The father of Greek tragedy said it best.
“In war, truth is the first casualty,” Aeschylus wrote more than 2,500 years ago.
The centuries since 550 BCE, when Aeschylus offered that insight, have only established its wisdom.
When combat comes, the blood flowing and the bodies falling force people into camps. Loyalty becomes the paramount virtue. Every event — every fact — must be run through the filter that is one’s primary allegiance, making independent and critical assessments of what is happening and how we got to this point difficult, if not impossible.
We’re seeing that now in the war between Israel and Hamas.
That conflict has carved out deep divisions not just in the Middle East but around the globe, including the United States. Discussions have fast escalated into debates, then to arguments, then to angry disputes.
As is usually the case, the two sides in the dispute have a few things in common.
Both sides insist that their people are the victims in the conflict. That their cause alone is just — and therefore their violent acts alone are justified. And that the other side started the fight.
The reality is, as it always is, more complicated than that.
Wars are launched and waged by human beings, which means they are, by definition, flawed and messy enterprises. Because the stakes — life and death — are so high, the motivation to find fault with anyone who doesn’t agree unreservedly with one’s cause or methods is intense, even overwhelming.
Hence, Aeschylus’ observation about war’s first casualty.
But the truth is that no side in a war ever has a monopoly on virtue, on wisdom, on victimhood, on suffering, on grief.
Or on death.
Contrary to unquestioning partisans on both sides of this conflict, it is possible to keep at least two truths in mind at the same time.
The first is that the Oct. 7 sneak attack on Israel by Hamas was and is morally indefensible. The mass murder of civilians, rape of defenseless women, slaughter of innocent children, indiscriminate beheadings of noncombatants and taking of hostages, many of them ill and elderly, can in no way be legitimized by any sense of grievance.
Anyone who does not acknowledge this truth — or denies the vicious evil of such butchery — lacks a moral compass.
That does not mean, though, that the Palestinians in Gaza do not have valid grievances. Israel’s response to those grievances through decades has been at best cursory and at worst callous or even cruel.
Just as the suffering of the people cannot be used to rationalize the brutality of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, the thuggish amorality of that attack cannot be used to dismiss the just complaints of the people of Gaza.
The truth remains the truth, even when war tries to stack it among the corpses.
There will be no resolution to this horrible conflict until the leaders on all sides realize that — and understand that peace is the only path forward.
The cease-fire that has allowed for hostages to be released demonstrates that.
This temporary stop in the killing is merely a repositioning for continued bloodshed.
The Israelis are trading time to clear their own citizens from the field of battle, thus making it easier for the nation’s armed forces to open fire without fear of killing some of their own.
When the fighting resumes, the Israelis are likely to use even deadlier force than they already have.
Hamas, on the other hand, has been battered by the Israeli response to their attack. The time they buy by releasing hostages here and there allows the terrorists to regroup and retrench, once again using civilians — this time, people from their own side — as human shields against the Israeli forces intent on exacting vengeance.
When the fighting resumes, Hamas will be even more dug in, making the warfare even more savage than before.
Blood and murder will continue to beget blood and murder until leaders on both sides recognize that maybe, just maybe, the other side has a point, too.
War won’t help them grasp that because war never offers an answer to suffering. It merely adds to it.
“War is cruelty,” U.S. Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman said, “and you cannot refine it.”
That was the truth when he said it.
It’s the truth now.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. The views expressed are those of the author only and should not be attributed to Franklin College. Send comments to [email protected].