The term ‘moral equivalence’ was popular during the Cold War, when it was widely used by Westerners of the leftist persuasion.
Those people saw no difference between the KGB spying on the West and the CIA spying on the Soviet Union or, say, between American missiles installed in Turkey and Soviet missiles installed in Cuba.
‘Moral equivalence’ was the term they used, but they didn’t really mean equivalence. The word was just shorthand for the emotional and ideological kinship they felt for the Soviet Union.
Coming out and saying outright that they were on the Soviet side wasn’t quite socially (and at times legally) acceptable.
On the other hand, ‘moral equivalence’ suggested an unbiased, even-handed judgement. Aren’t those Egyptians killed by British bombs as human as the Hungarian students tortured to death by the Soviets? Of course they are. So who’s to say we’re any better than them?
This touching devotion to the sanctity of human life was almost saintly, and it would have been completely so had its enunciators not in fact been supporting the most evil regime in history. Having murdered 62 million of their own citizens, the Soviets sought to extend their sway over the whole world, and the Westerners worshipping at the altar of moral equivalence were doing their bit to make it happen.
One would think that, what with the Cold War supposedly finished, the term, and the spurious notion behind it, would sink into oblivion. However, this hope would be forlorn.
The two most eye-catching conflicts currently under way are pitting Putin’s bandits against the legitimate, pro-Nato Ukrainian government and Hamas terrorists against the legitimate, pro-Nato Israeli government.
Both conflicts have such clearly drawn lines that no moral ambivalence seems to be possible. In both instances any decent person should be on the side of good against evil. And any intelligent person should be able to tell which is which.
The first of these conflicts arose because the KGB colonel Putin is trying to rebuild history’s most evil regime, whose collapse he regards as ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century’.
Never mind the two world wars. The greatest catastrophe of the most murderous century ever was the demise of the regime that made the century considerably more murderous than it otherwise would have been.
That same regime has come back in its kleptofascist incarnation, and it’s so far in its infancy. Putin wishes to nurture it to its cannibalistic maturity, an end that can only be achieved by cannibalistic means.
This noble effort has already produced hundreds of thousands dead in places about which we know nothing and care even less, such as Chechnya and Georgia.
Since the two places were comfortably far from Europe’s doorstep, it was possible to pretend that Putin’s savagery was none of our business. His next adventure, however, has made such detachment difficult.
The Ukraine shares her borders with several Nato members and Putin’s boldfaced aggression against the country demanded some response, however timid. Yet, after Putin’s lads murdered 298 Westerners with a sophisticated SAM missile, timidity is no longer on the cards.
The second on-going conflict involves Israel fighting for her survival, as she has had to do since 1948. The fight has always been against desperate odds, what with the country being surrounded by enemies who are never bashful about their intention to eliminate the State of Israel and to exterminate everyone in it.
Hence Israel can’t afford losing. When, say, Japan lost the war in 1945, she was given every opportunity and help to rebuild. If Israel lost a war, her every man, woman and child would be butchered in the imaginative ways for which Muslims are justly famous.
This situation tends to focus the mind, making the Israelis trigger-happy whenever their enemies overstep certain boundaries. Israel strikes out then, trying to disable the enemies and buy herself a few years of uneasy and precarious peace.
Both situations seem crystal-clear – morally, geopolitically or in any other way. If one prefers Western civilisation to the satanic reign of KGB or Hamas brutality, one supports the Ukraine and Israel. If one’s preference is different, one supports the other side.
The situation may seem crystal-clear to you and me, but not to the mongers of moral equivalence in our midst. Such as a Moscow reader of mine (let’s call him Igor) and a certain Mail columnist (let’s call him Peter Hitchens).
Here’s Igor responding to the articles I’ve written recently:
“Whenever Israel… starts bombing the quarters densely populated with children, women and old men, I do not see how this is different from what Putin is doing in Ukraine. It is the international community that must disarm Hamas and punish Palestine for any aggressive behaviour towards Israel in the future, but when Israel retaliates it looks as though 20 Palestinians are killed for each Israeli victim…”
The term ‘moral equivalence’ isn’t used, but it’s implied. Also, it’s clear that Igor’s heart is with Russia, whoever happens to govern her at the moment.
This loyalty clearly overrides his intelligence, of which he possesses plenty, as do all my regular readers. Otherwise he wouldn’t need me to tell him what the difference is. There are several, as a matter of fact.
Difference 1: The Ukrainian government isn’t out to conquer Russia and massacre every Russian. Hamas pursues exactly such ends towards Israel.
Difference 2: Israel is a legitimate country. Hamas is a terrorist organisation acting not only against Israel but against the West at large.
Difference 3: Israel indeed kills 20 Palestinians for every one of her own casualties, which is exactly the same ratio as in 1939-1940, when Stalin attacked Finland. The reasons for the disparity are identical.
Benefiting from superior training and higher morale than Stalin’s hordes, the gallant Finns were better at fighting the war they didn’t start. They also didn’t use Stalin’s human-wave tactics springing from the Soviets’ nonexistent regard for human lives.
The parallel works because Israelis are also better at war than Hamas, just as they are better at having peaceful lives. For the Israelis every IDF soldier killed is a national tragedy to avoid. For Hamas, every Palestinian killed, especially one from a vulnerable group, is a PR triumph to seek.
That’s why they site their rocket launchers and command centres in ‘densely populated areas’, next to a school or a hospital being their particular preference. The Israelis are then faced with the Hobson’s choice of either accepting the thousands of rockets fired at them every year or bombing the sites, at the risk of incurring the wrath of good but naïve people like Igor.
As to his faith in the power, and indeed the desire, of ‘the international community’ to stop Islamic terrorism in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world, it can only be attributed to his living in a country that strangulates any free flow of information.
Peter Hitchens doesn’t have this excuse, which is why I wouldn’t describe him as either good or naïve. In fact, this being Sunday, I’ll refrain from describing him in any befitting terms.
To Hitchens ‘Israel’s attack on Gaza’ is ‘idiotic’, ‘wrong’, ‘probably fatal to the future of the state its leaders claim to be defending’, ‘moronic’ and ‘babyish’, all within a couple of paragraphs. Pretty good going for any day of the week, especially for Sunday.
“Israel may bray that it did not intend to do this [dead and wounded women and children, weeping, gore and rubble]. I’m sure it didn’t. But if you shell and bomb a confined space such as Gaza, it will happen, and shame on you if you pretend that it’s not your fault when it does.”
Israelis don’t pretend any such thing. Similarly, Sir Arthur Harris didn’t pretend his Lancasters weren’t killing civilians when bombing munitions factories and railway junctions located in ‘densely populated areas’. But Britain was fighting for her survival, just as Israel is doing now.
The nature of modern war has long since invalidated the difference between combatants and civilians. Using missiles and bombs, guided or otherwise, will produce collateral damage whether desired (as in the case of Hamas launching their rockets indiscriminately) or seen as unfortunate (as in the case of Israel).
“It would have been far, far better to let the Hamas rockets fall, to shelter from them and to let the world see how much better Israel is than its aggressive despotic neighbours,” continues Hitchens.
In other words, he wants Israel to do what Hamas does: use the deaths of her people as a PR stunt. As to Hitchens’s faith in the world being able to see anything along those lines, it’s as misplaced as in Igor’s case, but without the same excuse of having little access to unbiased information.
Hitchens then switches his attention to Russia: “I’m pleased to see that the wild, simple-minded anti-Russian hysteria of last weekend has cooled a bit, as the complicated truth has emerged.”
The complicated truth is that, while “Russia has been helping the rebels in Ukraine… it’s also fairly obvious that Ukraine’s revolutionary government, which came to power in an EU and American-backed mob putsch in February, is getting help too.”
First, Russia hasn’t been “helping the rebels”. They are Putin’s proxy troops, his Spetznaz thugs. And describing in such terms the Ukraine’s successful attempt to throw out her puppet government loyal to Putin and trying to drag the country into his Soviet Union Mark 2 leaves one in no doubt where Hitchens’s sympathies lie.
In fact, for him to grant moral equivalence to the two sides would be a step in the right direction. As it is, he can’t contain his preference for the kleptofascist regime run by the KGB colonel.