Even by the standards of real politik it is extraordinarily cynical to use the nightmarish crash of a passenger plane as cover for an invasion. Yet it happened: as the world watched in astonished horror the burning wreckage of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, aflame in a field in Eastern Ukraine, Israel launched its anticipated ground assault on Gaza. In reaction, Hamas turned to its well-worn repertoire of promises to “exact a heavy price” from Israel, but we all know how this will end. The smaller man sees that there is no avoiding the fight now, so he resists with the only weapon he has left– his mouth. But it will not save him from having his teeth knocked out.
Perhaps it is time to abandon tough guy politics. The tough guys in eastern Ukraine have now, probably inadvertently, (but what is the difference?) killed 295 people on a 777. The tough guys of Hamas have gotten themselves into another war with Israel that they cannot win. The tough guys of Israel have killed over 200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, all the while claiming not to be tough guys but forced into the fight by the mouthy little guy they regularly beat up. The tough guy Putin scrambles for excuses– had there not been a war in Ukraine, the plane would not have been shot down, which is rather like saying that if a person did not need to breathe, they would not have drowned. True, but rather too abstract as an explanation. Punch, counter-punch, counter-counter-punch…
It is quite the show, and a good thing too, since the World Cup just ended. Those with a front row seat are enjoying it most. While the world is told by the Western media that all of Israel is cowering from the rockets of the mighty Hamas, CNN cameras infelicitously caught a large group of Israelis sitting on a hill, only a few miles from Gaza, cheering the show as Israeli guided missiles lazily glided towards their targets (there is no rush when there are no defenses to skirt).
The reality of a neighbour’s house exploding or bodies falling on my patio from the sky are too impossible to imagine. Across the street, some kids are joking in the late afternoon sunshine. I think– “but don’t they know what happened?” But even as I think that another voice is saying “if they do know, that is no reason to not enjoy the evening.” I look into the garden. The gently fading sunlight has dulled the green of leaves and creeping charley and brightened the reds, yellows, and purples of the crocosmia, lilies, and echinacia. I can sip my beer and ponder the miseries of the world at leisure. I think back (more than twenty years) to a poster on the wall of my old comrade Peter’s basement apartment on Lansdowne Ave. It was a quotation from Trotsky, in exile in Mexico City, remarking on the pleasure he felt looking into the garden, through the window his wife Natasha just opened. I only remember the final line: “Life is beautiful. May future generations enjoy it to the fullest.”
Ever the revolutionary, he speaks of the future, but he enjoyed his present in Coyoacan as well. He enjoyed his garden, and he enjoyed the even more beautiful garden of Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul, (not to mention Kahlo herself), only a few blocks away. The only justification for struggle is to enable everyone to enjoy the beauty of life, but the means of struggle must be such that the inner capacity to value life and beauty are not destroyed. (I think Trotsky, former commander of the Red Army and proponent of the politics of ‘liquidating the class enemy,’ once on the run from Stalin’s homicidal mania, came to understand this truth). Whether true or not of Trotsky, the principle does emphasize what might be the worst, cruelest irony of all- the more intransigent the opponents of justice, the more violence they are willing to use, the more those fighting for their humanity are forced to adopt inhuman means, killing in themselves that for which they struggle- liberation of the capacity to fully enjoy the beauty of life.
The comfortable can wish for the democratic mass movement that can conquer oppression through solidarity, commitment, and militant but non-violent struggle. Perhaps they think back to their support for the struggle against apartheid, but their recollections probably pass over Umkhonto we Sizwe. Nevertheless, there is a lesson: there was armed struggle against apartheid, but the ultimate victory was secured by political power, not military maneuvering. It was the political wing of the ANC, in combination with the Communist Party of South Africa and the millions of militant workers of the Congress of South African Trade Unions that brought white rule to an end. The Pan African Congress and its slogan “One settler, one bullet” have been forgotten. The socio-economic problems that beset apartheid South Africa remain, but so too millions of black workers alive to continue the fight.
I know that no one has the map we need to find our way out of the morass we are in, but there is no excuse, at this point in history, for persisting in means of struggle that we know not to work. Shooting down aircraft, plowing them into buildings, lobbing rockets in the hope of killing someone, anyone, accomplishes nothing, save giving your oppressors the excuse they need to step on your throat all the harder. Others have to help remove the boot, which is why, I suppose, those not in immediate danger shouldn’t laugh or enjoy the lazy summer twilight. But that does not mean that the laughter and light are not beautiful.