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Should Americans Feel Guilt For “Disproportionate” Casualties in WWII?

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Of all the stupid and malicious arguments against Israel’s self-defense war in Gaza the most ridiculous of them all involves the purportedly “disproportionate” nature of the conflict. According to this charge, the indisputable fact that more than 1,000 Palestinians have died in the fighting while Hamas has succeeded in killing “only” 60 Israelis somehow disgraces the Jewish State for brutal, bloodthirsty policies.

Why does Israel’s success at protecting its citizens count as an indictment of their cruelty while the Hamas success at sacrificing hundreds of their own civilians as human shields qualify them for virtuous victimhood?

To place the issue in historical perspective it would be worthwhile to recall America’s utterly one-sided war against Japan between 1941 and 1945. The Japanese lost more than 3 million people in fighting the USA, including an estimated one million civilians. Meanwhile, total American losses in the Pacific Theatre remained well below 200,000, with virtually all of them military personnel.

Should America feel guilty for inflicting such disproportionate casualties, and killing far more of the enemy who started the war than we ever sacrificed ourselves? Should Presidents Roosevelt and Truman have relaxed the military pressure when they saw the Japanese losses exceeding American casualties by a rate of 15 to 1? Would a humanitarian cease-fire with no definitive resolution have worked better than the American drive for unconditional surrender?

The answers are obvious, and they ought to be equally obvious to any unbiased observer of the situation in Gaza. Negotiating a truce with Japan in 1943 or ’44 would have perpetuated the war rather than reducing its costs. The militarist regime in Tokyo that had gone to war against so many of its neighbors (China, Korea, Indochina, the Philippines) over the course of a decade and launched its sneak attack on Pearl Harbor with only the flimsiest provocation, would have remained a danger to world peace had it been allowed to keep its grip on military power. The enlightened, democratic, prosperous and peace-loving society of contemporary Japan only became possible through the destruction of the imperial warlords, not through negotiations with them.

Moreover, that fanatical dictatorship continued the killing as a matter of choice; an earlier surrender could have spared hundreds of thousands of lives, some of them American but most of them Japanese. After American victory became virtually inevitable in 1943, the two sides pursued dramatically different goals: the US wanted peace as quickly as possible, the Japanese were determined to continue the bloodshed as long as possible.

In Gaza, Israeli victory on the battlefield has been inevitable from the beginning. No one has ever claimed that the suicidal terrorists of Hamas could overcome the most formidable and motivated military in the region. From the day the Israelis began air strikes in response to Hamas rocket attacks, they’ve wanted to end the killing quickly and painlessly. Hamas, on the other hand, seeks to prolong the carnage as long as possible – hence, its rejection of every attempt to negotiate a cease-fire. The terrorist calculus suggests that every death works in their favor: every Israeli casualty helps Hamas by wounding the enemy, and every Palestinian casualty helps Hamas by earning undeserved sympathy in world opinion.

This thinking upends the normal logic of warfare. In most conflicts – like the Americans versus the Japanese, for instance – you hasten the end of the fighting by making the casualties as disproportionate as possible in your own favor. In this war, however, the Palestinian strategy of sacrificing their own civilians and fighters far more promiscuously than the Israelis, gives them a public relations “victory” they could never win on the battlefield.

The Hamas strategy of placing rocket and other arms stores in schools, mosques and hospitals makes a horrible sort of sense from their perspective. They beat the Israelis when they prove more successful in killing their fellow Palestinians than Israel has been at saving their lives – through warnings by leaflet, sound trucks, telephone calls, text messages and a cautious military strategy. Can anyone doubt that if Hamas had built bomb shelters and refuges for civilians as industriously as they constructed terror tunnels to facilitate attacks on Israeli villages, the Palestinian death toll would have proven far more modest? Even as it is, the cost in lives hardly constitutes a genocidal “ethnic cleansing” policy. The death of more than 1,000 Palestinians is a tragedy, but with a densely packed population of 1.8 million enduring three weeks of war those numbers (less than 0.1% of the population) reflect a very deliberate attempt to keep casualties low, not some secret intention to kill as many as possible. There can be no doubt that with its formidable air force and accurately targeted missiles, Israel could have easily inflicted ten or even 100 times the death and destruction it actually visited on Gaza.

And even mass-killing on that horrific level would not have forced the leaders of Hamas, secure in their posh villas in Damascus and Qatar, to order a halt to the rocket attacks on Israel and thereby put an immediate end to the war. The decision to continue the bloodshed rests entirely in the hands of Hamas just as the decision to commence the war represented the unilateral initiative of that terror gang. To reward that decision with concessions of any kind would clearly encourage future rocket attacks and new rounds of fighting, just as the only way to discourage such adventures in the future involves a crushing outcome with no gains for the initiators of violence. History provides no examples of lasting peace without decisive outcomes in long-standing struggles. And regardless of the piteous imagery arising from the Hamas PR machine, decisive outcomes always bring disproportionate casualties.

This column originally appeared at TruthRevolt.org on July 30, 2014.

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