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November 20, 2017
A HISTORY OF IDIOCY
By Uri Avnery
Source: Gush Shalom
I am furious. And I have good reason to be furious.
I was going to write an article about a subject I have been thinking about for a long
This week I opened the New York Times and lo, my yet unwritten article appeared on
its opinion pages in full, argument after argument.
How come? I have only one explanation: the author – I have forgotten the name – has
stolen the ideas from my head by some magical means, which surely must be branded
as criminal. A person once tried to kill me for doing the same thing to him.
So I have decided to write this article in spite of everything.
THE SUBJECT is idiocy. Particularly, the role of idiocy in history.
The older I get, the more convinced I am that sheer stupidity plays a major role in the
history of nations.
Great Thinkers, compared to whom I am a mere intellectual dwarf, have pursued other
factors to explain what has turned history into a mess. Karl Marx blamed the economy.
The economy has directed humankind from its earliest beginnings.
Others blame God. Religion has caused awful wars, and still does. Look at the
Crusades, which for almost two hundred years raged in my country. Look at the 30-
year War which devastated Germany. No end in sight.
Some accuse Race. Whites against Red Indians. Aryans against Untermenschen.
Nazis against Jews. Terrible.
Or geopolitics. The White Man’s Burden. The Drang-nach-Osten.
For many generations, Great Thinkers have been searching for some deep
explanation for war. There must be such an explanation. After all, terrible historical
events cannot just happen. There must be something profound, something sinister,
which is causing all this untold misery. Something that has accompanied the human
race from its very beginnings, and that still directs our destiny.
I HAVE adopted most of these theories in my time. Many of them impressed me very
much. Great thinkers. Deep thoughts. I have read many thick volumes. But in the end,
they left me unsatisfied.
In the end it hit me. There is indeed one factor common to all these historical events:
I know that this sounds incredible. Foolishness? All these thousands of wars? All
these hundreds of millions of casualties? All these emperors, kings, statesmen,
strategists? All fools?
Recently I was asked for an example. "Show me how it works," an incredulous listener
I mentioned the outbreak of World War I, an event that changed the face of Europe
and the world forever, and which ended just five years before I was born, My earliest
childhood was spent in the shadow of this cataclysm.
It happened like this:
An Austrian archduke was killed in the town of Sarajevo by a Serbian anarchist. It
happened almost by accident: the planned attempt failed, but later the terrorist
happened upon the duke and killed him.
So what? The duke was a quite unimportant person. Thousands of such acts have
happened before and since. But this time the Austrian statesmen thought that this
was a good opportunity to teach the Serbs a lesson. It took the form of an ultimatum.
No big deal. Such things happen all the time. But the powerful Russian empire was
allied with Serbia, so the Czar issued a warning: he ordered the mobilization of his
army, just to make his point.
In Germany, all the red lights went on. Germany is situated in the middle of Europe
and has no impregnable natural borders, no oceans, no high mountains. It was
trapped between two great military powers, Russia and France. For years the German
generals had been pondering how to save the Fatherland if attacked from the two
A master-plan evolved. Russia was a huge country, and it would take several weeks
to mobilize the Russian army. These weeks must be used to smash France, turn the
army around and stop the Russians.
It was a brilliant plan, worked out to the finest detail by brilliant military minds. But the
German army was stopped at the gates of Paris. The British intervened to help
France. The result was a static war of four long years, where nothing really happened
except that millions upon millions of human beings were slaughtered or maimed.
In the end a peace was made, a peace so stupid that it virtually made a Second World
War inevitable. This broke out a mere 21 years later, with even larger numbers of
MANY BOOKS have been written about "July 1914", the crucial month in which World
War I became inevitable.
How many people were involved in decision-making in Europe? How many emperors,
kings, ministers, parliamentarians, generals; not to mention academicians, journalists,
poets and what not?
Were they all stupid? Were they all blind to what was happening in their countries and
throughout their continent?
Impossible, one is tempted to cry out. Many of them were highly competent, intelligent
people, people versed in history. They knew everything about the earlier wars that
had ravaged Europe throughout the centuries.
Yet there you are. All these people played their part in causing the most terrible war
(up to then) in the annals of history. An act of sheer idiocy.
The human mind cannot accept such a truth. There must be other reasons. Profound
reasons. So they wrote innumerable books explaining why this was logical, why it had
to happen, what were the "underlying" causes.
Most of these theories are certainly plausible. But compared to the effects, they are
puny. Millions of human beings marched out to be slaughtered, singing and almost
dancing, trusting their emperor, king, president, commander-in-chief. Never to return.
Could all these leaders be idiots? They certainly could. And were.
I DON'T need the examples of the thousands of foreign wars and conflicts, because I
live in the middle of one right now.
Never mind how it came about, the present situation is that in the land that used to be
called Palestine there live two peoples of different origin, culture, history, religion,
language, standard of living and much more. They are now of more or less equal size.
Between these two peoples, a conflict has now been going on for more than a century.
In theory, there are only two reasonable solutions: either the two peoples shall live
together as equal citizens in one state, or they shall live side by side in two states.
The third possibility is no solution – eternal conflict, eternal war.
This is so obvious, so simple, that denying it is sheer idiocy.
Living together in one state sounds logical, but is not. It is a recipe for constant
conflict and internal war. So there remains only what is called "two states for two
When I pointed this out, right after the 1948 war, the war in which Israel was founded, I
was more or less alone. Now this is a world-wide consensus, everywhere except in
What is the alternative? There is none. Just going on with the present situation: a
colonial state in which 7 million Israeli Jews oppress 7 million Palestinian Arabs. Logic
says that this is a situation that cannot go on forever. Sooner or later it will break
So what do our leaders say? Nothing. They pretend to be oblivious to this truth.
At the top of the pyramid we have a leader who looks intelligent, who speaks well, who
seems competent. In fact, Binyamin Netanyahu is a mediocre politician, without vision,
without depth. He does not even pretend that he has another solution. Nor do his
colleagues and possible heirs.
So what is this? I am sorry to have to say it, but there is no other definition than the
rule of idiocy.