Two Sides

There are always two sides to any conflict. But sometimes that doesn’t mean that both sides have a point. Sometimes one side is flat out wrong.

“There are two sides to every story” has become something of a mantra for journalists. It is not uncommon to be told the sad stories of our enemies, how much they’ve suffered, how miserable their lives have been. The downtrodden, impoverished young minority member languishing unjustly in jail; “nobody knows the trouble” he’s seen. As if that makes robbing the liquor store and gunning down a couple of customers (who are rich and not minority) a reasonable reaction to his state, or at least makes it comprehensible.

This “two sides to every story” is not held to with consistency and rarely is the lack of consistency recognized, because in the echo chamber, there is no inconsistency, ever. The one in the right, the one who is justified is always the minority member who is poor and who has endured hardship. The one who is not poor, is not a minority, and is not downtrodden in that special way deserves to suffer at the hands of the victim who rose up and struck a blow against inequality.

But, despite the narrative that is always true regardless of the facts or reality, I have yet to see “the other side” of racism ever presented, or “the other side” of pedophilia, or the other side rape. Thankfully I have yet to see a story trying to justify the perpetrators of child abuse or rape. But that failure to give the other side of the story of rape demonstrates that the “two sides to every story” is a cliché and widely misapplied by journalists and pundits. The unexpressed thought that “the other side” whatever that other side is, must have legitimate grievances or reasons. And that unexpressed thought is where the flaw is centered.

The operative term being “legitimate” grievances or reasons. And of course we know that while yes, there probably is a point of view that the Nazis and child molesters hold that for them justifies their actions, we really aren’t so interested in knowing what those might be because we know that they cannot possibly justify their reprehensible actions. Even the most feckless journalist and pundit knows on a fundamental level that sometimes the other side is simply wrong or insane or evil. Everyone understands that there really are bad guys in the world.

There is the world that we wish for and then there is the world that is. We would do well to develop our philosophy to match the world that is, rather than the ideal we wish could be. As we think about improving the world, we would also do well to keep in mind reality. The worldview of too many strike me as beautiful sentiments that fit reality as well as the hobo song, Big Rock Candy Mountain:

On a summer day in the month of May a burly bum came hiking
Down a shady lane through the sugar cane, he was looking for his liking.
As he roamed along he sang a song of the land of milk and honey

Nice people will say things like, “why can’t we just all get along” or “why can’t we just live in peace?” As if the sentiment alone will fix the problem, as if people would “just wake up” and “give peace a chance.”

Unfortunately, there are monsters out there. A serial killer is not interested in your pleasant sentiments. The members of the drug cartels in Mexico and other places south who kill people with regularity, cut off heads, and do other horrific crimes are not going to be swayed by us holding hands and learning to sing in “perfect harmony.” Hashtags #givepeaceachance or #endviolence repeated on Twitter, pretty memes reposted and “liked” on Facebook will not change the behavior of the evil and putting a flower in the barrel of a thug’s gun will not slow down his bullets in the slightest.

When it comes to the situation in the Middle East, there are fundamental things to understand about the conflict, the first being that the Israelis are not the ones standing in the way of peace. The Israelis are not the problem. Blaming Israel is like blaming a rape victim.

So who is to blame? Bottom line: Israel’s enemies: those who shoot rockets indescrimately into Israel, those who kidnap children and murder them, those who walk into markets and detonate bombs, those who board busses and machinegun the passengers, those who compare Jews to pigs and apes, those who make Mein Kampf a bestseller throughout Gaza, the Palestinian territories, and the Arab world, those who believe that Jews kill gentile children so they can drain their blood and use it as an ingredient in Passover matzas. Those who teach their children to hate Jews, whose textbooks and teachers teach the children that Jews are an infection on the world that needs to be eradicated, parroting the same language the Nazis used in the 1930s. Those who publish newspapers, print books, broadcast on radio and television the daily instruction, the calls for the destruction of Israel from its politicians and religious leaders, who cry for jihad and the murder of Jews. Few who blame Israel for the lack of peace in the Middle East care to think about inconvenient little details like Mein Kampf remaining a perennial best seller in the Palestinian territories, together with the infamous forgery called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which is accepted as true by most Palestinians. Or when the wide-spread anti-Semitism is mentioned, it is explained away using language remarkably similar to someone trying to blame the rape victim because of how she was dressed: they brought it on themselves.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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