08/10/2014 03:12 pm ET | Updated Oct 09, 2014

War Is Hell

"War is hell" said General William Tecumseh Sherman, of U.S. Civil War fame... or infamy (depending on your side), who burned the city of Atlanta to the ground and scorched a path across Georgia that still stirs emotion today.

His remarks were made a number of years after the tragic war ended, to the graduating class of a military college and, while the full content of his remarks are in contention, what is clear is the context. Looking back he understood the truth -- victory or not... war is hell.

And I have no doubt that the firebombing of Dresden, the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and President Obama's recent decision to use U.S. force in Iraq reinforce Sherman's insight despite the unalterable fact that each decision saved or will save thousands of more lives than the terrible choice itself. And make no mistake -- no matter your politics or beliefs --- no matter if you are or were on the side of the victims or the victors... war is hell.

I spent a part of last week in Israel and Sherman's words echoed in my mind all through the trip and, as the rockets and subsequent retaliations continue, I can almost hear him... "war is hell."
Frank and full confession -- I, like my government and others, believe that Hamas is a terrorist organization. I believe that they are cynically using civilians... not as human shields but rather sacrificing them for the PR value in world opinion. I further believe that Israel is being held to a standard of conduct that is beyond absurd... given the threat -- war crimes? -- and that many news organizations are playing into the hands of the Hamas terrorists, so much so that often the Arab news media paints a more balanced picture of the conflict than the New York Times. For example, who have yet to see a missile launched from Gaza or a Hamas member with a gun...

And as long as I am in the confessional mode -- let me be clear, I am also sick at the loss of lives of innocent children and others in Gaza... as sick in fact as I am of the loss of life in Israel...

Now, before anyone knee jerks -- I am not making moral equivalency arguments nor will I try to prove that Israel has ethical and moral high ground... or that the media is biased and world leaders anti-Israel or anti-Semitic... no matter what I think...

Rather allow me to share some of the observations from my recent trip.

I had occasion to meet with a number of senior Israeli Army officers. What struck me was their humanity -- not a political veneer, not a religious skew, not some legal blanket -- just plain old humanity -- everyone deplored the destruction and loss of life. And while it was clear that they are doing what they can to target, to warn, to mitigate.... their best is often irrelevant because war is hell and in the heat of battle, in the need to protect yourself and your country... the worst things happen. And that is why these battle-hardened veterans are sick of what they have to do to protect their people and their land.

I visited the vaunted Iron Dome, the key reason why there have been so few casualties in Israel proper... the general, who escorted me, commented that Iron Dome had saved more Palestinian lives than Israeli. His point was that without Iron Dome the death and destruction in Israel that first day or two would have been horrific and the protective retaliation would have been devastating... another battle-hardened fighter thankful for a protective shield preserving lives on both sides...

So war is hell -- but sometimes even in hell there are windows to hope, and that will be my final experience to share.

We went down south, some 15 miles or so from the Gaza border where the proximity and trajectory of the Hamas death missiles combine to give residents less than a 15-second possibility to find shelter.

Our destination was ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran, an innovative rehabilitative village that provides severely disabled young adults the opportunity to live a rich and productive life within a safe environment. It is also much more, with an extensive rehab facility and a groundbreaking kindergarten where the disabled and not disabled are in the same class in a unified setting.
The village serves Israeli and Arab, Muslim and Jew, and the staff is reflective of that mix as well. In fact, there are staff members whose children are serving in the Israeli army and who don't sleep at night out of worry, and others whose families are in Gaza and also don't sleep. Yet all come together, as one, united in the care of their charges. And by the way these challenged children and young adults don't know hatred and prejudice as we might...they know love...

Case in point: I met a young Bedouin physiotherapist who worked with a young religious Israeli woman about to have her third child. Imagine what the inherent issues are in getting a resident population of special needs... with physical and mental challenges to run within seconds to safe rooms... you can't until you see it... a siren sounds, people scramble... they hear the rockets and someone notices the young woman is missing... the young Bedouin ran out to find the young Jew without a second thought or hesitation... and there in the hell of war a window opened...

Bottom line: Nothing will be gained with charges and countercharges of war crimes. Nothing will be gained by demonizing Israel or trying to whitewash Hamas. Nothing will be gained by arguments -- on either side -- that begin by de-legitimizing the other.

War is hell... and as long as the missiles rain down Israel will have to protect herself with all of the inevitability that Hamas is bringing on itself.

But there is hope... as Israelis face the challenge of raining missiles and tunnels to murder -- as the residents of Gaza face the challenge of retaliation brought on by their terrorist leaders... we must learn from the children of ALEH... whose challenges cannot be solved by cease fires or even a truce...

The hope is to prop open that little window... don't let it close... find others... don't let them close. War is hell... but if we can open enough windows... let in enough light... we can change the status quo and maybe even the world.

Learn from the children of ALEH -- overcome the challenge.

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