It may be time to reconsider the use of such words as “humanitarian” and “humanitarianism”. There has been little of that sort evidenced in the Israel-Hamas War, marked by industrial-mechanised atrocities, enforced deprivation and starvation, orders to evacuate (read expulsion and banishment), preceded by massacres most haunting and visceral. Its constant evocation by various sides of the conflict have given it a diminishing quality, leaving international relations stirring with cant.

Mind you, the term humanitarian had already been pipped and emptied of any solid meaning in the aftermath of the Cold War. Humanitarian intervention became a vicious, evangelised concept, enchanting such figures as the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair with its near biblical promise of saving souls and punishing the wicked in NATO’s Kosovo War. “I saw it as essentially a moral issue,” he claimed in his memoirs. He would also go on to claim that war was “never civilised” but could be “necessary to uphold civilisation.”

In justifying the use of heavy weaponry under the cover of humanitarianism, civilian populations could be attacked, ostensibly to prevent a manic despot or genocidal tyrant from imposing his will. It was used repeatedly in the wars connected with the breakup of Yugoslavia, but it made a boisterous, full-throated showing in NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign, when jets became priests administering death to the unwashed and unbelieving.

The use of sinisterly named “smart bombs” and select targeting became the expressions of a war waged in order to protect a select ethnic group (in this case, the Kosovar Albanians) despite the crude destruction of Serbian critical infrastructure, the crippling of the economy, and the killing of journalists who, for the most part, did not necessarily agree with the government of the day. Along the way, it also meant that NATO could provide exculpatory cover for the violence of the Kosovo Liberation Army against those pedestal-placed nasty Serbs who had fallen behind the very train of history that had venerated them in 1914 and 1941. That’s humanitarianism for you.

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