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Why do Jews oppose wars against evil?

One of the deepest disappointments in my life has been Jews’ opposition to wars against evil. I had always assumed that, as the victims of so much evil throughout history, and as heirs to the great moral teachings of the Bible and Judaism, Jews, of all people, would support fighting on behalf of victims of the greatest evils.

Take fighting Communism, for example. Along with Nazism, Communism was the most genocidal movement in human history; it actually enslaved and murdered considerably more people than Nazism. Yet, most Jews didn’t support anti-Communism in general nor anti-Communist wars in particular. Even worse, Jews were disproportionately pro-Communist. In Stalin’s time, the Yiddish press was the most pro-Communist press in the Western world. And among those in the West who gave Stalin the secrets to the atomic bomb, nearly every one was a Jew.

How could that be? How could so many people who see themselves as bearers of a great moral legacy, or who simply see themselves as highly moral, have either been supportive of the greatest mass murder machine ever devised; or, as was more often the case, opposed fighting the greatest mass murder machine ever devised?

On what moral grounds did Jews oppose supplying the South Vietnamese government with arms to help save itself from being taken over by Communist North Vietnam? Most American Jews not only opposed fighting the Communist regime of North Vietnam, they even opposed merely supplying the South Vietnamese government with military hardware so that it could defend itself when, in violation of the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, North Vietnam attacked South Vietnam. And in those very same accords, America had promised to replace every South Vietnamese bullet and tank lost in defending itself. 

After all, American Jews hadn’t opposed the Korean War, in which nearly 37,000 Americans and more than two million Koreans died. That war was a mirror of the Vietnam War. The southern half of the Korean peninsula — just like the southern half of Vietnam — was pro-West and anti-Communist; and the Communist North, backed by China and the Soviet Union, sought — in both Korea and Vietnam — to forcefully impose Communism on the south. 

Nothing has changed today. Most American Jews vigorously supported President Barack Obama’s plan to remove all American troops from Iraq. The consequences, which everyone who opposed this plan knew would happen, were that Iraq would go from relative stability to mayhem and bloodbath. Why hasn’t this mattered to most American Jews? 

The usual arguments are that America cannot be the world’s policeman, that we cannot stay in a country forever, and/or that it was all George W. Bush’s fault for invading Iraq in the first place.

Of course none of these answer the moral question: How could people who think of themselves as caring, compassionate, progressive, moral and preoccupied with tikkun olam not give a damn about what happens to a whole country the day after Americans leave?

Whatever one thinks of the original American invasion of Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein, one of the cruelest tyrants of the late 20th century — and, it should be noted, one who paid $25,000 to families of Palestinian suicide bombers — what matters is that Iraq was relatively peaceful when American troops were removed. 

The takeover of much of Iraq by the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, was made possible by the withdrawal of all American troops from Iraq. The annihilation of every Christian community in Iraq was made possible by the withdrawal of American troops, as was the slaughter of Yazidis and the enslavement of women and even young girls under the control of ISIS. Yes, a continued American military presence might very well have been necessary for generations. So what? America has had troops in Germany and Japan since 1945 and in South Korea since the early 1950s. Thanks to American troops, those three countries have flourished as free and prosperous countries. 

Abandoning South Vietnam and Iraq — policies immensely popular among American Jews — vastly increased human suffering.

Blaming George W. Bush for invading Iraq in no way shifts the blame. Whether the invasion was a good or bad idea, the fact is that Iraq was far freer after the invasion and within five years of “the surge” increasingly at peace — thanks to the American and Iraqi sacrifices in the war against violent Islamism and thanks to American troops remaining in Iraq for as long as they did.

So why have so many Jews, who should be the first to want to fight evil, opposed aiding South Vietnam and opposed keeping American troops in Iraq?

The answer lies in what happened after the Korean War, which, as noted above, most American Jews supported. Beginning in the 1960s, the left’s influence on American Jews overwhelmed normative Jewish moral instincts. 

In short, as Judaism faded as the morally formative influence on Jews’ lives, another religion, secular progressivism, or leftism, became most American Jews’ moral compass. And for leftism, evil is not primarily defined as mass murder or totalitarian regimes. Evil is capitalism, economic inequality, big corporations, fundamentalist Christians, opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, fossil fuels and other things that preoccupy the left.

In the Psalms we read this command each Friday night: “Hate evil, those of you love God.” As Jews stopped loving God, they also stopped hating evil.

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