Ralph Peters: Israel is a Civilizing Force
Prior to delivering his speech at the American Friends of Ateret Cohanim's 34th Anniversary Gala, Ralph Peters, Lt. Col. U.S. Army (ret.), showed himself to be the very embodiment of the phrase “an officer and a gentleman,” and despite his highly demanding schedule, found time to grant us the following interview. Though Peters is himself not Jewish, he spoke of his affinity for Israel, throughout both the interview and his keynote address, in terms of a common civilization based on shared Judeo-Christian values.
Daniel Perez: Lt. Col. Peters, if you wouldn't mind explaining for our readers, what was your role during your time in the service?
Ralph Peters: I started as an enlisted man in Military Intelligence. I became an officer, spending a few years in an infantry battalion. Then I became a strategic scout, a Foreign Area Officer, not to be confused with Foreign Service Officer [the latter term referring to civilian U.S. diplomats working for the State Department -ed], in the Army. I was a specialist on the former Soviet Union, but I wound up working in Panama, Pakistan, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, Colombia, Laos, Turkey, the Caucasus, you name it. It was a great opportunity to see the world firsthand. And I think my views and politics are informed by having seen it, not from the embassy balcony, but seeing it from the street level, the reality. And the reality isn't always pretty.
DP: You are widely known for your work as a military strategist, political commentator, and more recently, a novelist. What exactly is your connection to Ateret Cohanim, and Israel activism in general?
RP: My connection is that since childhood I have believed in Israel. I believe in not only Israel's right to exist, but in Israel's mission.
DP: Which is...?
RP: The French would call it the mission civilisatrice; [Israel] is the only civilizing force in the Middle East. The culture of the Arab world, and of Iran, had a great run centuries ago. But over the last several centuries, it has broken down, it has lagged behind, it has become—and it is not politically correct to say it—barbaric. Barbaric in its treatment of women, in its corruption, in its lack of a work ethic, its lack of respect for education, and in its fundamental tyranny on a political, social, and even familial level.
DP: And in what way do you see Israel as a counterbalance to this “barbarity”?
RP: To me, when I look at Israel, I see not only a Jewish state rebuilt on the ancient Jewish homeland, I see an outpost of the civilization in which I believe. Because I do not believe that all civilizations are equivalent. I don't believe in a civilization that torments women and children, that's woefully corrupt, that in the 21st century, not only cannot build a competitive automobile, but cannot even build a competitive bicycle!
And while I wish the Arabs well—I wish no man harm, with the exception of a few terrorists here or there—nonetheless, to me, Israel is a beacon of justice, for rule of law, humanity, decency, culture... in short, Israel belongs to the Jews; it belongs to my civilization.
DP: And how, in your estimation, should this belief in the justice of the Zionist cause translate into action?
RP: I believe that it is important for non-Jewish Americans to actively support Israel, and to, when possible, educate our fellow Americans about the reality, as opposed to the often twisted and perverse version of Israel you get in the press, where the Israelis are somehow the aggressors, and Hamas and Hezbollah, who are raining rockets down on Israeli children, are somehow the good guys... this is madness!
DP: Would that more leaders in our nation's defense establishment shared your moral clarity when it comes to Israel.
RP: Of course the United States of America must act in its own self-interest, and security interests. But what you've got to drive home is that you can't let them chip away at Israel. Because Israel shares our fate. We share Israel's fate because we are—Jews, Christians, and others—brothers and sisters in the practical world of this civilization. And instead of seeing our antitheses, or the differences between us, we've got to learn to defend our common way of life.
DP: So do you see Israel, then, as the proverbial “canary in the coal mine”?
RP: That's certainly one way to look at it. If Israel falls, it is not going to appease the fanatics. And G-d willing, Israel will never fall. But I think too many in the West, in America and especially Europe, believe that Israel is the problem. Israel is not the problem! The problem is the catastrophic breakdown of the Muslim civilization of the Middle East. And there is one thing that Arab world will never forgive Israel for, and that is for succeeding.
DP: Indeed. I recently read an article by an expert on Islamic anti-Semitism, and attended a speech by former Israeli Ambassador Yehuda Avner, both of which seemed to touch upon this same issue; namely, that the Jewish people's re-emergence as a subject of history rather than a mere object, and as a sovereign nation (i.e. Israel), is one of the key factors underlying the surge of Jew-hatred in the modern-day Middle East. Not that it didn't exist before, but rather, that this new wave of Jewish success brought this anti-Jewish sentiment bubbling to the surface, as it were.
RP: Well, to be fair, let's turn the tables. Suppose our civilization was in utter collapse and failure; the things we valued didn't work anymore. And here you have the Arab civilization, their traditional values don't work. They didn't work in the 19th century, they didn't work in the 20th, and they certainly don't work in the 21st. They're humiliated, and when people are humiliated, they don't really want to know what the problem is; they want somebody to blame. So, instead of rolling up their sleeves and fixing it—and some of the leaders of the so-called “Arab Spring” are trying, but failing—they blame Israel, they blame the United States. Israel and the United States share that. Our “crime” is success.
DP: Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me, , Lt. Col. Peters.
RP: It was my pleasure.