The Talmud (Brachot 8b) reports that the brilliant scholar, Rava, bequeathed to his children the following pearl of wisdom: “When you are cutting food, don’t cut downward with the knife while the food is in your hand. This will cause two problems. First, you will cut your hand. Then the blood will ruin the food.” I studied that at age 16 or 17 as a Yeshiva student, and it nagged at the back of my consciousness for more than two decades. Did this great genius have no more poignant message to leave his children than this? And why was the Talmud troubling to report something so picayune?
One day it hit me. It was about ten years ago and I had made a mess of some life situation or other, when insight dawned. Rava was telling his kids not to make the mistake of thinking that you can beat the system. Everyone knows in theory that it is unsafe to cut food downwards toward their skin. But they think they will manage to do it and get away with it because they are being super alert and careful. The end is that they not only hurt themselves, they bungle the job as well, ruining it irreparably.
Both the United States and Israel were guilty of this behavior in the decades preceding Sept. 11, 2001. They allowed various noxious elements to grow as opposition forces, reasoning that they were too small to do much damage and could be swatted easily when they make a move. And, to be honest, this sort of skating on thin ice continues apace when dealing with sovereign nations. Neither we nor Israel have a real answer for Iran, so we muck along, murmuring some idiocy about indigenous political movements. Same goes for us and North Korea.
However, one line was drawn by President Bush. That was against terrorism. That is to say, that the buildup of non-governmental forces will no longer be seen as something local to its host country. Their profession of war against us will be promoted to the level of reality. It is their fantasy that they can fight us even, but it is real that they can strike and wound in spots. If we tolerate that as an inevitable annoyance, then we live in a de facto state of war, because the threat to each individual preoccupies the entire nation. So we might as well fight it as a real war.
Indeed the insistence by the Supreme Court that captured terrorists be accorded the protections of the Geneva Convention, while it presents certain inconveniences, ultimately underwrites this novel concept of war between a sovereign state and a club, organization or militia. Strange as it seemed until a week ago, and new as it is in world history, the full faith and credit of these United States has been engaged in warfare with an amorphous band of punks without an address known mostly as al-Qaeda.
Yet even that squad, more successful in killing than any previous group of terrorists, has been limited in its choice of weaponry to conventional guns and bombs. The one time they manned aircraft, it was done by hijacking ours and striking before we had acclimated. Never did they strike with planes or rockets of their own. To an extent the image of the unfair war was exacerbated by that limitation upon their capacity.
What Hamas, to a degree, and Hezbollah, to a far greater degree, are showing now is the wisdom and the urgency of the Bush approach. Here we have these unincorporated entities shooting missiles with a range of forty miles and unmanned drones that can attack a ship at sea. This is an absolutely unimaginable escalation, not only in degree but in kind. This is a qualitative leap forward for the international thug culture. Rockets without flags.
President Bush has been courageous in backing Israel’s massive counterattack, as the usual suspects in the EU and the UN have made their predictable prissy noises. But beyond courage, he is operating from a profound intellectual awareness that this weekend has substantiated retroactively his half-decade of war against the shadowy al-Qaeda. Take the Supreme Court decision and add it to the face that Hezbollah showed the world this week; the combination of the two establishes without doubt the reality of true war being engaged between governments and roving international armies of menace: crusaders, if you will.
Let us pray that Israel can score a crippling wound against Hezbollah in the time allotted to them before the critical mass of international disapproval becomes too straitening. The era of big government is over…at least in the arena of the battlefield. If they can become big enough to manufacture, store and fire long-range missiles, we had darned well better muster the gumption to blast them off the face of the earth.