During the sturm und drang over calls for a humanitarian pause by the American administration on the Israeli military as it intensifies its ground operation, one wonders what America’s response would have been if it had been so brutally attacked by its neighbor.
Let’s not forget the magnitude of this disaster Hamas wreaked on Israel. It is the equivalent of the slaughter of 45,000 American lives and the abduction of more than 8,000 hostages. This doesn’t even account for the thousands of Israelis injured.
All the calls for ceasefires by the U.N. and other perhaps well-meaning if not misguided groups have not been coupled with calls to release the hostages. And enemies of Israel seek this ceasefire to help Hamas rearm and resuscitate its battered ranks.
Considering this backdrop, what would the United States do?
The only way to judge this is to review what the U.S. has done in the past century.
On March 9, 1916, troops sent by the Mexican rebel Pancho Villa attacked and killed 10 civilians and eight soldiers in the border town of Columbus, New Mexico. General John Pershing, who would command American forces the next year as they joined the Allies in World War I, was designated by President Woodrow Wilson to command “an adequate force … sent at once in pursuit of Villa with the single object of capturing him and putting a stop to his forays.” Ultimately, more than 10,000 men were committed. That was virtually every available unit of the Regular Army, including George Patton’s. This Pancho Villa expedition remained in Mexican territory from March 14, 1916, until February 7, 1917, only months before our entry into World War I.
We never captured Pancho Villa, but we thwarted his attacks on our territory.
After the shock of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, America began to mobilize for total war. Led by the Army’s chief of staff, George Marshall, millions were recruited and trained to fight the Axis powers, and the United States transformed our industrial base into a war footing.
Reacting to the near hysteria on the West Coast, frightened by a perceived imminent invasion of the West Coast by the so-called Yellow Swarm, the U.S. forcibly relocated and incarcerated more than 125,000 people of Japanese descent in 75 incarceration sites. Approximately two-thirds of them were U.S. citizens. By contrast, about 10,000 Germans and Italians were incarcerated, virtually all of them non-citizens.
These actions were initiated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt under Executive Order 9066 in response to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. In its 1944 decision, years after the incarcerations, the Supreme Court in Korematsu v. United States upheld the constitutionality of the removals under the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. Despite this horrendous attack on their civil liberties, 20,000 Japanese Americans served admirably in our armed forces during the war.
To our credit, Harry Truman signed the Japanese American Claims Act of 1948, giving partial financial compensation for lost property. Forty years later, surviving victims were given financial reparations, along with a formal apology, under the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 signed by President Ronald Reagan.
The dreadful bombing of Dresden by British and U.S. air forces aimed at industrial and military targets resulted in the death of 25,000 civilians. This disaster was immortalized in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse 5.” Under General Curtis LeMay, the firebombing of Tokyo in March 1945, although intended to hit industrial targets, killed more than 100,000 people, a greater number than Hiroshima or Nagasaki as single events.
In the aftermath of 9/11, with America united, we invaded Afghanistan and defeated the Taliban, which harbored the Al Qaeda terrorists responsible for the death of 3,000 Americans. There were no calls for any ceasefire to protect civilians.
Based on these examples, when we were attacked our response was robust and unwavering. Our ends were laudable, defending our territory and defeating our enemies. But the collateral damage was enormous in the loss of civilian lives and civil liberties.
That’s why I’m baffled by our feeble response to attacks on our troops by Iranian proxies, resulting in 27 injuries, and this after more than 75 attacks by Iranian proxies in the preceding months. Our response was bombing two weapons depots rather than IRGC’s command centers, where Iran would have been threatened more directly.
Israel has suffered multiple 9/11s and must eradicate Hamas, not only to ensure its security but also restore its deeply eroded military deterrence. Israel has called for and even leafletted civilians to leave northern Gaza to safer harbors down south. It has facilitated a humanitarian corridor, and with Egypt’s help, allowed the distribution of food, medicine, and water.
Facing a cynical enemy that uses Palestinian civilians as cannon fodder to feed its propaganda and serve to shield its terrorist army, Israel must continue its military aim to eliminate this scourge on civilization while doing everything possible to prevent civilian casualties. And the U.S. and the civilized world should not stand in the way of this just war.
Other issues — who will govern Gaza, frameworks for peace with the Palestinians and other Arab countries — are vital. But the prerequisite for addressing them is the defeat of Hamas.
Max Kleinman of Fairfield was the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest from 1995 to 2014. He is the president of the Fifth Commandment Foundation and consultant for the Jewish Community Legacy Project.