(Volume 25 Issue 7)
By Col. (Ret’d) Pat Stogran
At the risk of subjecting myself to all sorts of hate mail and history lessons I am going to touch on a very sensitive issue in this article – the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I front end load this submission with a pronouncement that I consciously and deliberately try to remain neutral on the issue because people are willing to die for their beliefs, which I whole-heartedly respect, and just as willing to kill, which I respect just as much but in a different way.
On my Facebook Page I like to engage my friends and followers, those who are interested, in discussions about issues related to our national security. I try to conduct these discussions the way most military educational systems in the world as well as Ivy League Universities do. This constructivist approach to learning employs the Socratic method whereby students are assigned topics that they are to be prepared to discuss with their peers. The professor acts as a facilitator by compelling students to challenge the evidence, assumptions and reasoning associated with the subject matter.
The success of this method depends upon students who are highly motivated to learn and willing to engage and practice their analytical or critical thinking or problem-solving skills. As Major General J.F.C. Fuller described the system at the British Army’s Staff College in Camberley, “We shall teach each other: first, because we have a vast amount of experience behind us, and secondly, in my opinion, it is only through free criticism of each other’s ideas that truth can be thrashed out.” This is a very useful exercise especially in these trying times with all the fake news and wild opinions that proliferate online.
Recently I was challenged on my Facebook page regarding my personal position of neutrality on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One of my fellow Facebook learners used as evidence for his assertion the statement made by British Army Colonel Richard Kemp to the United Nations Watch organization. The Colonel is a hugely experienced war-fighter whose CV would be the envy of any committed warrior, myself included. Colonel Kemp came out with a pretty categorical and decidedly one-sided estimate of the situation vis-à-vis who is culpable in the recent protests in Gaza that led to Israeli killing 58 protestors who had closed with the boundary fence and wounding many others.
With all due respect to his war-fighting credentials his opinion is no more compelling than any others and most certainly does not shed any new light in terms of solid evidence that one side to that conflict are “good guys” and the other “bad”. Sure, the Palestinians were herded to the fences and stoked up to protest violently against the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. There remains no doubt in my mind that they did so not merely to demonstrate to international community their discontent with President Trump’s unilateral action but in order to goad Israeli Defence Forces into killing a whole bunch of their citizens so as to attract world-wide condemnation of Israel.
But so what? Such is war! It was especially instructive when CBC’s Anna Maria Tremonti was interviewing an Israeli Official who had justified the IDF seemingly excessive use of lethal force by describing the Palestinian intent behind the protests of discrediting Israel. Ms. Tremonti countered by asking if the IDF didn’t play into the Palestinian plot by exercising an excessive use of force, to which the spokesperson’s reply amounted to little more than a shrug of the shoulders and the utterance of an unapologetic “Meh!?” Now before I am inundated by accusations of partiality I hasten to add that I don’t believe the Israeli reaction is any more or less reprehensible than the alleged Palestinian scheme.
They are at war and war is hell! Who amongst my comrades-in-arms that served in Bosnia during the gunslinging days didn’t experience civilian protests that were obviously provoked by the respective government? In war, I am sorry to say, civilians are expendable! Who can forget the Sarajevo market massacre? Granted the jury may be deadlocked as to who the cruel perpetrators of that heinous act were — I am not because I was associated with the on-site investigation and witnessed the way our results were bandied about by United Nations and the international community — but I can say that both warring parties gained yardage from the atrocity. Ceasefires that were announced with great fanfare and optimism would seldom lead to any sort of cessation of attacks on the ground, more often than not they would prove to be nothing more than a ploy by one or both sides to gain an advantage over their adversary. In deference to the good Colonel’s experience and opinion, if I learned anything in Bosnia it was to believe none of what you read or hear and to be very careful not to read anything into what you actually see.
In the years that followed my sabbatical in Bosnia, I set out to learn and practice critical thinking skills. I really enjoy engaging in wars of words, not just to satisfy an innate penchant for confrontation but as a means of clarifying my personal understanding. Admittedly I am characteristically impetuous, hot-headed, and outspoken when it comes to expressing my point of view, but what is not as apparent is that I constantly revise my inferences and opinions based on new evidence, incorrect assumptions I might make, or biases I harbour unconsciously or otherwise that become apparent via debate. Like J.F.C. Fuller said discussions can be a great way to thrash out the truth.
In consideration of what ground truth is, however, I often parrot an axiom I believe to be one of General George Patton’s: “God is truth, and don’t forget that.” Interestingly, Mahatma Gandhi said something similar, “Truth is God.” I interpret that to mean that Truth is so complex and nuanced that it is beyond the capacity of the human mind to actually process it. Our perception is reality, and nowhere is perception management, or more correctly ‘perception manipulation,’ more pronounced than in war. And in war your perception is likely to be handed back to you along with your ass after the enemy has had their way with you.
In war, you should believe none of what you hear or see unless you can corroborate your evidence, and even then, you must be very careful of what inferences you might draw from the evidence before you act on it. As Sun Tsu said, “All warfare is based on deception.” It can be expected that all sides to any conflict will be actively engaged in spreading disinformation in order to lend credibility to and garner support for their cause. To confuse the issue even more, nowadays domestic politics has become so divisive and disingenuous that it is tantamount to propaganda. I refer to my comments previously regarding our military mission In Iraq that the government, the Prime Minister himself and vehemently supported by his Chief of Defence Staff, advertised as non-combat. We all should be concerned that when the current Chief of Defence Staff was first appointed he expressed the intent to weaponize public affairs.
The situation is complicated even more by the hawks here in Canada who want to see and even be a part of a forced solution. To my fellow warriors out there who advocate for military action of any sort, shame on you! You will have witnessed during your career the devastating effects that war has even for the victors, but more importantly shame on you for assuming that the people fighting for their lives and families would turtle up and a military engagement would be a cake walk. And for the civilians here acting like cheerleaders and want Canada to take a stand in the region, I am sure that the warring parties are recruiting!
In this day and age of information warfare we are all combatants. We are the targets of the fake news, domestic and foreign propaganda, and social media that turns everybody and anybody into an Andrew Coyne or Rex Murphy, whose opinions are not much more relevant than anybody else’s except they get paid for them. It behoves us to be very careful of what we believe and more importantly what we espouse as truth. Most importantly we must be very careful of what action we take or insist our government takes based on our beliefs, otherwise our adversaries are likely to hand those perceptions they had manufactured for us back to us along with our asses.