Bereavement and Failure

The world war broke out because a gang of politicians and generals from Austria and Germany, exploited the murder of an heir in Sarajevo for the sake of their fantasy.

I have only now read Amos Elon's book "The Pity of it All: A History of Jews in Germany 1743-1933." Its most compelling chapter was titled War Fever, describing the period before, during and after World War I. It was instructive and chilling: What happened to all those writers and poets and journalists and scientists and painters and musicians that they were so blinded? How did they lose their good judgment, giving into an insane euphoria? How did intellectuals get swept up in the nationalist militarism, which filled the sails of the most stupid war in the modern era?

The world war broke out because a gang of politicians and generals from Austria and Germany, exploited for the sake of their whims and fantasy the murder of an heir in Sarajevo. Once, a long and no-less senseless war broke out here after the ambassador in London was shot and fatally wounded. In its early days, as in the case of most wars, the local intellectuals betrayed themselves, filling the marching grounds and swearing allegiance to the standards of the campaign.

Among the intellectual rabble that Elon names, were, among others, Thomas Mann and Stefan and Arnold Zweig, Max Reinhart, Max Lieberman and Max Weber; most were known as pacifists. He also adds a list of Zionists: Shmuel Hugo Bergman, Siegfried Moses, Kurt Blumfeld, Nahum Goldman, Martin Buber and many others. Sigmund Freud also was tempted by the charms of war, but his passions were short-lived: he was one of the first to sober up. Only a few dared to stand up at the right time and not be swept up by the floodtides of lies: politicians like Rosa Luxembourg, Edward Bernstein, and Karl Liebnicht, and other intellectuals, like Albert Einstein, Karl Krause and Arthur Shnitzler; may their memory be preserved.

This book is a universal warning against the charms of damnable wars and the mendacity of their mongers. It's a red or black or brown or green or blue and white warning light against the sweep of emotion and outbreak of adrenalin whenever people go to war in the name of the peace they claim in vain. Once again, let's define war for ourselves and try to teach others, particularly the new defense minister, citizen Amir Peretz, who might be captivated by the "professionals" during his basic training on the job: Every war that could be avoided and is not is foul and forbidden; every war of choice is born in sin, and the sin brings with it a punishment; every war that is meant to satisfy the urges of expansion is cursed, and will chase down its initiators and bring them down; every war that results in occupation is bound to get complicated, corrupt and eventually fail; every war meant to teach a lesson, pay back the enemy in their own kind, to avenge or even just deter, will end in great sorrow and innocent victims; every war that does not have defined and achievable political goals will bring forth only a worse reality than what preceded it, that which gave birth to the war in the first place.

By those standards, Israel did not have wars, just adventures. Only the War of Independence was a life or death war - a war of no choice - and if we had not won it, we would have not survived. The Six-Day War is portrayed as a war of national salvation, but it was not. The threats posed to Israel at the time could have been foiled with limited military actions, without entrapping the country in the trash-bin of occupation from which it has yet to escape. When almost everyone wept at the thrill of being at the wall-of-destruction's memory and in excitement over the Third Commonwealth, only a few wept over the destruction. There were many intellectuals then who hurried to march in step to form the Movement for the Greater Land of Israel; most have since regretted it.

The next 58 years will be better and less lethal - and that's a promise - if the statesmen finally manage the country and the officers manage the army, and only it; and if both of them understand that war is passe, because there are no winners any more; and if we don't count on the intellectuals, because only a few of them protect their senses from drunkenness on the day the order comes down; and if we don't count on the professional peacemakers, the pacifists of conscience and the combative war resisters, because a nice little war could allow them to demonstrate loyalty to the court and its trumpeter.

There are 22,123 fallen people counted on this Memorial Day. The pain of losing them only worsens: The more war one knows, the more pain one knows. Today we bow our heads over their graves in eternal sorrow, but also with a terrible sense of missed opportunity: many, many who we loved could have lived and did not need to die. Bereavement and failure, together.