Monday, January 12, 2009

America Loves You, Harry S. Truman

Is Harry Truman a hero, a mass murderer, or both?

I will never forget it. One fine day many years ago in the middle of a Shiur my Rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichik, called Harry Truman one of the greatest mass murderers in history.

I was a bit shocked at hearing that, although I probably shouldn’t have been. It was President Harry S. Truman who decided to end World War II by dropping 2 nuclear bombs - one on Hiroshima and one on Nagasaki - two cities of mostly innocent civilians - killing all of them. Hundreds of thousands of people gone in an instant!

If that doesn’t qualify for mass murder, what does? And yet the world now reveres Harry Truman. That includes the Jewish people who give him credit for recognizing the State of Israel when it was created in 1948 - in spite of his own advisors telling him not to. Indeed he deserves credit for that. But what about all the deaths he is responsible for? How does that make him a hero?

How is it possible that an individual that orders the execution of hundreds of thousands of innocent people is so venerated – no matter what his other accomplishments are? The answer often given as justification for that is the following.

Had Truman not dropped the bomb, Japan would have continued their suicide missions. They were determined to win the war at all costs. They so believed in the justness of their cause that they were willing to commit suicide in order to achieve their goals.

Not dropping ‘the bomb’ and continuing to fight the war in conventional ways would have caused the death of countless numbers of American lives – soldiers who would have been killed in battle and via the seemingly endless supply of Japanese Kamikaze pilots flying on suicide missions - willing to die for their cause. They were true believers - those Kamikaze pilots. They believed that their emperor, Hirohito, was a deity. He commanded - they obeyed.

So Truman is now venerated. His ‘courage’ in droping ‘the bomb’ is seen as saving Amercian lives. The lives of the enemy – even the innocent ones… be damned.

Fast forward to Gaza - 2009. One can easily make the claim that Israel is fighting for its life. I think this is the case every time it goes to war – to one extent or another. All its wars are defensive - responses gto endless rocket fire and suicide missions from the enemy. They too – like the Kamikaze pilots of Japan – are doing it for God’.

The analogy, while not perfect should be obvious. Israel primaty responsibility is to protect its citizens. That is in fact the primary mission of every sovereign nation. In an interview on ABC News yesterday, I heard President-elect Barrack Obama say exactly that! Even though the economy is on everyone’s mind as the most important issue of the day, Obama conceded that protecting America’s citizens was his number one priority. The economy- as important as it is - is number two.

I am not suggesting that Israel pull out its nuclear arsenal. Although it should definitely leave it on the table as an option. Let the world know that it will ‘not go gently into that good night’. They will use nuclear weapons as a last result in an existential war.

That said it is an option that has a cost to Israel and all its neighboring States in terms of nuclear fallout. So the nuclear option should truly be the very last resort. I am obviously opposed to using it under any other circumstance.

Nor am I even suggesting carpet bombing Gaza. That would be be tantamount to what Truman did in Japan. Truman didn’t have to worry about nuclear fallout. He probably didn’t even know it existed. Carpet bombing will therefore have the same effect as a nuclear weapon.

If Hiroshima was justified than so too is the carpet bombing of Gaza that will kill all its citizens - guilty right along with innocent – Just like Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

But that would be inhumane. I do not think Israel should be in the business of mass murder even in the context of Harry Truman. But what it should be in is the business of winning in Gaza. They must not be deterred in that mission. Losing that war would be an even bigger defeat than losing in Lebanon. Winning in Gaza is tactically a much easier goal to achieve. Winning means the complete unconditional surrender of Hamas.

As for world protest, we need not look farther than the Arab leadership. They will not be saying Kaddish all too loudly for them. Oh… they’ll complain and call for resolutions of condemnation. They always do. But privately they will be quite happy to see Hamas gone. As for the rest of the world, most European leaders don’t care much for Hamas either. And the European ‘street’? Who really cares about them? They and their brainwashed ill-informed followers are just a bunch of very loud but small fringe groups who are anti Semitic leftist ideologues and think all Jews should be put into large ovens!

If Israel does not follow through with this mission... if they flinch... if they start second guessing themselves and re-thinking what they did… this war will have been a disaster of existential proportion.

Their military may as well close down. For it will be shown (for the second time) that in the era of modern terrorism an organized military is useless. If Hamas survives to fight another day – they will do so with a great vengeance - and gloat in the process. Israel will have accomplished nothing. Every Israeli resdident will be at risk. Iran will not only continue to smuggle weapons into Gaza, they will very likely smuggle bigger and better ones. With more power and greater range!

Israel needs to look to Harry S. Truman for inspiration and focus on the near adulation this country has for him – left to right. Truman knew what was important. And he did ‘whatever it took’ to achieve his goals – which was to end the war quickly and save American lives. And he achieved those goals instantly. I pray that Israel follows his example and can truly say the words, ‘mission accomplished’.