Tuesday, November 7, 2006

If the film “Midway” is accurate on this point, the automatic arming devices installed on certain of our fighter bombers failed during that landmark World War II battle (the first conducted entirely by naval aircraft), and a number of planes lost all their bombs prior to reaching their target. Shortly thereafter, the leader of one squadron, who had no bombs left, ordered his entire group to participate in the attack on a large Japanese vessel, despite a reminder from one of the other unfortunately disarmed pilots that several of his comrades had no bombs to drop. The leader replied, “Well, at least we can take some of the heat off the rest of the guys.”

While no war historian, I do know that this same practice was used by pilots who had run out of ordnance during the battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines years later.

A pilot embarked on such a bomb run is well aware that he will draw enemy fire, risking death, despite the fact that he has lost the ability to inflict the damage his plane was designed to deliver. In effect, he has become a “human shield,” putting his life on the line without the ability to retaliate effectively. Is there a parallel between such actions and the deliberate use of allegedly civilian human shields as practiced by jihadists in Lebanon and Gaza?

In many ways, the differences are more significant than the similarities. The American pilots were uniformed members of the military, clearly identifiable as such by the Japanese. Their heroism occurred during combat with an enemy they knew would do its best to destroy them. And when the inevitable loss of life resulted, they did not claim to be innocent victims of unwarranted and criminal violence simply because they chose to place themselves in harm’s way under unfavorable circumstances.

In a sense, the “civilians” who supported and surrounded Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and the women who responded to the Hamas radio appeal in Gaza — flocking to assist scores of surrounded fighters — displayed a certain raw courage in their willingness to be used as human fodder by the jihadists, despite the fact that Israel attempts to avoid injuring noncombatants as a matter of principle.

Sure, the manipulative jihadist propaganda machine screams “war crimes,” “genocide” and “disproportionality,” and much of the world buys it. But think about it. If Israel wanted to conduct total war against either the occupied territories or Lebanon, no stone would stand on top of another in either place. Israel has exercised nothing but “restraint” in response, not only to continuing attacks, but also to threats from both Hamas and Hezbollah to annihilate the Jewish state.

The latest incident — the Mothers’ March for Terrorism in Beit Hanoun, Gaza, on Nov. 3 — proves the point. Aware that the Israeli military will not open fire intentionally upon unarmed individuals, Hamas called out its secret weapon: hundreds of women in their veils of piety. Then, exhibiting the standard of heroism so typical of the jihadists, the gunmen managed to sneak out of the mosque in which they were hiding and firing at Israeli troops, with many of the jihadists apparently donning women’s clothing to meld into the crowd of “rescuers.” Most of the Hamas gunmen escaped, while two women were killed.

Hamas, the ruling political party in the occupied territories, called the female casualties “martyrs.” Is this the new Jihadist model of warfare, to hide behind their women, or as in Lebanon, to embed themselves among noncombatants?

We in the United States have been trying to understand our enemy for years. What do they want? Is there anyone they would not kill to achieve their obscure goals? Since they make no distinction between legitimate targets and innocents, do they really believe their own rhetoric in this regard? And perhaps most important, do they expect us to keep making these often costly distinctions ourselves?

It may well be that the world is beginning to see through the smokescreen. There has as yet been no massive hue and cry from the Western media over the death of the two “civilians,” regrettable as any such killings may be. Perhaps it is beginning to dawn on the terror sympathizers in the Western media that if you’re diving on an enemy carrier you’re likely to get shot at. Indeed, any sane person would expect it.

Frederick Grab is a former California deputy attorney general.

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