The Monster II

What went wrong? During the middle ages the Arabs developed a brilliant civilization, or so we are told. Next, at some time during the fifteenth century, things began going wrong. The Arabs missed the invention of print (only in 1775 did the Ottomans, who at that time ruled over most Arabs, allow the first printing shop to be established. They missed humanism, the Renaissance, and the Reformation. They missed the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment. They missed the French and American Revolutions along with the principles of democracy and human rights; and they also missed the industrial revolution.

As so often, backwardness meant military weakness and invited invasion. By 1919 there was not one Arab country left that was not under European occupation with all the attendant bloodshed, destruction, and humiliation. The process of liberation started in the 1930s and lasted into the 1960s. Many of the regimes that now took power were republican and secular. They promised to catch up with the modern world, usually by adopting some version of “Arab socialism.” Algeria, Tunisia, Libya (after 1969), Egypt, Syria and Iraq all took this approach. The situation in the monarchies (Morocco, Saudi, Arabia, Jordan, and the Gulf countries) was more problematic. The need to assert themselves in the world drove them, too, toward modernization. However, they were less able to cut loose from their traditions, since doing so would compromise the basis on which their regimes were built.

Either way, modernization failed. To this day there is no Arab Hyundai, no Arab Toyota or Alibaba. The reasons for this—political instability, extreme poverty, or the kind of oil-based riches that makes it easier to import whatever is needed rather than produce it locally—vary. With the failure to modernize the economy came the kind of regime in which corruption is an integral part of government. The rule of law is unknown, the secret police commits any crime it wants, and whatever elections are held are a farce. Not even the much overrated “Arab Spring” has changed these facts.

Some Arab leaders, notably the Saudis, distinguished themselves by their conservatism and bigotry. Others, notably Libya’s Muammar Khadafy, mixed their brutish despotism with a kind of clownishness. The Arab states’ attempts to assert themselves by force of arms were regularly defeated by Israel, which most Arabs see as a Western stooge, and by the West itself, as in 1991. By the turn of the millennium, so bad had things become that prefacing anything with the word “Arab” automatically marked it as second, third and even fourth rate. The only exception, apparently, is being an “Arab” horse.

It was against this background that Daesh, IS as it is known in the West, emerged. The organization originated in Iraq during the U.S occupation when Sunni groups, resenting the loss of the privileges they had enjoyed under Saddam Hussein, broke away from Al Qaeda and started fighting both the Americans and the Shiite majority. From there it spread into Syria where civil war broke out in 2011 and where it joined other militias fighting the regime of Basher Assad before again turning its attention to Iraq. It feeds on a century of near constant humiliation both at the hands of foreigners and at those of various Arab rulers. That accounts for its evident ability to attract volunteers from practically all Arab countries as well as the Arab minorities in the West.

Some of these people are highly educated. Yet they do not condemn the atrocities for which Daesh has become infamous. To the contrary, they see them as one more reason why it deserves their support. Here, they feel, is one organization prepared to adopt real Islam. It will burn its bridges and go to the end of the world fighting both the hated, corrupt Arab governments—whether republican or monarchical—and the overbearing West. The position of the Arab governments is more problematic. Syria and Iraq barely have any governments left. The rulers of the Gulf States, Qatar in particular, dislike Daesh but are trying to buy them off. The Hashemite monarchy stands in mortal fear of it, and with good reason. Egypt’s military rulers, seeing links between Daesh and the Islamic opposition to their regimes, share the same attitude.

Most interesting is the position of the Saudis. A reborn Caliphate is hardly in the interest of the Saudi royal house whose ancestors used to be governed, albeit very loosely, by the Caliphs in Constantinople. They also dislike the atrocities which are giving Sharia a bad name in the U.S whose support they need against Iran and, perhaps one day, their own people. Yet some Saudis see a parallel between Daesh and themselves before, following the discovery of oil, they were subjected to Western influences. Should the house founded by Ibn Saud during the 1930s be overthrown, this view may well prevail.

Thus the entire, geo-politically critically important, area from the Mediterranean coast and the Persian Gulf stands in danger of being engulfed by a whole series of interrelated wars. So far Sunnis, Shiites, and, here and there, the small Christian minority in the various countries have done the bulk of the killing and the dying. Outside powers are, however, taking a hand. Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran are all more or less heavily involved. So are Jordan, Israel, and Lebanon. As so often the U.S plays, or is trying to play, a critical role. It is mobilizing a broad coalition of allies—including several Arab ones—and bombing, or threatening to bomb, everything in sight.

And the outcome? Nobody knows. Daesh may or may not defeat Assad and set up some other government in Syria. It may or may not succeed in overrunning Iraq. Jordan, Israel and Lebanon may or may not become even more heavily involved than they already are. Ditto in respect to the Saudis, the Gulf States, the Turks and the Iranians. All we know is that Daesh is but one of several similar and competing organizations all of which want to establish a new Caliphate. It can also be safely said that air strikes will do little to contain the fighting. The one certainty is that a great many people will die and whatever political order exists will be destroyed before another can take its place, if it can.

As the process unfolds, far from giving birth to a new pan-Arab politico-religious order, it may well bring about the Arab world’s terminal decline. The question is, will we allow them to take the rest of us down with them?

Pussycats II: Seek and You Shall Find

“Seek and you shall find,” says the Gospel. Never more so, one supposes, then in our own “post-modern” age when everything goes and countless things that were supposed to have an objective existence suddenly stand revealed as “constructed” in this way or that. Not only words, as Humpty Dumpty said, but things mean what we choose them to mean. If not completely so—here I differ with some of the most extreme followers of Michel Foucault—then at any rate to a considerable extent.

Take the case of war. In ancient Greece and Rome war was supposed to be associated with arête and virtus. Both are best understood as (manly, but in the present context that is beside the point) excellence and prowess respectively. Achilles preferred a short, heroic life to a long and dull one. Alexander, who studied Homer under the guidance of Aristotle, told his troops that “work, as long as it is noble, is an end in itself.” Virgil, by common consent the greatest Roman poet, celebrated virtus, the quality that had made had enabled his city to conquer first Italy and then the world, as follows:

Strong from the cradle, of a sturdy brood,

We bear our newborn infants to the flood;

There bath’d amid the stream, our boys we hold

With winter harden’d, and inur’d to cold.

They wake before the day to range the wood

Kill ere they eat, nor taste unconquer’d food.

No sports, but what belong to war, they know;

To break the stubborn colt, to bend the bow.

   Our youth, of labor patient, earn their bread;

   Hardly they work, with frugal diet fed.

   From plows and arrows sent to seek renown,

   They fight in fields, and storm the shaken town.

   No part of life from toils of war is free,

   No change in age, or difference in degree.

   We plow and till in arms; our oxen feel,

   Instead of goads, the spur and pointed steel;

   Ev’n time, that changes all, yet changes us in vain;

   The body, not the mind; nor can control

   Th’ immortal vigor, or abate the soul.

   Our helms defend the young, disguise the gray

   We live by plunder, and delight in prey.

At some point during the Middle Ages the idea of excellence was replaced by the related one of honor. The rules of honor dictated that fights should be fair. This was just the opposite from antiquity when stratagem was often seen as preferable to a head-on clash. In tournaments and other forms of mock warfare, the outcome was attempts to ensure that the opponents should be balanced as well as the use of umpires. Again this was just the opposite from the gladiatorial games where umpires were inconceivable. Honor meant that one should respect the enemy’s courage. One should not stab an opponent in the back. One should not violate truces. Oaths, even those made to the enemy and even those that result in negative consequences for oneself, are binding and should be kept.

Better death than disgrace. Roland, the hero of the poem by that name, prefers death to the likelihood that subsequent generations will sing of him as a coward. At the Battle of Maldon the defending Anglo-Saxons voluntarily surrendered the tactical advantage they held over the invading Vikings. As a result they were defeated, or so we are told.

Following his crushing defeat at Pavia in 1525 King Francis I of France is said to have exclaimed that “everything is lost, save honor.” The embodiment of this ideal was Francis’ contemporary Bayard, the chevalier sans peur et sans reproche, Such was his reputation that, having been captured twice, each time he was released without having to pay the customary ransom. So conscious of honor were Spanish soldiers during the same period that they sometimes executed those of their comrades who proposed surrender.

As expressions such as “the field of honor” and an “honorable death” show, such ideas had a long future in front of them, They also underlie many royal mottos, including “Dieu et mon Droit” (the English Crown), “nemo me impune lascevit” (the ‘Scottish one), Ne Plus Ultra (Emperor Charles V), and “Je Maintiendrai” (the House of Orange). Louis XIV had “nec pluribus impar.” The Sun King opened his memoirs by explaining that, to earn honor, it behooved a young prince in particular to go to war. Frederick the Great once said that the only thing that could make men march into the muzzles of the cannon trained on them was honor. But he did not always have it his way. In a fit of pique, he once ordered one of his subordinates to demolish the property of an enemy commander. Only to have the officer in question invoke honor and refuse.

Nor was honor the final word. As my friend and former student Prof. Yuval Harari has shown in his book, The Ultimate Experience, towards the end of the eighteenth century it became outmoded in turn. Its place was taken by the idea of some kind of secret, or superior, knowledge only those who had been through war and battle could acquire. That notion went well with the waning of aristocratic rule and the dawning of the bourgeois age. Here is Siegfried Sassoon, English poet and a serving officer in World War I, writing to his family in 1916:

“Last year, before the Somme, I had not known what I was in for. I knew now; and the idea was giving me emotional satisfaction! I had often read those farewell letters from second-lieutenants to their relatives which the newspapers were so fond of printing. ‘Never has life brought me such an abundance of noble feelings,’ and so on. I had always found it difficult to believe that these young men had really felt happy with death staring the in the face and I resented any sentimentalizing of infantry attacks. But here I was, working myself up into a similar mental condition as though going over the top were a species of religious experience.”

Needless to say, the transition from one idea to the succeeding one was not a simple one. It proceeded in different ways, at a different pace, in different countries and among people belonging to different social classes. There were always those who adhered to old ideas even as others were already discarding them. As even the most superficial inquiry will show, to say that the ideas in question always made themselves felt would be a gross overstatement. Yet to say that they were merely a hypocritical cover for barbaric deeds and never had any influence at all would be an even greater one. They are perhaps best understood as forming the mental framework that formed the skeleton or chassis, of war; one that had a certain impact even when it was violated.

At the time Sassoon wrote war was still supposed to generate “an abundance of noble feelings” in the breasts of those who had experienced it. Shortly after, however, and with Sassoon himself very much in the lead, that idea in turn started waning away. The essential nature of war remained what it always had been. What changed was the way it was perceived and understood. From a revelatory experience akin to a religious one—Sassoon again—it was turned into a thoroughly rotten business. It was without either virtue or honor or knowledge; merely a process whereby obtuse generals sent millions to be mechanically slaughtered, often by men and weapons whom they never laid their eyes on. Excitement and heroism were out, unspeakable suffering was in. All “for an old bitch gone in the teeth, for a botched civilization” (the American poet Ezra Pound).

Throughout the interwar years famous writers such as John Dos Passos, Robert Graves, and Ernst Hemingway never stopped hammering away on this theme. So did the most famous anti-war writer of all, Erich Maria Remarque. From there it was but a short step to the idea that war, far from elevating the soul in some way as most past generations had believed, was harmful to it and that anybody who spent enough time fighting had to suffer psychological damage. This was almost entirely new. Some modern psychologists—but few historians—have done their best to project Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as distinct from the most intense fear and trembling experienced before and during battle, as far back as Achilles around 1200 B.C. In fact no period earlier than the American Civil War seems to have been familiar with it. Nor will anybody who has read his Iliad with its gory descriptions of brains being dashed in and blood spurting out in face-to-face combat—often conducted by men who knew one another—necessarily agree with those who claim that modern war is more terrible, hence more likely to give rise to PTSD, than any of its predecessors.

Instead, the rise to prominence during World War I of what the British knew as “shell shock” and the Germans as “war neurosis” both reflected the idea that war was not worth fighting and promoted it. It was from this point that PTSD began its march of conquest. During World War II, there were moments when the number of GIs discharged from the U.S Army exceeded that of recruits being drafted into it. Following Vietnam, the problem assumed such huge proportions that not only the military but public opinion at large became alarmed. Henceforth no war, however short and however easy (the First Gulf War is a good example) that did not produce an abundant crop of PTSD victims. Rising to the occasion, physicians, psychiatrists and psychologists leaped into the breach, using it to have the satisfaction of serving their country, help their fellow men, and make money, all at the same time.

Worst of all, to avoid subsequent lawsuits the U.S military started insisting that all personnel returning from war be screened for PTSD. Seek, and you shall find. Instead of being welcomed home as heroes, the troops are being treated as damaged goods. No wonder that, by 2014, the cost of treating veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, including also the pensions paid to many serious victims, was said to run into the billions each year. The consequences, both for them and for society’s readiness to go to war in order to protect its interests, its way of life, and yes, its honor, were predictable.

To conclude, two points. First, I think that the approach to the history of Western military history expounded in the present essay—periodizing it by the way war was understood rather than by organization, technology, strategy, tactics or whatever—is as good as any. Second, one cannot help but wonder whether PTSD has also affected those who, in recent years, have fought against the West—in Vietnam in 1965-73, in Afghanistan in 2002-14, and in Iraq in 2003-10. How about the Viet Cong? How about the Taliban? How about Daesh? Many of those troops committed worse atrocities, and suffered proportionally more casualties, than Western soldiers have done at any time since World War II. Did that cause them to come down with PTSD? If not, why? Did what, at first sight, looks like a unique Western weakness, play a role in the rise of pussycat-ism? If so, what can and should be done?

Given the present state of knowledge, my friends, the answer is blowing in the wind.

Why Obama, Kerry, Abbas, Hamas, BDS, and Hezbollah Will All Go Poof!

Bad newspaper headlines aside, it’s been a pretty good century for the Zionists

by

Edward N. Luttwak

rocks

In 1912, David Ben Gurion moved to Istanbul, capital of the Ottoman Empire, to study law at Istanbul University. The land of Israel had been under Ottoman rule for centuries, and the only way the Jews could grow their villages and towns, family by family, house by house, was to be accepted as loyal Ottoman subjects.

Two years later, when the World War broke out, Ben Gurion recruited 40 fellow Jews into a militia to serve the empire. Given the strategic situation, it was the only intelligent choice: The Ottoman Empire had persisted for centuries as its declining military strength was perfectly offset by increasing diplomatic support—by 1912, it was backed by both the British and the German empires, a double assurance of its long-term survival. That is why Ben Gurion was studying Turkish and the law, confident in the expectation that in 10 or 20 years he would master Ottoman political complexities to attain the rank and seniority of an ethnic leader for the thousands of Jews who were arriving each year.

But Ben Gurion’s strenuous efforts were wasted. Instead of enduring for several more centuries, in a mere six years the Ottoman Empire went poof! Just like that.

Many things changed in the ensuing confusion of World War I and its disordered aftermath—but not the determination of the Jews to return to their ancestral land to grow their villages and towns family by family, house by house. With the Ottoman Empire but a memory, from Sept. 29, 1923 on, it was the British who officially ruled the land.

Managing relations with the Ottomans had been fraught with complexities—aside from their ambivalence toward the immigration of Jews, even the language that Ben Gurion had to study was no mere street Turkish but the complicated Persian-Arabic-Turkic mixture of the official imperial language. With the British, however, matters were even more complicated. Instead of straightforward colonial rule, the British governed as the “Mandatory Power” under the League of Nations, forcing the handful of emerging Jewish leaders to contend with Foreign Office officials whose taste for intrigue was only exceeded by their distaste for Jews, while also trying to fend off other League of Nations powers. The French acquired a Mandate of their own over neighboring Syria, from which they soon carved out what is now Lebanon, but they also demanded privileges in Jerusalem especially, and were anything but sympathetic to Jewish settlement. The Italians were much nicer of course but to no avail after 1926, 1929 when Mussolini ended the quarrel between king and pope, and Italian officials started to serve the Vatican, whose prelates viewed the return of the Jews with outright alarm, as if it undermined the very legitimacy of their own church, which in a way it did. Not quite correct. During the 1930s Mussolini, hoping to take over from the British, was more helpful to the Zionists than anybody else. In return the Betarnik Tzu Kulitz in turn published a book called, Mussolini, the Man and His Work (1937). The alliance between Arab rejectionists—violent ones definitely included—and the Franciscan “custodians” who represented Vatican interests started already then, generating another layer of complexity that the Jewish leaders had to deal with.

In order to be able to grow Jewish villages and towns, family by family, house by house, the Jewish communal leaders—themselves still callow youngsters—had to outmaneuver highly experienced British officials, sophisticated European diplomats, and especially relentless prelates. Given all this, Ben Gurion’s 20-year timetable to understand and overcome Ottoman imperial complexities was definitely optimistic when it came to the Mandate. But just when he and his colleagues had finally learned how to avoid its traps, on May 15, 1948, British rule went poof!

By then, the newly minted Israeli state was engulfed in war, not least with the British-officered Arab Legion. And in spite of President Harry S. Truman’s instant recognition, Israel was also at war with the U.S. Department of State, for its officials were relentless in denying arms and ammunition to the beleaguered Jewish forces who were fighting on five fronts. At the time, there were huge unwanted inventories of armored vehicles, artillery, personal weapons, and combat aircraft in U.S. military depots across Europe and the world. But the same officials who had gone to inordinate lengths to deny immigration visas to Jews desperate to escape the Nazis were equally assiduous in denying any military supplies whatever to Israel, on the poisonous theory that more weapons would only add to the fighting and the suffering—blithely ignoring the resulting imbalance with Arab military forces already equipped. Moreover, in an excess of zeal, the U.S. State Department used the United States’ then-overwhelming influence to persuade other countries as well to deny weapons to the Jews. The fledgling CIA joined the British Secret Intelligence Service in trying to intercept pathetic shipments of ancient cannons from Mexico, worn-out rifles from Italy, and others such purchased by desperate envoys. In the end, it was only by Stalin’s will, for his own anti-British ends, that the Jews were able to buy in Czechoslovakia the vast majority of the weapons with which they won the war, thereby being able to keep growing their villages and towns and cities family by family, house by house.

U.S. policy toward Israel did not change even after the fighting ended in 1949—indeed the sale of Canadian-made F-86 jet fighters to the Israeli air force was prohibited as late as 1956. But by then Israel had found an all-round ally in France, so that its originally Polish-and Russian-speaking leaders who had taught themselves Hebrew, who had once striven to study Ottoman Turkish before having to learn Mandatory English instead, now found themselves struggling to learn French. They also had to understand the peculiar but far more important complexities of French foreign and defense policies, which were entirely incompatible: French diplomats wanted to woo the Arabs by opposing Israel, while French soldiers wanted to defeat the Arabs by befriending Israel. Given Israeli dependence on shipments of French jet fighters and much else, Ben Gurion and his juniors, notably Shimon Peres (still hard at work 60 years later!), made every effort to immerse themselves in French politics, while reserving their principal energies to grow Israel’s villages and towns and cities family by family, house by house.

It was not until 1967, which witnessed the splendid performance of French Mirage fighter-bombers in what became known as the Six Day War, that Israel’s leaders finally became confident in their much-valued alliance with France. Here you address the Six Day War first, the “May 1967 prewar crisis” second. Confusing! But in the May 1967 prewar crisis Charles De Gaulle replied with a sinister threat when asked for his support, and in his infamous press conference of Nov. 27, 1967 contrived to both compliment and damn the Jews—“a self-assured elite people and domineering”— and Israel, “which had started a war on a pretext,” i.e., the Egyptian army massed in Sinai. With that an exceptionally broad, exceptionally close alliance abruptly and entirely unexpectedly went poof!

By then Israel faced a new and most formidable strategic opponent in the Soviet Union. Reacting to the humiliation inflicted on their Arab allies and by extension on Soviet weapons and Soviet military craft, the rulers of the world’s largest state decided to direct their power against one of the smallest. So, they cut diplomatic relations with Israel and forced their Warsaw Pact allies to do the same. (Romania’s refusal was its declaration of independence.) They unleashed the then still very influential Communist and “fellow traveler” propaganda networks to demonize Israel and Zionism and sent weapons and trainers to Egypt, Syria, and Iraq in wholly unprecedented numbers: armored vehicles by the thousand, jet fighters by the hundreds, along with all manner of military supplies and thousands of instructors. What is the difference between trainers and instructors?

All this inflicted much damage on Israel. Instead of being able to reduce military spending in the aftermath of its great victories of June 1967, Israel had to double spending to ruinous levels to try to offset the Soviet-supplied growth of Arab military forces. At the same time, Moscow-directed propaganda turned much of European and Latin American opinion against Israel, increasing its political isolation, which was further compounded when the French betrayal was not offset by American support. As of June 1967, the United States had not delivered a single combat aircraft, armored vehicle, or war vessel to Israel. It did, however, deliver Hawk missiles. (In June 1966, though, after years of entreaties, 48 A-4s, the smallest and least advanced U.S. combat aircraft, were promised—but they would not arrive until 1968.)

In the wake of its historic June 1967 victory, therefore, Israel found itself facing the total hostility of both the Soviet bloc with its sympathizers world-wide, and the Islamic bloc with its camp followers. The Chinese and Indians were also unfriendly. It was 3 billion against not quite 3 million.

But Israel’s leaders and citizens were not intimidated by 1,000-to-1 ratios and were not lacking in tenacity—they continued to grow Israel’s villages, towns and cities family by family, house by house—within the 1967 lines, and beyond them, too.

Their serene confidence was soon justified. Faced with the massive Soviet military investment in Egypt, Syria and Iraq, even the U.S. State Department (if not the CIA, hostile till now) came to accept that American national interests mandated counterveiling support for Israel in order to deny a strategic victory to the Soviet Union. It took time for U.S. military supplies to arrive, but arrive they did, increasing over time in quantity and quality, albeit in fits and starts as bureaucratic opposition persisted.

Moreover, the smashing victory of June 1967 had other positive consequences for Israel’s global position. Though mostly invisible at the time, they were in part significantly helpful, and in part not less than utterly momentous. In the former category was the growth of military-industrial trade with ambitious players who were properly impressed by Israel’s war-winning talents. Among them, the Shah of Iran had the deepest purse, the longest shopping list, and a particular willingness to invest in co-development; that allowed Israel to produce weapons that the United States would not supply. The Israeli alliance with the Shah was always problematic and hardly central—Israel’s leaders were not under pressure to learn Persian (though it was spoken with classical over-perfection by Foreign Minister Abba Eban), yet it absorbed much well-rewarded efforts, until it went poof! in 1979 with the shah’s overthrow by the ayatollahs.

***

By then, the other and even less visible consequence of the 1967 victory had become visible. For many American Jews previously untouched by Zionist passion, now was the time to join a winning team; for the Jews of the Soviet Union Israel’s victory awakened the will to liberate themselves from fear, to demand the right to emigrate in order to live as Jews. Of the 80-odd nationalities of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the Jews were the most vulnerable simply because they were the most dispersed—that, in addition to officially despised, unofficially promoted anti-Semitism. Yet it was the Jews and not tens of millions of Ukrainians or Uzbeks who stood in Red Square right in front of the Kremlin to demand the right to emigrate. When they were swiftly arrested, the authorities were no doubt sure that it was the end of the madness. But it was only the beginning, in a movement that kept growing despite persecution, prosecution, and imprisonment.

In the meantime, Israel was trying to cope with Soviet power by every means possible, including the famous July 30, 1970, episode of direct combat, in which the best fighter-pilots on each side fought it out over Egypt, with five jets shot down, none of them Israeli. Again, Israel’s resistance to Soviet intimidation had other consequences, including the encouragement of other kinds of courage. Communist intellectual hegemony—by then an anti-Zionist hegemony—in France, Italy, and beyond was breached by the “new philosophers,” Jean-Marie Benoist, Pascal Bruckner, André Glucksman, Alain Finkielkraut, Bernard-Henri Lévy—a fact that was hardly noticed at the time but would soon help to dismantle the entire Soviet support system among intellectual “fellow-travelers” that had once operated globally, lately against Israel (e.g., to secure a prestigious New York publication for the Stalinist hack Maxime Rodinson). That of the “new philosophers” several of the most prominent were Jews was no doubt a mere coincidence, as was the post-1967 timing of their intellectual revolt. Yes or no, it too was a factor in the collapse of Soviet ideology and Communist Party morale that would transform Israel’s external environment when the USSR and the entire Soviet bloc went poof!

One immediate consequence of Gorbachev’s liberalization that preceded the final collapse was that the growth of Israel’s villages, towns and cities, family by family, house by house, hugely accelerated as ex-Soviet Jews arrived from Alma Ata, Zlatoust, and hundreds of places in between, inaugurating a statistical miracle: Jews kept leaving the former Soviet lands but the number that remained in their Jewish communities did not decline anywhere near in proportion, as more and more ex-disaffiliated Jews and newly affiliated semi-Jews kept joining up, in a process that continues still.

Back in the 1980s, when it was not yet known that the Soviet Union would collapse, Israel still faced the elemental military threat of much more populous Arab states with very large standing armies, notably Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. When it came to air power, Arab numbers mattered less because of the phenomenal advantage of Israeli piloting and air command skills, but in ground combat there are no 60-to-zero kill ratios, and even if 100 battle tanks can resist 1,000 (it happened on the Golan Heights Oct. 6-9, 1973) they could not resist 3,000. The Israelis therefore had to make an extraordinary effort to man and equip as many armored divisions as the U.S. Army (!), to be able to contain a simultaneous Egyptian and Syrian offensive while guarding the Jordanian front. Even that was not enough to cope with the Iraqi army as well, whose oil-fueled growth accelerated after 1973. Two Iraqi armored divisions with 30,000 men and hundreds of tanks had arrived during the October War just when the Israelis with a supreme effort had repelled the Syrian offensive to attack in turn—and poorly handled as they were, those fresh Iraqi forces almost tipped the balance. Iraq’s military growth therefore loomed very large in Israeli war planning, in which the “eastern front” of Jordan, Syria, and Iraq had become more dangerous than the “southern front” with Egypt, even before the peace treaty of March 1979.

But that reality also turned out to be an evanescent, because just when Iraqi military strength was reaching really dangerous levels, the fall of the Shah ignited the tensions that would send the Iraqi army east instead of west—to invade Iran in September 1980. That started a truly bloody war that would last until 1988, exhausting Iraq’s armed forces even before they went poof! in the 1991 contest with the United States and its Gulf War allies. Thus the fall of the Shah, which had cost Israel an important quasi-ally, ultimately brought down Israel’s most dangerous enemy, whose strength could have tipped the balance in a repeat of the 1973 war—still the most probable threat scenario right up until the outbreak of civil war, when Syria itself went poof!

But of course the fall of the Shah also brought into existence the present Iranian threat, whose expressions range from the nuclear and ballistic-missile programs on which the Islamic Republic of Iran has spent many billions of dollars since 1985, to the funding of Hezbollah in Lebanon and of “Islamic Jihad” in the Gaza Strip, as well as the support of Nouri Hasan al-Maliki’s intolerant Shia rule in Iraq, and Assad’s rule in Syria.

Each of these dire manifestations of the Iranian threat will have its own fate of course, though it is already clear that Hezbollah will not go poof! because it is deflating with apeeeeeeef…as it over-extends in fighting vastly superior numbers of Sunnis across Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. The contention that all Arabs would rally to its cause if only it starts launching missiles and rockets against Israel was a fair calculation in the past, but would be pure delusion today, when Hezbollah membership is a capital offense in Sunni eyes; and the Israeli response might not be as gentle as it was in 2006, now that the number and quality of Hezbollah projectiles demands an all-out ground offensive. Nor can it be known if Iran’s regime will also go poof! on its own or if it will require outside action, even though at this particular time President Obama’s categorical promise to end Iran’s nuclear-weapon efforts by diplomacy or by air attack is not universally deemed to be entirely credible.

In the meantime, however, other and greater things had changed in the world. From 1978, as China started to emerge from the smelly misery of late Mao rule (in those days Beijing had hand-pulled “night soil” carts instead of sewers), its earliest military purchases were from Israel, which could best upgrade China’s Soviet-pattern tanks as it had upgraded its own captured Soviet tanks. Long before the advent of formal diplomatic relations in 1992, China’s rulers had replaced the pre-1976 nullity with a widening range of trade and cooperative ventures that were only limited years later by U.S.-imposed prohibitions on military sales. These restrictions did not apply to Israel’s relations with India, which extend from the mass tourism of post-army backpackers and all manner of commerce—Mumbay’s Hindu merchants now include Yiddish-speaking diamond traders—to joint projects in the most sensitive of military spheres. In some cases, moreover, Israel is engaged in tri-lateral ventures with Russia as well, as in one of the most ambitious of all Israeli military ventures, the Phalcon radar and command aircraft, which is an Ilyushin-76 in the version sold to India. That in turn is a very small part of the full range of Israeli-Russian and ex-Soviet area relations, whose significance is perhaps best summarized by the abundance of non-stop flights from Tel Aviv to Russian and ex-Soviet airports, 39 of them at present, as opposed to the 5 non-stop flights to U.S. airports (albeit with much larger aircraft).

All of the above are merely disjointed reflections of a veritable transformation of Israel’s position in a transformed world. After 1967, when the U.S. State Department and U.S. Joint Chiefs, compelled by the Soviet engagement with Egypt, Iraq, and Syria, reluctantly accepted the necessity of supplying and supporting Israel, their spokesmen missed no occasion to remind Israeli diplomats and soldiers that they were entirely dependent on the United States, for it alone stood between Israel and complete isolation. That was true enough, because in those years China, India, and the entire Soviet bloc were aligned with the Islamic countries, while even the two key U.S. allies, the United Kingdom and Japan, went out of their way to minimize relations with Israel. Now the situation has been almost entirely reversed across the globe, so much so that even among the Islamic countries only Iran and a few of the most lethargic and peripheral still refuse all dealings with Israel.

Looking back on the vast, abrupt, unpredicted, and amazingly rapid transformations of the world in which the Zionist project advanced over the last 100 years, it is perfectly evident that the importance of “geopolitical realities” and “Great Power Politics,” and of the political preferences and Middle East priorities of the mighty of the earth—sultans, emperors, prime ministers, presidents, and Popes—were all of them very greatly overrated, at every remove, when compared to the growth of Israel’s villages, towns and cities, family by family, house by house.

He and She

Some years ago I told a friend of mine, a female librarian who unfortunately has died since, that, for the first time, I was taking an interest in women. She looked at me and said: “It is time, don’t you think”?

Seriously, how did a military historian like myself ever start writing about women? The answer is twofold. First, during the 1990s, at the latest, the presence of women in the military, its causes, its significance, and its implications reached such a crescendo that it became impossible to ignore. Second, leafing through the works of the great military theorists I noted that none of them had anything to say about women. Yet women form half of the human race and by no means its least important half. Clearly there was a gap there, and one which, in Men, Women and War, I set out to fill as best I could. 4141F05E81L

Delving into women’s history, I found it fascinating. So much so, in fact, that since then I have devoted a considerable part of my work to that topic. Follows a brief summary of some of the things I think I have learnt.

First, when Steven Pinker and many others say that the characteristics of people of both sexes are in large part biologically-determined rather than socially-constructed they were right. Second, when Margaret Mead said that in all known societies what men do is considered most important and that, should women enter a male field in any numbers, the field in question will start losing both its prestige and the rewards it can offer she was right. Third, when Freud said that a great many women suffer from penis envy—whether biologically or socially based—he was right. After all, as I wrote in a previous essay posted on this website, what is modern feminism if not the greatest outburst of penis envy ever? Fourth, when Thomas Aquinas said that men can do anything women can (except for having children, of course) but not the other way around he was right. Fifth, when Plato said that, though no field of human endeavor is absolutely closed to the members of either sex, in all fields men are better on the average, he was right.

Another very important thing Plato said is that, whereas men and women are similar in some respects, they differ in others. The most important thing they have in common is their humanity, the qualities that distinguish them from animals. Including, above all, their big brains and the things they make possible. True, men have ten billion more brain cells than women on the average. But nobody knows what they serve for.

The most important differences—all of which are statistical and mean little if anything in the case of each individual—are as follows. First, women have less testosterone than men. That makes them less aggressive, less competitive, and less inclined towards dominance than men. Second, their bodies are weaker, less able to absorb shocks and blows, and, unless properly taken care of, less resistant to dirt and infectious disease. Until urbanization started changing things from about 1800 on, the outcome was a considerably shorter life expectancy. Third, women conceive, become pregnant, give birth, nurse, and, as with all other mammalians, are mainly responsible for raising the young. Whereas men do not and are not. Fourth, since men are able to have countless offspring whereas women cannot, society is better able to bear their loss than that of women. The enormous investment women make in their offspring, plus their relative physical weakness, also explains why, as Diderot said, women are less able to find delight in the arms of strangers than men.

To repeat, the differences are statistical. Hence they only go so far in dictating the fate of each individual. They are, however, sufficiently significant to explain many things concerning the way human society has always functioned and, presumably, will continue to function. Indeed there probably is no aspect of life, whether private or public, so isolated that sex and gender will not play a role in shaping it. First, in no known culture has there ever been a situation where all persons male and female, shared all activities on an equal basis and received the same rewards. Second, in all known cultures men did the lion’s share of hard, dirty, or dangerous work. Third, in all known cultures men were responsible for feeding women and not the other way around. Some, the above mentioned Margaret Mead included, saw this as the most important difference that set humans apart from other animals. Fourth, in all known cultures it was men who held the great majority of whatever public positions existed. Though some societies, one of which is traditional Judaism, trace descent by way of the female line, no known one has ever been governed by women. Finally, the higher the positions in question the more likely that they would be occupied by men.

The objective of modern feminism has been to abolish these distinctions. Though not to the point where many women are prepared to marry and support men; several sets of statistics show that women who make more than their husbands are more likely to get a divorce. Depending on how one looks at it, the effort can be said to have been either a success or a failure. It has been a success in the sense that, watching old movies, one is always surprised at the fact that, among important decision makers, there are few if any women. Far more women now work outside the home and have careers than previously, and many of the legal hurdles that used to limit their participation in public life have been removed. The same applies to the kind of laws that made husbands the “heads of the family.” The introduction of the pill has also done away with many sexual restraints, enabling women to sleep around or, as the current phrase has it, “hook up” with men much as men themselves do.

As feminists never stop complaining, however, a society in which absolute equality prevails is as far away as it has ever been. Moreover, such advances as women have made

came at a high cost. Leaving the home, many women have lost their freedom and turned themselves into “wage slaves” just like men. Working women are heavily concentrated in the service sector, including the one known as “household services.” The outcome is that they now do for strangers what they used to do for their own families. They also pay taxes as never before. Since working outside the home means having to spend more on such things as clothing, transportation and help, whether most of them really end up by having more disposable income is doubtful; at least one highly successful female researcher, Elizabeth Warren, has warned against “the two-income trap.”

Judging by the number of best-sellers which claim to advise women on how to efficiently manage their time, no group in the population is more stressed than working mothers. These problems are literally killing them; whereas, for almost two hundred years before 1975, the gap in life expectancy between men and women kept growing in favor of the latter, since then it has been declining.

One reason why progress, if that is the right word, has been slow is that a society based on equality between the sexes might result in more divorced women losing custody over their children and being obliged to support their ex-husbands. It might also lead to the justice system treating women as harshly as it does men; increasing the penalties it imposes on them and executing them much more often than is actually the case. At present even military women only enter combat if it suits them. However, a truly equal system might oblige them to do so. All this explains why, judging by the failure to pass ERA (Equal Rights Amendment), many women are not at all certain whether equality is really what they want.

Even so, the attempt to separate sex—the biologically-determined identity of men and women—from gender—the roles they play in society—has led to a very sharp decline in fertility. That applies to all developed countries except the U.S and Israel. In the latter, to quote a popular song, “her eyes are tired but her legs are quite good looking.” So great is the decline that societies such as those of Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia, Japan, South Korea and Singapore either are obliged to rely on immigrants to fill their labor force or simply appear to have no future.

Looking at Europe, what reliance on immigrants may mean, probably will mean, is becoming more and more clear with every passing day. As to having no future, it was that great feminist, Carroll Gilligan, who said that the essence of feminism consists of women looking after themselves first of all. With such an attitude, will there even be a future?