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The Vocabulary of Untruth
Words take on new meanings as Israel struggles to survive.


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Victor Davis Hanson

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“Civilians” in Lebanon have munitions in their basements and deliberately wish to draw fire; in Israel they are in bunkers to avoid it. Israel uses precision weapons to avoid hitting them; Hezbollah sends random missiles into Israel to ensure they are struck.

“Collateral damage” refers mostly to casualties among Hezbollah’s human shields; it can never be used to describe civilian deaths inside Israel, because everything there is by intent a target.

“Cycle of Violence” is used to denigrate those who are attacked, but are not supposed to win.

“Deliberate” reflects the accuracy of Israeli bombs hitting their targets; it never refers to Hezbollah rockets that are meant to destroy anything they can.

“Deplore” is usually evoked against Israel by those who themselves have slaughtered noncombatants or allowed them to perish — such as the Russians in Grozny, the Syrians in Hama, or the U.N. in Rwanda and Dafur.

“Disproportionate” means that the Hezbollah aggressors whose primitive rockets can’t kill very many Israeli civilians are losing, while the Israelis’ sophisticated response is deadly against the combatants themselves. See “excessive.”

Anytime you hear the adjective “excessive,” Hezbollah is losing. Anytime you don’t, it isn’t.

“Eyewitnesses” usually aren’t, and their testimony is cited only against Israel.

“Grave concern” is used by Europeans and Arabs who privately concede there is no future for Lebanon unless Hezbollah is destroyed — and it should preferably be done by the “Zionists” who can then be easily blamed for doing it.

“Innocent” often refers to Lebanese who aid the stockpiling of rockets or live next to those who do. It rarely refers to Israelis under attack.

The “militants” of Hezbollah don’t wear uniforms, and their prime targets are not those Israelis who do.

“Multinational,” as in “multinational force,” usually means “third-world mercenaries who sympathize with Hezbollah.” See “peacekeepers.

“Peacekeepers” keep no peace, but always side with the less Western of the belligerents.

“Quarter-ton” is used to describe what in other, non-Israeli militaries are known as “500-pound” bombs.

“Shocked” is used, first, by diplomats who really are not; and, second, only evoked against the response of Israel, never the attack of Hezbollah.

“United Nations Action” refers to an action that Russia or China would not veto. The organization’s operatives usually watch terrorists arm before their eyes. They are almost always guilty of what they accuse others of.

What explains this distortion of language? A lot.

First there is the need for Middle Eastern oil. Take that away, and the war would receive the same scant attention as bloodletting in central Africa.

Then there is the fear of Islamic terrorism. If the Middle East were Buddhist, the world would care about Lebanon as little as it does about occupied Tibet.

And don’t forget the old anti-Semitism. If Russia or France were shelled by neighbors, Putin and Chirac would be threatening nuclear retaliation.

Israel is the symbol of the hated West. Were it a client of China, no one would dare say a word.

Population and size count for a lot: When India threatened Pakistan with nukes for its support of terrorism a few years ago, no one uttered any serious rebuke.

Finally, there is the worry that Israel might upset things in Iraq. If we were not in Afghanistan and Iraq trying to win hearts and minds, we wouldn’t be pressuring Israel behind the scenes.

But most of all, the world deplores the Jewish state because it is strong, and can strike back rather than suffer. In fact, global onlookers would prefer either one of two scenarios for the long-suffering Jews to learn their lesson. The first is absolute symmetry and moral equivalence: when Israel is attacked, it kills only as many as it loses. For each rocket that lands, it drops only one bomb in retaliation — as if any aggressor in the history of warfare has ever ceased its attacks on such insane logic.

The other desideratum is the destruction of Israel itself. Iran promised to wipe Israel off the map, and then gave Hezbollah thousands of missiles to fulfill that pledge. In response, the world snored. If tomorrow more powerful rockets hit Tel Aviv armed with Syrian chemicals or biological agents, or Iranian nukes, the “international” community would urge “restraint” — and keep urging it until Israel disappeared altogether. And the day after its disappearance, the Europeans and Arabs would sigh relief, mumble a few pieties, and then smile, “Life goes on.”

And for them, it would very well.

Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the author, most recently, of A War Like No Other. How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.



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