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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Maybe now they will finally understand...

If I had a [insert insignificant sum of local currency here] for every time I've read or heard those words following a terror attack, I'd truly never have to work again.

Here's the problem.  The human condition is predisposed to a kind of self-imposed amnesia following any serious trauma.  How many of us can honestly say we remember - really remember - the electric shock-like pain of a broken bone... the sickening violation of a deep wound... the searing insanity that is a third degree burn? 

For that matter, how many women can honestly say that they can conjure up - right this very minute - an honest and accurate memory of the tearing pain of the moment their child's head and shoulders passed through the birth canal?

Yes, we vaguely remember that there was pain.  Bad pain.  But we are incapable of recalling or reliving the reality of the pain to any useful extent. There is something about the way we're wired that allows us to remember - indistinctly - that pain occurred.  But once we get past childhood, even the memory of a bad burn won't keep us from a familiar intimacy with the stove or campfire.

After every terror attack - no matter where it might occur in the world - the editorial pages and coffee shops are full of sages and pundits who solemnly intone "Maybe now they will finally understand...", secure in the knowledge that this fresh atrocity will have finally passed the threshold for action... for a response... for at least a change of allegiance and sympathy;  That this time the pain will be indelibly burned into our collective memory.

And for a brief moment in time it appears that they are right.

Yet even the fresh vigilance that springs to life after each killing spree can't seem to sustain itself for any meaningful period of time.  A few of the safeguards may become canonized in the mindless rules one encounters at the airport security check ("I'm sorry sir, your bottle of hand sanitizer is a threat to the free world... please step behind this curtain and disrobe"), but within weeks... sometimes even days... the forgetting begins anew, and the families of the dead are left alone to mourn, and to wonder how nobody else seems to see the same patterns and trends anymore.

We in Israel have watched as our allies have endured ever greater attacks by our common enemies. And following each new conflagration we say to ourselves, "Maybe now they will finally understand what we have been going through".  The hijacked jetliners... the bombed busses and trains... the embassies in flames... New York, Washington, London, Madrid... Mumbai for G-d's sake!!!  Certainly now they all understand!!!

Yet, like a drunk whose hangover is just far enough in the past to allow him to imagine that the problem was somehow something other than the booze, the U.S., Europe and Asia have all demonstrated a staggering capacity for shaking off full frontal attacks, and then almost immediately sit down again with bespoke-suited terrorists to begin anew the contrite ritual of surrender negotiation.

So let's finally be honest... at least with ourselves.  They will never understand.  What am I saying?  Even an unsettlingly large number of us - the Israelis - still don't understand!   Look how many of us can quote chapter and verse of every act of murderous intransigence by our enemies, and then look each other in the eye and honestly declare that 'this time it will be different'... 'they've changed'... 'they really want peace'... 'we just need to give them a little bit more'

Never mind that the only periods of relative calm we've ever known have followed our unapologetic acts of brutality, merciless warfare and self-defense... while the worst periods of bloodshed and carnage have come directly on the heels of unilateral concessions, withdrawal and conciliatory behavior.

Anyone who claims the exclusive mantle of 'peace' for themselves is arrogant, delusional or both.  There isn't a single Israeli who, given a choice, would rather have his or her children live at war than at peace.  But it is childish to imagine that if only we wish hard enough for 'Peace Now' we will magically be able to unilaterally banish war by sheer force of will.

One by one the coalition of nations who sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq to fight the 'war on terror' are striking their tents and going home in a somnambulant stupor.  And at some point soon, the US will also sleepwalk home... forgetting exactly who they were fighting, or why. 

Until the next U.S., European or Asian embassy, installation or city is attacked.  And then, for a brief moment, there will be a sense of consensus... of purpose... of genuine pain.  And once again the editorial pages and coffee shop pundits will say "Maybe now they will finally understand... ". 

But they never really do.

Posted by David Bogner on December 3, 2008 | Permalink


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Blogs to read while watching the crocodiles eat.* 1) A letter to the editors. 2) Apparently the Holzbergs were not tortured. Does that mean that their brutal murders weren't antisemitic? 3) Deferring to Islam at the UN. Deferring to Islam at YouTube. 4... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 7, 2008 1:59:33 PM


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Meah achuz. I stopped thinking the world would understand after Shalhevet Pass. Any tiny shred of a remnant of hope I had in the world "getting it" passed with Tali Hatuel and her four-plus babies.

I remember, vaguely, that there was an intifada in Jordan that sprang up simultaneously with the intifada in Israel in the late 80s. If memory serves, the Jordanian leadership sent an APC full of well-armed soldiers into the crowd of rock-hurling youth. The soldiers climbed out of the vehicle and sprayed the Palestinian teenagers liberally with a whole lot of ordnance. After the slaughter, they climbed back into their APC, and drove away. The world maybe raised its eyebrows for a few seconds. And then it passed. Oh, yeah... and it was the first and last day of their intifada.

The world will never love us, until Moshiach comes, no matter how much we give. And the Arabs will stop killing us only when the price they must pay is too high.

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Dec 3, 2008 2:35:28 PM

I don't think the problem lies in memory. After all, you remember. And the terrorists remember lots of stuff; Including things that never happened.

The differences are in ideology and commitment. If you even half-believe in class struggle the balance will look different.

Likewise if you believe in Islamic supremacy. Tom Friedman points out today that the Pakistani's made a bigger protest over Danish cartoons than over murdering Indians. They haven't forgotten.

Posted by: Fred | Dec 3, 2008 2:56:29 PM

the amnesia that comes after childbirth ensures the continuation of the human race. this pattern of forgetfulness that follows acts of increasing brutality is also a coping mechanism, in some ways (how can i really go about my daily life if i consider that a young pregnant woman was tortured and killed, along with her spouse, in close proximity of their young child? really, if we thought about all of the world's horrors, from right here in my own community to those on the other side of the globe, we would just be paralyzed...) but, as you point out, the very ability we have to mourn, then wave our fists impotently in the air and make empty promises may eventually be the mechanism of our collective undoing.

i had been bracing myself for your memories and thoughts about the Holtzbergs. but your post was, in many ways, more shocking and tragic than that one will be. if that's possible.

Posted by: Debbie | Dec 3, 2008 2:59:33 PM

Totally agree. I posted this on Monday:

"The "9/11 effect" will last a few months in India, just as it did in London after the Underground carnage. Then it will fade away ans people will get complacent and ignore the reality of what they are dealing with."

Posted by: mochassid | Dec 3, 2008 3:57:31 PM

Like mochassid, I was thinking about 9/11. Remember the American flags everywhere? The fury? The articles by liberal editorialists urging support of President Bush and steadfastness against the enemy? I honestly thought at the time that 9/11 would be the turning point when Americans finally "got it". How wrong I was.

Posted by: psachya | Dec 3, 2008 4:22:57 PM

You don't sound optimistic but at the same time there is no reason to be.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Dec 3, 2008 4:27:53 PM

I can hope that the world will get it... but that doesn't mean I really believe that they will.

Posted by: Rahel | Dec 3, 2008 4:40:18 PM

This reminds me of a piece of a Bible verse:
... peace, peace, when there is no peace.

Posted by: Channah | Dec 3, 2008 5:29:05 PM

Well said...I agree 100%. It appears that it is more convenient to forget.

Bottom line...if you forget, you lose...same thing as taking a test in school...you forget, you fail. Bad analogy, but the same principle.

Posted by: Sam | Dec 3, 2008 5:30:26 PM

Worthwhile on-point reading here:


Posted by: Drew | Dec 3, 2008 5:40:59 PM

I'm not sure about the analogy. Physical and emotional pain are different. People forget their own physical pain, but they don't forget grief in the same way--at least, not their own grief. They bury it, they subsume it, they let go of it, but they don't forget it. The grief of others, I think, is different.

Posted by: uberimma | Dec 3, 2008 6:15:35 PM

At the risk of becoming flame fodder: There's a difference between "not understanding" and "not agreeing."

I worked a few blocks away from the World Trade Center on 9/11. I felt the ground shake when each tower fell (not a pleasant experience when you're on the 20th floor of a building), and walked home covered in ash and soot from the fallen towers. Both my wife and I lost friends on that day. Anyone who dares suggest that I have forgotten what happened will get a barrage of invective and, should they dare voice that opinion in my presence, a slap upside the face. That does not mean that I need to agree with every military action taken by my country.

And at some point soon, the US will also sleepwalk home... forgetting exactly who they were fighting, or why.
Exactly who is the US fighting in Iraq, and why? There are a number of good arguments to be made for US troops to be there, but none of them involve direct self-defense. There's no military there capable of attacking the US and no central government financing terrorist attacks on US territory. Suggesting that the US Army has better targets and more important things to spend its resources on is an appropriate judgement. It is one that can be debated, but it does bespeak lack of understanding.

Many members of Peace Now have lost family members to terror. Yitchak Rabin and Ariel Sharon were military commanders. It is an insult to suggest that they "forgot" or "didn't understand" the realities of terror, aggression and war. Negotiation is not the same as surrender. As a wise blogger wrote recently: "Anyone who claims the exclusive mantle of 'peace' for themselves is arrogant, delusional or both." There is no single, simple, one-size-fits-all way to obtain peace. Continued military action with no political negotiation is no less horrifying than the reverse. Where and how to draw the lines and balance the two is an area on which reasonable people can disagree without having to resort to insults.

Posted by: efrex | Dec 3, 2008 9:07:54 PM

People forget pain quickly. I'm told that people in the behavior modification biz have found that nausea is far more reliably long-term aversive than pain. Remember Clockwork Orange? In any case, you're right: people may feel emotional pain when they see these things, but the physical reaction is limited to that one moment, and is soon forgotten.

Posted by: Barzilai | Dec 3, 2008 10:32:42 PM

efrex: military action seems to work. Concessions don't.

Posted by: triLcat | Dec 3, 2008 11:25:09 PM

"But it is childish to imagine that if only we wish hard enough for 'Peace Now' we will magically be able to unilaterally banish war by sheer force of will."

We had this problem to a significant degree here in the USA; sadly, it was during an election year. A lot of people are now magically hoping that putting a Black man in the White House will banish war AND global climate change AND poverty AND...

Not everyone who voted for Mr.-Elect Obama felt that way; indeed -- most were reasonable. But enough actually FELT that way and voted how they FELT to disturb my li'l local tranquil world-view...

"If wishes were horses..."


Posted by: Wry Mouth | Dec 4, 2008 1:55:48 AM

Thoughtful people cannot understand how Jews can support Palestinian "rights" when doing so disenfranchises Jews of their "rights" - even to the point of becoming non-Jewish and more "worldly."

The problem with any explanation is that if it is not interesting, then it will be considered "old-hat" or "been there, done that." No critiques of explanations should be subjected to that type of reasoning, even though the explanation is not as interesting or novel as one would have liked. It is illogical and unproductive. There is a perfectly good explanation: identification with the aggressor, the Stockholm Syndrome. Until those who choose the "worldly" disenfranchising of the Jews can show that they are not identifying with the aggressor out of fear of their own destruction, then all that emanates from their mouths is subject to doubt and rejection. That includes "Peace Now," ISM, MSM, NYT, etc.

Let us take another example. From David's essay: "'this time it will be different'... 'they've changed'... 'they really want peace'... 'we just need to give them a little bit more'." Such explanations do not reach the level of identification with the aggressor, but do reflect our own hopes and wishes. I have thought for some time now that the difference between a Liberal and a Conservative is that a Liberal imposes his own thinking upon those to whom he is speaking to a greater degree than does a Conservative. Thus, multiculturalism is a manifestation of Liberal cognitive processes that attempt to understand "the other" rather than the interaction of their own processes with "the other." People are just not designed to handle too many interactions in their own minds, so "participant-observer" goes by the boards.

The last point of "participant-observer" status has been handled by journalists by giving up. "Yes, I have a point of view and if my writing reflects that point of view, too bad on you, if you disagree." Thus, journalists do not care that their inputs into a given situation are skewed even in the most distorted way, since they have been taught that their is no objective truth. Relativism is the way the universe works, so let me lean back and wallow in it, even if it brings undeserved death and destruction to others in its wake.

With regard to the major point of David's contribution, that people soon forget the past's pains. It is all true. The problem is how to take this human limitation of compartmentalizing negative experiences into account in a way that allows us to ward off depression and its accompanying inaction (let's all just lay down and die) to prevent us from having to lay down and die to for real. The answer is to be aware of that tendency within us and remain suspicious of others' motives.

There is another way to avoid being self-destructive that presents itself in the computer age. Encourage computer junkies to design a program that weighs players' past acts against more recent acts to determine veridicality of current claims of being well-meaning. Not so hard in these days of simulations and terrabit calculation speeds. People will have to come to rely on computers for their judgments if they wish to avoid the types of errors that humans are prone to make in the course of crediting others with their own worthy motives.

Did not expect to write so much. Sorry.

Posted by: jerry | Dec 4, 2008 3:01:20 AM

Excellent post!

We will have peace ... well, we will have peace when we follow the ways of Hashem and when Mashiach comes. Not a moment before.

Posted by: Mark | Dec 4, 2008 5:23:45 AM

Connecticut may forget 2001 -- but here in Texas, we still remember 1836.

Posted by: Bob | Dec 4, 2008 6:13:28 AM

i read you your thoughts about the mumbai attack in the ou shabbat shalom e-mail. it was incredable. it gave me a chance to know a little about the holtzbergs as people .thank you

Posted by: frum single female | Dec 5, 2008 7:39:59 AM

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