Special Report

The Force of the Irrational

Reflections on Democrats and health care and the death last week of 86-year-old Ike Aranne.

By 12.28.09

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As the Democrats begin their final push to pass a health care bill that the American people don't really want, that they themselves haven't read (let alone understood), and that is bound to hurt them very badly in upcoming elections, it seems worthwhile to pause for a moment, and consider the role of the irrational in human affairs.

What really motivates human actions -- a straightforward calculus of gains and losses, or unconscious desires that the actors can't acknowledge even to themselves, let alone admit to in public? How much of a role do hatred, fear, and a thirst for glory and revenge play in the minds of politicians? Is it possible that Dr. Freud wasn't such a quack, after all?

These grim musings are prompted not only by current events in Washington, but also by the death in Israel last week of 86-year-old Ike Aranne, who captained the Exodus back in 1947 -- a ship whose fate played an important role in the birth of Israel a year later.

The story of the Exodus (the ship's full name was Exodus from Europe '47) is almost unbelievable. After World War II, Britain was nearly destitute. Food, clothing and fuel were all rationed. But led by Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin, the British government saw fit to blockade the coast of Palestine with 45 of its most advanced warships. These ships had only one mission: to prevent the survivors of Hitler's Holocaust -- the very people Britain had just helped save -- from reaching safe-haven in the Land of Israel.

Why was Britain -- generous, stout-hearted, fair-minded Britain -- so determined to keep the Jews bottled up in Europe? Why did the Charity, Ajax, Chieftan, Childers, Chequers and Carrigan Bay ram the rickety Exodus in international waters? Why did the British kill or wound about 100 of its 4,500 passengers, deport the remainder to Germany, and incarcerate them in Camp Poppendorf, a former Nazi concentration camp near Hamburg? (Ironically, after they had forcibly removed the Jews from the Exodus, British sailors gathered up the cans of kosher meat that the desperate passengers had flung at them, and shipped them to their own needy families back in Britain.) It reminds me of what Benjamin Franklin once said about John Adams: "He means well for his country, is always an honest man, but sometimes, and in some things, is absolutely out of his senses."

The British were out of their senses in 1947, just as the Democrats are out of their senses today. Britain's madness helped make the rise of Israel inevitable, and the Democrats' madness is making a Republican majority inevitable. Ernest Bevin was probably motivated by primitive anti-Semitism, and Barack Obama is probably motivated by primitive anti-capitalism. Anti-Semitism and anti-capitalism are not the sorts of impulses that civilized people admit to in polite society, but they are two of the most potent forces in world affairs, and probably have much more to do with the actual course of events than the seductive arguments drafted by clever speechwriters, or the ingenious analyses devised by learned historians. Or so, at least, Dr. Freud would argue.

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About the Author

Joseph Shattan is the author of Architects of Victory: Six Heroes of the Cold War.