by Daniel Greenfield

In our modern age, things no longer exist to perform their function. Washing machines aren't designed to clean clothes, but to save water and energy. Food isn't there to be eaten, but not eaten. And armies aren't there to win wars, but to be moral. And the truly moral army never fights a war. When it must fight a war, then it fights it as proportionately as possible, slowing down when it's winning so that the enemy has a chance to catch up and inflict a completely proportional number of casualties on them.


Forget charging up a hill. Armies charge up the slippery slope of the moral high ground and they don't try to capture it from the enemy, because that would be the surest way to lose the moral high ground, instead they claim the moral high ground by refusing to try and capture it, to establish their moral claim to the moral high ground, which they can't have because they refuse to fight for it.

Israel has been engaged in a long drawn out struggle for the moral high ground. The moral high ground is to the modern Israel what the land of Israel was to their pioneer ancestors who drained swamps, built roads and shot bandits; some of whom were later discovered to be the oppressed peoples of the region, fresh from Syria or Jordan, and protesting the settlements built on that stretch of swamp that had been set aside in their revisionist history as belonging to their great-grandparents, complete with oversized house keys to some of the choicer logs in the swamp.

Sadly the only way to win the moral high ground is by losing. Just look at the massive Arab armies who repeatedly invaded Israel, did their best to overwhelm it with the best Soviet iron that the frozen factories of the Ural could turn out, and lost the bid to drive the Jews into the sea, but won the moral high ground. Then their terrorist catspaws spent decades winning the moral high ground by hijacking airplanes full of civilians, murdering Olympic athletes and pushing old men in wheelchairs from the decks of cruise ships.

All these killing sprees accomplished absolutely nothing useful, aside from the killing of Jews, which to a certain sort of mind is a useful thing in and of itself, but that failure won the terrorist catspaws the moral high ground. Their failure to win a war by hijacking buses full of women and taking the children of a school hostage conclusively established their moral superiority and nobility of spirit.

The world was deeply moved when Arafat waddled up to the UN podium, with his gun, wearing a mismatched cotton rag on his head that would decades hence become the modish apparel of every third hipster standing in line with a can of 20 dollar fair trade Lima beans at Whole Foods, because his commitment to killing people in a failed cause that even he didn't believe in exchange for money from his backers in the Muslim world showed his deep commitment to the moral high ground.

In the seventies, after Israel had ton a few too many wars, Henry "Woodcutter" Kissinger, suggested that it lose a war to gain the sympathy of the world. Golda wasn't too enthusiastic about the idea, but with the old woodcutter in charge of handing out the axes, there wasn't much choice about it. Israel came close to being destroyed in '73, but just when it might have won the sympathy of the world, its armies of young men dashing from synagogues into overcrowded taxis to get to the front lines, turned the tide. Israel won. The woodcutter of Washington lost and Israel scrapyards filled up with piles of Soviet steel, which was good news for the big sweaty guys who ran them, but bad news for those pining for the lofty fjords of the moral high ground.

In '91 the Israelis went nuclear and decided to beat Arafat at his own game. Rabin and Peres talked the old terrorist out of retirement and down to Washington DC where they surrendered to him in an official ceremony at the Rose Garden overseen by a beaming Bill Clinton. Finally Israel had won the moral high ground. And the United States had carved off a chunk of that delicious moral high ground, even though Clinton was forced to fidget in his chair at Oslo when his Nobel Peace Prize went to the greasy terrorist, though he may have considered that defeat to be another victory of the moral high ground.

Yasir Arafat

Yasir Arafat

But the moral high ground proved notoriously elusive for the Jewish State. There was a brief lull when it seemed that the original sin of kicking ass had been atoned for in the Rose Garden, but then the terrorists started killing Israelis again and the Israelis insisted on fighting back. In no time at all the moral high ground was roped off with a special reserved section for terrorists and a sign reading, "No Israelis Will Be Admitted Unless They Renounce Their Government, Zionism and the Right of Self-Defense."

Peace was the last best hope of the new Israeli Hatikvah, not to be a free people in their own land, but to be a moral people in a land that didn't really belong to anyone in particular, but that they were optimistic everyone could live in harmony in. But peace with terrorists meant not fighting back and there was a limit to what the 70 percent of the country that didn't go to sleep fantasizing about peace would accept in the name of peace.

And so, terrorists killed Israelis, Israelis killed terrorists, that part of the world located in an ugly modernist building overlooking Turtle Bay, which the turtles would like to have back, condemned Israel and demanded that it resolve things peacefully by surrendering more land to the terrorists in order to build up their confidence in Israel's commitment to a peaceful solution.

The terrorists were not expected to reciprocate and build up Israel's confidence in their commitment to a peaceful solution because they already had the moral high ground by way of losing the last thirty engagements with the IDF, including the battle of the school they set up snipers in, the church they took over and the hospital that they used as an ammo dump.

The great quandary for Israeli leaders is how to win a war without losing the moral high ground. This is a tricky matter because it requires winning the war and winning the peace. And you can't do both at the same time.

Israel's solution has been to fight limited wars while remaining absolutely committed to peace. No sooner does a war begin, then it is pressed to accept a ceasefire. To show its commitment to peace, Israel is expected to accept the ceasefire. At which point Hamas will begin shooting rockets again and the whole dance will begin all over again. But Israel has trouble refusing a ceasefire because its leaders still believe that they can get at the moral high ground by showing that they are more committed to peace than the other side.

The peace is however unwinnable. It's not even survivable in the long term. Peace either exists as a given condition or it is maintained by strong armies and ready deterrence. Peace cannot be found on the moral high ground, only the mountains of the graves of the dead.

Iraq Sniper Scope

Iraq Sniper Scope

Seeking the moral high ground is a fool's quest. Wars cannot be fought without hurting someone and trumpeting your morality makes it all too easy for your enemies to charge you with hypocrisy. The man who spends the most time vociferously protesting that he isn't a thief, that he has never touched a penny that belonged to anyone else and that he will swear on a floor-to-ceilling stack of bibles to that effect, looks far guiltier than the man who scowls and tells his accusers to mind their own business. The more Israel defends its own morality, the more it winds the chains of the accusers around its own neck.

Refining its warfighting with the object of fighting a truly moral war leads to refined techniques that kill terrorists but still cause some collateral damage, and to soldiers that are more afraid of shooting than of being shot at. And all this painstaking effort goes for naught since it really makes very little difference to Israel's enemies whether they have one photo of a dead Muslim civilian to brandish or a thousand. Either one makes for the same manner of indictment. In aiming to win the peace, Israel instead, like all modern states, loses the war.

The father of an Israeli soldier told his son after he was called up for duty that he would rather visit him in prison than visit him in the cemetery. "If you are fired on, fire back." That is good advice not just for that young man, but for his entire country, and for the civilized world. It is better to fire than be fired upon. It is better to be thought a criminal, than mourned in Holocaust museums. It is better to leave the moral high ground to those who worship the romance of endless bloodshed and defeat. It is better to lose the peace and win the war.

EDITOR'S NOTE: These below are most of the comments to this article. I find the tone interesting. Respondents no longer sound uneasy talking about actually winning the war instead of inflicting casualties on an enemy that recovers in short order or begins a different kind of dirty tricks.

21/11/12. Leo said...

We live in truly fascinating times, when re-stating the obvious and nodding in agreement pretty much became favorite pastime of many sane people. The best and brightest among them calmly and patiently educate and enlighten those willing to read that "water is wet", "electricity kills", "gravity pulls" and "rabid dogs bite". However, the situation as it is begs the question "are the decision makers really that naive, ignorant and alien to cause-effect reasoning and logic, or they just pretend to be"? Oslo and subsequent idiotic dances around the laws of nature were plain wrong, many of those responsible are still in power, for whatever reasons they keep following the beaten path, and that's the root of the problem.

The Jews come to the ball masked as Israelis, the Arabs come masked as Palestinians and everyone talks about a land that does not exist and never did: Palestine. Today, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the day on which the Jewish Nation declares the Kingship of the Creator over themselves and the entire world, I have chosen to come here to remove the masks. Moshe Feiglin | The Speech I Would Have Made In The UN | Sep 28, 2011.

21/11/12. Leo said...

...contrary to Judaism and Christianity, Islamic theology is based not on reason but on force or power. This is why there is no place in Islam for freedom of speech ...Today, Muslim leaders want to criminalize as “blasphemy” any criticism of Islam in general and of its prophet Muhammad in particular. Their motive is easy to understand. Islam cannot stand the test of critical analysis, philosophical, theological, or historical needs to be borne in mind that critical analysis of Islam or of Muhammad does not merely offend the sensibilities of Muslims. No, such criticism threatens the ruling status of Muslim leaders and the entire power structure of Islamic regimes. Since the issue as indicated is one of power it must be understood in theological terms. Involved here is nothing less than the God-issue. This is the issue that confronts us today as a result of the decay of Western Civilization so evident in the decline of Christianity in Europe and in the ascendancy of left-wing atheism and nihilism in the United States. Paul Eidelberg | Why Islam Wants to Suppress Freedom of Speech

21/11/12. Leo said...

Sun Tzu would be appalled by the alacrity with which Israeli governments engage in cease fires or “hudnas,” which allow Arab terrorists to regroup and accumulate more and deadlier weapons. Sun Tzu calls for an uninterrupted attack while unequivocally opposing a protracted war: “There is no instance,” he says, “of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.” Hence Israel’s Government must ignore the inanities of sheltered critics—of jaded intellectuals and politicians who preach “self-restraint” as if Hiroshima and Dresden never happened. The paramount concern of Israel’s political and military echelons is to minimize Jewish casualties. Horrible as it is, peace-loving Israel, confronted by a genocidal enemy, must kill for peace. Paul Eidelberg | Essays on War: Sun Tzu

Edward Cline said...

I beg to differ, Daniel. Israel does have the moral high ground. It is a secular state and the only moral and civilized country in the Mideast. It is fighting for its existence, and for its right to exist. That is its moral high ground, the same high ground as that of a man who fights a mugger, or a woman who fights a rapist by damaging his genitals, or a child who reports a priest or other predator with roaming hands, or a shop clerk who shoots a stick-up artist. In WWII, the Allies had the moral high ground, and that high ground permitted it to defeat two totalitarian régimes (but unfortunately, by making the Soviet Union an ally, perpetuating that régime) by bombing an enemy without regard to the "collateral damage" of civilians. The policy was: You guys made your bed with the aggressors, so, deal with it. That was the moral high ground. You said it yourself: War isn't there to hold tea parties with the enemy and play endless rounds of "Scissors, Rock, Paper." It's waged to win, and the aggressed-upon must fight it to win. Yes, Daniel, Israel has the moral high ground. It must say so loud and clear so that even the clueless MSM hears it and changes its tune. I'm waiting to hear that from Israel.

21/11/12. aaron snyder said...

From david mamet, a lucid appraisal:

"Their wishes are well and good, but this does not accord with he experience of anyone. People have differing needs. The notion that an honest exchange of views will solve all problems in an article of faith; which, like many another, is suspended in our daily lives. It is fine for the uninvolved to say of everything, “The truth must lie somewhere in between,” but who on the left says so, for example, of Abortion? The Israelis would like to live in peace within their borders; the Arabs would like to kill them all. I do not see where there is a middle ground.

The divorcing husband would like to retain some money and visiting rights to this children, the betrayed wife would like him dead; anyone ever involved in a fight or a lawsuit knows that some conflicts cannot be settled peaceably. The liberal attitude to our war with Radical Islam is a preference for that action which would end the conflict immediately, and without rancor. That action, unfortunately, is surrender."

21/11/12. Shlomo ben Shmuel said...

Excellent article, as usual. My favorite quote is: "that part of the world located in an ugly modernist building overlooking Turtle Bay, which the turtles would like to have back". Shouldn't the UN increase its moral standing by returning Turtle Bay to its original occupants?

I think the best way for Israel to win the "moral high ground" is to wipe out Hamas and the other terrorists in the area. That will certainly greatly improve the moral quality of the whole region.

By the way, I find it interesting the the word "hamas" in Hebrew means "violent robbery" (see parshas Noah, and the reason for which Hashem decided to wipe out mankind).

21/11/12. Keliata said...

More IDF soldiers need to hear the command-- Enemy! Fire!

21/11/12. Keliata said...

"In the seventies, after Israel had ton a few too many wars, Henry "Woodcutter" Kissinger, suggested that it lose a war to gain the sympathy of the world."

Who cares about the world's sympathy when the Jewish death toll keeps rising? What an idiot Kissinger was.

21/11/12. james wilson said...

If Israelis under fire would behave exactly as the Arabs do there would suddenly be less provocation and more respect. Like a dog, the Islamist is content under powerful constraints but exited by weakness. The Israelis would do better go full Roman and rule the middle-east than be a pinata.

21/11/12. Anonymous said...

Daniel, While you decided to delete an earlier post, I think reality, and a flawed cease-fire, proves my point. Israel cannot seek to achieve militarily what American Jews do not vociferously support with their political contributions and votes. Obama can feel quite confident, to have turned his thumb down on a ground offensive, as if he was in a Roman Casear, because of the American Jewish election suport. Quite pathetic and sad,for us as a people, when as the pundit said, we not only vote like Puerto Ricans, but think our interests are simply that of other peoples and liberal bromides as well.

21/11/12. Elisandra said...

There are no words for how absurd this situation is. War is being waged on Israel, and they can't even defend themselves for fear of upsetting people, and worse, they feed, clothe, and provide electricity for those who proclaim daily that their sole purpose in life it to annihilate them. That isn't morality. That's suicidal insanity.

21/11/12. Anonymous said...

It is hard to imagine a leader like Menachem Begin concluding a war that would determine the matter of future Israeli deterrence they way Bibi Netanyahu did. If you think the Iranians will take Netanyahu's continued bombastic comments about them with any degree of credibility, think again. Israel is a well-armed paper tiger that lives by international approval. Netanyahu has established himself as being on the same par as Olmert in terms of that failed war in Lebanon in 2006, and Obama has had a great bone tossed to his Muslim Brotherhood buddies in Egypt by Bibi's ceasefire. So sad.

21/11/12. Anonymous said...

Israel has been engaged in a long drawn out struggle for the moral high ground. By provoking wars in order to take down Syria and Iran?

21/11/12. Anonymous said...

Elisander Israel is defending itself just dandy. Take a look at the mess in gaza compare it to Israel. Israel outguns Gaza a million to one

21/11/12. Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

The only ones provoking a war to take down Syria are Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Israel has no interest in taking down Iran. Just in ending its nuclear program.

It doesn't matter by how much Israel outguns Hamas (that's Hamas by the way, not 'Gaza') if it doesn't use it to put an end to the attacks. Kind of like how the US outguns Al Qaeda.

21/11/12. Nat's daughter said...

Another sad day for Israel. Capitulation=suicide. Kick hamas ass once and for all. And that goes for any and all enemies. Time to take off the gloves and flatten hamas/gaza. Then nuke Iran!

21/11/12. Dick Stanley said...

I don't suppose we'll ever know how much Barry promised to pay the puppeteers in Egypt to restrain its terrorist protege. Or what he threatened Bibi with to get his acquiescence. As feckless as Bibi has been in the past, his political career is on the line now from a fed-up Israeli electorate, especially now that Tel Aviv's distracted seculars have had their "bubble" pierced by Iranian rockets.

When Hamas inevitably breaks the ceasefire, maybe whoever has replaced Bibi will have the cahones to cut off Gaza's water and electricity until Hamas surrenders.

21/11/12. Ravis said...

The repercussions from the last Gaza interdiction no doubt wet the feet of the Israelis this time around. Who knows the pressure being applied, including from us, their one and only one (pseudo) ally. Still, why give concessions? That only muddles the moral ground. If Hamas was in the wrong, why should they profit? It's one thing to refrain from killing your enemy; it's another to reward him for his transgressions against you.

21/11/12. Keliata said...

OT but I'd bet a far share of the Hamas terrorists are among those released as part of the Gilad Shalit deal months ago.

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century. This essay appeared November 20, 2012 on Greenfield's website and is archived at

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