Tonight marks the beginning of Passover 5778. Donald Trump’s targeted attack on Syria indicates that he understands the import of this timeless story.
In mid-2009, a few months into Barack Obama’s presidency, Iran had its Green Revolution, when tens of thousands of brave Iranians took to the streets in Tehran seeking to undermine the Mullahs. Their enemy was our enemy. Not only were the Mullahs repressing their own people, they were sowing terrorism throughout the world.
Had Obama thrown America’s moral weight behind the revolution, that alone might have been sufficient to destroy the Mullahs’ power base and create room for a somewhat more moderate and conciliatory Iranian government. Obama, however, chose to align himself, not with the Iranian slaves in the street yearning for freedom, but with the Mullahs, who were playing the role of Pharaoh.
Because those historic events coincided with Passover 2009, I was moved to write a post about the Passover message, a post I’ve reproduced every year at Passover since then. As you will read at greater length below, my post argues that a primary message to take away from the Passover story is that the only way to topple a tyrant and free the slaves crushed under his heel is to bring the revolution, not just to the tyrant’s door, but over the threshold and into his house.
Despite his ostentatious Passover celebrations in the White House, Obama has been blind to the meaning behind the story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt. Throughout his eight years in the White House, whenever a tyranny arose anywhere, Obama chose to placate tyrants, rather than fight them. He placated the Mullahs, the Muslim Brotherhood, Kim Jong-un, ISIS (aka the JV team), Assad, Putin, and a rotating cast of Islamic fundamentalists who went by different names but hewed to the identical genocidal ideology. It was inevitable that, when Obama finally left office, he bequeathed to us a world remarkably close to the world in 1938/1939: trembling on the verge of a dangerous explosion, with tyrants of the ugliest cast having the momentum and initiative.
It’s this scary world that Donald Trump inherited when he stepped into the Oval Office. However, last week, I came away with the hope that, when Trump sat down to celebrate Passover with Ivanka and her family (assuming he did) or when he discussed Passover with his Jewish friends and family, he understood Passover’s message.
How else can we explain his intuitive understanding that, when dangerous men release weapons of mass destruction, the only possible action is immediate, powerful, targeted retribution. Both Daniel Greenfield and Andrew Malcolm understand this, so I urge you to read their articles. (You might also want to read my post about the Trump doctrine.)
With this introduction, it’s time for my annual Passover post. As I do every year, I’ve edited it slightly to reflect current concerns.
An antisemitic Jew I know, rather than seeing the Passover ceremony as a celebration of freedom (commemorating as it does the world’s first and, for a long time, only successful slave revolt), justice, and morality (insofar as it gave us the Ten Commandments), derides the whole ceremony as the unconscionable and immoral celebration of the genocide of the Egyptian people. What troubles him so much is the fact that, after each plague, when Pharaoh seems about to soften and let the Jews go, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, leading to the necessity of yet another plague, culminating in the death of the first born.
As those familiar with the Bible know, his objection is predicated upon ignorance. The tenth plague, which saw God strike down the first born in every family that did not have the blood of the Pascal lamb above their door, was not a random punishment. It was, instead, divine retribution for the Pharaoh’s own ruling, in effect at Moses’s birth, that all first born Jewish males should be drowned in the Nile.
Still, an atheist could argue that God was petty when he enacted retribution against innocent people who were not complicit in Pharaoh’s genocidal attack on the Jews. I know the Jew who gave rise to my thoughts about Passover would have made that argument had known the Book of Exodus better.
Some people try to explain away the escalating plagues in Egypt that culminate with the death of the first born, by saying that the plagues are nothing more than dramatic license, meant to increase the tension and danger surrounding the Jew’s escape from Egypt. After all, if the exodus had been easy, it wouldn’t have been much of a story. Imagine if Moses had asked, “Hey, Pharaoh, can we go?” and Pharaoh had answered, “Sure.”
That’s not a narrative with much punch or heroism, and God’s involvement is minimal or, at least, unexciting. It’s much more dramatic, and resonates more strongly with the people reliving the narrative every year, to have an escalating series of plagues, with the audience on tenterhooks as to whether those pesky Jewish slaves will actually be able to make a break for it.
This reasoning is silly. The Bible is not so superficial. There is, instead, a much more profound purpose behind the ten plagues, and that is to remind us of the tyrant’s capacity for tolerating others’ suffering, as long as his power remains in place.
What Pharaoh discovered with the first nine plagues is that life can go on, at least for the ruler, not matter the burdens placed upon his people. A blood filled Nile River may, at first, have seemed appalling, but the red receded and life went on. Pharaoh still held together his government. The same held true for each subsequent plague, whether lice or boils or wild animals or frogs, or whatever: As long as Pharaoh could maintain his power base, he could always reconcile himself to the incremental decimation visited upon those he ruled.
Sheltered in his lavish palace, Pharaoh might have a theoretical concern that a starving and frightened populace might turn on him. However, as long as he was assured that his people, despite the horrors inflicted against them, continued to fear and worship him, their suffering was irrelevant. It was only when the price became too high — when Pharaoh’s power base was destroyed because his citizens were destroyed — that Pharaoh was convinced, even temporarily, to alter his evil ways.
Human nature hasn’t changed much in 3,000 years. Think, for example, of both the Nazis and the Japanese at the end of WWII. For the Nazis, it was apparent by December 1944 (the Battle of the Bulge) that the war was over. Hitler, however, was a megalomaniac in the pharaonic mold, and his high command, either from fear or insanity, would not gainsay him. Rather than surrendering, the Nazi high command was willing to see its country overrun and its citizens killed. Only when the death toll became too high, and it was apparent that nothing could be salvaged from the ashes, did the war on the continent finally end.
The same held true for the Japanese. Truman did not decide to drop the bomb just for the hell of it. Even the fact that it would impress the Soviets was an insufficient reason for doing so. What swayed Truman was the fact that his advisers told him (credibly as it turned out) that the Japanese Bushido culture would not allow Japan to surrender even when surrender had become the only reasonable option. Instead, the military warned Truman that, although the Americans would inevitably win the war, if Truman didn’t take drastic action, victory would take another year, and cost up to 100,000 American lives and at least that many Japanese lives (including Japanese civilians).
Truman therefore had two choices: another year of war, with the loss of 100,000 Americans and up to a million Japanese civilians; or an immediate stop to the war, with no more American casualties and an estimated 100,000 civilian Japanese casualties. Put that way, the choice was a no-brainer. The outcome would be the same for the Japanese, but Truman would save the lives of more than 100,000 Americans, not to mention the lives of British, Australian, and Dutch troops. The atom bomb also saved the lives of the civilian prisoners of war all over the Malayan peninsula. One of the Dutch POWS, incidentally, was my Mom, who was on the verge of starving to death in a Japanese concentration camp.
The Japanese high command was Pharaoh. No amount of smaller plagues could stop the command from its chosen path. Only a large plague would swiftly lead to the inevitable conclusion.
No matter how often one recites to Progressives the lives saved when the Nazi high command or the Japanese Bushido leadership had war brought directly to them, they cannot reconcile this with the fact that bringing the war to these Pharaohs resulted in the death of innocents. They find it untenable that the “good guys” might have blood on their hands.
What the Progressives resolutely, deliberately, and stupidly fail to grasp is that the innocents were always going to die, with the only question being whether they would die quickly or slowly. That’s the problem with an evil regime. If you’re unlucky enough to live under that regime, whether or not you support it, you’re going to be cannon fodder. Pharaoh will let you die of plagues, and the Nazi and Japanese leadership will let you be bombed and burned — as long as they can retain their power.
People of good will dedicated to freedom sometimes have to recognize that the generation raised up under tyranny is a lost generation that cannot be saved. The Bible recognizes this too, because it bars from the Promised Land those who were slaves in Egypt. Even when Pharaoh no longer lashes his whip over them, they are incapable of freedom. One can remove them from the lash, but one cannot turn them into a free people. They are a lost generation.
For this reason, when one sees a people groaning under tyranny the most humane thing to do is to destroy the tyranny even if those same people will suffer. Most of them were always going to be lost. Our actions are for the benefit of subsequent generations and, if we are lucky, for those who survived both the tyranny and the liberation.
I fully understand that President Trump has determined that there is no benefit to be had from having America embroil itself actively in every war or revolution about the world. Starting with Korea, those interventions have not ended well for us. However, as John Nolte articulates so well in this post (and I try to articulate in this post), protecting America sometimes demands proactive behavior. And there is nothing more proactive than an overwhelming response when a tyrant starts putting out feelers to see how far he can go. Had Chamberlain done that in 1938, WWII might have been avoided.* Had Obama done that in 2009 . . . . Well, think about it:
Thanks to Obama, the Iranian people have suffered at least eight more years of fearful tyranny than they would have when they were willing to face down the tyrants, if only they could be free. Moreover, if Obama had acted and the Mullahs had been deposed, it’s entirely possible that Syria’s civil war, which Iran is financing (and fighting) on Assad’s behalf, might never have happened. The 500,000 who have died in Syria would still be alive. ISIS, which was birthed in Syria’d bloody war, might have died a’borning, saving thousands of lives in the Middle East, Europe, and America from its sadistic energies. And of course, the refugee crisis that is destroying the last vestiges of Western Enlightenment civilization in Europe might never have happened. One can credibly argue that Obama’s cowardly refusal to face down the Mullahs means that he has the blood of hundreds of thousands of people on his hands.
With that, I’d like to wish all of you a Chag Sameach (Happy Passover). Whether Jewish or not, I hope that the Pesach celebration serves as an occasion for all of us to remember that, though the price may sometimes be high, both for slave and master, our ultimate goal as just and moral human beings must be freedom. So please join with me in saying, as all Jews do at this time of year, “Next Year in Jerusalem.”
*And yes, I am aware of the argument that Chamberlain might not simply have been Hitler’s dupe. Thanks to England’s anti-War fervor after WWI, which led to disarmament and the drawing down of her military, Chamberlain might have believed by 1938 that England could do nothing to stop Hitler. That belief would have led him to choose appeasement as the only option. I don’t agree, because bullies will back down quickly if their intended victim fights even minimally, but I’ll give Chamberlain the benefit of the doubt because he was a decent and patriotic man.