Tuesday, January 6, 2009

How to Dehumanize

David Brooks' recent essay on the conflict between Israel and Hamas left me a bit fuming. Brooks writes:

"This new game isn’t a war of attrition. It’s a struggle for confidence, a series of psychological exchanges designed to shift the balance of morale. The material destroyed in an episode can be replaced, but the psychological effects are more lasting. What is really important is how each episode ends, because the ending defines the meaning — who mastered events and who was mastered by them."

He has made out the violent exchanges between Israel and Hamas to be -- most importantly -- a "psychological game." He says the violence only destroys the "material" that "can be replaced" and which is not long-lasting. How can 150 innocent lives -- extinguished in this "game" -- be regarded so heartlessly? To talk about this conflict like nothing more than a chess game is to dehumanize those people that are being used as ivory pawns.

Even when he mentions that the "suffering of the innocents in Gaza magnifies" the psychological "reverberations," he is only mentioning the lives of these people in terms of their importance to the game. The suffering itself is irrelevant to him. As Brooks himself says to close the essay, "psychology matters most."

No, Mr. Brooks, these are real lives. His article is shameful.


  1. I think he reflects the protagonists (Israelies & Hamas) view of the people as irrelevant in the struggle for their beliefs. That doesn't mean that Brooks concurs but he names what is going on: Two colliding belief systems, each convinced that their rights and potential outcome is more important than individual lives. This happens over and over when strong religious or political beliefs overrides the sense of the individual.

  2. I cannot agree with you, Shirley. Brooks is writing the end of this op-ed as a prescription to Israeli leaders about what to do going forward. He is not simply observing the horrible circular conflict of Israel and Hamas; Brooks is putting himself in the debate. He is arguing that Israeli leaders should not stay in Gaza because pulling out would have more psychological effect, and "psychology matters most."

    If Brooks were just observing the conlfict (but disagreed with the perspectives of the protagonists), then he should shun the perspective as heartless. Rather, he embraces the "game" and suggests how win by using the horror of warfare -- despite the "material" costs.