Israel’s slaughter of over 1900 Palestinians in Gaza, by far and away most of whom were civilians, got me thinking about Western civilization. Mahatma Gandhi is often cited as responding to a question about Western civilization saying he thought it would be a good idea. However, recent research suggests Gandhi likely didn’t make this quip.
Regarding Western civilization though, there are many impressive accomplishments such as the Renaissance, wonderful arts, tremendous scientific discoveries and medical advances, and the great ideas of liberty and human rights. However, these advances are countered by events such as the Spanish Inquisition, slavery, Western colonial conquest and butchery in Africa, Asia and the Americas, US genocide of the American Indians, the Belgian robbery of and murderous campaign in the Congo Free State, WWI with its almost 14 million deaths, and the Jim Crow racism in the US.
Even if we only examine events since 1940, the Nazi Holocaust killed over 11 million people, including about 6 million Jews. WWII resulted in over 60 million deaths. War crimes such as the fire bombing of cities were followed by the unconscionable US use of atomic bombs against Japan on August 6th and August 9th, 1945.
The use of nuclear weapons eventually led to the mad policy of mutual assured destruction between the US and the USSR that threatened the entire world with destruction. That insane policy is still in play today, now between the US and Russia.
In 1956, Britain, France and Israel ganged up to attack Egypt. Even the US was outraged by this obvious war crime and forced these three aggressors to withdraw from Egyptian territory.
The French used terror campaigns in an effort to retain colonies in Vietnam and Algeria, but the indigenous populations finally defeated them, dealing another blow to Western imperialism. The French defeats were soon followed by the incredibly destructive US bombing campaign as well as the aerial spraying of Agent Orange in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Despite these horrific crimes and the killing of about 3 million Vietnamese and who knows how many Laotians and Cambodians, the US was forced to withdraw in defeat from Vietnam.
More recently, the blatantly illegal 2003 attack on Iraq led by the US and Britain and the November 2004 attack on Fallujah by the US stand out as particularly hideous and shameful acts. Note that these war crimes against Iraq set the stage for much of the current violence in the Middle East.
Israel’s latest attack on essentially defenseless Palestinians as well as its merciless siege against Gaza simply adds to the list of monstrous war crimes. Shamefully, the US and its Western puppets didn’t call for sanctions on Israel to stop the massacre of Palestinians that was occurring before their eyes. In addition, they took no action to force Israel to life its illegal siege. Instead the US rearmed Israel. Interestingly there were no discussions of any sanctions on the US for rearming Israel, the occupying force with a long track record of violations of human rights and international law.
While most of the Western political and religious leaders, especially Jews, were silent or supported Israeli crimes, the razing of Gaza and the barbaric attacks on civilians continued. Making matters worse, by its failure to challenge the Israeli misrepresentation of events, the US corporate-controlled media helped to keep a lid on the growth of US public opposition to the massacre of Palestinians.
Ellen Cantarow, a noted Jewish writer who reported on Israel and the West Bank for a number of US publications from 1979-1989, captured the situation very well when she wrote in reaction to the carnage in Jenin in 2002: "I am filled with a mix of grief, helplessness, despair and anger as Israel, pretending to act in my name and using the Nazi holocaust against the Jews to exonerate its crimes, proceeds with a clear effort to obliterate the economy, the social, political and cultural institutions, and the entire infrastructure of the Palestinian people. Those who do not speak out against the abominations of these horrors are complicit by their silence. Those who exonerate or apologize for Israel as it commits them are guilty by association."
Unfortunately it does not appear that either the US or Israel have any desire or see any reason to change their behavior. These two nations still act as if their might makes right and they don’t seem to feel any obligation to comply with international law. Their actions, and the complicity of other Western nations in these crimes, powerfully call into question the whole concept of the rule of law.
One could also add the economic violence that the West has used against the Third World to maintain it as their colonies. The IMF, the World Bank, and the trade treaties and their enforcement through the WTO, may actually do more long-term harm than the horrific violence and destruction done by military attacks. Both the aggression, often thinly disguised as humanitarian intervention, and the economic warfare by the West strongly suggest that Western civilization is not a model to be admired or copied.
In closing, Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” This statement is particularly fitting for both the US and Israel.
Ron Forthofer is a retired professor of biostatistics, having taught at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston. Since his retirement in 1991, he has been an activist for peace and social justice.