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Who fired the "first shot"--and when?

By Paul D'Amato | August 25, 2006 | Page 9

POLITICIANS OFTEN justify military action on the grounds that the country they are attacking fired the first shot and is therefore the aggressor. Thus Israel alleges that it wreaks destruction on Lebanon because Hezbollah captured two of its soldiers or that Hezbollah fired rockets into Israel.

The case is made by setting an arbitrary starting point for the conflict (the point at which "we" were attacked) and lopping off all history prior to that point--for example, that Israel has invaded, bombed and made "incursions" into Lebanon for years, or that Hezbollah rockets did not start falling until the Israel Defense Forces started bombing Lebanon.

In any case, trying to figure out who fired the first shot is a poor way to figure out which side, if any, in a war, has justice on its side.

If I ambush the schoolyard bully who has been tormenting me for years, then I "fired the first shot"--so long as we forget the history of bullying. Include the history, and who is the aggressor and who is the defender becomes much clearer.

If, while on his way to Little Big Horn, Custer, instead of making it all the way to the Sioux-Cheyenne encampment for his botched "surprise" attack, had himself been ambushed in his camp by Lakota warriors, then technically speaking, the warriors would have been the ones to fire the "first shot."

But such a "pre-emptive attack" by Native Americans to defend their homeland would have been completely justified.

After the outbreak of the First World War, the ruling clique of every world power in that conflict--Britain, France, Germany and Russia--claimed that they were fighting to "defend the fatherland."

Lenin argued that this was merely a cover for a war in which each great power fought to defend or extend its power, prestige and colonial empire--not protect its national sovereignty. But that did not mean that Lenin denounced all wars; he considered wars of genuine national liberation against colonial or national oppression, or wars waged by oppressed classes, progressive.

"If the 'substance' of a war is...the overthrow of alien oppression...then such a war is progressive as far as the oppressed state or nation is concerned," he wrote. "If, however, the 'substance' of a war is redivision of colonies, division of booty, plunder of foreign lands (and such is the war of 1914–1916), then all talk of defending the fatherland is 'sheer deception of the people.'"

Thus, for Lenin, it didn't matter whether Germany attacked Britain or if Britain attacked Germany in the Second World War. Both were colonial plunderers--one defending an old empire (Britain) and the other (Germany) trying to create its own.

You have to look at what are the war aims of the ruling classes and cliques that are pursuing the war. Only then can you determine the substance of the war.

Likewise, for Lenin, it didn't matter whether India, an oppressed colony of Britain, rebelled and attacked British forces first, because a national revolt, however it is begun, is justified.

"The philistine does not realize that war is 'the continuation of policy,' and consequently limits himself to the formula that 'the enemy has attacked us,' 'the enemy has invaded my country,' without stopping to think what issues are at stake in the war, which classes are waging it, and with what political objects," he wrote.

It is this kind of prescient methodology that is entirely missing in the media when discussing Israel's invasion of Lebanon.

Israel's war aims--though they may not achieve them--are to smash a popular national resistance organization that formed in response to Israel's last occupation of Lebanon. It is a war of a colossal regional power (with backing from the United States) waged on a weaker neighbor in order to extend its regional hegemony.

The substance of Hezbollah's war, on the other hand, is fighting "alien oppression" and is therefore progressive.

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