In what moral universe are men, women, and children slaughtered?

Published 11:35 am Friday, December 22, 2023

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What moral universe condones a surprise attack in Israel – lasting less than a day – that slaughtered 1200 men, women, and children and kidnapped hundreds more?
What moral universe authorizes killing, in retaliation, more than 17,000 Palestinians (and rising), 70 percent of them women and children, in less than two months? In comparison, Ukraine recently reported 560 children among 10,000 civilian deaths during the first 20 months of Russia’s “special military operation.”
What moral universe sanctions my taxes to support the carnage? My government is also the sole member of the UN Security Council to veto an immediate ceasefire in the “holy” land, the latest and saddest variation of American Exceptionalism.
In what moral universe are these actions ethical? None.
My mother often cited the cliché “two wrongs don’t make a right.” She was right, as usual.
Plato believed that silence gives consent, and in Peace Studies classes I taught that protest is patriotic. But what wailing, what shrieks of “not in my name” can stop my taxes and citizenship from supporting mayhem?
The tragedies of Palestine and Israel expand geometrically – an astonishing escalation given the “normal” rate of anguish in that sliver of the world. For all today’s specific dynamics there, three general truths persist, true of all wars:
1. Violence always causes more violence.
2. Each party to the conflict is certain that the agony my people suffer is incomparably worse than the pain of your people, both now and in the past.
3. Each party to the conflict is certain that, We, humane men and women, aspire to peace and freedom; you, brutes and monsters, massacre innocents to destroy our inalienable rights to peace, liberty, and justice.
Ten days after the eruption of terror by Hamas, President Biden urged Israel to avoid becoming consumed by rage as had occurred in the U.S. after 9/11, “while we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes.” He named no examples, but these leap to mind:
– humiliating prisoners as sport at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison;
– killing tens of thousands of civilians, “collateral damage,” in a war on terror that inexorably seeds future violence from the victims’ sons and grandsons;
– focusing on near-term military might rather than long-term civil societies that reflect the dynamic and perpetual interplay between peace and justice;
– needing 20 years, three trillion dollars, and four presidents to replace Afghanistan’s Taliban with . . . its Taliban.
The same had occurred in Vietnam. Good intentions never assure desired results: after a decade intending to prevent the spread of Communism, we brought our troops home. Two years later, Vietnam unified under its Communists.
Earlier this month, Greece and Turkey signed a declaration to resolve “longstanding” differences that had threatened military conflict. This welcome news reminded me of their ancestors warring at Troy – about 750 miles from Jerusalem – three millennia ago.
Later, Euripides “entertained” fellow Greeks with The Trojan Women, his tragedy focused on captured widows preparing to be transported as slaves and concubines of the Greeks. But first, the victors murdered a child, the last heir of Troy’s royal family. His grandmother, the former queen, laments:
Of all war’s maiming and murders,
Spearing and stabbings,
Slaying and flayings,
Bloodshed and butchery,
Homicides each and all –
Murder of this child lacks precedent.
Citizens of Greece – supposed font of civilization –
Slaughtered soldiers,
Vanquished mighty Hector,
Turned our city to cinders,
Yet quaked with fear before a babe.
Euripides won a prize from his compatriots for speaking such truths to power.
When Martin Luther King announced his opposition to the Vietnam War in 1967, he received no accolades. Instead, 168 newspapers denounced him (including both the New York Times and Washington Post), and a Harris poll reported that 75 percent of Americans opposed his position, including 55 percent of African Americans.
Too bad. More than three-quarters of America’s 58,000+ deaths in Vietnam occurred after Dr. King’s speech. His position did not shift America policy or sentiment, but a phrase from his speech endures: “War Is Not the Answer.” This remains the case, in this universe or any other.
(Russell Vandenbrouckerecently retired as Professor of Theatre, and was the Founding Director of the Peace, Justice & Conflict Transformation Program at the University of Louisville.)

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