In 1940 Adolf Hitler predicted that the aerial bombardment of British cities would result in the bulk of the population being “incited against the rich ruling class to bring about a revolution”. Britain would not be able to resist invasion after the bombing.
In 2006 the Israeli Government thought that bombing infrastructure used by Hezbollah in Lebanon in retaliation for Hezbollah’s kidnapping of Israeli soldiers would result in ordinary Lebanese people being so incited against Hezbollah that they would throw it out of the country.
Both were wrong, of course.
In 1940, one of the tasks my father had, as a clergyman in his early 20s, was to hold burial services for the body bits found on bomb sites in East London. Far from joining a revolution against the ruling classes, after the Blitz he enlisted in the Army.
My Great Auntie Annie went to a bomb shelter in London one night. Next morning her house was gone. It was one of more than a million houses destroyed in the Blitz. There was no insurance, of course. But her reaction was to buy War Bonds to join the fight against Hitler, not throw in the towel, surrender or join an insurrection against the ruling classes on the side of the people who had just bombed her.
And Churchill made his famous “We Shall Never Surrender” speech.
That’s what bombing does.
The Blitz was far bloodier than what has happened in Lebanon – about five times the number homeless and 43,000 civilian deaths against about 1000 in Lebanon, yet that did not break the British determination to fight on.
So far from weakening Hezbollah, Israel’s bombs and shells have done the opposite. A month ago a large portion of the Lebanese population thought Hezbollah was a damn nuisance. After years of civil war and having just seen the Syrians off, all they wanted was peace and a chance to prosper. They could do without Hezbollah needling Israel on Lebanon’s southern border.
That hope is now dashed.
The vast majority of Lebanese now detest Israel which they see as the author of their woes and now regard Hezbollah as the underdogs and heroes. Israel has created another generation of Israel haters – another generation of insecurity for Israel.
Indeed, the capacity of bombing to engender long-term hatred and suspicion might be a reason why anti-German feeling in Britain was more enduring after the war than in the countries that Germany actually occupied. Paris was an open city. Coventry Cathedral was flattened.
And of all the force applied to Germany by the Allies in its “justified” war against an evil regime, the one event that stands out as a Allied war crime was a bombing – that of Dresden in the closing weeks of the war.
The bombed are the underdogs and attract sympathy.
In 1940 the American broadcaster Edward R. Morrow (of “Goodnight and Good Luck” fame) sent live broadcasts to America during the London bombing and aroused enormous support for the British fight against Nazi aggression.
Israel did not even have to learn the history lesson from the Blitz. Its own history since 1967 should tell it that peace and security do not come by the application of disproportionate force. Israel has a right to self-defence, but the kidnapping of several soldiers does not give it the right to lay waste to half a nation.
A horrible precedent has been set. It is the first time (depending on definitions) that a democracy – Israel – has initiated acts of war against another democracy — Lebanon.
Hitherto we have imagined that democracy all round would be an antidote to war. It now seems that democracy is not enough. People can support and vote for disproportionate violence. People can vote for governments that tolerate terrorists in their midst – because they are too weak or do not have the will to do anything about it.
In this environment, international law is even more important for peace and liberty. Just as the rule of law within democracies is crucial for peace and freedom so it is between democracies (and, indeed, all nations).
Alas, we are seeing an erosion of international law. The UN Security Council is paralysed by the threat of a US veto over Lebanon and a Chinese or Russian veto over Iran nuclear ambitions.
Even in democracies, populism and the search for votes is driving government policy. They have driven US policy on Israel for decades. The Jewish population of the US is about 1.3 per cent, and heavily concentrated in New York. Combined with money and positions of power, it makes for an extremely influential lobby. The Muslim population, on the other hand. is about 0.5 per cent.
Australia, particularly under John Howard, has been a slave to US policy, so our “even-handed” Middle East policy has been pro-Israel.
However, demographics might change that. The Muslim-Jewish ratio in Australia is the opposite of that in the US. The Muslim population at the 2001 census was about 1.3 per cent, and rising and concentrated in western Sydney and parts of Melbourne. The Jewish population is about 0.3 per cent, albeit an influential 0.3 per cent.
The Government might lose a seat or two over its Middle East policy. It would show the power of raw numbers, but that is as dangerous as the power of number the other way in America.
Numbers and votes do not make principle, and bombs do not make peace.
Two of the saddest things about recent events in the Middle East is that democracies are at war, and that no-one seems to have learnt the obvious lessons from the history of bombing.