For several reasons, I haven’t felt motivated to write for many weeks. First, there was my biannual move. Every fall I pack up my car, settle my dog into her seat beside me and drive to Louisiana where we’ll spend the next 7 months before returning to Rhode Island in May. Lucy flies down later because she savors October in Rhode Island. With age, I’ve lost some of my affection for change, so the prospect of this cross-country ritual makes me grumpy and obsessed with what I’ll forget to do before leaving. This state of mind eats at me for most of September.
The trip wasn’t the only thing that kept me from writing. There was this little matter of the Rugby World Cup. I’d been counting down the days since the last World Cup in 2019; I’d even bought tickets to this year’s event in France. But in the intervening four years, a growing aversion to travel persuaded me to watch from home. Still, it’s been a real distraction since early September. My mental real estate was consumed with thoughts of great rugby games — gloriously good entertainment.
Finally, I confess that I wasn’t interested in writing about any of the issues I’ve inveighed against in the past; it would have been too damn predictable. You already know how things are going here in the “greatest country on earth” and most of you, I imagine, take an equally dim view of it, so why pile on? My editor, Fitz, kept feeding me ideas and some could have been turned into positive fodder. For example, union activity is on the rise and I applaud it. The UAW strike and the spotlight it shines on greed in corporate suites are wonderful to behold. But I didn’t have anything new to say about union gains, which I wholeheartedly support, as you know.
So what happened to shake me out of my lethargy? It was the confluence of two truly horrible news stories: the war between Israel and Hamas, and watching the Republicans in the House of Representatives trying to elect Jim Jordan as speaker.
It is distressing to watch the Biden administration’s ham-handed support of Israel in its decision to wipe Hamas off the face of the earth, no matter the cost. I want to avert my eyes. Of course we support Israel, but there must be limits. I know that our State Department is trying to walk a fine line, but it won’t seem that way to poor Gazans caught in the middle. How many times can Joe Biden say “we have your back” to Netanyahu before we’re seen as complicit in the murder of innocent civilians? Israel has a right to defend itself. It has the right to hunt down and kill those who planned and perpetrated the horrific attacks of Oct. 7. But how do they do it without creating thousands of future terrorists among the Gazans? How do they do it without massive loss of civilian life? These are really important questions for all concerned, but they are doubly important to the people of Israel.
After the Olympics massacre in Munich in 1972, Israel quickly identified Black September as the organization that carried out the killings. Golda Meir authorized a secret operation called Operation Wrath of God to find those responsible and kill them. The operation was surgical and secret, and I think it is fair to say that it was supported by world opinion. But now we’re confronted with a much larger atrocity against Israelis and we’re tempted to go light on criticizing Israel’s response. After all, they were savagely attacked. But can’t we learn anything from the past?
A good many people are calling this Israel’s 9/11. So think of what we did in our determination to destroy those who attacked us on 9/11. We invaded two countries. According to the Cost of War study by the Watson Institute of Brown University, our war on terror cost around $8 trillion over 20 years. It cost the lives of around 900,000 people, half of them civilians. And this doesn’t count those maimed. It doesn’t count those who died after being driven from their homes into refugee camps. It doesn’t count the millions who lost everything and had to start over from scratch.
So maybe if we’ve learned from our own mistakes, we might whisper to Netanyahu that it would be better to eliminate Hamas surgically and over time. Our “shock and awe” reaction to 9/11 turned out to be grievously short-sighted, so why not urge Israel to avoid the same mistakes we made?
The second story playing out in the media as I write is the search for a House speaker. Today’s candidate is the most heinous person in the entire House — Jim Jordan. Although he probably won’t win the speakership, the very fact that Republicans’ nominated him tells the world that they are morally and intellectually bankrupt. They could not have found anyone more unacceptable to thinking and caring people than Jordan. But we all know that and I don’t want to preach to the choir.
I don’t know how any of this will turn out. Maybe Israel won’t kill thousands more Gazans while hunting the leaders of Hamas. Perhaps Joe Biden will counsel Netanyahu about the dangers of striking back overwhelmingly and conventionally. Perhaps House Republicans will elect a decent person to be speaker. I’ll have to wait and see, but I am not optimistic. Pretty soon, I fear I’m going to have to take a break from the news.