Paul Greenberg: And the war came

Oklahoman Published: August 3, 2014
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The innocent American could only read the headlines and shake his head sorrowfully at the continuing carnage in Gaza — a pillar of fire by night and a cloud of smoke by day. How did this happen again? Simple: Hamas renewed its indiscriminate attacks on Israel through overhead rockets, underground tunnels, words and deeds — and Israel finally responded in force.

Not just the innocent but the sophisticated observer has to wonder: Why? What’s the sense of it? There seems none from the rational — that is, the conventionally Western — point of view. Which may explain why generations of Western diplomats, denizens of think tanks, and Deep Thinkers in general, have failed to make sense of this ever-renewed conflict, let alone end it.

All these modern Panglosses come off as hopelessly naive as John Kerry, and as completely ineffectual as Hillary Clinton — the last two secretaries of state to preside over American foreign policy in that always dangerous part of the world. And both succeeded mainly in making it more dangerous.

Despite all the years of negotiations, hopeful beginnings that prove false starts, agreements that no one may agree with soon enough, temporary truces that prove all too temporary, the missiles and rockets soon fly again. And we’re all back to reading, and some of us may even have to write about, the latest war in the Middle East as the bodies pile up. The place has been a trap since the days of Samson and the Philistines, and a trap it remains. Even if this latest temporary truce had held, it was fated to be only temporary.

Despite the best intentions of all, naive or knowledgeable, who cry Peace, Peace … there is no peace. For the violent bear it away time and time again. Violence seems as endemic to Gaza as its heat and flies. And its wars.

Why? Surely it doesn’t have to be this way, and yet the war came. Why? At such times the heretical thought occurs that, yes, it does have to be this way, for there are some conflicts that are by their nature irreconcilable, irrepressible and therefore unavoidable, even inevitable.

As unacceptable as so heretical a thought has become in the more nicefied precincts of the West, it keeps recurring. Lest we forget, there was a time when Western civilization, too, was split by holy wars fueled by religious fervor. It was not until 1648 that the treaties of Westphalia put an end to the Thirty Years’ War and its slaughter by assigning disputed principalities to the formal faith of their sovereigns. But even after religious wars no longer divided Europe, they became national and ideological in character, and even deadlier.

One such irrepressible conflict finally bubbled to the surface even on these supposedly peaceful shores, and could no longer be put off any longer — despite the best efforts of statesmen whose talents far exceeded those of the present generation’s. Statesmen like Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun and the great compromiser himself, Henry Clay. Yet all failed to put off the Irreconcilable Conflict forever. And the war came.

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