Think before becoming the monster

By Chicago 6 Min Read

“Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird,” William Nietzsche writes: “Anyone who fights with monsters, should be careful that he does not become a monster.”

That aphorism has been clanging in my head like an alarm bell ever since Israel began its counter-attack on Gaza. The trick is “How?” and the honest answer is: Once the blood-letting begins, it’s already too late.

The monster is unleashed, to rage for a long time, maybe years, before we realize what we’ve become. Or never realize, because the killing has gone on so long, it just makes sense. We had to massacre those folks. They had it coming.

Fourteen hundred Israelis slaughtered Oct. 7, mostly civilians. Five thousand killed in Gaza since then, with more slain every day.

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All hidden behind a solid wall of justification. As if every atrocity ever committed in the history of the world weren’t backed by solid reasons, in the eyes of the perpetrators. Hamas and its supporters have plenty of excuses for the Oct. 7 attack, starting with the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and stretching back to the construction of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem around 957 B.C.

Israel can cite the brutal Hamas attack as reason aplenty to unleash its murderous fury. They have to destroy the terror group, root and branch. Destroy those tunnels. Destroy command centers and weapons caches. And if Hamas located those under mosques and apartment buildings, well, whose fault is that? Yes, Hamas doesn’t exactly poll the neighbors before setting up shop. But that is one of those fine points lost in the fog of war.

  • STEINBERG: How does the Israel-Palestine conflict end?

In my view, were the Israelis to strap Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to one of those missiles, I’d be a lot more enthusiastic about their being fired. Hamas is responsible for this latest bloodbath, but it had a lot of help, including the corrupt Bibi, surrounding himself with incompetent toadies and plunging the nation — and the military — into a year of distracting crisis, all to save himself from a well-deserved prison cell.

Those who care for either side must wonder how their group’s actions get anybody closer to where they want to be. The Hamas playbook has failed continually for 75 years. Meanwhile, Israel typically neglects the Palestinian quagmire, which both self-interest and humanity demand must be resolved. That it instead was allowed to fester is the problem both sides should be attacking with all their might. Not kibbutzim or apartment blocks in Gaza.

Would it be easy? Hell no. But it would be a lot easier than this.

Some readers will write in testily explaining that Israel has a right to defend itself, to retaliate. And others will angrily expound on the Palestinian right to resist. “Defend,” “retaliate,” “resist,” “right” — empty words, drained of meaning, like a corpse drained of blood, and the idea that you can mop up slaughter and whitewash a horrific reality by slapping bland-sounding labels on it is nothing new. Where do you think “concentration camp” came from?

  • Hamas militants kill at least 260 at outdoor music festival in southern Israel near Gaza

The Nietzsche aphorism — No. 146 if you want to check your copy of “Beyond Good and Evil” — has a second part: “Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein” — “And if you look long enough into an abyss, the abyss will also look into you.”

How long? Two weeks seems more than enough to stare into the awful, bloody pit. Were I Israel, I’d call a cease-fire right now and finally solve this thing. Because we see the alternative. Anyone like it? I sure don’t.

Then again, nobody involved in this catastrophe seems to be looking to me or Chicago or anywhere else for direction. Something those voicing their fervent support for one side or another might want to consider on their way to calming the heck down, before we start importing the violence here — too late; we already have.

The murder of 6-year-old Wadea al-Fayoume, the Palestinian American boy stabbed 26 times, allegedly by his landlord. You’d think that alone would shock us back to our senses, would be enough to remind everyone of our duty as Americans to respect one another.

Or, since that is obviously impossible, at least not to kill one another. There’s too much of that going on already. Wadea was the first local casualty of this war; I wish I could say with certainty that he’ll be the last.

  • READ: More Sun-Times coverage of the conflict between Israel and Hamas
  • READ: More columns by Neil Steinberg

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