Gaza: What is Victory?

Scroll down to see earlier posts in this series, beginning January 14th.

On November 11, 1918, the last day of World War I, there were higher than usual casualties, because General John J. Pershing—“Black Jack Pershing” as his men often called him—resented the Armistice. He insisted on hurting the Germans further, at high cost to his own troops, and continuing, to the last minute—the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month—to inflict German losses. He reportedly said: “They never knew they were beaten in Berlin. It will have to be done all over again.” *

A myth arose. The German generals spread the word that their army was “undefeated in the field” but was “stabbed in the back” by politicians bent on surrender. Actually, their defeat in the field was staggering. After four years of what was mostly standoff, a million Americans arrived and, with their reinvigorated allies, swept across German-occupied France and Belgium in three months. The allies occupied a small part of western Germany for a while before they went home. But in Berlin, they never knew they were beaten. Pershing, alas, had to observe in his later years the rearming of Germany and the second world war he had predicted, with all its dreadful costs. His warnings, like Churchill’s in Britain, were ignored.

After that second war, they knew they were beaten in Berlin, and they knew they were beaten in Tokyo too, because the US and its allies took the war into those capitals and insisted on unconditional surrender. Although greatly complicated by the division of Germany and the Soviet role, the US (along with the UK and France) transitioned from military control, including denazification, dissolution of the German army, and occupiers’ rule of law, through municipal elections, to the buildup of a democratic state, officially declared four years after the war. The US State Department explicitly decreed that this governance “does not effect the annexation of Germany.” West Germany regained “near-sovereignty” in 1955, but it remained nominally occupied until 1991, after re-unification.

In the case of Japan, US military control (under General Douglas MacArthur) was complete, with the goals of, first, “to ensure that Japan could never threaten others again,” as well as “demilitarization, democratization, and economic revitalization.” The constitution was recast and the Emperor renounced his divinity and his sovereignty, explicitly replaced by the sovereignty of the people. Women’s suffrage was established and free elections took place. In 1951, when disagreements with President Truman over the Korean War forced MacArthur to leave, two million people came out to wish him well. The occupation officially ended in 1952, at which time the democratically elected Prime Minister sent MacArthur a telegram reading in part, “My heart and the hearts of all Japanese turn to you in boundless gratitude.”

There are still some US troops in both countries, for purposes of alliance, not occupation. Both are today among the world’s strongest democracies and among the most loyal of US allies. None of this would have been possible without unconditional surrender.

You’re guessing that I see some relevance here to what might happen in Gaza? Right. Both of these were model occupations with model outcomes; the US occupation of Iraq, not so much. It lasted one year, from 2003 to 2004. The US occupying authority dissolved not just the army but almost the whole civil service and vowed to rebuild it from scratch. In one year? Really? There was no gradual transition and millions of newly unemployed men fed insurgency and civil war. Outside interference by Iran (something with no equivalent in Germany or Japan) exacerbated the conflict. Democracy in Iraq was doomed. A large US troop presence had no authority and a years-long war of attrition cost thousands of American lives.

True, Iraq was far less developed than Germany or Japan, and Gaza is much more like Iraq. In a crowning irony, the same Iran will be trying to destabilize post-war Gaza and prevent the emergence of democratic institutions there. And Israel’s army will not want to control Gaza for the time it takes (four years in Germany, seven in Japan) to even begin to grow democratic institutions. Unless some international army comes in (extremely unlikely) Israel will be forced to keep the peace while the US and its Arab allies painstakingly build a demilitarized Gazan democracy.

Yes, all involved will be seen as “riding in on Israeli tanks,” but that’s how it is. Unless US and Arab armies suddenly decide to replace it, a reluctant Israel will have to keep the peace while the world steps up with the funding, the reeducation, and the moral and political support that a nascent Gazan democracy will need. They’d better step up, and for much more than a year. But first, Hamas and Gaza have to know that they are beaten.

*Persico, Joseph, 2007. Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour: Armistice Day 1918 (New York, Random House), p. 276.

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