Category Archives: Current Events

Consequences

Our Sages taught: “Who is wise? He who sees what is foreseeable” (Masechet Tamid 32a).

To be able to anticipate the consequences of one’s actions, both short-term and long-term, would seem at first glance to be an obvious function of any thinking being and not at all a definition of wisdom or the wise person. In fact, such thinking is rare and therefore precious, and the hallmark of the bright and usually the successful. It is desperately needed now. While wartime is an inopportune occasion for retrospectives, Israel’s decisions – especially those made under the gun and to facilitate past cease-fires – have often engendered the problems that made subsequent conflicts more intractable and subsequent tragedies unavoidable. The examples are numerous.

As a result of the last cease-fire with the murderous Arab terrorist group Hamas, Israel relaxed its embargo on Gaza’s importation of steel and cement. Israel had rightly banned those imports after previous engagements knowing full well that Hamas would use that material to strengthen its military capacity rather than build housing complexes for its “refugees.” But under pressure from Hillary Clinton’s State Department in December 2012, Israel’s government succumbed and allowed Gaza to be flooded with steel and cement. Of course, rather than build even one hut to house even one of its decrepit civilians (and the flood of crocodile tears these days shows how much Hamas cares about those civilians), Hamas used its bounty to build sophisticated underground tunnels and bunkers from which it now seeks to terrorize Israeli citizens and from which it has been able to extract such a heavy toll in IDF casualties.

A little forethought – and a little more steadfastness – against an unsympathetic American government would have been wise and would have saved lives.

Not long before that, another concession wrung out of Israel helped create the circumstances that greased the wheels for another recent tragedy. Several years ago, Israel was agreed as a good-will gesture to remove many of its checkpoints in Judea and Samaria so as to not impede Arab traffic and freedom of movement. Naturally this has sparked a dramatic increase in the number of stonings and shootings along those roads, but more pointedly: isn’t it likely that had there still been checkpoints between Gush Etzion and Hevron that the three Israeli teenagers, Hy”d, kidnapped and murdered in cold blood a little over a month ago, could not have been transported so easily and might not have been killed – that their vehicle would have been stopped en route to Halhoul? Is that at least possible? Did it make sense to facilitate the movements of an enemy population when it should have been obvious that too many of them would exploit that freedom in order to kill Jews? Was that not foreseeable?

Of course, the third return to Gaza in nine years recalls the great national crime of the 2005 expulsion of 9000 Jews from Gush Katif and the destruction of their homes and settlements. Many opponents of that catastrophe explicitly predicted the barrage of missiles and rockets that would yet emerge from that territory, and especially the difficulty Israel would have in re-entry. The greatest benefit of the Expulsion was the short-lived propaganda victory it gave Israel, but it was short-lived.  Rather than perceive the sacrifice, the hardship and the yearning for peace on the part of Israel, the “world” simply saw an occupier relinquishing its illegal conquest, and, to add insult to injury, still considers Israel an “occupier” anyway. As predicted, Gaza became nothing more than a terror entity – a proxy for Iran with its finger sticking into Israel like a dagger – whose only purpose in existence is to harass Israel out of existence. The expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif remains one of the greatest, most suicidal, strategic disasters ever inflicted by a nation on itself.

The murder of Baruch Mizrachi Hy”d on Pesach eve by one of the bloodthirsty terrorists released in exchange for Gilad Shalit again underscores the folly and short-sightedness of these swaps. Roughly 30-40% of freed Arab terrorists return to terror and the murder of Jews. They really can’t help themselves. It is not only what they were trained to do, and not only what they are ideologically driven to do, but the murder of Jews is also both a lucrative and honorable profession in Arab society. These exchanges ensure that it will remain so, and the price paid for killing Jews will laughably cheap. They also guarantee that more Jews will be kidnapped and killed but none of the should surprise anyone. These exchange incentivize terror and make government of Israel complicit in the death of Jews. Was this not also predicted?

This fact should especially be borne in mind with the reports that Hamas is holding (and rejoicing over it) the body of a dead Israeli soldier, which it will undoubtedly try to ransom for hundreds of live terrorists. How about a new approach? No cease-fire until the body is released, and no humanitarian Red Cross visits to Gaza until the Red Cross verifies the status of that Israeli soldier. That should be followed in due course by a complete cutoff of electricity, fuel, food and water to all of Gaza – section by section – until the soldier’s remains are returned. Starve them with a good old-fashioned siege. War is war, and an enemy is an enemy. No displays of compassion are warranted until the enemy begins to display – not compassion, that is too much to expect from barbarians – but simple humanity.

And need we recall the original sin of the Oslo Accords, which brought Arafat to Gaza, and who was then provided with weapons by the sophisticated strategists of the Israeli government 20 years ago? Hmm….bring your sworn enemy in to your heartland and give him offensive weapons, sign treaties with him that he will never honor, etc. How’s that worked out? It was all so bloody predictable that one wonders if anyone thought beyond the day after.

If we go back even further, one stain on Menachem Begin’s record was his acceptance for the 1978 Camp David Accords of the “legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.” Sure, he was opposed to it, and of course, consummate wordsmith that he was, he talked himself into believing that the words meant nothing , that they had “legitimate rights” to breathe air, drink water, etc. Nevertheless, what he did, in actuality, was commit Israel to accepting the false narrative of the Arab enemy. In effect, he created a Palestinian people when, in reality, history had never known such an entity. (Really. Name a “Palestinian Arab” from the 19th century or the 15th century. Suffice it to say that the last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, the world was as yet unaware there was such a thing as a Palestinian Arab people. Every major sport is older than the “Palestinian people.” But Begin signed on to it.)

Words matter. Actions matter. And what is even more significant is that the law of unintended consequences is one of the most fundamental aspects of politics, war, interpersonal relationships and life itself. But how painful is it when those consequences, while perhaps unintended, are readily foreseeable and should have been reasonably anticipated?

Finally, in the department of “words matter,” few writers can compete with the level of despicability of NY Times’ columnist Thomas Friedman, who I stopped reading years ago (this piece was sent to me) and who has won more Pulitzer Prizes than the number of times he has been right about something in the Middle East. His last Sunday column began thusly: “From Ukraine to the Middle East, some bad actors — Hamas, Vladimir Putin and Israeli settlers to name but a few — are trying to bury the future with the past and divide…” What followed was some forgettable piffle about globalization, an electric car company, or something. But note the odious comparison.

The dictator Putin aside, are Hamas and Israeli settlers really comparable? Only the twisted, distorted mind of a self-hating Jew could possibly compare Hamas – a radical Islamic terrorist group that has murdered thousands of its own people, whose charter calls for both the destruction of the State of Israel and the extermination of every Jew in the world, and part of a movement that is sowing mayhem across the globe – with Jews who want nothing more than to fulfill the Torah commandment of settling the land of Israel, whose lives are dedicated to holy works, and who – the real crime in Friedman’s eyes – refuse to disappear, i.e., refuse to commit suicide by adopting Friedman’s failed policy prescriptions. But, to borrow his approach, journalists like Julius Streicher and Thomas Friedman never miss an opportunity to castigate Jews for living, breathing, observing the Torah, building, contributing, and enjoying their lives while they are at it.

Friedman’s invective essentially calls for open season on Israeli settlers. As decent people across the world come to the realization that Gaza will remain a terror-infested swamp until Hamas is eradicated, Friedman is justifying the same type of treatment for Jews who live in Hevron and Efrat, in Bet El and Ofra. Indeed, “your despoilers and destroyers will emerge from you” (Yeshayahu 49:17). Note how the current conflict in Gaza has nothing to do with Israeli settlers, and note the irony that the safest place in Israel today is in Judea and Samaria, neither of which are targets of Hamas missiles.

Words matter and actions matter. We live in a world of cause and effect, and sometimes, effects are felt long after the causes have receded from memory. Friedman is a hater of Israel, but he is inconsequential. What matters more is to see the foreseeable, to look beyond what the great Thomas Sowell called “Stage One Thinking,” and to anticipate the natural consequences of our actions. Israel should refrain from holding its fire and abandoning its mission until it achieves its objectives. To leave Gaza with Hamas intact will ensure that when Israel has to return to Gaza again Hamas will be even more powerful, with rocketry that has guidance systems that will overwhelm even the genius of Iron Dome and tunnels that will penetrate even further into Israel.

So too, Israel should lose the temptation to balance its success against Hamas in Gaza with new concessions to Fatah. That has been an execrable pattern in the past, and sowed the seeds of future troubles. Israel should act like a normal country and pursue its interests rather than satisfy its “friends.” Among those friends are the United States, which shamefully halted flights to Israel yesterday on allegations of security concerns but which sound more like a shot across Israel’s bow in order to intimidate Israel into accepting a cease fire that will leave Hamas intact and ready to launch more missiles…the day after the cease fire goes into effect. All this while President Obama hustles dumb Jews out of their money on his interminable fund-raising excursions. But consider: if Ben-Gurion Airport is now being avoided by world airlines because of the mild threat currently posed by Hamas, it might as well close permanently if Arabs ever become sovereign in Judea and Samaria, where the threat will be real, permanent and just three miles away. (And how about closing the airport to Kerry’s plane until the FAA allows all US airlines to fly to Israel?)

Above all, Israel should act with wisdom – wisdom to deal with the present, but even greater wisdom to prepare for the future, without any illusions but with an abundance of foresight. It might then even succeed in reversing the effects of some of the misguided policies of the past. Otherwise, it will just continue the unfortunate dynamic of the last two decades of short-term advantages that yield longer-term disaster. The good news is that its leaders are very capable of this, but would benefit from the support (and a little nudging) of the courageous people of Israel who are tired of treading water and yearn for the victory over pure evil that is achievable.

 

The Civilian Charade

I realize that one is supposed to grieve incessantly over the loss of civilian life in Gaza, over the deaths of innocent women and children, or over the mourning of mothers for their sons and wives for the husbands. All of them have been robbed of their lives by a cruel world, or just the nefarious Jews who wantonly fire into civilian areas just to kill people.

Israel has certainly publicly embraced this outpouring of anguish, saying all the right things, as in “we deeply regret the loss of civilian life…” or “we do everything to avoid civilian casualties…” or PM Netanyahu’s now-famous sound bite that “we use our missiles to protect our civilians, while they use their civilians to protect their missiles” (it is a good line). And Israel is sincere in these protestations.

Count me among those who found it hard to muster any sympathy for these Gazans, who routinely rejoice over Jewish deaths and would applaud the massacre and slaughter of any Jews. Let’s face a few facts and debunk the canard of the sacred civilian of the Gaza Strip.

First, even their combatants are “civilians,” and intentionally so. In blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions, Hamas terrorists (the same applies to Islamic terrorists across the world) do not wear uniforms and intentionally try to blend in to the “civilian” population. Thus, when they are killed, the familiar scenes of sorrow can appear on the television screen, of the bereaved Arab crying, “look, they killed the teacher…the preacher…the butcher…the baker…the bomb- (rather, the candlestick-) maker.” Israel has to habitually identify – even by name! – these alleged civilians in order to refute the accusation that they are killing civilians. To the Arab way of thinking, no one is ever a soldier; they are all civilians.

Second, as is now well known, Hamas conceals its weapons and launches its rockets from the very heart of its civilian population. They have made their civilians the targets, and official Israel has done an outstanding job in underscoring this point. Homes and hospitals, mosques and schools, are used as both weapons storage sites as well as launching pads for rockets and missiles. That is a war crime, and Israel would do well to ignore all the hollow complaints and continue its offensive until Gaza is rid of Hamas. It would dramatically improve the lives of the civilians in Gaza, however many remain alive.

Of course, Israel’s sensitivity to this issue is such that it undermines the military success of this mission – while certainly acting in a humanitarian way – by warning the Arab inhabitants of targeted areas to leave, and to leave quickly, before a raid. This saves civilian lives, but it also allows Hamas-niks to escape their day of reckoning. In the end, buildings are destroyed, but the enemy, who can soon rebuild those buildings and those weapons sites, lives to terrorize another day

Third, we should not forget that these Gazans are “innocent” civilians only in the most elastic and distorted sense of the term. After all, they voted for Hamas. Hamas did not seize power, except in the sense that they ran on a platform and drew an overwhelming majority of support from the electorate. That the people’s favorite party turned out (surprise!) to be brutal, malicious murderers, who on occasion force them to be human shields and die an ignominious death is really their problem, not Israel’s or the world’s. To be sure, that the Western world decided to spin the Hamas election triumph as a victory for good governance, anti-corruption, and (that hoary cliché) the effective provision of social services does not matter in the least. The people knew for whom they were voting – much as the Germans did in 1933 when they gave the Nazis a plurality of their votes. They knew exactly what Hamas stood for and why it was formed in the 1980’s – to eradicate the Jewish state and its Jews.

Be careful for whom you vote.

The Nazi analogy is actually quite apt because it reminds us of the emptiness of the cries of the protesters across the world (who would rejoice – and do rejoice – when Jews are killed) and the sheer vacuity of some statements emanating from the UN and especially from the Obama administration. (By the way, is anything more repugnant that Obama’s repeated assertion that “Israel has the right of self-defense,” as if that is not obvious, as if it is a major concession on his part designed to win him plaudits from liberal Jews, and…as if he has to keep saying it in order to talk himself into it?)

Consider a point made two years ago (the last time Israel briefly invaded Gaza) by PM Netanyahu himself, to a BBC interviewer who castigated him for causing civilian casualties. “Do you really want to go there?” And Netanyahu, to devastating effect, reminded the British viewers of the Allies’ (mostly British) February 1945 firebombing raids on Dresden, Germany, which killed more than 20,000 civilians in just a few days. The Brits perceived this as appropriate recompense, as the Nazis spent two years bombing British civilians. He could mention as well, perhaps for the youthful Jen Psaki’s benefit, that the United States killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians – and rightly so – when two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

It is the first rule of war: civilians die. There are other rules: Truth is a casualty. The innocent suffer (the real innocent). The unexpected happens. The victor uses disproportionate force – in fact, that is usually how and why the winner wins. The evil aggressor should be vanquished, not saved by a hypocritical world to fight another day.

Those are basic rules of war, and only duplicitous, oleaginous Jew-hating purveyors of piffle would deny Israel those rights and seek to amend or repeal the rules of war – and only as they apply to Israel. And they know who they are – from oily politicians and media mackerel, to the Presbyterian Church embarrassing itself in well-deserved irrelevance, to the phony protesters around the world, to those who simply deny Israel’s right to exist. Putin’s allies killed more civilians in one instant with one rocket than Israel has in three weeks – Bashar Assad has killed exponentially more in three years – without evoking the same anger, vitriol, violence and angst. It is selective outrage, phony to the core.

Kudos to real leaders like Canada’s Stephen Harper and the US Congress for their unequivocal support, and to Israel’s government for focusing on countering another Arab attempt to scam the world into sympathy for its “victims,” victims of its own malevolence and suicidal hatred.

There are reasons why these Arabs engender more sympathy than did German or Japanese civilians during World War II. For one, they are fighting against Jews, for whom much of the world labors to find any love gratitude or appreciation. Call it rank Jew-hatred. Primarily, though, that is Israel’s fault, for rather than depict these Arabs as Nazis (or worse: the Nazis wanted to murder Jews, but they preferred not to kill themselves while doing it) Israel persists in designating these Arabs as “partners for peace.” Had the Nazis or Nips been perceived as “partners for peace” rather than subjected to the unrelenting demand for unconditional surrender, they too would have garnered sympathy for their plight.

Unfortunately, the land of Israel hosts Arabs who are largely not partners for peace, nor are they sympathetic characters in the least. They are allies with other Muslims across the globe who are responsible for the mayhem that is engulfing almost every continent – perhaps another reason why even the European and Western governments lack their customary anti-Israel ardor. The world has seen too much suffering caused by Muslims to prompt the usual outcries. It is long past enough.

Add to that another painful fact: those wailing over the deaths of their loved ones are generally the same people urging their children and others to become martyrs, suicide bombers and murderers of Jews. It is impossible for a Western mind to wrap itself around that macabre concept but it is sadly true: in the mind of many of these people, a person killed before he has a chance to kill Jews has really lived a wasted life. Hence the mothers of suicide bombers who “grieve” by expressing their desire that their other children should become martyrs as well. It is a sick death cult, and to the extent that they can be accommodated, they should be accommodated.

One Israeli commentator said years ago that it is the height of cynicism for the Arabs to cry over their civilian losses when their entire strategy is to inflict civilian casualties on Israel through terror. Every rocket or missile they launch has a civilian address on it. It is intended to hit homes, schools, stores and hospitals.

It makes their tears fake and their lament a farce. It should have no effect on any thinking, moral person. It should not – again – induce Israel to abandon its offensive until Gaza is rid of Hamas. It reminds us once again of our Sages’ adage that “he who is merciful to the cruel will eventually be cruel to the merciful.”

Indeed, that is the very epitaph for the Gush Katif expulsion nine years ago. You remember Gush Katif? That is the region from where hundreds of rockets have been fired against Israeli civilians in the last decade.

It is certainly a shame that civilians suffer in wartime, and some civilians are truly innocent and deserve sympathy and protection. Others don’t – not sympathy, deference, comfort, fuel, electricity or food. Let their elected leaders help them. The whole notion of offering “humanitarian” assistance to one’s enemy is foolish, counterproductive, un-Jewish and anti-Torah. Notifying your enemy where you plan on attacking is the height of stupidity and costs Jewish lives, unnecessarily, as it did today. It is a sign that deep within the Netanyahu psyche he still holds out the illusion that this enemy is a “partner for peace.” No nation informs its enemy where it plans on attacking. It is not moral; it is immoral and stupid. If the enemy wants humanitarian help, they should surrender. It would be good for them and for Israel, and for the world, which needs an unequivocal victory over Muslim terror.

Until then, my tears will be reserved for the real innocents, for those who yearn for peace and tranquility to serve their G-d, raise their families, build their homes and their nation, and are forced to fight a merciless foe again and again. Feelings of guilt are unwarranted.

May G-d strengthen the fighting forces of Israel, protect her soldiers from all harm, and guide her to victory with pride, understanding and majesty.

Phony War

As you might have heard, the US Supreme Court ruled 6-3 on the last day of its June term that corporations that are owned by religious people cannot be forced to violate their First Amendment rights of religious freedom by paying for contraception as part of their employee insurance coverage, all part of the war on women which is raging in American society. That is the conventional wisdom, and has been repeated in large part by Justice Ruth Ginsburg, Hillary Clinton and assorted other figures on the left.

Of course, not a single assertion above is true.

The US Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision must have been written in Sanskrit, the only possible explanation – short of outright mendacity on the part of the commentariat – for the widespread distortion of the decision. First, the decision herein was, of course, 5-4, along the lines of the Court’s usual conservative-liberal split, but each subsequent statement is also false, as even a cursory reading of the decision demonstrates.

Second, the corporations in question were closely-held entities, meaning that they are usually family-owned small businesses, not large publicly-traded corporations like Coca Cola or IBM. These are businesses in which the owners have poured their sweat, hard work and, especially, their values, into the operation. They are governed by principles – religious ones, based on the Bible – which they hold dear and by which they live their lives. For much of American history, those families were cherished and considered the backbone of society.

Third, the biggest lie was this: There are 20 types of contraception for which Obamacare mandated that companies pay. The two corporations here willfully covered 16 of them, traditional methods of contraception. The only drugs (or devices) they refused to cover were those that, in effect, abort fetuses after conception. (Actually, those are not even “contraception” drugs but “postception” drugs.) These are abortion pills or devices, in essence, which a reasonable person might assume is not regularly used by any normal woman. Routine contraception is covered. How did I determine this? By reading the Justice Alito’s decision.

The Hahns and Conestoga sued HHS…seeking to enjoin application of the ACA’s  contraceptive mandate insofar as it requires them to provide health insurance coverage for four FDAS-approved contraceptives that may operate after the fertilization of an egg (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Page 18).

    That Hobby Lobby and Conestoga resist coverage for only 4 of the 20 FDA-approved contraceptives does not lessen these compelling interests” (ibid, page 22).

As we have noted, the Hahns and Greens have a sincere religious belief that life begins at conception. They therefore object on religious grounds to providing health insurance that covers methods of birth control that, as HHS acknowledges, may result in the destruction of an embryo. By requiring the Hahns and the Greens and their companies to arrange for such coverage, the HHS mandate demands that they engage in conduct that seriously violates their religious beliefs” (ibid, Page 32).

Fourth, the decision was based not on First Amendment grounds but on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that was approved in 1993 by the House unanimously and by a 97-3 vote in the Senate, and signed into law by that well-known combatant in the war on women, Bill Clinton. The law decreed that the government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” The application to this matter is fairly straightforward, except for the fact that the contraception mandate was not even a “rule of general applicability,” as all religious corporations were exempt. Thus, the decision turned on an application (not even an interpretation) of a Congressional statute, and didn’t reach the constitutional issue. This too is explicit in Justice Alito’s decision: “Our decision on that [RFRA] statutory question makes it unnecessary to reach the First Amendment claim raised by Conestoga and the Hahns” (ibid, page 49).

What then evoked Justice Ginsburg’s shrill dissent, which began “In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations…can opt out of any law (save tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs ”?

Several possibilities suggest. Politics is always at the top of the list, and the doctrinaire left insists on both the sanctity of certain rights and the obligation of others (individuals, governments) to pay for them. And abortion is today a sacrament in American life, a celebration of feminism, freedom, and liberty – albeit, not for the unborn. Obviously, many critics did not read or carefully read the decision. But the decision was so limited in scope – the Court did not even rule that these corporations have a right to refuse to provide regular contraception if such violated their religious beliefs, and that was not at issue here – that it is hard to understand the hysteria that has been generated.

Equally hard to understand is the obsession with having others pay for one’s freedom to indulge certain optional behaviors. Even contraception is unnecessary unless one performs certain actions that might induce an undesired pregnancy. Why should that be covered by insurance at all? It is an optional behavior that surely is not applicable to all. It is the third-party payor system that has distorted the health coverage industry in America, driven up premiums to astronomical and unaffordable levels, and engendered the Obamination of Obamacare. Can’t anyone pay out-of-pocket for anything anymore? Can’t people take responsibility for their own lives? Many physicians maintain that a glass of red wine with dinner is healthful and thwarts a variety of maladies, so should government or insurance companies be ordered to pay for a nightcap, every night, for everyone? Before you say “yes,” bear in mind that is absurd.

These mandates introduce even more chaos and inequity into a system that is already chaotic and inequitable. Should every person have to pay a higher premium because some need pregnancy care (what about a single man??), child dental coverage (what about people without children?), drug counseling, psychological care, etc.? Why can’t people just pay for what they want – as if out of a menu of choices – or pay for routine matters themselves and save the insurance for catastrophic needs?

That would make sense, but it is anathema to the know-it-alls who run the nanny state.

The tampering with religious freedom in America and its temporary salvation by the Court here should awaken everyone to the dangers ahead. Already, businesses have been fined for not servicing customers whose moral choices (e.g., same sex marriage) offend them. Caterers, florists, and photographers have been prosecuted for not participating in these festivities that violate their religious beliefs. Absent decisions like this, the day is not far off when synagogues might be forced to host same-sex marriages, intermarriages, or other relationships that violate Jewish law. Opposition to same sex marriages today is construed as immoral. Tolerance has become a one-way street, and the Court merely stuck its finger in the dike. It should not be taken for granted.

That the decision was 5-4 is a cause for grave concern. The loss of even one conservative justice could transform American society in heretofore unimaginable ways. That is something to ponder as the fall elections draw near and the 2016 presidential election looms. Assuredly, the next president will be replacing some of the conservative justices.

In the interim, this decision – so measured, so obvious – has been castigated by all the usual liberal suspects. It reflects not the bogus “war on women” but the very real “war on intelligence” that has won many battles already and re-shaped the American polity.

Lessons of Normandy

Normandy, France -
It was the battle that made them the “Greatest Generation.”
Seventy years ago last month hundreds of thousands of Allied troops, most of them Americans, landed on the beaches of Calvados and broke the Nazi stranglehold on Europe. It was therefore one of the epic battles in history, one that changed the course of history, and did not at all have a guaranteed outcome. The loss of life was horrific, the casualty rate enormous, but the planning, and especially the dedication and sacrifice, are worth recalling these days – when those days seem to most Americans to be ancient history. The lessons for the courageous Jews of Israel again suffering from the genocidal ambitions of their Islamic haters should also be noted.
I spent a few days this week in Normandy, touring the battlefields at Omaha and Utah beaches (where US forces landed) and Pointe du Hoc, where US Army Rangers scaled impossible cliffs to dislodge German artillery that was raining down on the invaders. My guides were two excellent books – the late Stephen Ambrose’s “D-Day” and a new e-book by Yagil Henkin, a teacher at Israel’s Military College (their officer trainees annually tour Normandy) entitled “Uneasy Red,” a self-guided tour of Omaha Beach. But seeing the sights and walking the beach offers a perspective that reading about it – even watching movies about it – cannot.
The Americans had the element of surprise. Even though the Germans knew a maritime invasion was coming, they did not know when and where. Hitler insisted on the construction of a fortified Atlantic Wall, with reinforced bunkers, artillery positions, mines on the beaches and the shallow water, steel rods in the water (Rommel’s “asparagus”) that impeded easy access and numerous heavy guns up and down the French-Atlantic coast. But the area was too large to be competely protected, a point that Hitler failed to accept, and, in any event, Rommel opposed the approach but was forced to implement it. In the end, it was the downfall of Germany. Hitler guessed wrong and focused his defenses closer to Calais, and Rommel himself was home on June 6, 1944 celebrating his wife’s birthday.
The attack was meticulously planned and rehearsed, which was Eisenhower’s strength as a general and the reason why he was selected as commander. (Perhaps how he was also able – a decade later – to build the Interstate Highway System.) Each small group of soldiers – less than a company level – even 2-5 soldiers – were given specific assignments carefully delineated on maps – capture this artillery outpost, seize this particular small territory, pilot the boat to this precise area, etc. Everyone had something precise to do and knew also,what everyone else in the unit was doing in case the expected casualties forced a change in the mission.
Much went wrong in the battle. Aside from the mines and the steel traps, there were other intelligence miscues. The battle began shortly after midnight on June 6 when paratroopers landed behind Nazi lines, followed a few hours by an intense offshore bombardment from Navy ships and Army planes – but most of the bombs missed the German positions because the bombers were warned to drop them in such a way as to guarantee they would not hit US forces landing ashore right after dawn. They missed the Americans – but also missed the Germans. Most of the objectives of D-Day itself were not achieved for weeks.

Omaha Beach is also, for the most part, completely flat and open, in some places 100 yards from shore to cliff. There was simply no place to hide. Because of the obstructions in the water, boats could not approach as close to the shore as was planned. Many sank. Much equipment was offloaded, and also sank to the water bottom. Reinforcements arrived without enough equipment to sustain them. Hundreds of soldiers were killed before they even fired a shot – before they even came ashore. Nazi machine-gunners rained down bullets on them. Others made it to shore but had already lost their weapons. But they persevered, and succeeded both because of their overwhelming numbers and weaponry (in some places, the Germans simply ran out of ammunition) and especially their bravery under fire. There was an eagerness to get to the top, not just to live but to complete the mission. They knew exactly why they were fighting and considered it a duty and a privilege.

(It helps to be young, naive, and deem oneself invincible. Ambrose tells of one young soldier, who, when his unit was informed that they anticipate that two-thirds of the group would be casualties, looked to the men on his left and on his right, and thought to himself, “you poor b——s.”)
No place is more hallowed than Pointe du Hoc, famously memorialized by President Reagan’s speech in 1984. It is simply unimaginable how these young men climbed a 100 foot cliff under heavy fire carrying heavy equipment, while sustaining heavy casualties (some units as much as 90%!), and succeeded in repelling the German forces. Less well known is that when they reached the top the heavy guns were gone (!), ostensibly their purpose in the mission. They were found an hour later; the Germans had hidden the guns in a field fearing they would be overrun.
The price in human life was enormous, and a walk through the American military cemetery at Omaha Beach is a sobering experience. In all, more than 9300 soldiers are buried there, although most were not D-Day casualties. The endless rows of crosses recalls not only the sacrifice but also how there was a time in recent American history when soldiers were routinely buried with crosses. No matter how pious they were, they were default Christians – willingly so – and thankfully there was no ACLU to argue for sectarian burials. Because the layout is perfectly spaced, it was relatively easy to spot the dozens of Stars of David signifying the American-Jewish soldiers who fell in combat. I stopped at more than a dozen, and recited the (K)El Maleh prayer. Almost all the fallen had their lives ended before they really began, dying before they married or had children, and all – as the inscription above the chapel reads – so that justice should prevail and their fellow man should be able to enjoy freedom and embrace peace. That alone is worth the visit – in retrospect, I spent more than 90 minutes in the cemetery itself.
(There are about a dozen US military cemeteries in France, the final resting places of American soldiers from both world wars. Oddly, less than a half hour’s drive from Omaha Beach and slightly inland is the German military cemetery, with even more graves than at Omaha Beach. For the most part, Germans fought bravely, although the Normandy beaches were also defended by forced laborers from Korea, Russia, Poland and elsewhere, and they were more interested in surrender and survival than the German fatherland or Nazi ideology.)
It was a different world then, just 70 years ago, with different leaders who represented an ethos that reflected the best of America and inspired the world for decades. Eisenhower’s D-Day message to the troops was brief and inspirational. Less known are the alternate words he had drafted in case of failure and composed on a piece of paper he kept that day in his pocket, taking full and personal responsibility for the defeat and thanking the soldiers for their bravery and sacrifice. A president – a general – taking responsibility for a failure? What a novel concept.
Had television been present then, and had journalists the same (lack of) ethics then as many have today, the story might have had a different ending. Many things went wrong – and unreported. Many soldiers died unnecessarily – but all were treated as heroes. The journalists saw themselves as part of the crusade – not as objective observers without an interest in the outcome. Casualty figures – more than 9000 on D-Day itself – were concealed from the public for some time so as not to impede the war effort. That simple patriotism no longer animates much of elite American society, and the sense that it is America’s obligation to seek to better the world – because only America can create a better world – is missing in too many people, from the President on down.
Finally, it was FDR and Churchill’s insistence on unconditional surrender that provided their societies with a clear metric by which to measure success or failure, even though such prolonged the war and caused more casualties. Such clarity is absent today, in America’s recent wars and even Israel’s wars against Arabs and their terror. It should not be enough – in fact, it is inherently defeatist – to state that if the evildoers halt their evil, even temporarily, then the virtuous will cease trying to eliminate that evil. That is a recipe for failure, for kicking the can down the road until the enemy becomes too powerful to stop. Today’s goal should be the elimination of the Hamas leadership and their supporters, with the first step necessarily being deeming all Gazans an “an enemy population,” period. One need not feed their enemy, or provide them with the fuel or electricity that facilitates their firing rockets and missiles. The PM’s excuse that “the lawyers” tell him he must is…not leader-like, and sounds as lame as it is illogical. Not all Germans were Nazis or supported the Nazis, but the enemy was Germany, and even some innocents were collateral victims.
Two factors inhibit that obvious declaration which would make the conduct of the war easier (especially since the enemy combatants dress as civilians, hide among civilians and for the most part are civilians): first, it is part of the Israeli narrative – and nature – to be magnanimous, to treat the enemy as a potential friend, to show that Jews are better than them, more moral than they are, because frankly, we are. Second, for both domestic and foreign reasons, Israel has to propagate the sentiment that peace is possible, which declaring the enemy society an “enemy society” undercuts. But refraining from stating the obvious just makes the political and diplomatic rut even deeper as well as more dangerous.
Israel today needs a propaganda D-Day, an all-out assault on the false Arab narrative, on the phony claims of victimization, on the catastrophe that the Arabs are again bringing on themselves, and on the legitimacy of Hamas as players on the world scene. A restoration of the failed status quo is a defeat for Israel. The world is now primed for the defeat of a terror organization – any terror organization. Israel can provide that. People are aware that the world is engulfed in violence because Arab terror is uncontrollable – and because the good people (the US and others) are tired. Let Israel play that role, change the dynamic, and strike its enemies a vigorous blow that forces them and their supporters to flee or cower in fear, and absorb the wrath of own people. This will only be possible if Israel ignores its left-wing media (and the cliches of the US/UN/EU), sees beyond the immediate consequences of its actions to the long-range goals it should intend to achieve, believes in the justice of its struggle, and, above all, perseveres and doesn’t turn back at the first dissonant or discouraging sign.
Those were the lessons of D-Day enshrined forever in history on the beaches of Normandy. If the desire is there, evil can be defeated – with G-d’s help, strength, courage and commitment. It would be the dawn of the next “Greatest Generation,” which the world today both needs and deserves.