Saturday, July 29, 2006

Men are not potatoes.

"Are a thousand unreleased prisoners sufficient reason to start or resume a war? Bear in mind that millions of innocent people may die, almost certainly will die, if war is started or resumed."

I didn't hesitate. "Yes sir! More than enough reason."

"'More than enough.' Very well, is one prisoner enough, unreleased by the enemy, enough reason to start or resume a war?"

I hesitated. I knew the M.I. answer- but I didn't think that was the one he wanted. He said sharply, "Come, come, Mister! We have an upper limit of one thousand; I invited you to consider a lower limit of one. But you can't pay a promissory note which reads 'somewhere between one and one thousand pounds'- and starting a war is much more serious than a trifle of money. Wouldn't it be criminal to endanger a country- two countries in fact- to save one man? Especially as he may not deserve it? Or may die in the meantime? Thousands of people get killed every day in accidents... so why hesitate over one man? Answer! Answer yes, or answer no- you're holding up the class."

He got my goat. I gave him the cap trooper's answer. "Yes, sir!"

"'Yes', what?"

"It doesn't matter if it's a thousand- or just one. You fight."

"Aha! The number of prisoners is irrelevant. Good. Now prove your answer."

I was stuck. I knew it was the right answer. But I didn't know why. He kept hounding me. "Speak up Mr. Rico. This is an exact science. You have made a mathematecal statement; you must give proof. Someone may claim that you have asserted, by analogy, that one potato is worth the same price, no more, no less, as one thousand potatoes. No?"

"No, sir!"

"Why not? Prove it."

"Men are not potatoes."

-Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers

I've been following recent events in the middle east in the news recently with a big-picture sense of unease and trepidation, but a small-picture sense of awe and admiration for the nation of Israel.

Hamas wins majority government in the Palestinian parliament. Israel is concerned, but limits itself to expressing those concerns and fighting the day-to-day battles against state sponsored terrorism. They do not invade with tanks and planes and foot troops.

Much later, after much gnashing of teeth back and forth, some Palestinian(s) takes a single Israeli soldier prisoner. And the hammer comes down on Palestine like something out of the Old Testament (pun definately intended). The message is unmistakably crystal clear: give us our man back, or we will continue killing you until none are left.

For reasons not exactly clear (perhaps in support of Hamas Palestinians, perhaps just to mess with Israel while they're laying the red-headed step-child beating down elsewhere), Hezbollah in southern Lebannon drops a salvo of rockets into northern Israel, including one or two into Haifa. While they are at it, they snag two Israeli soldiers as prisoners.

The Israeli war machine cycles up north without slowing down. Bombs are falling on Beruit and its harbor is blockaded before the last fires from the arab rockets are out. Once again, the word is out, and its as serious as a heart attack: give us our people back, or we will kill you all.

Its not my intention to wade into the 'right versus wrong' area of middle east politics. But I do want to say this: Israel seems ready to commit it's entire nation to war over the capture of one of its soldiers. Cynics would call this simple posturing, and that Israel was simply waiting for a 'moral' reason to declare war on their arab neighbors, provided neatly by the abduction of the Israeli soldiers.

I believe, however, that this is a powerful and poignant reflection of a fundamental jewish belief: that though you may persecute us, hate us, even kill us, we will endure. But should you take one of our people, one of the soldiers who protect our land and our nation, that we will not endure. We will come for them, whatever the cost, everything in our power we shall do to bring them home.

The Israelis are sending powerful messages to their antagonists, both current and future: they will attack those who strike at them, over interational borders, in spite of international sanction. Israel will be as humanitarian as it can be without compromising military effectiveness. And if collateral damage occurs (or is neccessary), so be it. Terrorists exploit their target nation's hesitation and unwillingness to embroil itself in fighting. Israel is showing no hesitation or unwillingness at all.

The Israelis are keeping faith with the men and women who safeguard their nation in a way I can't imagine western nations emulating. You think Canada would declare war and launch a major offensive on a sovereign nation because they snatched a couple of our soldiers? What do you think that says to our fighting men and women? What effect do you think that might have on the thinking and behavior of folks out there on the point of the spear? If you get nabbed, we'll try to negotiate you back, so hopefully your kidnappers are reasonable and not suicidally or homocidally motivated? And before any U.S. folks make jokes about Canadian Military (or the lack therof), please remember Chuck Norris paid his rent through the eighties and nineties doing a string of movies illustrating apparent American willingness to leave their own people in the hands of enemy forces in the name of political expediency.

If I were Steven Harper, or George W. Bush, would I be willing to commit the armed forces of my country to war for the sake of one soldier held prisoner? If I was the sort of leader who actually expected his men to fight bravely and die for their country, I sure as hell hope so.

Prayers going out to the folks in the middle east. Dear God, keep the innocents safe and moving away from the gunfire, and watch over the captured men and their families.

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