Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Iyar 5759, April 28 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Opinion & Comment
The Moral Stakes in Serbia

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 others.

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 nasty.

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.

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