There is an important lesson for all of us humans to remember.
It may be the hardest lesson to learn.The principles I am about
to set out are principles that history has taught us, teaches us,
and will teach us as long as man insists on engaging in conflict.
These principles may be simple, but as far as I can discern, they
are truths; unbendable; inexorable laws of "how the system
1. The aggressor always has the advantage. The nature of
aggression is that the aggressor chooses where, when, who, and how
to attack. Given that, we should clearly see the large advantage
of aggression. The defender, by nature, does not ever aggress against
the aggressor because there is no advantage in doing that.
1.1. The Sages teach us that a man should always be happy with
his lot in life. They tell the story of a great Rabbi who was
walking down the road and saw a beautiful garden plot. As he looked
at the plot, he saw a sign in the middle of the plot, which read:
"Blessed is the one who is happy with his lot." One
of my children, still not ten years old at the time, hearing that
story asked me, "Abba, who wrote that sign?" I looked
into my child's face, and saw that the question was about to be
answered, so I paused, and he answered his own question, "Abba,
the guy who owned the garden, of course!"
1.2. The defender, or the peaceful, peace loving owner of garden
is usually not even thinking of the passerby who is coveting what
he has. Think about it, you lock your doors at night, not because
you believe that you are threatened, either by a specific person
or group of people who want your five-year-old's magnificent framed
finger-painting. Even if you live in a very violent place and
time, you don't "expect" to be attacked.
1.3. Even if you suspect that someone might be intent on stealing
your truly prized and highly valued possessions, you may not know
who is about to break in to your house to steal wealth or take
your life. Even if you know who is plotting against you, societal
rules prevent you from "pre-emptive strikes" against
someone whom you suspect might wish you harm. This despite the
Talmudic injunction, "Haba l'horgekha, hashkem l'horgo,"
"If someone is coming to kill you, arise before him (pre-empt)
and kill him."
2. Irregulars have the advantage over armies. From the Maccabbees,
to the American Colonists, to the VietCong, to the Taliban, the
advantage always goes to the irregular army that can disappear into
the general local population. As William Cosby, Dr. Ed. used to
point out in a monologue: "General Burguoine, your troops must
march in straight lines, carry large flags, march behind drummers
and pipers, and wear red jackets. General Washington, your troops
can wear whatever they want and hide behind trees."
3. True believers have the advantage. When either side comes
to believe that there is a Divine Decree that they will win, they
are given a great advantage. Historically, however, this specific
advantage has been nullified, by the fact that both sides have contended
that "God is on our side." This belief advantage has evaporated
for the West, since the Viet Nam conflict. The first Gulf War was
carried out by an American Army behind a political credo which publicly
held to some interesting philosophy:
3.1. We are not the enemies of the Iraqi people.
3.2. We do not engage in War as a means of deposing a Head of
3.3. The goal of this war is not the murder of Saddam Hussein
4. A timetable linked to a calendar and not to a progression
of events/results is an admission of defeat. What we should
have learned from the closing phases of the Viet Nam conflict is
that once we negotiated the final date of the end of United States
involvement, we had negotiated the final date of the existence of
South Viet Nam. The aggressor has a single, or at least singular
goal. The aggressor's goal is to win. The aggressor's goal is to
achieve that which the aggressor coveted and was the cause of the
aggression. There is no timetable external to achievement of goals
can have any validity in the mind of the aggressor.
5. In the mind of the aggressor, the conflict is an event, not
an end. The aggressor needs what (s)he covets. If you give the
aggressor that object, the conflict will end. Do not believe that
I am recommending appeasement. The designs of the aggressor often
are not as simple as they appear on the surface. A home invader
may be initially interested, even in his own mind, only on stealing
your diamond ring; but soon he sees all of the wealth that you possess
which far exceeds his previous interest and he modifies his goal.
Some political aggressors fall into this category and only initially
want lands "traditionally belonging to our people," but
quickly modify their goals when they achieve the modest goals originally
set. - I am not in any way claiming that the Nazis ever wanted "only"
to "free" lands which they believed they had a "right
to." - Some may have grander goals set from the outset, but
couch their initial goals in modest terms as a means of deception,
If all of the above are true, what is the hope for the "defender?"
First the defender must recognize the advantages that the aggressor
has and then the defender must turn these into advantages of his
1. A bloody nose, is a bloody nose, is a bloody nose. After
many years of study, our scientists have found out that pain is
important. Pain is a call to arms. An attack against our body is
a call to protect ourselves. The defender should be moved from passivity
to an alert sense of defense. (S)He must find out whom it was who
attacked and learn what the aggressor's vulnerabilities are. Society,
which looks askance at pre-emptive strikes, allows for retaliatory
activity. The important point is that once aggressive activity has
been taken against a passive defender, all the rules change.
2. The attacked party MUST identify the aggressor and cause the
aggressor to self-identify. Currently accepted rules of international
engagement hold that governments may not send irregulars into combat,
but a nation responding to aggression has all rights of self-defense
and retaliation. The difficult part is to cause the aggressor to
self-identify. It is important to make them stand up and say "here
I am," by whatever means possible.
3. Become a zealot. If it is true that the zealots have an
advantage by virtue of their zeal, it is important that the aggrieved
defender must become a zealot to grab that advantage, or at the
least to nullify it by counterbalancing it. It is, after all, your
nose that is bloodied, and the aggressor will not cease and desist
from attacking, especially after a victory. The President of the
United States, George W. Bush took the proper position, when after
9/11/01 he said "we will bring the perpetrators to justice
or we will bring justice to the perpetrators." This position
is clearly on moral and political high ground. The problem faced
by the United States is that the U.S. is an extremely diverse country
and one must be careful not to alienate a large segment of the population
by "religious" pronouncements. The "zeal" must
be of itself, a religion of democratic ideals and diversity of outlook.
This is a very powerful position when the aggressor is a monolithic
and "orthodox" interpretation of a Religion, which tolerates
no diversity and has a stated goal of world domination.
4. Goals must set the timetable. A statement of "we
will hand over the governance of Iraq when the people of Iraq are
capable of self-governance within the following parameters"
is a workable position. The crumbling of this, the initial U.S.
position before international pressure was and will always be considered
a sign of weakness by our adversaries. A stated "date certain"
sets unreasonable and unattainable goals, especially when the opposition
has control of some of the factors of success. I would never bet
that you will lose ten pounds by June 30th. You have too much control
over your own weight, and I have no control and very little influence,
(most of it lost by your chance of winning). Despite the clarity
of this proposition, we fall into this trap time after time. The
end stage of the Viet Nam conflict is but one instance of the poor
outcomes one can expect following this faulty reasoning.
Each and every proposal by the United States or the United Nations
which calls for a final settlement of borders between Israel and
a Palestinian State falls into the same category. When the success
of negotiations depends on both sides, (as they always do), we cannot
accept that the aggressor will negotiate with the same good faith
as the defender. This concept is reinforced when there is international
pressure on the defender to "finish" as soon as possible.
Another point to consider is that we have become accustomed, in
the West, to fairly instantaneous response. We have lost patience
and clearly have no real "long view."
5. Delve into your opponent's heart. The defender, or the
victim of aggression, must do all that can be done to find out what
the aggressor "really wants" and how the aggressor "really
percieves the world." We, in the West, have made a science
of negotiation. We arbitrate what we used to fight or sue over.
One of the most important tools of the arbitrator or negotiator
is the concept of "Win Win." Win Win works only after
the arbitrator finds out what each side "absolutely needs."
The first step in reaching an end to conflict is to determine what
the conflict is about. Without that information, can expect to achieve
nothing but defeat through negotiation with an opponent who is "working
by different rules." This problem is exacerbated by linguistic/cultural
problems such as we, the West, is currently experiencing while interacting
with Moslem/Islamist/Arab adversaries. The ability of a negotiater
to meet with an adversary and agree to specific terms in English
and then go back to his/her local press/constituency and say something
totally different in Arabic is an advantage that must be short circuited
soon, completely, and effectively. It cannot be accomplished if
we don't understand Arabic with its socio-cultural nuance, while
our adversaries understand English. This applies equally to American
direct interaction with Moslem/Islamist/Arab adversaries as well
as to American intervention in the Arab-Israel conflict. Israel
has a higher level of the Arabic language and a deeper cultural
understanding of Moslems, Arabs, and Islamists, be they extemists
Sometimes, there is no possibility of Win Win. In those
cases, arbitration, and mediation must be abandoned, and it is in
the interest of your side to seek victory, in the most efficacious
manner, thereby guaranteeing the lowest cost in lives and property
to both sides of the conflict. If we do not do so, we may very well
find ourselves, again "Knee Deep In The Big Muddy."
(c) 2004 Rabbi Haim Cassorla
To contact Rabbi Haim Cassorla, please send emails to: Rabbi