A talmid chochom who does not follow current events
closely asks us whenever he sees us -- which is several times
a week -- what is going on. From our recent replies, one
might even think that the world has become a stable place, as
we have been able to reply with the same words for more than
a month, "They are bombing the Serbs and having elections
here in Israel."
Of course, this steadiness is only superficial. The situation
in the former Yugoslavia is highly fluid. The world's leading
powers are focused on the small, relatively backward Serbian
nation, trying to force it to submit to their allied will on
an abstract matter of human rights, and against the Serbians'
interests and deep feelings. Once the sword has been removed
from its scabbard, it is not as discriminating, and can be
directed elsewhere. Moreover, the outcome of the contest is
far from clear, as the Serbs have shown an unexpected
capacity to absorb punishing air might, yet the NATO allies
have no available alternative to an absolute victory.
What is perplexing about the Western crusade is that it is
made in the name of such pure moral ideals, apparently
untainted by self-interest. In contrast the Western societies
and their leaders -- though evidently not guilty of the
crimes they are trying to prevent or punish -- are far from
paragons of virtue, from their leaders on down to their
schoolchildren. Ethical corruption, moral corruption, blood
lust and a decadent desire for sensual gratification are very
evident there and truly permeate the West and, due to its
cultural dominance, much of the world's society.
Morality, like the shifting reality to which it must
constantly be applied, is a single, coherent structure. A
moral person is righteous in all his actions. A moral society
is universally driven by the principles of truth and justice
and applies them to itself as well and as thoroughly as to
It is not just hypocritical to apply moral principles
selectively. It is not simply unseemly to behave thus
inconsistently. The bottom line is that it will simply not
work for long.
It is easy to see why this must be so in theory since, as we
said before, morality is a single, simple, wholesome state,
and it cannot be diced and distributed. It is harder to show
in practice why it will not work, but a few possible
scenarios can be given.
What will happen if one of the other interests of an
important ally within NATO begins to conflict with the goals
of the alliance? What will happen if the personal interests
of one of the leaders begins to appear to lie in a direction
that conflicts with the continuation of the bombing before it
is finished or the follow-up that is inevitable in a
situation that promises to last for a fairly long period? The
known moral weaknesses of the individuals and societies
involved makes it unlikely that such a conflict will be
nicely resolved. Right now everyone is united in fighting
genocide, but if other pressures arise, things could get
What does this mean? Do we suggest that it is wrong for NATO
to try to prevent genocide, to act to right such a grievous
wrong? Chas vesholom!
The real answer is, however, much easier to argue and to
state than to carry out in practice. The proper and ideal
thing to do is to use this action taken for pure moral
motives to build upon and extend to all other areas of life.
That would certainly be wonderful.
This can serve as a goal to pray for in the coming weeks. If
it is not realized, the alternative is foreboding enough to
supply ample incentive.