The Dresden Model

Israeli generals say they are doing no more in Gaza than U.S. bombers did to German cities like Dresden in World War II. But that was not the finest hour of the allies. With the war almost over three waves of British and U.S. bombers obliterated one of the most esteemed ancient cites in Europe that had little, if anything, to do with the Nazi war effort and had no military value whatsoever. It was an act of vengeance mindless of humanity.

So, Israelis are saying perhaps more than they intend. Writing in Foreign Affairs magazine, U.S. military historian Robert Pape says the Israeli assault on Gaza is “one of the most heavy bombing campaigns in history, a massive collective punishment against civilians.” In densely packed Gaza, 17,000 people, including large numbers of children, have been killed to date with more to come since there’s no letup in the bombing. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu says it will continue until all Hamas is destroyed, a formidable task that may be limited by the extent of Israeli casualties of which we are unaware so far.

In a hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis veteran British surgeon Tom Potokar is doing his best to cope with the unending stream of wounded and dying, half of them children, that are brought to his care. Having worked in conflicts in Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen, he says this is the worst yet. So many casualties in so short a time.

Dr. Tom Potokar (The International Committee of the Red Cross)

The Independent reports that he is presently treating a burns patient whose wounds are septic since the dressing had not been changed for days. On the next bed lies a three-year old boy whose legs had been amputated the night before after an air strike. An eight-year-old boy’s brain is exposed since bombing damaged his skull. An eye has been removed from a teenage girl because every bone in her face has been smashed. Another badly burned child is screaming for his mother he doesn’t know is dead. There are not enough pain killers to relieve his suffering.

Israel is completely dependent on weaponry from the U.S. to continue the war. These include precision guided small diameter 250lb bombs and earth-shaking 2000lb bombs that seem to turn the ground liquid as they flatten everything below. It’s said the U.S. could stop the war on a dime if it cut off the weapon supply. But the Biden Administration has backed the Israelis to the hilt while urging more caution in bombing. One angry phone call from U.S. President Ronald Reagan halted Israel’s 1982 assault on Lebanon.

Palestinian children wounded in Israeli strikes at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. (Ali Mahmoud/The AP)

The present conflict has given rise to unusual antisemitism around the world, including American college campuses. It has been denounced and college presidents have been rebuked or removed for apparent nonchalance about it. But the best way to stop antisemitism is to stop the slaughter in Gaza.

The Price of War

It’s estimated that half a million Iraqi children died from starvation and disease as a result of U.S. sanctions after the ‘91 Gulf War. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, then in office, was asked if that price was worth it to try to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. She replied famously or infamously, yes, it was worth the price. Children are expendable for the loftier aim – however misguided – of war.

The same question might be put to supporters of the current war in Gaza where the deaths of Gazans are at 15,000 and counting as Israeli forces move south after destroying the north. To what purpose? Partly revenge after the brutal October seven attack by Hamas, but also, as declared by many, to create a greater Israel with the expulsion of Palestinians. Out of sight, out of mind.

Palestinians search for casualties at the site of Israeli strikes on houses in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, October 31, 2023.
(Anas al-Shareef | Reuters)

But not really. After the days of carnage so visible on tv the regional Arab world will be united in horror. The division between Arab countries hostile to Israel and those willing to reach an accommodation will be sealed, not to mention the Gazan refugees burning for revenge. As for the rest of the world, the attitude of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is indicative. He resists U.S. efforts to make him less supportive of Hamas and less critical of Israel. He could well set an example Inasmuch as Hamas is a rallying cry as well as an armed marauder. One way or another it’s going to be around postwar.

Israel itself is hardly united on this war if unanimously appalled by Hamas. With his reputation as a peacemaker, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak told CNN that it was current prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu who initially built up Hamas as a foil to the Palestinian Authority, thereby dividing his enemies. Today he faces a monster of his own creation. Let the more pacific minded Israelis prevail.

In the fever of war its outcome is largely ignored. The conclusion of World War II is still being reexamined up to the present day. Understandably, Americans were filled with hatred of Nazis even to the point of letting their prisoners of war starve to death after they had surrendered. But then, quite suddenly, the U.S was confronted with an equal, if not more formidable foe in Stalinist Russia, which seized eastern Europe and was ready to move on the West. The Germans were quickly revived as allies in the struggle ahead. Why had we been so solicitous of the Stalinists in the war?

Ehud Barak at Pentagon (photo by Robert D. Ward)

Conservatives want to conserve family, tradition, pride of nation. But what about conserving lives on whom all these other values depend? First things first: lives. Conservative commentators on tv, clamoring for scalps, should be required to take a course in military history – say reading Julius Caesar who won wars with calculation not hate – before lecturing us on the air.

If the Gaza war is allowed to continue, the price will not be worth it. Sorry, Madam Albright.