The left and a considerable section of the mainstream have pressed Israel on the excessive civilian casualties in its 3-week-long retaliation for Hamas' Oct 7 surprise attack. Israel, of course, has predictably and depressingly responded by claiming that the "animals" at Hamas, a terrorist organization, are using "civilians as human shields." And so Israel is not in any way responsible for bombing and killing Gaza's children, their parents, and grandparents. It is Hamas.
But one wonders why an excuse needs to be made by Israel's government. It's as if everyone has forgotten the history of 20th-century warfare, which is still very much with us. World War I introduced the world to what is called "total war." The path to victory for this form of military strategy included the lives of civilians because civilians were a part of a country's infrastructure, the enemy's lifeblood. Civilians and civilian infrastructure cannot be separated. Israel shut down Gaza's water, internet, and electricity. This is total war in essence. It is not new to the world. It wasn't invented in the Middle East.
Though total war had its start in World War I, if not the Boer War, its full realization can be found at an exact time on August 6, 1945: 8:15 am. This is when the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The whole of Hiroshima. All of its women, men, and children. And if that was not enough, it bombed another city three days later, Nagasaki (this time at 11:02 am). And the US's justification for killing thousands upon thousands of Japanese citizens? To save the lives of its soldiers. If the civilians lived and went about their business, the war would have continued indefinitely. This, again, is the logic of total war.
At the core of Richard Rhodes's exhaustive and incomparable The Making of the Atomic Bomb is the first appearance and culmination of total war. The atomic bomb only has, by its very nature, one target: a dense population, a massive city (children and adults). Its destruction is too much for just an army base or a rural area. It needs lots of souls. And the more there are, the more effective it is.
Concerning World War I, Rhodes writes:
A Zeppelin bombed Antwerp early in the war as the Germans pushed through Belgium. Churchill sent Navy fighters to bomb Zeppelin hangars at Düsseldorf. Gothas bombed Salonika and a British squadron bombed the fortress town of Maidos in the Dardanelles during the campaign for Gallipoli. But the Gothas that attacked Folkestone in 1917 began the first effective and sustained campaign of strategic civilian bombardment. It fitted Prussian military strategist Karl von Clausewitz’s doctrine of total war in much the same way that submarine attack did, carrying fear and horror directly to the enemy to weaken his will to resist. “You must not suppose that we set out to kill women and children,” a captured Zeppelin commander told the British authorities, another rationalization that would echo. “We have higher military aims. You would not find one officer in the German Army or Navy who would go to war to kill women and children. Such things happen accidentally in war.”
Of course, the best path to the present conflict in Gaza is a ceasefire (a conflict that will likely cost the Dems the White House—"Less than half (48%) of Gen Z and millennials believe the US should publicly voice support of Israel compared with 63% of Gen Xers, 83% of baby boomers and 86% of members of the Silent Generation"), but we cannot pretend that the Israeli strategy, total war, is original, something out of the blue, an expression of Zionist fanaticism. To believe this is to hold on to something that's as comforting as Linus' security blanket. The list is too long for that: The bombardment of Dresden, the V2 rockets that obliterated London, the flattening of Tokyo; the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, the war in Syria, the war in Ukraine. Gaza is just today. Do not expect total war to end tomorrow.