When Has War Even Been ‘Proportional?’

Victor Davis Hanson
American Greatness

Proportionality in war is a synonym for lethal stalemate, if not defeat.

When two sides go at it with roughly equal forces, weapons, and strategies, the result is often a horrific deadlock—like the four years of toxic trench warfare on the Western Front of World War I that resulted in 12 million fatalities.

The purpose of war is to defeat the enemy as quickly as possible with the least number of casualities—and thereby achieve political ends.

So, every side aims to find superior strategies, tactics, weapons, and manpower to ensure as great a disproportionate advantage as possible.

Hamas is no exception.

Its savage precivilizational strategy to defeat Israel hinged on doing disproportionate things Israel either cannot or will not do.

First, Hamas spent a year planning a preemptive butchery spree inside Israel. Its ruthless murdering focused on “soft targets” like unarmed elderly, women, children, and infants, mostly asleep at a time of peace and holiday.

Second, it sought to collectively shock Israel into paralysis by the sheer horror of decapitating civilians, burning babies, mass raping, and mutilating bodies.

Another apparent aim of such premodern barbarity was to blame Israel’s “occupation” for turning Gazans into veritable monsters, with hopes of derailing the renewed Abraham Accords.

Third, the gunmen took more than 240 hostages back with them to Gaza.

Again, that was a disproportionate tactic designed to meter out the release of captives in exchange for “pauses” and “cease-fires” to save Hamas.

Additionally, Hamas made implicit threats of gruesome executions of captives unless Israel ceased their retaliation for October 7.

Fourth, all the while Hamas shot rockets into Israel, more than 7,000 in total, and all aimed at civilians.

Not one launch was preceded by dropping leaflets or sending text messages to Israeli civilians to vacate the intended target areas—a protocol often used by the Israel Defense Forces.

The unapologetic aim was to kill thousands of Israelis at random and disproportionately.

In fact, in just the last few four weeks, Hamas has launched more than twice as many rockets into Israel as Nazi Germany managed to launch V-2s into Britain in five months.

Fifth, Hamas sought to create a multibillion-dollar tunnel city beneath Gaza. The labyrinth’s sole purposes were to stockpile weapons and ensure safe havens for terrorists to shoot rockets and regroup after their terrorist missions.

Sixth, the subterranean headquarters of Hamas elites, along with weapons depots, were strategically placed under hospitals, mosques, and schools to “shield” them from Israeli attacks.

The expectation was that the IDF would be hesitant to target such “civilian” and “humanitarian” areas in a way Hamas never would.

Seventh, Hamas forced the civilians of Gaza to remain among the street fighting. They often shot those who resisted.

They also killed Gazans who fled the city. Hamas sought to increase civilian fodder as collateral damage from Israeli attacks. Such deaths were to be broadcast worldwide to win sympathy for Hamas terrorists and force a cease-fire.

Eighth, Hamas bragged that it could repeat strategies 1-7 endlessly on the supposition Israel would tire, the world would turn against it, and it at last could murder enough Jews to end Israel altogether.

Israel in turn seeks its own disproportionate response to defeat Hamas.

First, it seeks to single out and kill the actual Hamas terrorists, and especially the 2,000 or so killers of October 7.

Second, it tries to warn civilians to flee anywhere that Hamas masses. Just as Hamas wants its own civilians killed for propaganda purposes, so Israel seeks to avoid killing them.

Third, by targeting Hamas and warning civilians to keep their distance, Israel does not deny that there will be collateral damage.

But it hopes to convince the world that any civilian deaths are mostly the fault of Hamas and not the IDF.

And to the degree that Gaza City is left in rubble, Israel wishes to remind its enemies that the wages of murdering Jewish infants unfortunately will be a disproportionate response, whose full effects will deter any future attack.

Fourth, Israel understands that a country of 9-10 million is facing a virulently hostile 500 million-person Arab Middle East. The United Nations is on the side of Hamas. A now anti-Semitic Europe has been hijacked by immigrants from the Middle East. Israel’s sole patron the United States is buffeted by a hard-left new Democratic Party that is not a reliable partner.

The result is that Israel still cannot conduct a fully disproportionate war without endangering its source of military resupply in the United States, and a wider conflict with the Islamic world.

And so, the war continues.

Hamas strives for a more disproportionate terrorist agenda to prolong the war. And Israel strives for a more disproportionate retaliation to end it.

The anger arises at Israel mostly because it is Jewish, and thus far its conventional disproportionality is proving more effective than the terrorist disproportionality of Hamas.


Share This

22 thoughts on “When Has War Even Been ‘Proportional?’”

  1. How will it end? Here are some possibilities.

    Alt #1: There will be a truce between the combatants. The hostages will be returned and Hamas will be allowed to retreat without being killed. Odds? 0%

    #2: IDF will seal all the tunnels and that will be the last we hear of whomever is inside them. Odds: 3%

    #3: Hezbollah will attack from the north and re-start the war, distracting IDF. 10%

    #4: US will attack Iranian oil fields to send message to cut this crap out. 5%

    #5: IDF will wait the underground rats out and gradually learn how to optimally destroy them. They will demolish all lines of communication to fragment the enemy. Many hostages will die, but many may be saved, as well. Odds: 88%

    I once had a dachshund. This little dog was raised to hunt badgers underground, if necessary. She was also very patient. She had no trouble waiting out side a varmint’s hole for hours at a time. Eventually, she would kill her prey. Other than that, she was the cutest dog in the world.

    Hamas is already in their pre-buried coffin.

    It is just a matter of time. The die is cast. The future is mostly known in this case.

    Though the physical reality is portended, the effectiveness of the propaganda, on both sides, is unknowable.

    1. Don’t know that there is much in the way of propaganda on the Side of the Israeli gov’t and IDF who are fighting a just war against evil. Seems to me that virtually all the propaganda is being spoon fed to the world via the Evil Hamas criminals, with the help of the disgusting UN, the leftist American Media, the leftist British media, and others in the Democrat party mostly, as well as ignorant students on University campuses here and abroad. It strikes me that Israel is doing its best to get the facts out there, unlike the propagandists all over the other side of the coin.

  2. Tracey Anne Nelms

    Guerrilla warfare proved reprehensible and lethal when used against America in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Korea.
    We disengaged; morally wounded against the Vietcong’s use of women and children as suicide weapons.
    And then…James Foley…one victim among isis many… sheer Barbarisms hardened learned resolve as it wounded our hearts. We acknowledge that the enemy exists in a different World from ours. Barbarism governs; life is held hostage to the whims of indifferent rulers; total submission is expected, ruled peoples are not valued as Sacred only sacrifices.
    Co-existence? We Live. They prefer we didn’t. Let them exist in their World without ending ours. We represent an Inconvenient Truth to their docile populations.
    We are Worlds at War. Not one world. We have our bit of Western soil. We devastated isis; they tunneled and re-emerged as a version of orcs
    Americans understand Israeli
    resolve. The IDF defends each action in warfare? Fighting the Media propaganda machine is a costly distraction they cannot afford; effective only in allowing hamas bought Time to escape.
    Eradicate hamas.
    Explain at later leisure
    when hellish smoke clears and Life warily resumes.
    Who amongst us can Explain our Opposite, the language of Death, -War?
    We define Life by the action of Living:
    Let us be U.S.

  3. This is the current state of affairs, but was this Hamas’ and their Patrons’ in Iran and Qatar’s only objective? Surely not, but rather a call to arms for Global Muslims to rise up simultaneously against the collective Infidels around them. Color, Creed, Nationality, no limits.

    It is for THIS reason that Israel should be encouraged not to retreat, cease or lose focus, and should they falter that those that faced down and destroyed ISIS, and before them, saw off a litany of other terrorists with world domination as their goal, now stand with Israel, Jews and free Western Societies, and brace Israel in this war.

  4. The “proportionate response” doctrine has been the common denominator for all our wars following WW2. It’s correlation with failure is a perfect 100%. Think of McNamara, LBJ, and their cast of mental midgets trying to determine whether a kill ration of 20 would be sufficient, all the while the North Vietnamese were seeking conquest at virtually any cost. Ditto Nixon, Carter, the Bushes, Clinton, and the current progressive theoreticians engaged in the 11th year of misrule. Trump and Reagan at least valued American lives, not so our ivory tower parasites. Victor states what should have been our war aims:

    “The purpose of war is to defeat the enemy as quickly as possible with the least number of causalities—and thereby achieve political ends.”

    We never achieved our political ends in Vietnam. Curiously, a recent book that Victor mentioned, “Triumph Regained” by Moyar, takes the position that we triumphed because the kill ratio was at staggering levels following the NV failed Tet Offensive. The focus on kill ratios is misplaced.

    The arrogance and psychopathy of our ruling class is beyond calculation. They seem to imagine that conflict will be delegated to lawyers and courts in the not-too-distant future. But these are the same fools who can’t manage a city in such a way that small businesses and taxpayers can live and prosper. They are unable to comprehend the horrors they have inflicted on the innocent, and the incentives they provide for those who embrace evil.

  5. I’m a simple person. Educated and realistic. I read about the tunnels Hamas dug underneath a swath of territory protecting them from attack and connecting them to their compatriots underneath buildings meant to heal and protect.


    Voles, moles, mice, rats, etc. all need to put the dirt somewhere. Where did these rats put the tunnel dirt? And no one noticed?

  6. Proportionality. That is how Johnson and McNamara saw fighting the Viet Nameese. They welcomed so many American soldiers and marines to “The Suck”.

  7. Excellent argument against “proportionality” in war. Here’s a “proportional” argument, if someone still demands one: Hamas planned its attack for a year. Therefore, Israel has a year to conduct operations in Gaza or anywhere else required in order to destroy Hamas.

  8. The risk to Israeli support from the US is entirely due to the antisemitism of the Democrat party,. Hopefully, they will not be in power after Nov 2024 – but given the Republicans penchant for screwing up elections, that outcome is far from guaranteed.

  9. Hamas dropped its mask in a disclosure against interest. Hamas has pretended to be rational; seeking a reasonable outcome. It allowed Europeans and weak Americans to convince themselves :”Hamas is like us. they just want a place of their own.”

    Hamas is evil and bent on the murder of all Jews. They say this loudly to anyone with the courage to listen. The only solution for Israel is the utter destruction of Hamas and those who deeply believe. Only question is what share of the Gazan population are irrevocable Hamas true believers. All of them need to die before Israel can sleep at night.

    When a man-eating predator is loose in your town, what does any reasonable person do? Fight to the death. Its a kill or be killed battle. There is no accommodation. Only death or life.

  10. I used to wonder what horrible thing would happened to the USA in the future. To put us in a position that we wouldn’t help Israel when the world attacks it. Now I see that the USA will be there helping the rest of the world attack Israel. I thought the USA must get nuked to oblivion. Now I no the country will turn evil, follow Satan’s plan’s instead of God’s. It’s crazy how one can look back threw history and see this coming. Really from Wilson forward. We should have never threw God out of the schools and court houses. God is fixing to spank us hard for what our government is doing to Israel. America is doomed.

  11. Thank you VDH for your clear explanations of current events. Ever since Rush died I have come to rely on your historical perspective and inciteful comments to keep me from wondering whether I am too old to understand what is going on. We are supposed to acquire wisdom with age, and much of that comes through filtering life experiences through our grasp of history and understanding of human nature. It does seem at times that only older people are interested in this, so I often find myself alone with my thoughts and unable to express a dissenting opinion around young people, for fear of being just another annoying old man who isn’t “with it”. My parents and grandparents did not have this problem. Even if we didn’t agree entirely with them, we did hear them out, and lots of what they said proved to be right with time. I feel lucky to have been raised by a generation that knew right from wrong, and was not heavily influenced by public opinion. Public opinion today seems to be more important than facts, reasoning and historical truth. I wish I could see a way out of this downward spiral, but we may just need to go through some real suffering before people wake up and stop pretending that they can order life to be the way they want it to be from collective wishful thinking.

  12. Well written, Victor. As long as Islamists follow their modified Mosaic code, which permits them to avoid the moral and ethical qualms of sinning against people who aren’t Muslims, there can never be a ‘proportional war’. Islamists will always be ‘morally cheating’, and proud of it. This is what happens when a quasi-cult (Islam) is at war with those who are not Muslims (i.e., Western world infidels). Western people don’t realize there are two Muslim religions. There was the Islam that existed before Muhammad moved from Mecca to Yathrib (now known as Medina) after he was forced to do so by the Quraish. Then there is the Islam that sallied forth from Medina after Muhamad set up his base there and started attacking caravans on their way to Mecca. The original Islam of Mecca was a ‘kinder and gentler’ Islam, though it was not called Islam then. Islamists who sallied forth from Medina were a war-like cult led by their warlord Muhammad. Medina Muslims were Islamists, and still are today. People who read the Quran don’t know that the verses in the first third of that book, which read somewhat like the Bible’s Psalms, came from Muhammad’s life in Mecca before he was forced out. The bulk of the Quran came from the warlike cult that spread out from Medina. This explains why Islam seems to be a Doctor Jekyll religion and a Mister Hyde cult at the same time to different people, including Muslims. Are there some good Muslims? Yes. Are there some bad Muslims? Yes.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *