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There’s a place in the world for violence

A recently published book, Prelude to Catastrophe, analyzes the thinking and actions of highly positioned Jews in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration who wanted to help the Jews of Europe but struggled to find the best ways to do so.

I haven’t read the book yet, but I mention it because I want to share with you a passage from David Frum’s review of it that bears very directly on issues of the moment:

In his history of D-Day and afterward, Max Hastings tells a story: In preparation for the invasion, an American colonel is lecturing Allied officers on the techniques of modern war. He has some especially tough things to say about the performance of the French and Polish armies in 1939 and 1940. After the lecture, a battle-scarred Polish officer approaches the unbloodied American.

“You have omitted the most important lesson of all.”

“What’s that?”

“Be the stronger.”

The British closed the doors of Palestine to escaping Jews after 1936 because they needed Arab oil to fight the impending war. They assessed the relative power of the two contending communities and decided that the Arabs were the stronger.

Heading into the election of 1940, President Roosevelt weighed the risks of offending isolationists and interventionists and concluded that the isolationists were the stronger.

In 1941 and 1942, the Jews of the Yishuv escaped the massacre planned for them because, in the North African theater, the Allied forces arrayed against Rommel proved the stronger.

Now we are reading reports of an extraordinary Western success in sabotaging the Iranian nuclear program with an ultra-sophisticate computer worm. Some are calling it the first weaponized computer virus. Early reports suggested that the worm had been made in Israel. Later accounts offer an even more amazing story. The worm would have required so many programming hours to construct—and was so perfectly targeted against Iran’s Siemens equipment—that it was more likely the work of a consortium of Western intelligence agencies, including Germany’s.

If that account is true, a question: Why did those agencies do it? Were they seized by compassion? Inspired by the vow “never again”? Tell that to the people of Darfur. As Anne Applebaum observes in the introduction to her history of the Gulag, we study genocide not to ensure that it will never happen again but precisely because it will happen again.

No, if the accounts of the computer worm are true, the Western powers invested enormous time and money to disable the Iranian nuclear program without violence principally because Israel was able credibly to threaten an airstrike against Iran that would have done serious damage to Western interests in the region. The reality of Israeli power forced the Western countries to deploy their greater power to avert an unacceptable use of that Israeli power. Protests, placards, sit-ins availed little. It was power that concentrated the mind and activated the conscience.

There are two kinds of people in America today, I think: people who understand how power works, and people who don’t.

For many years, I was in the latter camp, always off to a peace march or rally or demonstration, always circulating petitions and pamphlets; I spent the 1980s advocating that the U.S. unilaterally disarm, so that the Soviet Union would be so inspired by our good example that they, too, would give up their nuclear weapons! In other words, I believed the same things this guy seems to:

Video: Obama Plans on Disarming America

Somewhere along the way — unlike our President, evidently — I grew up.  I came to see that I could not simply click my heels together three times, sing “Kumbaya” and wish nuclear weapons away.  I had to admit that what ended the Cold War was not the starry-eyed peace movement, but Reagan’s tough, “we win, they lose” philosophy and hardball strategy. I came to realize that no matter how nice and well-intentioned I and all my peacenik buddies might be, monsters such as Saddam Hussein and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Kim Jung Il were not going to be inspired by our goodwill to magically become warm, cuddly fuzzballs. I finally started to take seriously what common-sense people around me had been saying for years in efforts to wake me out of my pacifist trance: Gandhi’s nonviolence would not have worked against Hitler.

In a fallen world, when we face enemies who only respect physical might, the power we wield must often be of a violent sort. If we believe that liberty, human possibility, and the dignity of the individual are good, God-given things, then a society that is committed to, and embodies, these principles is not only allowed, but morally obligated, to protect itself from those who would smash and destroy it. That means that, first, we need to make sure our society really does embody those principles (I don’t think we can say that we do, so long as we hurl one third of our children into the garbage); and secondly, as we face any enemy, we must — like the Allies against Nazi Germany — be the stronger of the two.

Cross-post at West to the West Wing 2012

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