Lessons From the Playground


by Robert Gore, Straight Line Logic:

Grow up!
The lessons many of us took from playgrounds are helpful in analyzing war, although war, being humanity’s stupidest activity, is less excusable and less interesting than playground dynamics. Grownups, after all, are supposed to be wiser and more mature than kids. Realizing that most aren’t is one of those rites of passage into adulthood.
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On the playground you’ll find one or more bullies, who terrorize the weaker, smaller kids. The bullies tend to form their own clique. Their victims try to stay out of their way, but bullies gotta bully. The victims quickly learn that appealing to adult authority is guaranteed trouble. While bullies may be reprimanded or otherwise punished, they have ways of dealing with upstarts and snitches, and their revenge is always disproportionate.

Once in a too great while the oppressed band together and take revenge on their oppressors, or a bully misjudges a kid as a potential victim and finds out the hard way that the kid knows how to take care of him or herself. Often in such circumstances, bullies will make their own ludicrous appeal to authority, complaining that they’re being picked on.

The foregoing pretty much describes the Israel-Palestinian war that has raged since 1948. Without engaging in the endless debate about who started it and who’s at fault for what, it is indisputable that Israel has the disproportionate power in the situation, up to and including its nuclear arsenal. It is also indisputable that it has not hesitated to use that power to enter and occupy what had formerly been Palestinian territory and to bully Palestinians into ever-shrinking enclaves. It now appears that Israel wants to bully the Palestinians out of what is now Israel altogether, so that there will be no more Palestinians in what used to be Palestine.

Palestinian responses to their plight, usually violent, have been met with disproportionate retribution; that’s official Israeli doctrine. Ten or more eyes for an eye, ten or more teeth for a tooth. It’s playing out again in Gaza. Israel appeals long and loud to its bully clique—it’s being picked on by Palestinians who represent Islamic antisemitism and who want to wipe Israel off the map. Undoubtedly many Palestinians want to do just that, just as many Israelis want to force the Palestinians to go elsewhere, but who has the power to achieve their goals?

On the playground, only the bullies can end the violence. It rarely happens, but they do have that power. Similarly, only Israel can end the conflict. Israel’s partisans sometimes argue that the Palestinians could end it by surrendering. Left unstated: that would entail Palestinians accepting their continuing subjugation to Israel, which would only guarantee more violence.

As pipe-dreamy as it sounds, to end the war, Israel would have to cede a chunk of its territory to the Palestinians for the creation of a fully independent Palestinian state. Relations between the two countries would then be governed by the rules of international relations. Neither nation could legally invade the other, and any such invasion would justify self-defensive retaliatory force by the invaded nation and its allies. Absent this solution, the 75-year war may continue for another 75 years . . . or for centuries . . . or for millennia.

Perhaps that solution isn’t as pipe-dreamy as it sounds. A continuing Straight Line Logic theme has been the ongoing dispersal and decentralization of communications, computing power, and the capacity for violence (see “Ants at the Picnic,” Parts One and Two). The Israelis could lose, as ostensibly more powerful nations have been losing to insurgent guerrillas since the end of World War II.
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