Hazem Saghieh

On the ‘Promises’ of Our Perpetual Wars

In war, belligerents often make major, inflated promises to the population: tomorrow, after our victory, a new era begins. They make this commitment in one way or another through the political and military leaders of the war, and sometimes, intellectuals tie themselves to the cause of the war as their team presents it.

One reason for this is that the sacrifice demanded from the citizens as the fighting goes on must be followed by some kind of moral or material compensation. Otherwise, wars would suddenly seem like a ruse by politicians and the armed forces against the citizens they had misled.

Especially in democratic regimes, in which elections are an unavoidable occasion to hold leaders accountable, linking the fighting to a promise becomes a crucial requisite for allowing politicians to maintain their positions and allowing soldiers to keep fighting their war.

Naturally, exaggerations and even lies - told by officials well aware that what they say is not true - could emerge under such circumstances, especially since our capacity to verify and scrutinize them is undermined during wars. However, this does not alter the general rule: great promises must accompany great wars or else they revert to petty, small ones.

If this assessment is true, it is right for the average Lebanese to ask: why doesn’t something similar happen here? Indeed, he is being dragged by his hair to a state of war that has been ongoing for decades, one that involves intermittent wars fought under the shadow of a massive war looming over the horizon, and the belligerents have told him nothing about what happens the next day.

The fact is that if we were to reexamine the literature of the Lebanese civil war as it had been written by Hezbollah, we would find only two themes: protecting Lebanon’s borders from Israeli violations on land and in the skies - with the maritime border recently added to the list - and exhibiting a rich heritage of death and martyrdom adorned by the names of those who have lost and are losing their lives in wars that are sometimes Lebanese and often not. And while some of the dead had died relatively lately, the majority were fighting for sanctities from a time gone by.

As for protection, it cannot be considered a promise unless we were to assume that we live in a raw state of nature occupied only by wolves. Neither politics nor friendships or guarantees are of any use in dealing with them, while our thoughts and concerns have been reduced to ensuring our immediate physical survival, a task that consumes us in perpetuity.

This is bad enough in terms of our image of humanity, our aspirations, and our dreams, as well as how we see dignity, which is reduced from being a great, free human achievement to launching or receiving a missile.

As for those who died in previous rounds of fighting, they are either non-Lebanese who had failed to address the overwhelming majority of citizens, or they did not set examples worth replicating in the eyes of the majority of those who are skeptical about the inevitability of the state of war.

Moreover, what is true of martyrs is also true of protection, in the sense that neither is a promise, and neither of them should be, even if wars have relied on them as part of their toolkit for mobilizing, generating enthusiasm, and war-mongering.

The contents of this literature stem from the fact that its creators are a single community, not a nation or a people represented by a state that brings them together. This is a fundamental reason why they have not made promises to residents: the group they represent, or rather whose representation they hijacked, does not demand promises, or it does not have the power to make such demands, as it is somewhere between wanting to and being obliged to grant its fighters automatic loyalty.

As for the other communities in the country, they do not have to be promised anything beyond an end to their blackmail and accusations that they are treasonous or lack dignity.

Facing this insufficient promise-making, leftists have often chosen to volunteer to attribute to Hezbollah promises it had never made in the slightest: from extensive progressive programs for liberation entrusted to clerics, to programs that may begin with changing how the banks function and not end with the emancipation of women!

This volunteer effort clearly belongs to the school of lavish promises that the armed Palestinian factions had been known for in the 1960s and 70s. These armed factions, which opened the floodgates of several wars, opted to overcome their communitarian nature following an opposite approach to that taken by Hezbollah. It thus liberated Palestine twenty times in a short day, married the “rose of cities” (Jerusalem) to Sheikh Izz al-Din al-Qassam, and blended Lenin, Guevara, and Hajj Amin Al-Husseini before sending all three to hijack a civilian plane or two. Their “achievements” were gifted to countless millions across the globe.

As for the aspirations of the population, both the Lebanese and Palestinians, it was reduced to a “return” to the places they had been displaced from and their sons and brothers had been slaughtered in.

The literature of our wars has thus shifted from making promises without a second thought, in such a way that scorns every promise and insults every intelligence, to avoiding all promises and seeing nothing in human life but additional years that could be avoided.