After the war ended with the total collapse of Nazi Germany, many books about the course of the war appeared. It transpired that the desperate crisis of October 1942 existed only in our imaginations.
The Crete airborne invasion, far from being a brilliant victory, was in reality a disaster. German losses were so high that Hitler forbade any repetition. Not knowing this, the British launched their own airborne operation in Holland towards the end of the war, which was also an unmitigated disaster.
The German troops that had reached the Caucasus were totally exhausted and could march no further south. Of far-away Palestine they could not even dream.
And, most importantly for us, Rommel had reached el Alamein on his last drops of petrol. Hitler, who viewed the entire North African campaign as a wasteful diversion from the main effort -- Russia -- refused to squander his scarce petrol there. He did not give a damn about Palestine. (Even if he did, there was no way to get the petrol across the Mediterranean. The British had broken the Italian naval code and knew of every ship leaving an Italian port.)
The moral of the story: even in the middle of a completely desperate situation, one does not know enough of the facts to lose hope.
BUT THERE is no need to go back 70 years. Enough to look at recent events.
Did anyone of us in Israel believe a year ago that the apathetic, "don't give a damn" youth of our country would suddenly rise in an unprecedented social protest? If somebody had said this a week before it happened, he would have been laughed out of court.
The same would have happened to anyone at the beginning of last year who prophesied that the Egyptians (the Egyptians of all people!) would arise and throw their dictator out. An Arab Spring? Ha-ha-ha!
When I happen to give a talk in Germany, I always ask: "If any one of you believed the day before it happened that the Berlin Wall would fall during his lifetime -- please raise your hand." I never saw a hand rising.
And the greatest event of all, the implosion of the Soviet Union -- who saw it coming? Not the US, with its giant multi-billion intelligence apparatus. Nor our Mossad, with its many collaborators among Soviet Jews.
Neither did any of them foresee the Iranian revolution that drove out the Shah.
The same is true for the many human-made catastrophes during my lifetime, from the Holocaust to Hiroshima.
WHAT DOES that prove? Nothing, except that nothing can be foreseen with any certainty. Human events are shaped by human beings, human beings shape human events. That may be a good reason for pessimism, but also for optimism.
We can prevent disasters. We can bring about a better future. And for that we need optimists who believe that it can be done. Lots of them.
On Israel's 64th Independence Day, the situation looks grim. Peace is a dirty word. Most Israelis are saying: "Peace would be wonderful. I would pay any price for peace. But unfortunately, peace is impossible. The Arabs will never accept us. Therefore the war will go on forever."
That is a very convenient pessimism, absolving us from all guilt, allowing us not to do anything.