Is Israel’s Response ‘Disproportionate’? A History Lesson

November 21, 2012 4:11 pm 1 comment

People look at a wreckage of the car in which Ahmed Jabari, head of the Hamas's military wing, was killed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on Nov. 14. Photo: Wissam Nassar/FLASH90.

The fact that the casualty toll from the first days of the Gaza fighting was three Israelis and 30 Arabs “underscores what critics of Israeli policy called Israel’s disproportionate use of military force,” the New York Times reported on Nov. 17.

If the body count determines whether an army’s actions are justified, then the historical record contains more than a few surprises.

In early 1916, Pancho Villa’s revolutionaries murdered 16 Americans in northern Mexico, and then 18 more in a cross-border raid into New Mexico. President Woodrow Wilson responded by sending American troops, led by Major-General John Pershing, after Villa. In a series of battles between March and June, the Americans lost 15 men, while Villa’s forces suffered about 200 dead.

Did anybody accuse Pershing of using too much force?

Fast forward 25 years. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, left 2,330 Americans dead. The United States responded not with a raid of similar size, but a full-scale war against the Japanese throughout the Pacific, culminating in the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese mainland. By the time the war was over, Japan had lost an estimated one million soldiers and two million civilians, including the approximately 200,000 civilians killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Was America’s response disproportionate?

President Harry Truman didn’t think so. Here’s what he said about using a nuclear weapon: “We have used it against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international laws of warfare. We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans.”

The German blitzkrieg rained terror on London and other British cities every night for eight straight months from September 1940 to May 1941. About 40,000 British civilians were killed in those German bombings.

But in just three nights, the Allied bombing of the German city of Dresden claimed an estimated 20,000 lives. Other Allied bombings of Germany brought the civilian death toll there to far more than what the British had suffered.

The chief marshal of the British air force, Arthur Harris, had this to say about Dresden: “Attacks on cities like any other act of war are intolerable unless they are strategically justified. But they are strategically justified in so far as they tend to shorten the war and preserve the lives of Allied soldiers. To my mind we have absolutely no right to give them up unless it is certain that they will not have this effect. I do not personally regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British Grenadier.”

Altogether, an estimated 3.2-million German soldiers, and 3.6-million German civilians, died in the war. Compare that to American and British losses. The U.S. suffered 362,561 military deaths in World War II. The British lost 264,433 soldiers, 30,248 merchant navymen, and 60,595 civilians, for a total of 355,276.

By the standards of today’s Mideast pundits, would that mean the Allies’ military actions were disproportionate?

More recent conflicts raise similar questions.

The Korean War, for example. Casualty figures are impossible to determine precisely, but there is no doubt that the North Koreans and their Chinese allies suffered many more losses than the U.S. and South Korea.

The U.S. lost 36,576 soldiers; the South Koreans, over 100,000 soldiers and some 300,000 civilians. By contrast, North Korean military losses were probably around 400,000, and Chinese fatalities were probably in the vicinity of 500,000. Together with North Korean civilian deaths, the casualty total on their side was well over one million. Does that indicate the Americans used disproportionate force?

In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. The U.S. and its allies came to Kuwait’s defense. About 25,000 Iraqi soldiers, and more than 3,000 Iraqi civilians, were killed. The U.S. suffered 294 losses; the other members of its coalition lost a combined total of 188. Did the Americans overdo it?

Consider Afghanistan. About 3,000 Americans were killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The U.S. and its allies responded by attacking Al Qaeda and its Taliban supporters in Afghanistan. As of this writing, more than 2,000 American soldiers, and more than 1,000 other allied soldiers, have died in Afghanistan, as well as some 10,000 Afghan soldiers. Estimates for Al Qaeda and Taliban casualty totals vary, but they certainly number in the tens of thousands—far more than the Americans and their allies. Should we conclude that the Bush and Obama administrations have used disproportionate force in Afghanistan?

Israel does not claim its army is perfect. It knows that when fighting a war in which terrorists station themselves in civilian neighborhoods, some civilians will be harmed. And the Israelis regret that. They simply want to be judged by the same standard that the international community has used in judging other conflicts in which the aggressors end up suffering more casualties than their intended victims.

Dr. Rafael Medoff is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, and coauthor, with Prof. Sonja Schoepf Wentling, of the new book “Herbert Hoover and the Jews: The Origins of the ‘Jewish Vote’ and Bipartisan Support for Israel.”

1 Comment

  • 60 American citizens who live in Israel and whose loved ones were murdered by Arab terrorists brought suit against the US State Department. Why? The US Government is obligated, by law, to investigate every case where an American is murdered abroad.

    and because the US government has refused to prosecute Arab terrorists who have murdered US citizens who live in Israel – despite the fact that the US Justice Department has seen to it that murderers of Americans have been prosecuted all over the world.

    It is not that the US hasn’t conducted a long process of inquiry

    In that context, the US Justice Department and the FBI did dispatch a high level delegation to Israel to interview American citizens whose loved ones were murdered by Arab terrorists.

    US officials interviewed mothers and fathers whose children had been blown to bits.

    US officials interviewed children whose parents had been butchered in front of their eyes.

    US Officials interviewed widows and widowers .whose spouses had been murdered in the most heinous of circumstances.

    And, to top if off, US Officials viewed films of Hamas convicts interviewed by the Center for Near East Policy Research, where these killers of US citizens expressed pride – and no regret – in their vile deeds, because, as the killers said, their victims were Jews.

    The question remains: where are we US Jews in all of this equation? Is this not the time for Americans, as Americans and as Jews, to stand up for the enforcement of the law?

    The specific request that I make of Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents delegation is that Conference of Presidents will meet with representatives of American families whose loved ones were murdered by Arab terrorists, and that the conference stand firmly behind the enforcement of American law, when it comes to prosecution of those who have murdered American citizens in Israel. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG, PRESIDENT ISRAEL ADVOCACY TASK FORCE

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Theater US & Canada New Play Explores the ‘Arrogance’ of American Jews Critical of Israel, Playwright Says

    New Play Explores the ‘Arrogance’ of American Jews Critical of Israel, Playwright Says

    In his new play Mr. Goldberg Goes to Tel Aviv, playwright Oren Safdie tackles an issue that he has a major concern with: the relationship between Israelis and left-leaning Diaspora Jews with their “I know better” critical views. At the heart of the one-act play is Tony, a Jewish and gay Palestinian sympathizer who expresses strong anti-Israel sentiments when the play begins and at one point even sides with a Palestinian terrorist who holds his captive. Tony, who is also an [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Hassidic Parody of Taylor Swift Song Apes Long Jewish Holidays (VIDEO)

    Hassidic Parody of Taylor Swift Song Apes Long Jewish Holidays (VIDEO)

    A Jewish comedy troupe released a parody video on Wednesday of Taylor Swift’s hit song Shake It Off in which they joke about taking extensive time off from work for Jewish holidays. “And the goyim gonna stay, stay, stay, stay, stay. And the Jews are gonna pray, pray pray, pray, pray. I’m just gonna take, take, take, take, take. I’m taking off,” goes the chorus for I’m Taking Off. Menachem Weinstein, the video’s lead singer, is the creative director at [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Literature On 75th Anniversary, Looking at the Jewish Influence on Gone With the Wind

    On 75th Anniversary, Looking at the Jewish Influence on Gone With the Wind

    JNS.org – The 75th anniversary of the premiere of “Gone with the Wind” on Dec. 15 presents an opportunity to examine the Jewish influence on one of the most popular films of all time. That influence starts with the American Civil War epic’s famed producer, David O. Selznick. Adjusted for inflation, “Gone with the Wind” remains the highest-grossing movie ever made. It earned the 1939 Academy Award for Best Picture, the same honor another Selznick film, “Rebecca,” garnered in 1940. Selznick [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Music US & Canada EXCLUSIVE: Matisyahu Provides Most Extensive Analysis Yet of His Religious, Musical Evolution (INTERVIEW)

    EXCLUSIVE: Matisyahu Provides Most Extensive Analysis Yet of His Religious, Musical Evolution (INTERVIEW)

    Matisyahu got candid in an exclusive interview with The Algemeiner on Monday about his religious and musical journey – after shedding his Chassidic skin, yarmulke, long beard and all – from the start of his career in 2005 when he became a reggae superstar with hits King Without a Crown and Jerusalem. The singer-songwriter embarks on his Festival of Light tour this month, an annual Hanukkah event that stops in Montreal, New York, and other cities before ending in San Juan, [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Personalities ‘Sheriff of Mars’ Unveils Endearing Life of Jewish Music Star Hidden in the Fields of France

    ‘Sheriff of Mars’ Unveils Endearing Life of Jewish Music Star Hidden in the Fields of France

    JNS.org – It was an era of steel strings, guitar heroes, and storytellers—high on heroin, rebellious. Outlaw country music, the hallmark of Nashville’s powerful and angry music scene of the 1970s, was the brew of greats such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Townes Van Zandt. But there is another, little-known music hero of that era: Daniel Antopolsky. A Jewish lad from Augusta, Ga.—the son of immigrants who settled in the south and ran a hardware store on Main Street—the [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Iranian Actress Replaces Israel’s Gal Gadot for ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake

    Iranian Actress Replaces Israel’s Gal Gadot for ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake

    Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi replaced Israeli star Gal Gadot as the female lead in the new Ben-Hur remake, Hollywood.com reported on Tuesday. The Homeland actress will play Esther, a slave that Ben-Hur sets free and falls in love with. Gadot quit the movie when it became clear that filming conflicted with her schedule for the Man of Steel sequel. The Israeli actress plays Wonder Woman in the superhero film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Actor Jack Huston takes on the [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Personalities Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History

    Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History

    JNS.org – There is one sentence in “Ben-Gurion: Father of Modern Israel” that made me sit up in surprise. I thought that I knew the basic facts about how Israel came into being, but while describing what it was like in the days and hours before the state was declared, author Anita Shapira provides one important anecdote I was not aware of. On the 12th of May, the Zionist Executive met to decide what to do. Moshe Sharrett had just returned [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    An actress starring in the controversial Met Opera The Death of Klinghoffer defended the show on Tuesday by comparing it to the 1993 Holocaust film Schindler’s List, New York Post reported. “To me, this was like [the movie] Schindler’s List. We make art so people won’t forget,’’ said the actress, who plays a captured passenger in the show and asked not to be identified. The Met Opera focuses on the infamous murder of Lower East Side Jewish resident Leon Klinghoffer, 69. The wheelchair-bound father of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.