Between Two Wars


*You’re. It’s still funny.

There is yet another round of deadly violence in Israel and people are getting very restless. Common to both left right is a call that “something must be done,” which is understandable, although in its abstract form is useless.

The Israeli left, as many other “lefts” in the world, usually has the lower hand in these disputes. This is because “let’s try to be nice to those barbaric animals that are slaughtering us left and right” is never a very appealing call for action in times of turmoil. But the problem is that the aggressive action, advocated by the hawks, just makes it harder for the other side to say “Let’s try to be nice to those barbaric animals.” On the other hand, the hawks do have a point. Strong retribution can deter some people from taking violent action.

I have something small to offer. This is neither a matter of substance nor is it a left/right argument. It is just a way of framing, which I think is more conducive to public discourse, given the general, understandable need for “real”/“decisive” action.

The idea is simple. At any time, we are fighting two wars. One war is against those freedom-hating vandals that only understand brute force. The main weapon is force; the main goal is deterrence. The other war, however, is against those peace-loving softies. The main weapon is moral superiority and tolerance; the goal is inclusion.

As we wage the first war, we are retracting our forces from the other front. We are making it more and more difficult for the softies to be heard, giving more power to the vandals, thus increasing their base. At the same time, we decrease their incentive to take action and limit its potential.

As we wage the second war, we are putting our troops on the second front. This makes it harder for the vandal to recruit and gain support from the softies. However, we let our guard down in our first front, exposing ourselves to the harms of the vandals.

Since this two-wars framework doesn’t call for any specific question, one should rightfully wonder if it adds anything to the discourse. Obviously, I believe it does. First, it makes it very clear that there is a fundamental trade-off involved in any public action. Usually people think along the dimensions of “fighting fire with fire” or “turn the other cheek,” but this is obviously unhelpful. Second, people have a strong sense for action. Aggressive action seems more appealing. But thinking about diplomacy and tolerance as tools of war may make some tolerant actions seem more emotionally satisfying. Third, it focuses our attention on the power dynamics of the examined group. Are we expecting it to have more vandals than softies? What are the main resource constraints for this group–recruiting or in-group opposition?

The two-war framework suggests a way to think about these issues. Making it more widespread against common narrative is a third war.

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