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If Sharon had been American

Never in recorded history has a victorious army general been removed from position because of alleged ''indirect'' responsibility for actions committed by soldiers of another country - and yet that is what occurred to Israel's then minister of defense, Ariel Sharon. His failure was not what he personally did or ordered, but what he did not do which others thought he should and could have done, such as exercised greater precaution, foresight, or premonition about the behavior of other troops.

Mind you, the Israeli inquiry commission found neither he nor any other Israeli ''directly'' responsible for the savage deaths at the two Palestinian camps. Nor was any ''conspiracy or plot'' found between Israelis and Phalangists. The massacre was solely the ignoble achievement of the latter.

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The commission nevertheless held that the development of ethical norms requires ''responsibility be placed not just on the perpetrators, but also on those who could and should have prevented the commission of those deeds which must be condemned.''

If such reasoning were adopted by other countries, there would be few, if any , generals or governmental leaders without guilt for present or past actions. Historical revision would render them guilty for wanton deaths and destruction committed by American troops in our wars with Indians, British, Mexicans, Cubans , Spanish, Filipinos, Koreans, Vietnamese. Meanwhile, we have yet to acknowledge officially, let alone indemnify, the Indians for the massive grief caused them.

During and after any of our wars, a case can also be made for ''indirect'' responsibility for killings performed by allies we armed or fed - whether they were Indian allies scalping Englishmen or Frenchmen in colonial wars, our Filipino allies killing Spanish soldiers during the Spanish-American War, our French and English allies bombing German towns during both world wars, and our Vietnamese and Korean allies massacring other Vietnamese and Koreans during recent wars.

True, there were some Americans (and all our enemies) who pointed to crimes committed or abetted by us, but we held no trial on ''indirect'' responsibility - and few on ''direct'' responsibility, which excluded the top brass.

Such ''they too-ism'' does not exculpate Sharon from being criticized. The massacres at Sabra and Shatila took place in an area under his military responsibility, and testimony reveals that he did not order ''appropriate measures for preventing or reducing the danger of massacre.'' Criticism and reprimand were in order, but not removal. The punishment simply did not fit his wrongdoing.

Ironically, while Israel has been praised for its inquiry, the PLO has been ignored, though it engaged in killings and massacres far greater in numbers and time - and with the use primarily of Russian weaponry. Worse yet, the Phalangists, who committed the massacre, have yet to identify one of the culprits. Only Israel investigated and found some of its military and political leaders blameworthy.

While I admire Israel's courage and conviction of morality, I cannot applaud its actions against Sharon and the others, simply because I do not believe in moral scape-goating or self-immolation. Had he and the others led American, British, or French forces in any of their prior wars, he would be fully bemedaled rather than roundly be-smirched.

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