TCS Daily

Morality and the Underdog

By Uriah Kriegel - August 7, 2006 12:00 AM

When it's neither sad nor infuriating, it's at least amusing to see the UN and western media scramble to rationalize a moral defense of Hezbollah in the present Lebanese crisis -- and to mount ever more convoluted rationales for moral condemnation of Israel. With undeniable ingenuity, moral principles are concocted by the lights of which Israel is found guilty of one moral atrocity after another, while the actions of its assaulter are excused. There have been at least three manifestations of such moral equivocation in the present crisis -- wrapped around three allowances that Hezbollah has been granted but Israel denied.

But first, let's start with the accepted facts. The current hostilities started after a paramilitary group -- whose stated goal is the annihilation of a neighboring, UN-recognized country -- crossed international borders with the purpose of killing and abducting said country's soldiers. It's important to stress that -- unlike (say) the PLO -- Hezbollah has no remotely legitimate grievance against Israel. It doesn't represent people under occupation; it's an Iranian implant designed to harass Israel, whatever Israel does. Its only grievance is that Israel exists -- and outside the neo-Marxist margins of circles within the European and African intelligentsias, nobody recognizes this as a morally legitimate grievance. Moreover, while Israel makes efforts to avoid civilian casualties, Hezbollah's only goal is to kill as many civilians as it manages to. Still, the international community's rage is directed at Israel.

How is this possible? Consider the issue of civilian casualties. It's true that Israel's actions have resulted in more civilian casualties than Hezbollah's. But this is just a measure of Israel's military superiority. If Hezbollah could inflict more civilian casualties on Israel, it would. One could argue that Israel doesn't make enough of an effort to avoid civilian casualties. Perhaps -- though it's unclear what it can do beyond dropping thousands of leaflets 24 hours before it attacks major civilian areas, using expensive precision-guidance weapons, and so on. But in any event, we shouldn't lose sight of the important distinction between making insufficient effort to avoid civilian casualties and actually targeting civilians. Those who make sufficient efforts to avoid civilian casualties are certainly morally superior to those who make insufficient efforts. But surely both are morally superior to those who make no efforts whatsoever and, in fact, deliberately target civilians.

It's at this stage of the dialectic that the first allowance is made in defense of Hezbollah. Hezbollah has to target civilians, we're told, because it's not powerful enough to challenge the Israeli military. By this logic, the traditional principle that civilian casualties should be avoided should be modified so that it applies only to the winning side. The newly fashioned principle would read: "avoid civilian casualties -- unless you're losing." Thus, when the tide started turning against Germany in WWII, it would have been morally acceptable for it to start targeting civilians.

The second allowance is a new expression of the "infallible haters" mode of reasoning. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it was often asked "why do they hate us?" -- with the insinuation that if they hate us, they must have a (good) reason. Now that Israel is defending itself against its own diehard haters, many predict that its forceful response to Hezbollah's latest harassment would only generate more hatred in the region. The fact that hatred toward Israel would intensify is taken to carry some moral weight -- to provide indirect evidence that Israel's actions are morally wrong. Just as the kind of Muslim hatred of America that culminated in the 9/11 attacks was mystifyingly taken as evidence of some moral liability on America's part, rather than on the haters' part, so Israel-hatred on the Arab street is taken to indicate something morally problematic about Israel's actions.

This particular allowance is singularly laughable. When courts rule that Intelligent Design theory shouldn't be allowed into the classroom, one doesn't see grave warnings in the mainstream media that this would only inflame Christian fundamentalists. On the rare occasion of a hate crime against Arab-Americans, nobody asks "why do we hate them?" And when Katyusha rockets hit Israel, it's never taken to be morally problematic solely on the grounds that Israelis will now dislike Hezbollah even more.

It is in this light that we should understand the repeated appeal to a supposed principle of proportionality. Its true function in this conflict is to provide a third allowance for Hezbollah. It's adduced mainly to protect the (assaulting) weak against the (assaulted) powerful. If the principle is to be adhered to with consistency, Israel should limit its operations to firing Katyusha rockets. More generally, it's supposed to refrain from overpowering its enemy simply because the enemy is incapable of overpowering it.

By this logic, during WWII the US shouldn't have used those excellent new parachutes -- it should have used the old kind that Hitler possessed as well. Granted, I'm caricaturing the appeal to proportionality here. Certainly there's some intelligent discussion to be had regarding this general principle. But the way it's been pulled out of the hat in this particular conflict suggests that its function is simply to stack the cards against Israel. There's no genuine moral significance behind proportionality in the present context. To that extent, caricature is the appropriate response.

The author teaches philosophy at the University of Arizona and is a TCS Daily contributing writer.



The majority of your logic seems reasonable, but I'm surprised you could even write this...

"It's important to stress that -- unlike (say) the PLO -- Hezbollah has no remotely legitimate grievance against Israel. It doesn't represent people under occupation; it's an Iranian implant designed to harass Israel, whatever Israel does."

18 years of occupation does tend to make one bitter. Keep in mind that these people are Lebanese and enjoy wide spread support in Lebanon. They are not Iranian, nor Persian, they don't even speak Farsi. This is a homegrown militia that gets some if its support from Iran and Syria.

Why include such nonsense in an otherwise decent article? It takes away too much of your credibility.

Why do they hate Israel?
Somehow, in 1930, most of the land in what now is Israel was owned by people who now are called Palestinians but won little land. Rightly or wrongly, many Arabs resent that fact. Israel, rightly or wrongly, occupied southern Lebanon for many years. The resistance movement against Israeli occupation was Hezbollah. Like the IRA, the Hezbollah did not go out of existence when their reason for existence ended. Now, rightly or wrongly, the Israeli military has distroyed much Lebonese civilian infrastructure and killed Lebonese of all ethnic groups and all parts of Lebanon. This has not made the Lebonese people more positively disposed toward Israel.

There are Arabs who hate America and Israel because "they hate our freedoms", but they are a minority. Rightly or wrongly, most America and Israel haters have specific grievances. Pretending otherwise does not strengthen anyone's credibility or help achieve peace.

I think not
Are you seriously implying that there was some fruit to be had by Hezbollah in launching this skirmish?

While there may be motive for the action, there is always motive, what possible outcome could there ever be?

This action by Hezbollah was from the beginning a hopeless action.

Because it was not only hopeless but completely useless and will not resolve the issue in anybody's wildest imagination it is by definition gratuitously violent.

A Partial Answer
I think I may have a partial answer to your question; previously Israel has actually negotiated with these terrorists (trading about 400 live prisoners for the remains of several DEAD soldiers).

A similar outcome to this could have been the objective of Hezbollah, if several dead soldiers can free 400 live captives, what is the price for several LIVE soldiers?

All Hezbollah has to do is survive the inevitable counter attack (the current bombings and incursions) to be victorious. The weapons can be replaced, civilians (both actual and supposed) caught in the crossfire create a net positive for Hezbollah in terms of recruitment and pr.

Further a weakened state infrastructure allows further inroads to be made by Hezbollah during the reconstruction faze once "peace" returns.

Are you also saying that hatred is a reasonable response to what happened?

You are equating "motive" with "action" in a sympathetic light!

If there is motive then we "should" expect action?

Does the phrase "tactical nuclear response" mean anything to you?

Why send 60 or 70 thousand men and women to their deaths In Syria and Iran simply because people might hate you if you use Nukes?

Once they are obliterated who the hell is there left to fight that would risk their nation ?

If they already hate you then what difference does make in the tactics of a war?

The object of war is to win or die trying.

There is a war on. Why would you want to loose it?

Who cares WHY? it is enough that they do.

That is a rationalization from your cool headed computer somewhere.

There is no guarantee at any point or in anyway that Hezbollah itself would see any positive outcome.
Syria wants back into Lebanon.
Iran wants Syria back in Lebanon.
They want Israel wiped from the face of the earth.

This is an attempt at prosecuting a genocide that they have bragged to the world that they want.

When these people say they want Israel wiped from the face of the earth, do you think they are just playing politics? Do you think that they are just blowing off steam?
And if that is what you think, then what does it matter to Israel what you think or anyone else thinks.

as you agree, Israel withdrew 18 years ago.
This withdrawl eliminated any legitimate reasons Hezbollah had to exist.

The claim that they have wide spread support in Lebanon is far from proven. They only won a few seats in the last election.

As to Hezbo's support from Iran and Syria. All of their armaments come from those two countries. When Hezbo's leader felt the heat, he ran to Syria's embassy.

Agreed, Arabs hate Israel because it has the audacity to exist.
nothing more is needed.

The US is at war while the rest of the world sucks back beers
Europe is sitting back and laughing at you because you are doing their dirty work. If the US was not doing the heavy lifting, the EU, China, and India would have to do it.

It is coming your way. You guys have all the money and all the goodies. They want your money. They want you not to have it if they can't have it.
Why should the Arabs do any of their own work when they can suck stupid Americans into paying the way for them.
Don't you know what is going on?

You are being F?CKED over. Hell if you are that easy to con everyone should start F?UCKING OVER Stupid Americans.

They won't attack China to rape and rob them, China would turn them into glass and ash.

Do want to win the war or loose it?

You guys are so weird.

Great article
This "why do they hate us stuff" is common, but so weak-minded it blows my mind. The only thing worse is the "don't hit back it will make them mad". What kind of pathetic loser thinks like that?

Here is one more thing you never hear about in the press. Hezbollah says they are defending Lebanon. Lebanese who aren't Hezbollah supporters might resent the destruction Israel is causing, but at some point it should occur to them that Hezbollah is doing a **** poor job of defending the country which is getting hammered in a war provoked by Hezbollah. But then, Arabs seem to have a loser mentality, too.

What are you talking about?

No Subject
> This "why do they hate us stuff" is common, but so
> weak-minded it blows my mind. ... What kind of pathetic
> loser thinks like that?

If someone is mad at you and wants a fight, does it make you a ***** to try to figure out what he's mad about? Does it make you more of a man to be all big & bad?

Here is another thing you never hear about in the press. Lebonese used to hate Hezbollah but now the Hezzies are more popular in Beirut than Bush on September 12, 2001. Bombing people back to the stone age, while it might make your stones tingle, is not the way to make people like you. I don't think it impresses the girls either.

Listen to you
I suspect you've led a pretty sheltered existence. Israel is at war (as is the USA), so the other guy doesn't want to fight, the fight is on.

I don't think the Japanese Emporer walked aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay to sign on the dotted line because he decided he and his Generals had decided they liked Americans after all.

Wake up and smell the coffee.

And don't give me that "War never solves anything" drivel either. America was born in battle. Actually, the USA and Israel weer both born of succesful wars against British Imperialism.

You are in a war.
Iran is going to go nuclear.
"Some" (two that we have been told about) Pakistani military officers (one retired) are talking in public about a nuclear intervention, a strike on Israel, in a belated apology for letting Palestine down.
If that is being said in public, then what is being said in private? If a rogue element in the Pakistani military seize control of only some of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal kiss Israel goodbye and kiss some parts of the west goodbye.

You got hit on 9/11. What has changed since then?
They still hate you. Why would Europe care if you got whacked?
They hate you!

Syria is probably using Hezbollah to antagonise Israel into punishing the Palestinians for kicking Syria out.

Yeah right, I didn't get it, fewww right over my head. Syria gets kicked out of Lebanon then suddenly a short time later, with a massive load of missles Hezbollah, out of nowhere, decides to start a war with Israel that turns Lebanon into ruble.

GEEEEE what could that be all about??????

Your troops are right next door in Iraq and Iran needs a diversion to take the heat off of its nuclear progress.

How many suicide bombers do Americans need to see before they make the connection between "C4" around the waist and plutonium in a rocket?

You think Iran and Pakistan are impressed with nuclear deterrence? They don't care about retaliation. That would just make them martyrs.

Press the button, Allahu Akbar!

They cut your throats, blow you up all over the place fly planes into your buildings, but in an act of divine intervention all that is going to change when Iran goes nuclear?


you people are so weird down there.

think about it this way for a moment - apply Ockham's Razor
Revenge is the oldest opiate in history.

This is about Syria destroying Lebanon by proxy because the just got kicked out of there.

Suicide bombers? C4?
Suicide leaders? Iran? Nukes?

What is Iran going to do with a Nuke?

Why do they need one??

This is a diversion and pay-back and putting Israel in harms way all wrapped up into a Once-in-a-century opportunity for Syria to get away with all kinds of murder.

Ockham's Razor, Allahu Akbar!
F?ck the Geneva convention, the Arabs ignore it and nobody gives a sh?t!

You are going to get whacked and the clock is ticking.

I'm up here in Canada, it's not my country we are getting our asses blown off in Afghanistan.

Think about how many bombs have been dropped on that country in the last half century and the fighting is still going on.

What Nation in history has not been wiped out by some barbaric enemy that they didn't consider worthy of military interest?

What makes your country any different?

I'll tell you what makes you different, there will be no one out there to rebuild "you". Who has that kind of money?

Iran will get theirs. Watch and see.

Kaiser Wilhelm, Hitler, Tojo, Saddam and others all read the US papers and thought they could push us around. They went too far and the GI's stomped a mudhole in their asses. The mad mullahs are headed for a fall.

Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.

I hope you are right
Cause I don't see it.

I see everybody kissing Arab and Persian ass.

Sryia occupies Lebanon and no one says ****!

morality and the underdog
Bravo, at last common sense..some one not only gets it but has the courage to proclaim it!
I have long questioned the fairness of the world politic, that rises up angrily at Israel for it's unintentional killing of civilians, yet remains deafeningly silent in the face of Hezbolla's intentional targeting of Israel citizens and cities...i see anti semetism is alive and well.
Let us not forget who started this war> Israel has long ago pulled out of Lebanon, therefore showing Hezbolla's true intent...the continued attacks and destruction of Israel!
Perhaps if Hezbolla would refrain from launching it's weapons from and hiding among civillian ares, Israel might not have to attack these sites...furthermore if Hezbolla would wear uniforms identifying themselves as might reduce the amount of unintende civillian casualties.
Just a thought.

Fact check
"Israel withdrew 18 years ago."

Israel withdrew in 2000. My calculator gives six years ago.

"The claim that they have wide spread support in Lebanon is far from proven."

According to a recent poll (since the struggle began) conducted by the Beirut Center for Research and Information, 87% of the Lebanese public support Hezbollah, The only ethnic group not showing a majority supporting Hezbollah are the Druse.

What kind of pathetic loser thinks like that?
The US left.

I seem to remember Al Gore mouthing the "Why do they hate us?" meme.

roy's definition of an accurate poll
anyone that he agrees with

A win is a win.
'All Hezbollah has to do is survive the inevitable counter attack (the current bombings and incursions) to be victorious. '

That is ridiculous. It can be said that no one wins in war but other than that a fair measure is who kills more of the enemy or takes more territory wins.

Even in sports moral victories appear in the loss column.

Even more so in wars where life and death are at stake. Hibollah is being crushed by any measure.

I guess that the people are somewhat culpable then.

'According to a recent poll (since the struggle began) conducted by the Beirut Center for Research and Information, 87% of the Lebanese public support Hezbollah, The only ethnic group not showing a majority supporting Hezbollah are the Druse'

I guess that the people are somewhat culpable then.

BTW the USA should stay completely out of this fight....
...But alas our politicians are bound and determinded to look like heros so they can get vote. To heck with what is good for the country.

that is interesting
Great connection.

Yes then this a war between peoples.

Would that change the context on land claims after the war?

If you are a people attacked by another people then any land you capture in your defence would be yours?

Picking your fights
Well I have been made aware recently of the idea that one should always pick their fights.

What is this good that you see for your country, that getting involved would undo or jeopardise?

If your way of life, your constitution, education system, legal system, economic system, are themselves the reason this fighting is taking place?

excellent point
If the people of Lebanon truely support the actions of Hezbolla, then this means that they bear responsibility for the actions of Hezbolla.

Including any loss of life, and any loss of land on the Lebanese side of the border.

I agree
That is the way I see it.

I'm worried for your country too.

Something surreal is going on; there was no need for this.

It serves no purpose. Especially in a Country filled with western foreign nationals. There were thousands of them there helping Lebanon to get on its feet.

Okay so he got the date thing confused.
You don't need to be rude - 2006-2000 is self evidently = 6.
Emotional responses ...?

polls are not facts, yet you include that piece of trivia under the same heading.

A poll.
In a war zone.

They get the body counts wrong, the targets wrong, troop locations wrong, all kinds of stuff goes crazy during a war.

You think the Lebanese really support their former Occupiers?

It occurs to me now that I am not and should not be arguing with you.

I'm expressing my opinion and considering yours.

I engage these boards to discuss (rant from time to time) speculate and express my opinion. I also enjoy reading other's opinions.

I have not the temperament for an argument in these places, because I come here out of interest, this means I am responding to an emotional desire to explore in the first place - I come her because I want to.

So in retrospect if I have responded to poorly to your proposition in support of some premise, then I appogize.

I would appreciate some respect for the context here.
The Title of every page clearly declares this to be a discussion environment.

Predation in this environment is like shooting fish in a barrel.

Iran's supreme leader urges Muslims to 'defend' Hezbollah

These people keep insisting on this being a holy war.

There is nothing holy in their behavior.

We should start calling what it is. Iranian and Syrian fascists, just like we do with any other peoples that we refer to.

Accurate polling
A poll is a poll. You ask them questions, they give you their answers.

Much can be spun by the way a question is worded. Why don't you look up the poll methodology and results yourself, and see whether you think it reflects the views of the Lebanese general public?

Blaming the victims
Right. You should feel no compuction about supporting the bombing of old folks, women and children, nor the announced intention to fire on relief convoys coming in to help them with food, medicine and water. If Israel considers all of Lebanon to be a free fire zone it must all be legal.

I reported the poll results to note that during the original days of the war, it was widely assumed by Israel that terrorizing the country would make the population turn on Hezbollah, and help throw them out. Instead, predictably, it had the opposite effect, causing the public to support Hezbollah and resist Israel.

BTW, for anyone keeping count, the terrorist Hezbollah have now killed their thirtieth Israeli citizen, while the very high minded Israelis have in retaliation killed over a thousand ordinary Lebanese.

roy is ever so gullible, when he wants to be
There's more than one way to skew a poll.

Little things like making it up in the first place.
Or threatening to kill those who give answers you don't like.

why should we oppose something that isn't happening anyway.

roy is the quintessential liberal
to him a fact is anything that supports his position.

lies are anything that support your position.

Trusting poll results
A poll is a fact-- and a well conducted poll is an accurate gauge of the public's thinking at a moment in time. This poll included a sufficient number of people being sampled, and included all ethnicities, religions and persuasions within this very divided nation. If there was bias anywhere it would be that the actual war zones might have been insufficiently sampled. Thus it is an accurate reflection of what non-Shiite, non-southern Lebanese feel about the invasion, and about the players.

Before the war started there were in fact a great many Lebanese who did not support Hezbollah. If you want to know exactly how many, look at the election results. That's just a very large, very accurate poll. But opinions have changed radically since the Israeli invasion. That's what the poll shows.

When in doubt I would read more information, from more diverse sources. That's how we learn.

I have other things on my plate.

I take Polls with a grain of salt. People under severe stress will answer questions accordingly.

The ability to trust, the demeanor of poll taker, the weather can all contribute to an emotionally laden response.

Without a causal mechanism as a control what meaning can there be innately in such a compilation.

The primary purpose of polling is to acquire influence.

Opinions on likes and dislikes change with the weather, and these are just opinions.

Methodology is just one attribute, an other attribute is the very personal context (My opinion?), and another is the environment. While people are complex, polling is complicated.

BTW, for anyone keeping count, the terrorist Hezbollah have now killed their thirtieth Israeli citizen, while the very high minded Israelis have in
killed over a thousand ordinary Lebanese."

I don't see it as retaliation. And it makes no sense to me, that presumably well educated well trained and disciplined troops who worship God, would see a strategic advantage to killing without efficacy.

I see this as tragic.

any poll put out by Hezbollah must be accurate
only a raving war monger would disagree.

A poll is a fact-- and a well conducted poll is an accurate gauge of the public's thinking at a moment in time. This poll included a sufficient number of people being sampled, and included all ethnicities, religions and persuasions within this very divided nation. If there was bias anywhere it would be that the actual war zones might have been insufficiently sampled. Thus it is an accurate reflection of what non-Shiite, non-southern Lebanese feel about the invasion, and about the players.
I disagree. I am unmoved by polls. I have been advised by quite a few informed people , engineers, mathematicians, doctors, lawyers, psychologists, to enjoy them as part of the experience, much like a side show.

I was a semi-professional photographer for about ten years. Angle, focus, depth of field, focal length, film type, mild over or under exposure, shadows, and hilights, are all contrived. And that is before you even get into the dark room or onto the computer system.

I was also a software developer, and there are many different approaches languages and systems that can be applied to solving a given problem.

I'm also a trained crisses intervention worker with seven years experience.

Nothing in these experiences, including advice from proffesionals I met along the way, ever induced me to conclude that polls are anything but an organised guessing system. + or - 3% 19 times out of 20 probably describes an accuracy rate far poorer than that of the Isaeli military.

I disagree
I think any kind of ordinary war monger would do.

Excluding of course Iran, Syria and Hezbollah because, as everyone knows, they are extraordinary War Mongers.

Those children, handicapped people, the old and infirm will be delighted to know that israel spends alot of money on expensive precision guided weapons to ensure that it only kills 900 of them (so far). Of course all those leaflets dropped in northern Lebanon to warn the plum pickers to tell them to go (where ? Turkey, Syria?) - sorry we forgot to drop them - the leaflets of course not the bombs - silly ! But what can you expect they are only terrorist plum pickers - extremist plum pickers who deserve everything they get ! However, how much does a laser guided weapon cost ? alot of money I would think and surely a few plum pickers are not worth it . I think that after the war is over in 2020 the relatives of the plum pickers should be forced to pay for the weapons.
What do your readers think ,particularly the writer of the article in the safety of Arizona where a bomb has never fallen except perhaps on some benighted Indians in the 19th Century , of the demonstrators at Prestwick Airport in the UK who are trying to locate bombs on American aircraft and prevent them from completing their journey to Israel.
Rod Wright - London
PS Don't worry Blair will be gone soon - perhaps he will be moving to the 'States !

typical left wing nonsense
It's all Israel's fault, and we are so courageous cause we oppose Israel.

Grow up, learn some manners, and study some history.

is that it ??? nothing to say ???

An intelligent response to a comment like this is just not possible. Maybe you'd like to try it again.

That reminds me
I think that after the war is over in 2020 the relatives of the plum pickers should be forced to pay for the weapons.

I came upon an article that related the Communist Chinese Government practice of executing a person then sending the family an invoice for the cost of the bullet.

There are definitely parallels between all weapons shipments from one country to another.

I imagine that economies of scale play a part in who buys and who sells.

I understand that the Iraqi insurgents prefer the Russian made AK47.

They are using them to kill Brits and Yanks, and Canuks in Afghanistan.

But then again after all the killing slavery and colonizing that the British have engaged in who really cares what happens to those wankers.

Just wankers and wogs. I hope they get what is coming to them eh?
We should go out and kill some Brits in protest.
Burn their embassies, cause those Bastards have been terrorising poor Muslims for centuries.

This does not even include their history of genocide, in Scotland and Ireland.

Nothing like getting a moral sermon from some snobby Royalty ass kissing limey.

Strategic thinking
You don't see why Israel would see a strategic advantage to killing without efficacy? To inflict terror, of course. To paralyse the Lebanese, in the hopes that they would turn on Hezbollah and turn them over to their tormentors.

This is why they've uprooted much of the country, turned the population into refugees and then bombed out the roads so they would have no place to go. And this is why they have announced that no humanitarian relief convoys will be given safe passage to enter areas where the population is trapped. It's to break the people's will and make them docile.

an intelligent response by roy is not possible, period
I had no trouble figuring out what ostb had to say.

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