Don’t Forget the Cost of War: Killing by Drones and Bombing Iran
Monday, May 25, is a unique day for American Jews. As Americans, it is Memorial Day. For the Jewish people, Monday we recite Yizkor, the memorial prayer for those taken from our midst, while Americans pause to remember those who fell in battle.
For most Americans, Monday will be just another vacation day, sleeping late in the morning, going to the mall, forgetting the more than one million Americans who gave their lives in service to our country. The State of Israel also has a Memorial Day; it is the day before Israel celebrates Yom Ha-Atzmaut, the day of its independence. It is a day on which the country just about shuts down; restaurants, bars, cinemas – are all closed. On radio and on TV you hear the stories of the soldiers who have fallen in battle during Israel’s all too many wars. The day has an effect on everyone.
The way America remembers its fallen soldiers and the way Israel remembers its fallen soldiers is quite different. But why is that? To some degree, it has to do with the sizes of these two countries. Israel is a small country. The death of each and every soldier is felt in a very personal, intimate way. Everyone is one, and seems to be connected, with the family of each soldier who falls. The United States, on the other hand, is a very large country, spread apart from sea to shining sea. When soldiers fall in battle, their loss is felt mostly by their families. For the rest of us, they are “unknown soldiers.”
I think there’s something else at play here. In Israel all the people who are killed – not only their friends but also their enemies – are just a few miles away from each other. There is almost no space separating Sderot in Israel from the Palestinians in Gaza. Very little separates Israeli forces on the Golan Heights and Hezbollah’s terrorists in Lebanon.
The fighting is very “up front” – close and personal. The deaths take place right in front of your eyes.
For us as Americans, the deaths take place thousands of miles away in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Vietnam. And not only are we far removed from this, but the dead soldiers themselves can sometimes be far removed. We live in the age of the drones – you can be sitting somewhere in Virginia or Arizona and be killing someone thousands of miles away. Today’s soldiers may never get to see the damage they inflict or the lives they destroy. We pay a price for this, because if war becomes so mechanical – if we no longer have to see enemy soldiers die – we may start to forget the real costs of war. And I fear that some of us are doing just that.
For me, the deal the Obama Administration is prepared to make with Iran is a total failure and a terrible mistake. One has to hope that Congress will be able to effect some changes. With the state of their economy, one can’t help but feel that if we had continued the sanctions against Iran, ultimately, Iran would have had to give in. Having said that, I am a bit shocked at how so quickly thoughtful people cry out: “Let’s go to war,” “Let’s bomb Iran.”
Former U.N. Ambassador, John Bolton, writes an op-ed in the New York Times headlined: “To Stop Iran’s Bomb … Bomb Iran.” The Washington Post carries an op-ed by the highly respectable Joshua Muravchik headlined: “War is the only way to stop Iran.” Former Sen. Rick Santorum says, “All we have to do is load up our bombers and bomb them back to the 7th century.” Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert proclaims that he hopes the President will “realize we do need to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities that we know of, and anything that they move to fix we bomb that as well.”
It sounds so easy! But what of the thousands of Iranians who might be killed in such a bombing? Who cares about them? Our tradition does! A mother has lost a child … not one of ours, but one of theirs. And yet, the cry of a mother must enter our hearts. And if that’s not a good enough reason to worry about the losses in a war with Iran, think not of their losses but think of ours. What about the inevitable Iranian retaliation, which can lead to countless killings across the world, especially from Hezbollah, Iran’s agent which has 100,000 missiles aimed at Israel?
How do we say the Yizkor memorial prayer for our departed? We do not say, “May God remember the souls of my parents and my siblings and all my relatives?” Instead, we say the Yizkor prayer over and over again – once for a mother with her name and then once again for a father with his name, and then once again for a brother with his name, for a husband and wife with their name, and so on.
Each one gets an individual Yizkor. Why? Because each one was an individual, each one was a person, and therefore you don’t lump them together. You say: “my father” and “my mother” – you don’t say “my parents.” Because every human being is an individual and deserves to be treated as such in life and in death.