J. Pharoah Doss: Judgment defeats us?

Both Palestinian children in Gaza, as shown on left, and Israeli children, as seen on the right, have been hurt, killed and kidnapped in the Israel-Hamas war. Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images/Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

In the 1979 Vietnam War movie “Apocalypse Now,” Colonel Kurtz went rogue and then used barbaric methods to defeat the enemy. The U.S. military turned a blind eye because Kurtz was successful. Then Kurtz leaked photographs of his atrocities to the international media. The “civilized world” couldn’t stomach what they saw and wanted Kurtz stopped.

The U.S. military declared Kurtz insane and dispatched an assassin to kill him. When Kurtz and the assassin were finally face-to-face, Kurtz told the assassin he had the right to kill him, but he had no right to judge him or call him a murderer. Then Kurtz delivered a monologue that many still find reprehensible.

Kurtz said: “It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. I remember when I was in special forces and we went into a camp to inoculate the children for polio. Later, this old man came running after us, crying. We went back to the camp. The enemy had arrived and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were, in a pile—a pile of little arms. I remembered crying. I wept like a grandmother.

I didn’t know what I wanted to do.

Then I realized the enemy’s will to do that made them stronger than us. They weren’t monsters. These were trained men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, and who were filled with love, but they had the strength to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men, this war would end quickly. You have to have men who are moral and, at the same time, who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling, without passion, without judgment, because it’s judgement that defeats us.”

If serious art puts a mirror to the “civilized world” so we can see ourselves for what we really are, then we’re forced to ask if there are any parallels between Kurtz’s monologue and the Hamas/Israel war.

Since Kurtz was the villain representing America, the film implies that Kurtz’s atrocities were reprehensible due to their imperialist motivations. However, when Kurtz praised the enemy’s willpower to cut off children’s arms, the film implied it was justified for the “resistance fighters” whose homeland was occupied by a more powerful nation to resort to barbarism to free themselves, and it’s not for the “civilized world” to judge.

The film’s writers were smart enough to justify the enemy’s inhumanity through the mouth of an insane villain, but haven’t we heard echoes of Kurtz’s praise after Oct. 7, 2023, when Hamas led a surprise attack on Israel, in which Hamas terrorists massacred more than 1,000 Israelis and took hundreds of hostages back to Gaza?

Following Hamas’s onslaught, Professor Norman Finklestein, a staunch advocate for the Palestinian cause, wrote: The 2,000 young men who burst the gates of Gaza had been born in a concentration camp. The vast majority of them could never hope to leave but only pace each day along the camp’s suffocating perimeter. Abandoned by everyone. They were left to die. It might be like the script of a B-movie, but on the night of October 6, each of those 2,000 men probably kissed his mother, then his father, goodbye. Forever. And then, each silently vowed to vindicate the remorseless torture of a twilight existence and avenge the murder of relatives by that Satanic power that cursed their lives.

Finklestein said it was too soon to determine what verdict history will cast on Hamas’ attack, but Finklestein believes that in the future, the Hamas terrorists will become heroes like the Black Americans who led slave revolts. Like Kurtz, Finklestein doesn’t think the Hamas terrorists were monsters; he was in awe of their courage to commit atrocities against a “Satanic power.”

A Cornell professor spoke at a pro-Palestinian rally and told the audience that Hamas shifted the balance of power and penetrated Israel’s illusion of invincibility. The professor also stated that Hamas’ attack signaled that the Palestinian will to resist had not been broken.

These professors romanticized Hamas to refrain from passing judgment and demonized “power” in order to denounce it. However, when Israel launched war on Hamas and thousands of innocent Palestinians were killed in Israel’s effort to eliminate an existential threat, the “civilized world” couldn’t stomach what they saw, wept like grandmothers, and accused Israel of genocide.

According to the most recent estimates, the war has resulted in approximately 30,000 innocent Palestinian deaths and over 73,000 injuries. However, the two professors and all those who followed suit absolved Hamas of any responsibility for the 30,000 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces when they refused to judge Hamas for initiating the war and using human shields.

President Biden recently stated that the Israeli military offensive has “gone too far.” That was the president’s way of saying Israel went insane, like Kurtz. Then the United Nations passed a resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. But the ceasefire was not contingent on the release of Israeli hostages, as the United States had previously demanded alongside Israel. The United States abstained from voting, allowing the resolution to pass without any guarantee that Hamas would free a hostage.

Kurtz concluded that judgment defeats, but he was mistaken. It’s poor judgment that defeats. Poor judgment defeats when the “civilized world” presumes the enemy’s reasons to wage war are morally superior to their own.



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