These last two weeks I’ve been reminded of certain lines from Yeats’ poem, The Second Coming: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” He wrote that in 1918, shortly after World War I—a senseless orgy of slaughter, with around 20 million dead and 21 million wounded.
I disagree with Yeats about the best, but the worst are certainly out in force and screaming for blood. Here’s the body count to date: On October 7 Hamas killed over 1,400 Israelis—mostly civilians, many of them women, children, the elderly, and the disabled—and wounded at least 3,800 others. (Figures are from the Israeli government, and have been accepted by all news media from the Associated Press to Al Jazeera.) The Gaza Health Ministry reports that as of October 21, Israel retaliated by killing 4,385 Palestinians, over 60% of them women and children, and wounding 13,561 others.
And the reaction? Overseas it has varied widely. In Berlin 10,000-20,000 demonstrated in support of Israel and against anti-Semitism. Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State organization have called for jihad against Jews everywhere.
Here in the United States there seem to be three camps. Some groups, including Students for Justice in Palestine and the New York chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, cheered the Hamas massacre of vulnerable civilians as a victory for the oppressed.
Some right-wing think tank types who specialize in international affairs, and whom I promised not to quote directly, want more than revenge—they want Hamas obliterated, at whatever cost. They were furious at Biden for “betraying” Israel by persuading the Israeli government to restore the water supply to Gaza. When I expressed horror at the thought of ordinary people dying of thirst, the reply was that Israel provides only 10% of Gaza’s water. I looked it up. It turns out that the other 90% comes from wells and is undrinkable because of sewage and sea water pollution. Since Israel had also cut off electricity and fuel, the desalination and purification plants cannot operate. When I mentioned this, I was told that I was just spouting left-wing propaganda. My sources included the Associated Press, NBC News, and two Israeli newspapers.
Later, when I pointed out that 50% of Gaza’s population is under 18 and did not vote for Hamas, the reply was that those youngsters have been brainwashed by Hamas and want to kill all Jews. Which, I suppose, makes these children legitimate targets? Even if this were true, I wonder how much brainwashing by Hamas would be necessary for the children to feel outrage at the purposeful withholding of water.
I’m in the third camp, along with all those thousands who have demonstrated for an end to the violence, and some kind of agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that would provide justice and prosperity to both sides.
What will happen next? I can only hope for a positive outcome, but am not terribly optimistic. Remember that World War I was followed by World War II, with three times the number of casualties. An estimated 70-85 million people were killed. I haven’t been able to get any reasonable estimates for the number of wounded, but according to the Warfare History Network, for every American soldier killed four or five were wounded.
Yeats wasn’t optimistic either. Here are the last lines of his poem:
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?