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...

  • Education Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    JNS.org – My wife Suzy and I will never forget our wedding day. It was not just the uplifting ceremony and beautiful party that left an indelible mark. Some life-altering advice that we received from one of our guests informed and shaped our lives from that day forward. My high school teacher, Rabbi Moshe Yagid, pulled us aside just before the chuppah and challenged us to choose one mitzvah that would be the foundation of our marriage and our lives. He explained [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    JNS.org – Influenced by his Jewish upbringing and a summer on a kibbutz, basketball coach David Blatt is embarking on his highest-profile challenge yet: coaching LeBron James, the four-time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player who has made waves for returning to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. After guiding Israel’s storied Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball franchise to its 51st Israeli league championship and 6th Euroleague title this past season, Blatt landed the Cavaliers head-coaching job in June. Just weeks later, [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    JNS.org – At the turn of the century, a young Jewish immigrant arrived in New York. So begins the history of many American Jewish families. It is 27-year-old Albert Allaham’s story, too, with a few unusual twists. Albert’s “century” is the 21st—he arrived almost 100 years after the massive waves of European Jewish immigration. Rather than coming from a small town along the Danube river, his shtetl was Damascus. His first American business was not a pushcart on the Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    Did you know that in the entire Bible, only one birthday is mentioned and it is that of Pharaoh? And did you know that according to some scientists, by accepting Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, it is impossible to prove or disprove that the sun is the gravitational center of our solar system? In his new book, REBBE, best-selling author Joseph Telushkin reveals many surprising and sometimes shocking details as he chronicles the life and teachings of the charismatic Rabbi [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Mitzvos New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    JNS.org – Omelet sandwich: 5 shekels. Iced coffee: 5 shekels. Tuna sandwich: 5 shekels. Fresh-squeezed orange juice: 5 shekels. Cheese bureka: 5 shekels. There’s plenty more on the Cofizz menu, but you get the idea. Dani Mizrahi and Amir Amshalm, two Israeli men in their early 30s, asked themselves: Why not launch a take-out food joint in busy neighborhoods around Jerusalem where everything—and that means everything—goes for five shekels, or about $1.50. They’d seen the concept take off in Tel Aviv, where [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    The new FX Network drama Tyrant was shot entirely in Israel, just 10 miles north of Tel Aviv, Bloomberg News reported last Tuesday. Tyrant follows the life of an Arab dictator’s second son Barry, played by Adam Rayner, who reluctantly returns home to the Middle Eastern nation of his birth to join the family business away from his suburban life in America. The elaborate set production for the primetime drama included a crew of 300 and a reported cost of over $3 million [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Skokie, Il-born 25-year-old Erin Heatherton (Erin Heather Bubley) is rocking the modeling world. And in a new interview accompanying a cover spread for Miami’s Ocean Drive magazine, she says Jewish moms are “constantly trying to set her up with their sons.” Imagine that – who would have thought? “The moms, they’re doing what they do. It doesn’t matter what country they live in, what city – grandmothers, too,” she admitted. “But I’m probably going to do that too one day.” Heatherton was [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Israel First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    Some 15 Turkish university professors and lecturers will take part in a first of its kind seminar at Holocaust museum Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies starting next week. The trip is especially significant as Holocaust denial is rampant in the Arab world. A Palestinian professor was recently forced to resign after he led a trip to the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz. Participants in the week-long program at Yad Vashem will experience in-depth tours of the museum’s archives and [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.