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Home Winning the Moral High Ground is a Loser's Game

Winning the Moral High Ground is a Loser's Game

In our modern age, things no longer exist to perform their function. Washing machines aren't designed to clean clothes, but to save water and energy. Food isn't there to be eaten, but not eaten. And armies aren't there to win wars, but to be moral. And the truly moral army never fights a war. When it must fight a war, then it fights it as proportionately as possible, slowing down when it's winning so that the enemy has a chance to catch up and inflict a completely proportional number of casualties on them.

Forget charging up a hill. Armies charge up the slippery slope of the moral high ground and they don't try to capture it from the enemy, because that would be the surest way to lose the moral high ground, instead they claim the moral high ground by refusing to try and capture it, to establish their moral claim to the moral high ground, which they can't have because they refuse to fight for it.

Israel has been engaged in a long drawn out struggle for the moral high ground. The moral high ground is to the modern Israeli what the land of Israel was to their pioneer ancestors who drained swamps, built roads and shot bandits. Then some of the bandits were discovered to be the oppressed peoples of the region, fresh from Syria or Jordan, who then got busy retroactively protesting the settlements built on that stretch of swamp that had been set aside in their revisionist history as belonging to their great-grandparents while dangling oversized house keys to the swamp.

Sadly the only way to win the moral high ground is by losing. Just look at the massive Arab armies who repeatedly invaded Israel, did their best to overwhelm it with the best Soviet iron that the frozen factories of the Ural could turn out, and lost the bid to drive the Jews into the sea, but won the moral high ground. Then their terrorist catspaws spent decades winning the moral high ground by hijacking airplanes full of civilians, murdering Olympic athletes and pushing old men in wheelchairs from the decks of cruise ships.

All these killing sprees accomplished absolutely nothing useful, aside from the killing of Jews, which to a certain sort of mind is a useful thing in and of itself, but that failure won the terrorist catspaws the moral high ground. Their failure to win a war by hijacking buses full of women and taking the children of a school hostage conclusively established their moral superiority and nobility of spirit.

The world was deeply moved when Arafat waddled up to the UN podium, with his gun, wearing a mismatched cotton rag on his head that would decades hence become the modish apparel of every third hipster standing in line with a can of 20 dollar fair trade Lima beans at Whole Foods, because his commitment to killing people in a failed cause that even he didn't believe in, in exchange for money from his backers in the Muslim world showed his deep commitment to the moral high ground.

In the seventies, after Israel had won a few too many wars, Henry "Woodcutter" Kissinger, suggested that it lose a war to gain the sympathy of the world. Golda wasn't too enthusiastic about the idea, but with the old woodcutter in charge of handing out the axes, there wasn't much choice about it. Israel came close to being destroyed in '73, but just when it might have won the sympathy of the world, its armies of young men dashing from synagogues into overcrowded taxis to get to the front lines, turned the tide. Israel won. The woodcutter of Washington lost and Israeli scrapyards filled up with piles of Soviet steel, which was good news for the big sweaty guys who ran them, but bad news for those pining for the lofty fjords of the moral high ground.

In '91 the Israelis went nuclear and decided to beat Arafat at his own game. Rabin and Peres talked the old terrorist out of retirement and down to Washington D.C. where they surrendered to him in an official ceremony at the Rose Garden overseen by a beaming Bill Clinton. Finally Israel had won the moral high ground. And the United States had carved off a chunk of that delicious moral high ground, even though Clinton was forced to fidget in his chair at Oslo when his Nobel Peace Prize went to the greasy terrorist, though perhaps he should have considered that defeat to be another victory of the moral high ground.

But the moral high ground proved notoriously elusive for the Jewish State. There was a brief lull when it seemed that the original sin of kicking ass had been atoned for in the Rose Garden, but then the terrorists started killing Israelis again and the Israelis insisted on fighting back. In no time at all the moral high ground was roped off with a special reserved section for terrorists and a sign reading, "No Israelis Will Be Admitted Unless They Renounce Their Government, Zionism and the Right of Self-Defense."

Peace was the last best hope of the new Israeli Hatikvah, not to be a free people in their own land, but to be a moral people in a land that didn't really belong to anyone in particular, but that they were optimistic everyone could live in harmony in.

But peace with terrorists meant not fighting back and there was a limit to what the 70 percent of the country that didn't go to sleep fantasizing about peace would accept in the name of peace.

And so, terrorists killed Israelis, Israelis killed terrorists, that part of the world located in an ugly modernist building overlooking Turtle Bay, which the turtles would like to have back, condemned Israel and demanded that it resolve things peacefully by surrendering more land to the terrorists in order to build up their confidence in Israel's commitment to a peaceful solution.

The terrorists were not expected to reciprocate and build up Israel's confidence in their commitment to a peaceful solution because they already had the moral high ground by way of losing the last thirty engagements with the IDF, including the battle of the school they set up snipers in, the church they took over and the hospital that they used as an ammo dump.

The great quandary for Israeli leaders is how to win a war without losing the moral high ground. This is a tricky matter because it requires winning the war and winning the peace. And you can't do both at the same time.

Israel's solution has been to fight limited wars while remaining absolutely committed to peace. No sooner does a war begin, then it is pressed to accept a ceasefire. To show its commitment to peace, Israel is expected to accept the ceasefire. At which point Hamas will begin shooting rockets again and the whole dance will begin all over again. But Israel has trouble refusing a ceasefire because its leaders still believe that they can get at the moral high ground by showing that they are more committed to peace than the other side.

The peace is however unwinnable. It's not even survivable in the long term. Peace either exists as a given condition or it is maintained by strong armies and ready deterrence. Peace cannot be found on the moral high ground, only the mountains of the graves of the dead.

Seeking the moral high ground is a fool's quest. Wars cannot be fought without hurting someone and trumpeting your morality makes it all too easy for your enemies to charge you with hypocrisy. The man who spends the most time vociferously protesting that he isn't a thief, that he has never touched a penny that belonged to anyone else and that he will swear on a floor-to-ceilling stack of bibles to that effect, looks far guiltier than the man who scowls and tells his accusers to mind their own business. The more Israel defends its own morality, the more it winds the chains of the accusers around its own neck.

Refining its warfighting with the object of fighting a truly moral war leads to refined techniques that kill terrorists but still cause some collateral damage, and to soldiers that are more afraid of shooting than of being shot at. And all this painstaking effort goes for naught since it really makes very little difference to Israel's enemies whether they have one photo of a dead Muslim civilian to brandish or a thousand. Either one makes for the same manner of indictment. In aiming to win the peace, Israel instead, like all modern states, loses the war.

The father of an Israeli soldier told his son after he was called up for duty that he would rather visit him in prison than visit him in the cemetery. "If you are fired on, fire back." That is good advice not just for that young man, but for his entire country, and for the civilized world. It is better to fire than be fired upon. It is better to be thought a criminal, than mourned in Holocaust museums. It is better to leave the moral high ground to those who worship the romance of endless bloodshed and defeat. It is better to lose the peace and win the war.


  1. The moral high ground is actually having values worth fighting to keep and/or to achieve. This is why my blood pressure rises whenever I hear American politicians, generals, and others say that American soldiers "sacrificed" their lives in this or that war. They sacrificed nothing. They were fighting for values they'd find it difficult if not impossible to live without. Fighting for values -- real, life-affirming values, not nihilist values as touted by Hamas and other terrorist groups -- is not an exercise in sacrificing anything. One already occupies the moral high ground if that is what motivates one to risk one's life fighting for values. Israel is a value to its citizens. That is why it is fighting Hamas, which wants to annihilate Israel, to inflict pain on it. Its soldiers are not 'sacrificing" anything, but fighting to preserve a value, their nation.

  2. Debby fayga16/7/14

    Morality is not all its cracked up to be.

    Don't congratulate us on our "moral integrity". Our failure to fall on our enemy with everything we have is a moral disgrace;

    We don't face an ethical dilemma. What appears as a dilemma is actually our misunderstanding and violation of basic principles of morality.

    These come to mind: First, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?" Second, "He who is kind to the cruel will be cruel to the kind." Third, "You must defend your own children, your family, and those who you hold dear. Do not betray those who are entitled to your love at the expense of your enemies."

    Our confusion stems our conceit that we are more moral than others. We foolishly congratulate ourselves for our indecision and weakness, calling it "purity of arms"

    We should be ashamed that our restraint has terrorized and endangered our own people. That our own citizens remain in shelters is immoral, and the fault is ours if we have the power to stop it, but lack the will.

    We are faithless to our own children who sit terrified in shelters, we are kind to the cruel Gazans and enemies who gleefully cheer on our destruction.

  3. Exodus 34:12 "Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going, lest they be a snare in the midst of you."
    Spiritual and physical instruction often illustrate the importance of priorities about each other.
    Humans ignoring the LORD, continuously prove how right He is.
    Today, am I having the divine privilege to overhear Him speak those words to Moses?
    or Malachi (3:6) ".... I am the LORD, I change not;" ?
    I would rather see the results of leaders taking heed.

  4. Anonymous16/7/14

    Debby is 100-percent correct!


  5. Anonymous16/7/14

    Have Israelis forgotten the gut-wrenching heartbreak of Gush Katif? Of how Arabs celebrated Sharon's ill health after he handed that beautiful seafront land to terrorists in exchange for...nothing but misery upon Israeli Jews?


  6. Anonymous16/7/14

    IMO this idiotic guilt trip about using disproportionate force resulted in Operation Cast Lead being halted entirely too soon.


  7. Anonymous16/7/14

    So how do we root out this suicidal form of mental illness from Israel and the West?

  8. Anonymous16/7/14

    I mean Israel's ambassador to the US

  9. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-14fg7_GRZI&noredirect=1
    This is absolutely chilling to me. Video of children singing a song designed for helping them "cope" with rocket-fall. Heartbreaking beyond words.
    Israel all the high ground you need: Do whatever is needed to halt incoming rockets & other hostile harm.
    Where has Netanyahu's conscience and duty been? Lock him inside the rooms with these babies until he cries.
    The rest of the world has no right in this decision.
    Fight for your children, your lives, your Land.
    HE that keeps Israel never slumbers nor sleeps.
    Leaders are to be watchmen on the walls around these children & their very souls.
    Who can resist the LORD?

  10. This is not some kind of calculated mistake. Israel is locked into pleasing outsiders, that’s all.

    As for morality, when it is imposed on somebody else it tends to be more of a curse than a blessing.

  11. Publishing the truth about the ME conflict is also a Loser's Game.

  12. Anonymous17/7/14

    The U.S. cannot claim any kind of moral high ground whatsoever. When its citizens treat human life with less respect and dignity than the life of the lowliest of animals through the genocide of millions of the unborn, how can we dare ask the Jews in Israel to appease the Islamic's whose only intent is to wipe all Jews off the face of the earth? How can the total rejection of reality and truth, that all people are unique human beings created by God and that all people have a right to life, which the majority of Americans clearly do, give us a right to ask others, especially the Jews, to capitulate to a people who are the epitome of evil and want to destroy them?

    The Jews in Israel and those who respect human life, especially those who are defenseless against the more powerful are the only sane people in this world.


  13. The day you win the moral high ground from the Left, they'll just move it to another place. A fool's errand.

  14. Bob Chicago17/7/14

    I know this column is about Israel, but just interchange a few words and it could aptly be addressing the U.S as well. I'm in my 60's, and have spent decades watching the Democratic Party, and increasingly the GOP, wallow in the pig sty of faux morality. The destruction of every institution, from the Catholic Church to the Boy Scouts, is almost complete, and yet the population demonstrate complete unawareness. Amazing? Hardly. Since no one is talking, morality is what our leaders and media say it is. Someday someone will write a book and explain how technology can proceed at such a dizzying pace, and simultaneously Philosophy returns to the Dark Ages. I agree with Daniel and Brooks above: reaching for a moral high ground, as defined by a political structure that is Totalitarian, at best, is a fool's errand. The whole world today is a rat's nest of corruption and tyranny. Any initiative that starts with that premise will find few backers; that alone should tell you that you are on the right track.

  15. Anonymous17/7/14

    2sloe: Here's the complete video that explains the situation in Sderot, the kassam rockets and why and how it helps the kids. Heartbreaking but definitely worth watching.


    Sderot would otherwise be such a quiet little hamlet in Israel if it weren't for Hamas.


  16. Anonymous17/7/14

    *I mean how the song helps the kids in Sderot. Sad that many people seem to have forgotten about Sderot, Amona, Gush Katif...as if it never happened. Hamas isn't going to change.


  17. Keliata, thank you for posting the link. I understand it helps the children. but innocent little kids being taught that is just blatantly WRONG when it is *instead of removing the threat. it's disturbing.
    The entire territory relinquished in 2005 needs to be taken back. that was wrong.
    I'm no good at politics, can't even pretend. obvious?

  18. Linda Cohn18/7/14

    I think Netanyahu and the IDF Generals would be brought to the Hague for war crimes if they killed 1,000 'palestinians.' Never mind that the US and NATO killed 50,000 Libyans and Assad killed 200,000 Syrians, etc. etc. How do you deal with that possibility?

  19. If they continue trying to find a middle path, they will be brought there anyway

    If the situation continues to escalate, the possibility that action will be taken against Israel and that Israel will be unable to resist it will only continue to increase

  20. Anonymous18/7/14

    I know what you mean, 2sloe. It is wrong for these kids to have to play this endless "game" while they face very real threats from kassam rockets from Gaza.


    I'm terrible at politics too, but I think the only solution is for Israel to fight back, with all of its force. Full court press on Hamas. The Hamas Charter will never change, and Hamas is committed to their goals just as Hitler was. Fighting is the only option as I see it.

    The world pretty much criticizes Israel for whatever it does. If they're passive they're viewed as dupes, gullible. If they fight back they get accused of war crimes. I say Israel should fight back, recapture Gaza and fight head on. Public relations be damned.

  21. Anonymous18/7/14

    War is not nor has ever been moral. Von Clausewitz said: "War is not merely a political act but a real political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, a carrying out of the same by other means." There is a disagreement. It cannot be settled by discussion, so it is settled by killing perhaps extermination. That is as immoral as it is quintessentially human. War between different races, cultures, religions, or substantial belief systems will only resolve when one side exterminates the other. History proves human extermination prowess. Morals have nothing to do with it!

  22. Anonymous18/7/14

    Has anyone in the ME figured out yet that they are about to run out of water?
    The de-salinization plants have been shown to be killing the wildlife in the sea, so that process can't last much longer. Israel has enough water to supply its' own population, and their advanced technology will figure out the future..
    The Stone Age countries are in real peril.
    Speaking of morals, I would call this poetic justice.

  23. Anonymous18/7/14

    2 questions..

    1. What is a Palestinian?
    2. How has our world become the kind of place where terrorists can hassle a smaller but stronger and peaceful group of people who if they retaliate are considered scum of the earth.

    If you don't bother anyone and in fact give your enemy free stuff and that enemy makes it clear that they want you destroyed and nips at you constantly with rockets and bombs forcing you to act which creates a cycle of conflict that never ends would you not be justified in killing such enemy until it is totally dead?

    The leadership of Israel should be lauded for showing restraint no one else would if their problems were the same.

    1. Anonymous18/7/14

      Step one: stop calling them terrorists. They are enemy soldiers.

      Step two: Stop praising Israel for cowardice.

      Step three: Fight to win. So they killed 4 Arab children. How many German children did we kill in a night? BFD. Hamas claims it's war. They talk about opening the Gates of Hell. Fine. Fight, Israel, or shut up.

      Four: Stop quoting UN resolutions. The deed to the Land is in the Book of Genesis, not in some phony UN crap.

  24. I will not comment on your political views, but i'm first time on the blog and definitely will be back. Because your writing is phenomenal, and what to say about opening another time phenomenal. Like for "Truly moral army never fights a war".


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