David Remnick of the “New Yorker” calls it “intolerable.” The last few weeks in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank have stretched us for words to describe the awful goings on. We mostly agree that the initial Hamas invasion of Israel and killing of innocents was barbaric—and that Israel’s response is horrific. We can’t see what happens next. Can history tell us?

In what the Jewish paper Haaretz reminds us is day 39 in the mind-numbing series of events that followed the Hamas attack, there are only losers. The men, women, and children, Israeli, Palestinian, and visiting UN workers and tourists who have died, or been taken hostage; the journalists killed and those who survive; the friends and relatives of all of these; the witnesses of killings up close, of bombings and searches in rubble; the physically and emotionally wounded—all will live with this for as long as they live, as long as Holocaust survivors and Palestinians chased from their homes in 1947 have lived and are living with their memories.

Israel and Gaza—after war’s end, and we have to assume that somehow in some way there will be an end—will be utterly different. Many Israelis and Palestinians will scuttle elsewhere in the world, looking for safety for themselves and their children. For those who must stay, whatever follows the end will be tense; trust will be almost impossible, revenge on many minds. Peacemakers on both sides will be hard-pressed to find purchase.

And in rest of the world? Look around us. American college campuses and political parties—even Congressional representatives and their staffers—are splitting and fracturing, and will continue to do so. Antisemitism and Islamophobia will continue to increase. Nations and international organizations will grapple with how to help, who to help.

That’s the short term! It’s hard to imagine a long term.

Looking to the past is not encouraging. The world barely got past the armistice in WW I before devolving into WW II. And one can trace past and current conflicts in the Middle East—including today’s events—as that war’s heritage!

As for WW II, Europe seems to have put itself back together in a reasonable way, and Japan has enjoyed prosperity. At least on the surface. Hiroshima survivors died off, but their trail has not—we live with “the bomb” and Putin’s threats to use it. And the allied bombings of Germany and Japan—even before Hiroshima—quieted mostly by self-censorship, might be credited in the revival of neo-Nazism and authoritarianism.

In America, treatment of our own Japanese citizenry in internment camps still echoes in the lives of descendants; reparations and apologies are still playing out. And the last Nisei soldiers who fought heroically for “our” side in Europe during WW II say that their contributions have always been ignored. That was all over 75 years ago.

The war in Korea is a forgotten war in our country. But Korea is still divided and North and South play different and opposing roles on the gameboard of nations. The divisions and play out in international manufacturing, trade, defense strategy, and even religion, continues. More than 60 years after the “peace.”

As a country, our oldest wars are the Indian Wars. There were battles and atrocities beginning with European arrival in the new world from Columbus’s arrival in 1492, but what we call the “Indian Wars” is the mop-up, the destruction of Native nations and cultures that occurred after the Civil War ended, and continued through the Nez Perce War of 1877 and the massacre of the Lakota at Wounded Knee in 1890. One hundred and thirty-three years ago.

One could argue that the centuries of mistreatment, the wars, land thefts, boarding schools, and discrimination are coasting to some kind of reconciliation in our own time. It’s been bloody and harrowing: the killings, diseases, and forced assimilation were never easy for the Native recipients. Even those who attempted participation in the broader society have often been blocked or undervalued. The last code-talkers from WW II are dying now, but the irony—that they used the language that had been forbidden in their schools to help the American cause—has always been a burr. And being met with the last grand attempt to do away with Tribes and Tribal culture at the end of their war with 1950s Termination and Relocation must have been heart wrenching.

So yes, today there is good news in Indian Country, with increased knowledge of the past and appreciation for culture and knowledge of our fragile natural world. Restitution is not a forbidden topic; sacred lands are protected; boarding school horrors acknowledged. But, even here the legacy of repression and discrimination live on—in diabetes, incarceration, missing persons, and poverty.

The festering that has gone on for almost 100 years in the Holy Land has been lanced. The present is indeed intolerable, the fallout is immeasurable, the future dark. History shows healing, but shows that healing roads are long and very hard.

# # #

image from Reuters


  1. Thank you Rich! These times and the history you invoke show us what–that our humanity has been and is on trial for continual war crimes and in fact isn’t war itself a crime–even in a “just war?” I keep thinking back to a Fishtrap gathering of long ago when a Cambodian survivor of Khmer Rouge torture and the wonderful David Kinzie presented on “Forgiveness and the Unforgivable,” the theme and content are so heartbreakingly timely just now!

  2. Thank you Merna, I could not agree more. I keep thinking about my friend, Jack McClaran, a Wallowa County rancher who was a 19 year old tanker at the liberation of Buchenwald. “No nineteen year old should ever see what i had to see.” But we keep on. Millions are seeing “it.” The whole concept of a “just war” might just be an oxymoron. Might need to be thrown in history’s dustbin.

  3. And so “we mostly agree”.It has been said so often unless you’ve been in war you don’t know war.The same goes for anti-semitism.Speaking only for myself, a Jew who had no religious training & in fact came later to love & respect our heritage,our family’s 500 to 1,000 years history in central & eastern Europe,
    there follows how one Jew feels about mostly agreeing.The original epithets & swear words are left out:
    Allahu Akbar, You M………..S
    You’ve always been killing us
    haven’t you?
    In the pogrom,the ghetto,the extermination lager,
    the deep ditches you made us dig before you shot us in the back
    of the head.

    In the back of vans,on Roman roads,in the small synagogues where you burned us alive.
    At our festivals,on our sacred holidays.
    For a thousand years.
    You have,haven’t you?
    If you did get your own country & we had but a small settlement there,
    you’d find reason to murder us
    wouldn’t you?
    You turned our skin into gloves,our ashes into fertilizer,our gold teeth
    into bank accounts.
    Didn’t you,you ………….?
    You do it in the name of your holy Koran,your white blood,your Christian
    prophet,your false beliefs.
    You befriend us,then kill us.
    Your ordained ministers railed against on the radio,but because our lands
    fulfill prophecy,they now embrace us.
    You come at us with airplanes out of a deep blue sky,hanging
    off of brightly colored gliders.
    With road graders,on motorcycles & golf carts,in the beds of Toyota pickups.
    With box cutters,machine guns,rockets,pistols,kitchen knives,grenades,bombs.
    Molotov cocktails,hangmens’ ropes,bricks,boxcars,zyklon B,
    and words.
    Words so violent,so vicious,so slanderous,inflaming,knowingly wrong.
    What kind of mother taught you & condoned this?
    You M………..S.

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