A Time to Fight

May 9, 2009

4 min read


When intruders enter your home and threaten your family, there's no choice but to fight.

No one is pro-war. No one is pro-torture. But there is a definite distinction between those who believe that under certain circumstances war is the only possible response and those who say never; between those who sanction torture where lives could legitimately be saved and those who say never.

I'm not talking about strategy here -- whether it puts American or Israeli soldiers at greater risk of being tortured if we employ those tools or not (although I can't stop myself from suggesting that today's enemies, today's terrorists, don't feel themselves bound by any conventions, Geneva or otherwise). I'm talking about what's right, what's moral, and what's at the root of the divide.

At the risk of making enemies (although hopefully not the violent kind), I can't help thinking that the distinction between those who would use force in an attempt to end greater destruction and those who wouldn't has little to do with politics and a lot to do with real caring.

It's easy to be a pacifist when we don't feel particularly threatened.

It's easy to be a pacifist when we don't feel particularly threatened -- if we don't, for example, live in Israel, if we avoid planning trips there, if no one in our family serves in the military. It's a lot harder when it hits closer to home. What if our husbands, wives, children were threatened by an armed intruder? Would we use violence to defend them? To prevent their rape or murder? Of course. It's only because those other Jews aren't as real to us, that their lives don't fully matter to us, that we can be dismissive of their battle.

And I think the damage of pacifism is even deeper. If we have nothing worth putting our lives on the line for, nothing worth dying for, then what is our life about? What does it mean? We gauge our life's purpose by those values we hold inviolate, by the truths and people we would fight for, risk everything for. (I don't think golf makes the list.)

I was once engaged in a heated discussion with an anti-war activist. He suggested that the American soldier who throws himself on his grenade to save his comrades is no different from a suicide (homicide) bomber who blows himself (and innocent others) up in order to...well that part isn't very clear. After I got over my initial outrage (and bit my tongue and kept the conversation polite), I felt sad. It was sad that he couldn't see the difference, sad that he failed to see the former's bravery and the latter's cowardice. I felt sad for him that there was no one for whom he would take a bullet, nothing to him more precious that existence. (And sad for me since this was a close family member!)

No one wants to fight. I am not a warmonger. And I'm certainly neither wise enough nor experienced enough (at all) to argue the legitimacy of torture.
But I do believe that the willingness to use force depends on having causes you care about more than life itself -- life alone is not a goal -- and people you care about more than life itself. What parent wouldn't risk their life to save their children's? What parent of a sick child hasn't prayed "take me instead"?

We just don't look at our fellow Jews (even in our city, let alone the rest of the world) as our children, our family. And as the Almighty's children.

And our lives are diminished. Without having people or goals to fight for, our lives have less depth and less permanence, not more. It's an illusion to think there is a safe way to live life. The Almighty's hand is far-reaching. And safe is also empty. And lonely. Without risk, we never grow. Without risk, nothing matters. Without values and people to risk for, what can the safe life mean?
We shouldn't look for war; we should pray for peace. But if war threatens our people, our land, our nation, then it's like intruders in our home threatening our family. And there's no choice but to fight.

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