I know of many Palestinians who do not like Hamas. Yet for them, the Gaza war is about the siege – part of their own war of independence. Israelis refuse to get that.
In The Fog of War, Errol Morris’ excellent documentary, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara speaks about a certain inability to understand the enemy – one that stems from a lack of empathy.
In the film, McNamara, a brilliant systems analyst, who is today associated more than anything with the Vietnam War, says that part of President Kennedy’s successful management of the Cuban Missile Crisis was his administration’s ability to put itself in the shoes of the Soviets and understand their point of view. “In the case of Vietnam,” he says, “we didn’t know them well enough to empathize.” As a result, each side had a completely different understanding of what the war was about.
This understanding came to McNamara only in 1991, when he visited Vietnam and met with the country’s foreign minister. McNamara asked the foreign minister whether he thought it was possible to reach the same results of the war (independence and uniting the south with the north) without the heavy losses. Between one and three million people died in the war, most of them Vietnamese civilians. This does not include the hundreds of thousands of casualties in the war against the French, which took place shortly before. Approximately 58,000 American soldiers were also killed in the Vietnam War.
“You were fighting to enslave us,” yelled the foreign minister at McNamara, who in turn replied that that is an absurd notion. The two nearly came to blows. But as time passed McNamara understood. “We saw Vietnam as an element of the Cold War,” he says, whereas what the foreign minister was trying to tell him was that for the Vietnamese it was a war of independence. Communism was not the heart of the matter for the Vietnamese. They were willing to make the worst sacrifices because they were fighting for their freedom – not for Marx or Brezhnev.
Nations will make inconceivable sacrifices in these kinds of struggles. An entire one percent of the Jewish population was killed in the 1948 war. The public accepted it painfully and with a stiff upper lip because they felt, just like the Vietnamese, that they were fighting for their lives and for their freedom. We have become...Read More