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War Watch
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
By Orson Scott Card June 16, 2003

Moral Stupidity

I had just finished an interview at a public television station, and a staff member was kindly presenting me with a tape of the program, when I saw on a monitor a CNN report that Hamas had declared total war on Israel.

I laughed and said, "And how will that be different from what they've already been doing? Once you've spent a few years blowing up babies and schoolchildren and old people, how can you make your war more total than that?"

To my astonishment, she clucked her tongue and said, "It's getting harder and harder to tell the difference between the two sides."

I couldn't believe she actually meant that. "Israel hasn't been targeting helpless civilians," I said.

To which she contemptuously replied, "They just use the regular army to achieve the same result."

Then she picked up a phone and made a call, rudely turning her back on me. I was, apparently, no longer worthy of serious attention.

Her rudeness, of course, was entirely understandable -- the politically correct are above the rules of ordinary civility, once they have identified you as an unbeliever in their religion.

But I still can't help but be appalled when I find people as morally stupid as this person was.

There have been civilian deaths among Palestinians, caused by Israelis. But Israel has gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent civilian casualties among the Palestinians, while still defending themselves against the terrorist groups that slaughter their people.

Take the case of Jenin. The original reports from Palestinian sources were that Israeli troops had gone into this West Bank town and slaughtered thousands.

And indeed, the devastation in the city was extensive -- lots of buildings destroyed.

But contrary to the lies that were told at first, it was discovered that fewer than a hundred Palestinians had died -- most of them the fighters that the Israeli troops were combatting.

There were civilians killed in the fighting -- as always happens in urban warfare. But more Israeli soldiers died than Palestinian civilians. And anybody who knows anything about urban combat knows that Israel could have wiped out the terrorist fighters without suffering a single casualty -- as long as they didn't care how many civilians they killed.

But they did care, and sacrificed the lives of their soldiers by making them fight street by street and house by house, instead of carpet bombing the area where their enemies were holed up.

This is morally the opposite of the terrorists, who turn their "soldiers" into human bombs and send them to deliberately attack Jews who are not harming anybody -- helpless infants, harmless old people, children on their way to school, teenagers socializing.

And to find that an American who thinks herself very smart is unable (or, as is more likely, unwilling) to recognize the vast moral gulf that separates Israel from its enemies is horrifying to me.

But then, that's the country we live in, where moral judgments are based entirely on group membership rather than the actions being judged.

For instance, Republicans who treated women as sex objects were vilified and hounded out of office. But when Bill Clinton behaved far worse than any of those Republicans -- not just making unwelcome sexual advances, but then viciously slandering the women who dared to report his behavior -- the very people who had once found such actions morally monstrous now found them completely normal. ("Everybody lies about sex.")

This has gone on for a long time. When Democrats played nasty pranks on Richard Nixon -- making a campaign train pull out of the station while he was still speaking, for instance, or putting out fake documents that were supposedly from the Republican Party -- well, those were funny. But when Republicans played morally identical tricks, they were suddenly "dirty" and the perpetrators went to jail.

Or take the Florida recounts in 2000. We still hear charges of how the Republicans "stole" the election, even though there has not been a credible case made for any stolen votes in the original count. (All the charges have been about "systemic" unfairness.)

But Democrats were openly playing precisely the same games that the Daley machine had always played in the notoriously filthy politics of Chicago -- selective recounts, "helping" non-English speakers make the right choices inside the voting booth, and making calls to elderly voters to make them think they might have cast their vote for the wrong party, so they would raise a furor about a completely non-existent pattern of errors.

In other words, it is a matter of public record that the only people trying to steal an election in Florida were the Democrats -- and yet people who consider themselves honest and intelligent still fail to make the moral distinction between what the Democrats were openly doing and what Republicans were only charged with having done.

Likewise, when it came to the courts, it was the Florida Supreme Court that tore the law to shreds in the effort to allow the Democrats to steal the election. But when the conservative Supreme Court voted to stop the Florida court from stealing the election, that is what we keep hearing about as "the court deciding the election."

If the Left had not been hellbent on tearing down the laws in order to get the outcome they wanted, the case would never have gone to the Supreme Court.

And yet what do we constantly hear in all public forums except conservative talk radio and a handful of publications like this one? What do we hear on Leno and Letterman? And when Democrats talk to the press and grumble about the "stolen" election of 2000, how many of the press hold their feet to the fire and demand to know exactly who they think was stealing what?

It doesn't happen.

Because we live in a world where we choose up sides first, and make moral decisions afterward, based almost entirely on what will serve the interest of our team.

It makes me ashamed of the Democratic Party that this seems to be the only moral process available to the party's leadership. I used to call myself a "Moynihan Democrat."

But now that he's dead, I'm reduced to calling myself a "Tony Blair Democrat."

That's because I cannot find a single leader in the Democratic Party who is capable of acting on the basis of what is right, rather than what will make our side win.

A Democratic Party that had any honor at all would not be filibustering judicial appointments, making a mockery of the President's constitutional authority to appoint federal judges with the approval of a simple majority of the Senate.

But "honor," like "patriotism," is a word that the Democratic Party mocks except when they wrap themselves in it to make themselves immune to attack.

I've seen the high dudgeon of Democratic leaders saying, "How dare he say that I'm not patriotic!" Even though that very Democrat has been heard to complain that "patriotism" is an outmoded and dangerous idea.

Likewise, Democrat leaders can't speak of honor without embarrassment -- except when they want to accuse Republicans of accusing them of being dishonorable.

So now these same people of the American Left have decided that the Palestinians are "our team" and therefore even their worst atrocities are to be declared as being "no worse than" what the Israelis do in their own defense.

The same moral geniuses who could find nothing wrong in Bill Clinton's endless lying, in Hillary Clinton's criminal manipulation of the futures market, in Al Gore's cynical attempt to subvert a free election by changing the rules after the fact -- they now stand in judgment of Israel and declare them "no better than" terrorists.

Fortunately for America, most rank-and-file Democrats do not suffer from the abysmal moral stupidity of the current Democratic leadership.

Most Democrats know that there is a vast difference between nations that use military action to protect their citizens and "nations" that deliberately murder innocent civilians within the borders of their enemy.

The fact is that since the Palestinian civilian population overwhelmingly supports the terrorists, the Israelis could make a strong case for indiscriminate retaliation. After all, this terrorism could not continue if the Palestinian people did not encourage it.

But the Israelis continue to show astonishing patience and restraint -- because they still have a moral compass and try to follow it.

If the behavior of the Palestinians as a people and of the Israelis as a people were taken to be the standard by which we judge the goodness of their religion, then we would have to conclude that Judaism is a religion of great nobility and self-control, and Islam a religion of ...

Well, I won't say it, because then that quote would be taken out of context and used against me. Besides, it isn't true. There are just as many good Muslims as there are good Jews, and both religions have teachings that would lead to honor and decency and self-restraint, if followed.

The real problem is that Israel's people are free to hear many sides of the issues and make up their own minds, and so their government is constantly restrained by the fact that their people will be outraged if they behave badly.

While the Palestinian people are constantly lied to, are never given a chance to make up their own minds about anything, and if any Palestinian leader dares to disagree, he's in line for assassination.

If the new prime minister of Palestine actually took effective action against the terrorists, he would be murdered at once.

And that is the problem with the "road map" to peace. What good is a map, if it points you to a destination where one of the travelers is determined never to go?

Israel has proven time and again that they are willing to compromise and make concessions. Palestine has proven, time and again, that they have no intention of keeping any of their promises, ever. The Palestinian leadership treats negotiations as a means of getting the Israelis to give in without the Palestinians having to change their own actions in any way.

So for anyone in America to deplore Israel's actions as "damaging to the peace process" requires such blindness to history, such contempt for fundamental fairness, that I can only answer with a much-abused phrase once used by the Left to bypass the presumption of innocense in legal proceedings:

Let's not blame the victim.

Meanwhile, Israel seems to be taking the only course that is left to them. They are building a Berlin Wall around the West Bank, as they have already done around Gaza. When it is complete, they will simply withdraw behind that line -- as will any sensible Israelis living in settlements on the wrong side of it -- and leave the Palestinians to govern themselves.

The idea will be to patrol that wall and keep any Palestinian from crossing it. That will go a long way toward eliminating terrorism in Israel, since it's that long, permeable border that has allowed the suicide bombers to get in.

Of course, it will also mean a permanent end to Palestinian participation in the Israeli economy. And since it was jobs in Israel that kept the West Bank economically alive, you will hear an amazing amount of whining about how cruel the Israelis are to "starve" the Palestinians.

But Israel has no moral obligation to provide jobs for people who harbor the terrorists who murder Israelis.

All that the Palestinians had to do to keep their jobs in Israel -- or even to bring Israeli investment to the West Bank -- was to reject terrorism, denounce those who plan it, and cease honoring those who carry it out.

How effective will that West Bank Wall be?

Hamas will, of course, bring in missiles and mortars to fire across the wall. But that is a military attack, and Israel has a right to reply with devastating military force.

And if Palestine starts building up an army to cross that wall, Israel will be perfectly justified in making preemptive military strikes to destroy such an army. There are ample precedents in history.

Let the Palestinians live under the rule of the terrorists they have cheered and supported all these years. They will quickly discover (as many have discovered already) that no nation is as unhappy as the nation ruled by terrorism. The Iraqis already knew that; let the Palestinians learn it now.

They will pray for the return of Israeli occupation, because under that occupation they were the freest of the Arab peoples.

Being the freest Arab nation, of course, isn't saying that much. But when you compare it with being ruled by the little Saddams of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and Al Fatah, it won't look bad at all.

Meanwhile, of course, there will be a loud contingent of morally stupid Americans who will blame Israel for the suffering of the Palestinian people.

But as far as I'm concerned, those who find moral equivalence there are simply confessing that they not only know nothing of either ethics or history, but that they are determined not to learn.

And voters will be perfectly justified in removing all such persons from positions of public trust, for there is no reason why taxpayers should support those who are determined to remain historically ignorant and morally blind.

Copyright © 2003 by Orson Scott Card.


A Comment from a Reader
Dear Orson,
I am a big fan of your Ender series, and I recently read your "Moral Stupidity" article. It was refreshing to see a balanced presentation of the issues by someone from the media (considering authors as members of the media). Like your experiences, I have seen the same reaction from the press to the issue of Israel's fight against terrorism (and an even more important perception that terrorism is morally equivalent and acceptable). They ignore or downplay any evidence that would disagree with their assumptions that all actions are morally equal among adversaries.

In 1982, when the Syrians slaughtered tens of thousands of civilians in the City of Hama in response to Muslim fundamentalism (in a way that maximized civilian casualties to discourage future insurrections), there were few complaints from the Arab or Muslim world. (Read Story) When Israel tried to prevent terrorism in Jenin a way that minimized civilian casualties, these same groups and many in the U.S./world press criticized Israel.

Jerome Soller, Ph.D.
Salt Lake City, Utah


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