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John Kirby Says Israel Can’t Eliminate An Ideology With Force. History Disagrees


In the 12th century, the Christian dualist movement Catharism began spreading across northern Italy and southern France. It was neither the first nor the last heretical challenge to orthodox Christianity in medieval Europe — as Catholics can surely attest.

In any event, the Cathars essentially believed, among many other heresies, in two gods: one of eternal heaven and another of worldly evil. The belief became so popular that Pope Innocent III, apparently not a fan of religious liberty, was compelled to launch the Albigensian Crusade to stamp out this theological perversion. Hundreds of thousands likely perished. In one French Cathar city, 20,000 people were reported slaughtered under papal legate.

I thought of the Cathars, as one does, when Kirby responded to a question about the United States’ support for Israel’s goal of eliminating Hamas with his popular trope — “You’re not going to eliminate an ideology through military operations.” Unlike the Albigensian Crusaders, of course, Israel is taking unprecedented precautions to protect the civilian life of their enemies — even though Hamas, unlike medieval Christians, hides behind them.

The worst part of Kirby’s platitudinous nonsense, however, is that it creates the impression Israel is trying to eliminate an entire “ideology” rather than trying to eradicate an organized military and cultural force that uses theology for violent political aims. Of course Israel can’t bore into the souls of Gazans and transform them into right-thinking people. It can destroy Hamas’ hold on territory and render its ideology largely useless. It can bring the purveyors of Hamas ideology to justice and eradicate their military capabilities. For now, that’s good enough.

Moreover, if fighting wars to defend enlightened ideas against nefarious ones is really such a waste of time, why are we sending hundreds of billions to Ukraine to fight Putinst aggression? We are incessantly assured that the European war is a battle between “autocracy” and “democracy.” These are ideological camps. If Volodymyr Zelensky could strike a debilitating blow to Putin’s political power, would Kirby contend it was a waste of time?

Why did we fight any wars, for that matter? Why did we fight al-Qaida? Surely there were Tories left in the United States after the Revolutionary War and fans of slavery left after the Civil War. There were plenty of Nazis around after World War II. (There are plenty today.) The good news was that their leaders either committed gruesome suicides, were brought to justice, or were forced to hide in the jungles of South America where they worried that Mossad agents would show up and drag them to Israel to stand trial for their crimes. Most German civilians, even one-time fervent Nazis, made their peace with reality and moved on.

One hopes that when Hamas is obliterated in Gaza, despite Kirby’s objections, its leaders now living it up in Qatari resorts will also wonder if they will meet their ends by accidentally falling out a 20th-story window. And one hopes that the Palestinians, like the Germans and Japanese, will finally come to terms with reality and build better lives. 

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