“We are all Lebanese now.”
That is not a phrase likely to be heard coming from any American politician or official of either party, much less from any professional pundit. It is the sort of phrase that people utter when they see devastating attacks that kill and maim innocent civilians, but it is not the solidarity extended to the innocent in states that are at war with our government or with one of our allies. As I have read about and seen pictures of the damage from the Israeli campaign in Lebanon, it occurred to me to ask myself why there was not the same sense of goodwill and charity towards the innocent who have suffered death, injury or displacement. I still do not have a satisfactory answer.
In the days and weeks after terror attacks on friendly nations, be they in Madrid or London, the American responses included, of course, criticism of government policy and security measures and scrutiny of the Islamic terrorists who committed the atrocities — but there was also an outpouring of grief and sympathy for their victims. It became fashionable for a time to refer to the British as “our cousins” once again, and on the Right, praise of British stoicism knew no bounds. You did not have pundits and talking heads only too eager to dismiss the dead, wounded and displaced with a mix of indifference, the sentiment of “they’re all guilty, they had it coming,” and the cynic’s reply that “it’s terrible, but these things happen.”
In the case of Lebanon, the enthusiastic endorsement of Israel’s campaign by some Americans has been rather astonishing, as has the stunning lack of sympathy and, in some cases, outright contempt for the people of Lebanon of all sects. In every other comparable situation, the claim that we should not “blame the victim” will always be heard, but here the victims have been grouped together with Israel’s enemy in an indistinguishable mass and made to suffer the consequences for things they did not do and of which the vast majority of them had no knowledge whatever.
Perhaps most shocking of the cynical replies have been the responses that cite the fire-bombing and nuclear attacks of World War II as the appropriate standard by which to judge what is and is not “disproportionate” and justified, as if to say that the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians was legitimate, or that the same treatment of Lebanon would be desirable and laudable. The bottom line, coming from such prominent “conservative” writers as Thomas Sowell and Charles Krauthammer, was that America had done far worse to civilian populations, because things like Dresden and Hiroshima were supposedly “necessary” for victory. Besides being historically false and morally repugnant, these columnists’ arguments took to an extreme logical conclusion a more general sentiment that extends beyond a mere double standard in concern for innocent victims of war (or the lack thereof) when they are on the “other side.” This is not a recent phenomenon: whenever faced with the human toll from Iraq sanctions, policymakers, pundits and ordinary citizens alike would routinely insist that all of it was really Hussein’s fault because of his despotism, his lack of cooperation, and so on.
If our civilians are targeted here or abroad, Americans reflexively pounce on those who suggest government policy may have had something indirectly to do with it, they decry as outrageous any suggestion that the victims brought it on themselves and they refuse to make excuses that minimize the loss of life. I submit that these responses are, within reason, natural and understandable — and they are also completely absent when innocents are suffering at the hands of an allied government or as a result of U.S. policy. This is troubling, not least because it implicitly identifies the people with the state or, even more perplexingly in Lebanon, with a terrorist group with which most of the population have nothing to do and which most of the population despises.
In a spirit of solidarity, after September 11, Le Monde famously declared in a front-page headline, “Nous sommes tous americaines!” More recently, RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman was met with both cheers and, later, with only a very few critiques when he declared at the outset of Israel’s campaign in Lebanon, “We are all Israelis now.” In both cases, the message was simple, exaggerated . . . and ludicrous in its way. It is ludicrous because, no matter the feelings of goodwill and solidarity, we cannot seriously identify ourselves with another nation, nor can they identify themselves with us, because in so many respects every nation, every people is significantly different in meaningful ways that precludes an identification of any two. The fundamental differences between nations also prevent a ready and reflexive identification of the interests of any two nations on the basis of decent moral outrage at evils perpetrated on another people’s civilians.
The impossibility of such an identification does not absolve us of the obligation to condemn and, insofar as it is possible, oppose excesses and outrages in war, but it also points to the truth that our outrage, if it is as genuine as it should be, cannot be selective or one-sided and should not prefer the innocent of one side over the innocent of the other. If we are unwilling to excuse the deaths of civilians on one side by referring back to what their government has done in the past, we must also refuse to excuse the deaths of civilians on the other. This is what some critics may call moral equivalence, and well they might, since the lives of innocent civilians on both sides of a conflict are morally equivalent and of equal moral significance. Try to undermine or compromise that truth and you are that bit closer to allowing terrorist methods a small dose of legitimacy or justifiability.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire