Two crucial books offer empathy and balance on a bitterly contested issue
Thank you Rashmee for the excellent background and the literary illustrations. Being a reader of nonfiction, I'll add my two cents by mentioning Michael Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars. The aim of this classic 1977 essay is to distinguish between the rightness of a cause and the legitimacy of the means used to defend it.
A nation or group may have a good reason to wage war, but that does not give them the right to massacre civilians. The fact that the other side does so does not exempt you.
The need to judge the tactics used by combatants separately from their cause is not an abstract legal doctrine, Walzer says: it stems from innate rules of war, a "moral reality of war" that is valid everywhere at every time.
These rules are routinely ignored. That is precisely why they are rules: you don't make a make a moral obligation out of common instinct. But that doesn't mean they don't exist: those who flout them expose themselves to unequivocal condemnation.
In the present conflict, some commentators are loath to issue such a condemnation: they view Hamas's actions in the light of what they regard as the justness of the Palestinian struggle. These "realists" are in good company: thinkers from Thucydides to Hobbes and Clausewitz have argued that all is fair in war.
In support of Walzer's distinction, I suggest the following thought experiment: take any present or past conflict in which you have an emotional stake (a united Ireland, a drive for independence, the fight against Nazi occupation); imagine that your side attacked communities in enemy territory and killed civilians en masse; would you consider this a stain on your cause, or would you say: "I'm sorry innocent women and children had to die, but the enemy started it"?
Thought provoking. thank yoi very much.