moral judgments about the Israel-Hezbollah conflict, or about any of the wars going on the world today. There are no "good guys" or "bad guys" any more. There are no good wars, just bad situations. There is no such thing as "winning" a war; armed conflict is a lose-lose proposition.

A lot of high-powered defenders of Israel gobbled up bandwidth on the political talk shows today condemning Hezbollah for hiding itself among Lebanon's civilian population. Yeah, that's despicable, but guess what. That's the sort of thing guerilla style militias do. It's been that way since Clausewitz was a corporal and for a heck of a long time before that. If you're going to go after guerilla groups like these, you're going to have to carve your way through their human shield.

Maybe that's necessary in some situations. Maybe it's necessary for the Israelis to be doing that now. But necessary or no, it's not a "good" thing, and in the long run, it won't make Israel any more secure and it certainly won't stabilize the Middle East. You can safely bet your home equity that for every Hezbollah fighter the Israelis eliminate, they're creating at least two more, and every day that the conflict goes on adds a decade or so to the state of Muslim-western animosities.

In an earlier age, having the strongest nation in the world as an ally was an asset. Today, in Israel's case, it's a pair of cement shoes. Whatever moral high ground the Jewish state may claim in its present conflict is refuted by its connection to the United States. The nation that rose from a great depression to save the world from dictatorship, Fascism, and Stalinist totalitarianism is now viewed by much of the world that it saved as a mirror image of the evils it defeated. The hapless "negotiating into a fan" diplomacy Condoleezza Rice is presently conducting lends credence to the suspicion that the Bush administration is not only bound and determined to light off World War III (or IV or V or VI, however you're counting these things), but to ensure that it never burns out.

I like to think that the country I spent my adult life "defending" is not the same thing as its present government that has transformed America from a "the land of the free" into the home of liars, hypocrites and incompetent bullies. But living in a red state, I'm too often reminded that our government is, to a large extent, a reflection of the people who put it in office.

I ran into a Virginia hillbilly at a local watering hole yesterday whom I knew from happy hours of yesteryear and hadn't seen in a while. The first words out of his mouth were, "How bout them Jew boys mopping up on all them rag heads for us, huh? I'm glad as hell that colored gal ain't trying to stop them."

The Virginian then proceeded to throw a coin into the jukebox and play Lee Greenwood's "Proud to be an American."

When he came back to the bar, I asked him what he thought about a country western singer making money on war and human misery.

"What do you mean?" he said.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.


  1. Ha, this is an extremely "red" city in a "blue" state. Mostly because of the massive amount of rednecks in the military. I've had to de-program the propaganda forced on my ex-military husband, who interestingly enough, comes from a very "blue" family. I completely gave up on bars here, you just can't get through to ignorant drunks, and I've hit my head against that wall too many times to bother with that. I stubbornly refuse to avoid subjects that make people uncomfortable. The anti-Bush shirt wasn't a real big hit on the base three years ago (with the older wives), but the troops smiled. People are slowly coming back around and admitting that I was right. They just wish I had a better sense of humor about the whole thing. Fuck that, did they get stalked by some 101st keyboarder? I did. Still pisses me off. Whoops there it is.

  2. I have a "war is peace" T-shirt that features Dubya with a formation of bombers flying over his head and a logo under that which reads "Obey. Resistance is futile!"

    I'm looking around for a flag like that I can hang from my front porch.

  3. CAFKIA11:55 PM

    I talk to several retired or ex military types on line and in person. I remain amazed at their ignorance of Bush's TxANG record. I remain amazed at the support they continue to give him. But most of all, I am amazed at the lack of thought they give to the likely consequences of the actions of our military in Iraq and the Israeli action in Lebanon. Arab and Persian culture is completely ignored as are the teachings of Jesus who the majority of them claim to be followers of.

    It really sucks but I suspect that we are all getting what the idiots deserve.


  4. Hezbullah fighters actually do not hide among civilians. Hamas does, and Hamas fighters get betrayed to the Israelis. Hezbullah doesn't make that mistake.

    Hezbullah has a civilian arm, political offices (they are a political party, after all) and relief organization. Hezbullah non-combatants do embed with the civilians they are aiding. Failure to make this distinction is one of the problems with people who believe their own propaganda.

    Check out this article (originally in Salon) by Mitch Prothero

  5. Hi Shargash,

    It's a pretty good rule of thumb in war that you're hearing propaganda from both sides of the conflict, and a lot of it is wittingly or unwittingly coming to via "independent" news outlets. I'm not familiar with the author of this piece (Mitch Prothero), so I can't say for certain how knowledgeable he really is on the subject of guerilla warfare or how different Hezbollah is from other militant groups.

    The article confused me a bit. In the beginning, it sure sounds like Hezbollah was, in fact, living among the locals. To some extent, this is inevitable. I'm not that familiar with southern Lebanon, but know it's not a real big place. I'm also of the perception that Hezbollah's influence in the south is pervasive, and covers a lot more aspects of daily life in the region that purely militia or political factors. (Please correct me if I'm wrong about that.)

    I'm quite familiar, however, with the nature of intelligence and "precision" aerial bombing. The intelligence is never perfect and the precision bombs aren't as precise as they're cracked up to be. Intel types make mistakes and precision weapons can hit the wrong target, either through human error or equipment failure. (I don't know what specific weapons are being used for any given Israeli air strike, but no matter how advanced a weapon is, things can go wrong.)

    So when analyzing things like the present conflict, I try to walk a tightrope through the reporting bias and stick to general principles and realities of warfare. And I think it's fair to say that as a rule, when you go after a guerilla force on it's home turf (which is where guerillas typically like to fight), you're going to kill innocents no matter how hard you try not to.

    And lamentably, the "set piece" battle between symmetrical forces on a battlefield that's isolated from population centers is probably a thing of the past.

    My intention was not to take sides in this conflicts, merely to point out that this kind of warfare is extremely cruel, and that tactical victories often lead to strategic defeat.



  6. And you do a good job at that, Jeff.
    The question is begged: "if you were Israel, what would you do?" "Well, I wouldn't kill civilians," as if it were that simple.
    Semper fi

  7. No, that's classic Clausewitz. Nothing's that simple. And in his day, the generally accepted rules of war were far simple than they are now.