THE HUMAN TOLL OF INHUMANITY
Let us try to agree on two things about the latest chapter in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. First, that it is a war, and second that it has already exacted an horrific human toll on both Israelis and Palestinians. The world has seen this before in the Middle East, and disastrously replicated in other global conflict zones. In spite of this grim cycle, those who so quickly lead us into war never seem to learn the lessons of war. It doesn’t work. It only kills, maims and destroys.
The United States of America has been for decades and continues to be complicit in the carnage. That nation is, after all, the world’s munitions purveyor of choice. America manufactures first-rate munitions, and then sells and delivers those munitions with impunity, and without a conscience, to anyone who promises not to send them back our way. We don’t seem to care who those munitions are intended for, only that they be launched, dropped or shot in someone else’s land.
Yet, it never seems to occur to any of our fearless leaders that colluding with the merchants of death deadens the national soul. By now, we have become so desensitized to the gun violence in America that has been brewed and baked in by our homegrown arms merchants that it seems OK to export the same violence to others that we accept at home.
In this context, it is important to remember that our leaders no longer fight themselves, like in the good old days. Rather, they send others to bomb, shoot, and destroy. Yet, so anxious are they for absolution that they create the fictions necessary to the self-delusional world they inhabit. Babies become collateral damage, and the festival was a soft target. Precision bombing is another good one. It is hard to tell the soldiers from the civilians is also helpful lunacy. And most of all, as bombs rain from the sky, it is comforting to note that bombs “Made In America” are righteous bombs in service of a righteous cause. Tell that to a mother holding the hand of her child as those hands and the bodies to which they are attached are blown to bits.
It is easy to tell that I do not like wars, or guns, or bombs. But I really do not like that so many millennia into the human experiment, we glorify “warriors,” we teach war not peace, and we can find no way as humans to stop this madness. If it were just America, it is not clear that we could be stopped. But since it is so much more, there is no end in sight.
Peace requires understanding and compassion. Peace requires a level of respect and concern for humanity in general, and for those who might do us harm in particular. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as a current laboratory for inhumanity, is a horrific case in point. How can Palestinians ever trust Israelis or the Israeli government to humanize those they have for so long dehumanized. And now that the “cockroaches” have swarmed and exacted an inhumane price in response to inhumanity, how will Israeli’s ever trust Palestinians in their midst again.
It will take a monumental effort to reverse course and to seek lasting solutions among the ashes. To even begin to get there, the inhumanity of past and present has to inform the future. As an historical reference, it is worth noting that after hundreds of years of war and conflict on the European continent, it took World War II to finally reduce the value of human life to so much garbage that the leadership that emerged after the war saw that something very different had to be done. Then, a miracle happened – the victors chose for once to see all of humanity as the losers and for once moved forward to uplift the vanquished.*
We now live in a world of images, often taken out of context and unscrupulously used for political, economic and personal ends. Perhaps no images move us more than those of children laid waste by the callous indifference of the adults who are supposed to protect them. Think of America’s “school” shootings, Ukraine’s orphans, babies and barbed wire at the US southern border, and children of drought in retched refugee camps. Now we can add an Israeli kibbutz, child hostages, and Palestinian babies and children in bombed out hospitals to that gruesome portfolio.
That none of this is newly-invented decimation makes its present incarnation no less devastating. What stands out now is only made more damning by its antecedents. We have to confront a seemingly intractable human trait – the prevalence of inhumanity as an acceptable response to inhumanity. Sure, share the somber remembrance of those who died in the 9/11attacks in the US, but then take a moment to reflect on the countless souls who have died in the US response and who had nothing to do with the attacks themselves.
So, no matter the veneer, revenge is revenge. It is generally deadly and often disproportionate. Those who seek a better world, where humanity is valued and conscience is a cornerstone, have much to overcome. Maybe the present Israeli-Palestinian war in Gaza will be that moment in time that will spawn leaders who actually seek to lead their nations and their supporters to a better place and show the rest of us that it can be done.
For that to happen, the United States government will have to play a uniquely uncommon role. It will have to start by engaging as a true partner with all the warring parties, by speaking for humane solutions and welcoming to the table the few resources that can speak for humanity and help to design and implement those humane solutions. Then, and this will be the harder part, America has to commit to no longer arming any of the combatants again. As long as America is viewed as a collaborative participant in the killing fields, its capacity as a nation to seek peace and promote humane solutions to conflict will remain hopelessly compromised.
I hope that this time will be different. I hope that those images will endure. I hope that America as a nation finally will see the poison polluting the national soul. And will somehow come to understand that arming humans with killing machines is not an honorable or sustainable moral imperative nor a humane economic model. I want my country to lead the world in using its vast resources to humane ends and to an increased understanding of humanity.
Maybe, if America tried that, we could reduce the killing at home and abroad, provide outreach and increased global access to meaningful healthcare, engender learning and compassion in the next generations, and provide a framework for actually welcoming those who can benefit from our help and helping those in our midst who require that help.
Then, maybe, the images could start to be different.
* There are numerous factual accounts and commentary about the recovery and reconstruction of Europe after World War II. Following are two references as a starting point: