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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The other shoe boot finally drops

I hate to say 'I told you so'... but on several occasions I have written about the inherent danger of encouraging soldiers to refuse orders and include themselves in the national debate... and now we are starting to see the frightening results of doing so.

At the risk of sounding callous, I firmly believe that soldiers should have no voice in the national debate, even though they are quite obviously the instrument of national policy.  The reason is as follows:

For as long as humans have been participating in warfare there has existed the necessity to use rigorous physical, and more importantly psychological training to force soldiers to abandon their individuality, and to suppress the most basic human instincts for self-preservation. 

Basic training is obviously about getting potential soldiers into physical shape for the rigors of war.... but the primary goal of basic (and subsequent) training is to undo a lifetime of human mental conditioning.

Think about it for a moment... would a typical person be capable of standing up and running towards an enemy who is shooting at him/her?  Would a typical moral person be able to instantly carry out an order to take another human's life?  These two human obstacles must be overcome before someone can make the transition from civilian to effective soldier.

This isn't to say that soldiers abandon all aspects of humanity and morality.  But the nuances of ethics and morality in combat are only re-introduced after most instincts for individuality and self-preservation are trained out of a soldier.

The problems begin when we start inviting soldiers to participate in policy debates.

At certain times in Israeli history, both the political left and right have been guilty of asking soldiers to think as individuals and encouraging them to refuse orders.  Both sides have justified this dangerous practice by pointing out the larger legal and moral issues involved. 

The danger that both sides have willfully ignored is that, aside from blatantly illegal/immoral orders, soldiers should possess no mechanism for complex decision making.  Individual thought and expression are tools that they should have left laying next to the clumps of hair under the basic training barber's chair!

I know this sounds harsh, but the only way military units are able to operate effectively as a team and come home safely is if each soldier functions like a cog in a machine.  When soldiers start to weigh decisions as individuals against the needs of the unit, military funerals quickly become a growth industry.

People, if you feel that the Israeli government should adopt or abandon a certain military policy, you need to find a way to apply pressure to the hand that wields the sword... not to the point of the sword itself. 

Soldiers are the point of our national sword.  Without them the nation can no longer defend itself. In a healthy democracy, the people who formulate military policy and the public that ostensibly controls them should be able to debate and formulate policy.  But to invite the business end of government military policy - the soldiers - into the discussion, is to invite disaster. 

Posted by David Bogner on November 29, 2005 | Permalink


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Er, David, I think you missed the point of the article. My understanding was that the soldiers refused their orders not because they were involved in policy debate, or if it had anything to do with anti/pro-disenagegment and/or human rights and or any political/national debate.

The problem was that the soldiers were being sent on a suicide mission, since the IDF, the Supreme Court and the Knesset has thrown these soldiers to the dogs. No longer can the "neighbor method" be used. No longer can a house with terrorists in it be bombed. When Fuad said, I would rather send in Jewish soldiers to be killed, rather than bomb a house from above -- its understandable why soldiers might refuse orders.

If you want to adopt the position that soliders need to carry out suicide orders regardless, that's a position to debate.

However, I don't think its fair to link that issue to the political refusing of orders from this past summer.

Posted by: Jameel Rashid | Nov 29, 2005 12:11:17 PM

Jameel Rashid... No, that was not the point of the story and clearly it was not a 'suicide mission' if their comrades returned safely from the mission.

Yes, the abolishment of the policy which allowed the IDF to use neighbors as human shields has made some operations more dangerous. But unless neighbors actively assists a terrorist, they are entitled to be respected as non-combatants! We can't decry attacks on our civilian poulation while deliberately putting theirs in harms way.

The report stated that "they were unable to participate in the raid, stating they feared for their lives. They explained to their commander that their feelings stemmed from a recent operation they participated in which was carried out under constant Palestinian gunfire."

Every soldier who has ever been involved in combat has had to deal with the possibility, or even probability of operating under fire. Without the kind of conditioning I mentioned above, this kind of 'work environment' would be impossible for a human being to consider.

I did not imply that these soldiers had refused for political reasons, but rather that the recent trend towards encouraging soldiers to formulate individual opinions and to become actors in the political arena has eroded crucial aspects of the their training essential to carrying out such dangerous operations.

Posted by: David | Nov 29, 2005 12:43:47 PM

I don't see the link between the unwillingness of these soldiers to carry out their mission, and the involvement of soldiers in political action or policy decisions (and I agree with you that they shouldn't be involved.)

These guys were scared to go in; to borrow your metaphor, they were "broken cogs" and to their credit they recognised this. They clearly weren't the kind of guy you want watching your back (or at least, weren't capable of being that guy at that moment when they refused orders.)

It seems like a failure of recruitment procedures, or of ongoing unit morale, or of training ... but not an issue of politics.

Important disclaimer: My military experience is limited to a boyhood playing with Action Man. I readily defer to those of you who served to set me straight. (I believe the American equivalent of Action Man is GI Joe. I won't tell you what the English thought of GI Joe!)

Posted by: Andy Levy-Stevenson | Nov 29, 2005 1:07:23 PM

Andy... Yes, this is a morale issue.... but not an isolated one. When an individual soldier loses his nerve or decides for whatever reason not to follow orders, that is a training problem or perhaps a character issue. But when a group of soldiers refuses orders there has to be a larger force at work. The events of the past year or two have encouraged soldiers to begin thinking as individuals, and I have pointed out several times that individuals find it extremely difficult (or even impossible) to carry out dangerous/lefe-threatening orders. This is human nature. Despite what the films might want us to think... a bunch of sensitive individualists rarely survive in battle.

Posted by: David | Nov 29, 2005 1:22:36 PM

I have to agree with Andy here. For whatever reason, these soldiers were not motivated properly (perhaps justified, as Jameel said, perhaps not), and refused to fulfill orders due to concerns about their personal safety. It should be noted that they did this on their base, rather than in the heat of combat deciding that they're going to run back home. Halachically, any soldier who is afraid is exempt from fighting, and should be discharged (or sent to work in a non-combat role -- but not fight where he may not merit divine protection and/or endanger others) (for bonus points, see what the Rambam writes about what a soldier should think about during war). The only discussion here is whether these soldiers had a legitimate objection (as per Jameel) or whether they weren't motivated properly (is that PC talk for chicken?). Not knowing the situation, I don't think any of us can decide which is the true cause (least of all me, who was rejected by the IDF ).

Posted by: Mike Miller | Nov 29, 2005 1:22:44 PM

David -

I showed this article to several people yesterday, and the majority opinion was that the reason the soliders refused to act, is that they were scared of getting needlessly killed under fire. We hear way too often now of the IDF being forced to compromise on the safety of our soliders at the expense of politcally correct "engagement."

I am well aware of the need to attack under fire, and all the military doctrine that surrounds it.

However, its difficult for me to reach the same conclusion that you reached, that the "recent trend towards encouraging soldiers to formulate individual opinions and to become actors in the political arena has eroded crucial aspects of the their training essential to carrying out such dangerous operations."

Lastly, just because their comrades made it back safely, does not mean they weren't placed in needless danger.

Posted by: Jameel Rashid | Nov 29, 2005 2:07:02 PM

Jameel.... it's not a soldier's position to judge whether their mission brings undue risk of "getting NEEDLESSLY killed."

Their decision was in no means political, but the environment of politicizing the soldiers at the tip of the spear made it easier for them to make that personal judgement. It most certainly IS a training issue... they have, in effect, been trained to think and act independently of the unit... That's NOT a good thing for combat units. I think that's the point David took from the story, and it's absolutely valid.

It's right and good to weed out those soldiers who cannot perform in combat before they are placed in harm's way, but over-politicizing individual soldiers makes effective training much more difficult.

Posted by: Ocean Guy | Nov 29, 2005 2:44:00 PM

Ocean Guy and David; You have to wonder a bit more about these soldiers. They were in a n "elite" comabt unit. You don't get into units like that, unless you've gone through lots of tests...and pre-combat training.

This apparently wasn't the first time these soliders had seen comabt, which makes the entire story even stranger. Why would 3 soldiers in an elite combat unit suddenly "chicken out?"

When I did some training last week in the IDF, we were given an almost impossible situation to deal with. Everyone in my unit, without fail, jumped into the line of fire. (granted, it was paintball, but very painful). After getting nailed 3 or 4 times, I asked my instructor to help reduce my "getting killed" stats. After a while, everyone started questioning the logic of the particular excersize...which was very painful.

Does it sound logical to you that 3 elite comabt soliders got scared because of shooting? There must be some additional points that we're missing here.

Posted by: Jameel Rashid | Nov 29, 2005 2:55:48 PM

Mike Miller... Except for very narrow areas that constitute potential war crimes, soldiers aren't allowed the luxury of "a legitimate objection". In a combat operation you don't get to take out your dog-eared copy of 'Robert's Rules of Order' and start debating the merits of the mission. Yet this is exactly the entitlement we are encouraging our soldiers to take for themselves.

OceanGuy... If it wasn't for the 'don't ask don't tell' policy, I'd give you a big wet kiss! Oh wait, we're both out of the service! :-) Anyway, I appreciate you adding your 2 cents... you clarified a few things I was having trouble expressing.

Jameel Rashid... "There must be some additional points that we're missing here."

There are, and that is the point of my post. You are looking for something specific on which to pin the blame the fact that these soldiers opted (chickened) out. While I maintain that it is the general trend of encouraging soldiers to think and act as if they were regular members of society that is to blame. Being in combat may help some soldiers become mentally prepared for future missions... or it may cause soldiers to cast about for just cause not to come under fire again. A lot would depend on how acceptable refusal has become in society and within the military.

The act of standing up and running into machine gun fire runs counter to every human instinct for self-preservation that we have. Part of what makes such a counter-evolutionary act possible is the intensive training that soldiers undergo. But an essential component of that training is the communal shame that goes with not getting up and running into gunfire. Shame is a powerful motivator and is essential in combat units. Essentially, if the training has been done well, a soldier would rather risk death than have to face the scorn of his comrades. What society does when it introduces the possibility that it is OK to refuse some orders is erode the shame factor and create opportunities for soldiers to examine every scenario and make case-by-case decisions on whether to follow orders. A soldier who is encouraged to examine orders on a case-by-case basis is a danger to himself as well as to the rest of his unit.

Posted by: David | Nov 29, 2005 3:40:29 PM

David - While I agree with most of what you wrote, its difficult for me to accept your hypothesis that it was "the general trend of encouraging soldiers to thank and act as if they were regular members of society that is to blame." It seems too strange to me that 3 elite combat soldiers would opt out, and that the "shame" aspect wasn't strong enough to make a difference.

I will try to give you a call this evening, as I want to know how you would deal with the training excersize I had last week.

Posted by: Jameel Rashid | Nov 29, 2005 3:56:04 PM

Jameel... You've made my point for me. One person backing out is shameful, but three guys backing out is a policy decision. Only one problem: Soldiers aren't supposed to be formulating policy... unless, of course society tells them it's OK to do so (which we have). I'll look forward to your call.

Posted by: David | Nov 29, 2005 4:08:57 PM

This is a fascinating discussion, and I find Jameel Rashid's comments very thought provoking. Perhaps there are two political forces at play. Perhaps on one hand you have engagement policies that place soldiers in increasing danger for the protection of Palestinian non-combatants. That, in itself, might be somewhat demoralizing for soldiers though I agree it is a decision not to be made by the soldiers. On the other hand you had last summer calls for soldiers to refuse orders on their own conscience. This is the result.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Nov 29, 2005 4:21:37 PM

David -- Thanks for your clarification -- I was trying to clarify what you consider to be "fair game" for contemplation. However, according to your initial post, the soldiers in question appear to have done nothing wrong, as their decision was not made during combat, but (presumably) during a pre-mission briefing of some form. Thus, their refusal does not limit their capabilities as otherwise competant soldiers, nor endanger their comrades. However, perhaps you were suggesting that this implies (enough hedges?) a certain hesitancy on their part, due to outside pressures suggesting "think" instead of "do". Could be.

Posted by: Mike Miller | Nov 29, 2005 4:47:25 PM

David - Agreed.

My husband served 3 and a half years in a combat unit and served in and around the Lebanese border during the eighties. He is very pragmatic about basic training, he says that they tear you apart and then put you back together for the purpose of following orders. He says that the job of the soldier is to do, not to think, thinking is the job of the officers and that is why the officer stays on the front line - to back up his plans and provide leadership. I agree that apart from the most basic moral issues, if soldiers spend too much time thinking about what they will or will not do, the whole army would fall apart. They have the choice not to be in a combat unit and even to be a conscientious objector if they don't agree with army policies.
I don't know how much recent calls for soldiers to refuse orders played a part, but if there have been a lot of calls recently, and if people have followed them then there may be a prevailing atmosphere that encouraged these soldiers to do what they did. Allowing soldiers to opt out during disengagement, even though that was a unique situation, may have also encouraged the trend to think of some army actions as "optional". It is also not helpful that the army frequently fulfills the role of policeman in the territories - policemen usually are required to put more thought into actions as they relate to the law.

Finally - I do think that there is a place for second thought but that would be at the higher levels, such as of general when a lot of lives are on the line and the government may be out of control - but of course that is a whole other bag of worms and leads us to the fine line over which we have a military coup and the breakdown of democracy.

I was the hawk - whoda thunk it.

Posted by: Lisoosh | Nov 29, 2005 4:52:19 PM

The problem was that the soldiers were being sent on a suicide mission

You mean like Iwo Jima? Or Guadalcanal? That's what makes them soldiers, sugar.

Posted by: Tanya | Nov 29, 2005 4:58:59 PM

Foresight is a gift, you can say ‘ I told you so’ any day.
I don’t know if a soldier should do something that is morally reprehensible to him, one day he will leave the army but those acts of immorality will haunt him.

Posted by: Jacky | Nov 29, 2005 5:11:05 PM

Foresight is a gift, you can say ‘ I told you so’ any day.
I don’t know if a soldier should do something that is morally reprehensible to him, one day he will leave the army but those acts of immorality will haunt him.That's a heavy price to pay.

Posted by: Jacky | Nov 29, 2005 5:11:35 PM

Jameel - I asked my husband about the exercise. He said the point is you're not supposed to think about the point or the logic of it. You are just supposed to do it. That is the army.

I told David a story which I will repeat here:
A boyfriend was turned down for the Air Force specifically because psychological tests showed that he was too liable to think before acting. They do test elite combat soldiers before entering so the social theory does carry some weight.

Posted by: lisoosh | Nov 29, 2005 5:23:26 PM

I take it back about the general. Generals should not argue policy, only methodology.

Posted by: lisoosh | Nov 29, 2005 5:27:14 PM

Tanya: In WWII there was no such thing a fighting "politically correct", and you didn't have leftists all over the place making your life miserable.

Soliders in Iraq have the backing of the US military.

Things in Israel aren't as clear...

Posted by: Jameel Rashid | Nov 29, 2005 5:27:42 PM

lisoosh: The stuff I do in the IDF involves alot of personal decision making, and not blindly following orders. Its not only working as a unit, but independant decision making as well.

(That's why we had so many questions on the particular excersize...as to was it the right thing to do in real life)

Posted by: Jameel Rashid | Nov 29, 2005 5:31:31 PM

Jameel -- yes, you are making decisions -- but (I assume) those are tactical decisions, not strategic. Thinking of the best way to accomplish a given mission vs. thinking of the best mession to accomplish are two _very_ different things.

Posted by: Mike Miller | Nov 29, 2005 5:58:27 PM

Jameel: Since when do "leftists all over the place making your life miserable" dictate your orders as a soldier?

Posted by: Tanya | Nov 29, 2005 6:02:22 PM

Jameel - actually, there was hardly a consensus in the US about WWII, there was quite a large movement AGAINST entering, even after Pearl Harbour. A lot has been forgotton as we look back with hindsight and essentially judge it to be a just war - especially in light of the actions of Nazi Germany.

Posted by: lisoosh | Nov 29, 2005 6:43:41 PM

Tanya: I've noticed the following very often; When the "Machsom Watch" women stand in front of soldiers at IDF checkpoints, they harass the soliders, take pictures of them, and make the soliders feel so uncomfortable about following orders, that the soliders often don't do they job they are supposed to do.

There have been incidents near Hawara for example (where Palestinian kids try to smuggle through weapons and homicide bomb belts) where "Machsom Watch" harass the soliders so much, that kids go through the checkpoint without being checked.

Ditto for PCRC ambulances, despite the countless times the ambulances smuggled terrorists.

Jameel: Since when do "leftists all over the place making your life miserable" dictate your orders as a soldier?

Posted by: Jameel Rashid | Nov 29, 2005 6:51:59 PM

"But the nuances of ethics and morality in combat are only re-introduced after most instincts for individuality and self-preservation are trained out of a soldier."

Personally I don't remember the “Reintroduction of Ethics” class during training. I must have been sleeping.


When you consider lately how many Israeli soldiers (in Israel and overseas) are investigated, prosecuted, and now even libeled on Dayan's Uvda show, just for doing their job, any normal soldier will begin to think twice before going on a mission, or worse, will pause before pulling the trigger on an unequivocal threat since it may legally affect his personal future.

These days' soldiers definitely have to take into account the personal ramifications of their actions, whether they are given the tools to do so or not.

An army that is “just following orders” might be OK when those giving the orders are basically moral and are utilizing the army properly and morally.

But what happens when those giving you orders taint then with orders that should only be given to civilian forces? Suddenly your role as a soldier defending the people and the state becomes confused.

What happens when the inability to properly distinguish between friend and foe trickles down into the army because of cynical government propaganda?

That is what the Left’s capitulating philosophy has drilled into our soldiers.

Ehud Barak leaving behind the soldiers at Tze’elim, and then the soldier at Joseph’s tomb, and even having Pollard still in prison, have made our soldiers wary of the pledge that no one will be left behind and that the army and government stands behind them and will provide support.

A few years into Oslo the Palestinians surrounded a bus full of Golani trainees and made them give up their weapons. That should never be the action of Golani soldiers, nor the army.

In the end, we’re still a civilian army and our boys (hopefully) will still go home and have to live with what they’ve done for the rest of their lives.

There’s no pride in kicking your brother out of his home.

And there’s no sense in going on a mission for a government that you don’t trust to stand behind you or utilize you properly, against an enemy your government has told you for the past decade is your peace partner.

The cognitive dissonance is simply too much.

Posted by: JoeSettler | Nov 29, 2005 7:21:43 PM

JoeSettler: My sentiments exactly. Thanks for the eloquence.

Posted by: Jameel Rashid | Nov 29, 2005 7:36:00 PM

Jameel - just out of curiousity, for how long did you serve and in what general area (no need to be exact).

Another question: someone mentioned halacha. What is halacha towards using civilian bystanders as shields, actively involving them as opposed to collateral losses?

Joe Settler - so are you saying that soldiers should refuse to serve or refuse orders if they don't agree with govenment policy? That seems to be the jist of it apart from mentioning orders that should be civilian (policing) which I would agree with.

Posted by: Lisoosh | Nov 29, 2005 7:52:30 PM

dave, I have some comments about your statements;
1. the unit must work together to avoid fatalities, but you did not clarify that the unit should include the entire chain of command all the way up to the policy makers.
2. if you don't trust part of the unit(as demonstrated in recent events to back you) then you do have a logical problem in being sent to die for them.
3. this is being fought as a policing action and not a war the same way the US is doing in Iraq the soldiers have to fill out reports evrytime they fire their weapons. where is the trust you have in your fighting men if evryone is looking over their shoulder and they start to do the same.

Posted by: dave | Nov 29, 2005 8:10:28 PM

I am saying that it is inevitable that in a situation where one keeps receiving contradictory doctrines, principles, and real-world examples from the same authoritative sources then eventually the soldier will be forced to make some decision to resolve those contradictions.

(Mice in similar situations usually lie down and die).

Personally, if I had been in the army at the time and received an order to kick out my friends and family from their homes, you bet I’d refuse.

From my point of view and upbringing, that is a blatantly immoral order and I wouldn’t and couldn’t fulfill it – just like I refused an illegal order to desecrate the Shabbat at one point for something unrelated to security and army duties (because my commander was so ignorant he didn’t even know it was against Halacha).

There are significant difference between a professional army (like the U.S. Navy) and a civilian army (like the IDF). The motivation is different, the environment is different, the civilian-military interaction is different, and certainly in our case, the political situation is different.

A US Navy smurf become completely disconnected from the world during Basic and then may not see home or family for months at a time. IDF trainees on the other hand go home after a few days and then every other week to Mommy for the next 3 years, and he remains very immersed in Israeli civilian life.

The end result is a different kind of soldier. Not better or worse. Just different.

Posted by: JoeSettler | Nov 29, 2005 9:26:40 PM

Doctor Bean... Way to sit on the fence Tevye (on the other hand...) ! :-)

Mike... I made no such distinction. Soldiers should not be thinking about whether to follow an order, much less talking with one another about whether to follow orders. The fact that these soldiers felt empowered to make this decision is (IMHO) a direct result of having been empowered by the public to refuse other orders.

Lisoosh... I was going to argue with your point about differentiating between lower and upper level soldiers but I see you corrected yourself. The Government sets policy and gives the military objectives. The Generals decide how to achieve those objectives and the chain of command from that point down is iron clad... just follow all [legal] orders.

Tanya... I agree. Unfortunately film and television have given people the idea that for a military operation to be both moral and successful everyone has to come home safe and sound. Granted the IDF has a much lower tolerance for casualties than the US and it shows in the way operations are planned and executed. But casualties are part of war.

Jacky... I was very careful to point out that soldiers are empowered to understand the difference between a legal and illegal order. When I say 'illegal orders' I'm talking about slaughtering civilian non-combatants or similar atrocities. Soldiers have to live with a lot of bad dreams for the rest of their lives... but they have the right not to participate in a massacre.

Jameel... As others have pointed out, there were many who wanted the US to remain neutral even after Pearl Harbor, and a healthy opposition is always a good thing. But there is a fine line between advocating an opposition position and aiding the enemy by undermining morale. Everything is a matter of inches, not miles. Also, Machsom Watch is a side issue that is not pertinent to this discussion. If soldiers feel some or all of the public is unsupportive of their role it can obviously have a terrible effect on morale. But that is not what made these soldiers refuse to carry out a combat mission. They did so because they felt they had the right to refuse. Anyone who ever told a soldier to refuse orders in the past is partially responsible for creating an environment where these latest refusals could take place.

JoeSettler... If someone wants to opt out of the army or be a jobnik during his or her service, they have that right. But you can't volunteer for a combat unit and then pick and choose what orders you will follow because you feel the government has not been historically supportive of its troops. Sorry, it doesn't work like that.

Dave... 1. No it shouldn't. The policy makers are not part of the unit. They are not answerable to the unit and are not obliged to tell the unit any more than they absolutely need to know. The chain of command includes all the people you mentioned but they are not part of the same population.. 2. If someone doesn't trust the chain of command in a combat unit he needs to get out of it and find another unit he does trust (or go to a non-combat unit). 3. This is the nature of the conflict. We didn't ask for a war with an enemy that wears no uniforms and respects no conventions. These three soldiers knew that when they volunteered for an elite unit. In for a penny... in for a pound.

Joe Settler... You are still going on about things that have no bearing on a soldier's responsibilities to himself, his unit and his country. If your thesis is really that a soldier has the right to refuse if he is dissatisfied with the leadership or judgement of his government then what we have is anarchy. With very few exceptions, when soldiers think too much, they and their comrades die.

Posted by: David | Nov 29, 2005 9:42:10 PM

Fascinating thread. One of the interesting issues that has come up is the issue of halacha and how it should impact a soldier's behavior.

Since I have never served in the Israeli Army (or any army for that matter, except the Army of Hashem when I was a kid :)) I'm curious how halacha plays into the daily goings on. Joe Settler expressed that he did not follow an order because it desecrated the Sabbath, and was unrelated to security or army duties so that was OK. He expressed exasperation at his (likely secular) commander not knowing it was against Halacha.

So is any soldier in the IDF allowed to make a psak halacha as to whether or not something is permissible? Certainly if halacha prohibits suicide and a soldier feels that a mission is suicidal, does halacha trump all and he doesn't need to go? How is that different from a soldier objecting to doing something on other political, ethical or moral grounds?

Posted by: wanderer | Nov 29, 2005 10:28:23 PM

I'm more curious about the big picture...If almost everyone in Israel serves in the military, and the military trains people to turn off their conscience and become mindless automatons, doesn't that create a fascist or totalitarisn society?

Posted by: Elizabeth | Nov 29, 2005 10:44:24 PM

Wanderer... I'll leave the ahlachic issue to someone who has served in the IDF.

Elizabeth... As I replied to your comment on yesterday's post, I see you clearly have an agenda and have not really posed a serious question about this post. Agendas are OK... this is not an agenda-free zone, but this is not how we exchange ideas here at treppenwitz. I welcome a bright new opinion from the left as we tend to get more commenters from the right here... but I have to insist that you refrain from the "are you still beating your wife" type questions. You may not realize it, but your question: "If almost everyone in Israel serves in the military, and the military trains people to turn off their conscience and become mindless automatons, doesn't that create a fascist or totalitarisn society?" sounds suspiciously like an attempt to simplify a very complex collection of loosely related issues into a nice neat 'If A = B and B = C then A = C. Unfortunately life, history and the facts on the ground do not allow such a neat 'film at 11' wrap-up of the situation here. If you are seriously interested in hearing a range of views and ideas on life here as expressed by people that actually have some personal experiences (from the right and the left) then stick around. If you simply want to pick a fight, there are better places to do so.

Posted by: David | Nov 29, 2005 10:56:56 PM

I never said or implied that combat soldiers can or should pick their missions.

But for example, one of the major motivating tools in the Israeli army is that 'no soldier is left behind'. It is repeated very, very often.

When suddenly and very publicly that is shown to be false time and time again, suddenly that motivational tool is useless and you are left with a very confused soldier who no longer trusts his commanders, the IDF and the government.

When soldiers are told that they are not to fire back on the enemy who is firing on them because that enemy in the patrol jeep in front of him is actually his “peace partner”, you are left with a very unmotivated soldier who does not want to be in a situation where it is not clear to him who he is allowed to shoot, and when he is allowed to defend himself without going to jail.

I am simply describing the inevitable end results of the poor, immoral and misguided political decisions and policies that currently (negatively) affect the IDF.

Certainly in our current political and legal atmosphere, it is clear that a soldier has a personal obligation to recognize right from wrong, as well as legal from illegal, as he will be held personally responsible for his actions.

Confirming a kill is illegal, yet if you don’t do it, someone (or everyone) in your unit might end up dead. Can you order your soldiers to do it? Should they do it?

Soldiers are human beings, and no amount of indoctrination can or should ever take that away.

What should be driving soldiers are positive motivations like family, duty, and patriotism, not some indoctrination that turns them into mindless automatons and murdering psychopaths.

Positive driving factors ultimately makes for better motivated soldiers that will react timely and properly with the proper training. Just look at Cpl. Markovitch as an excellent example.

Cogs in a machine, on the other hand, sometimes just break from the stress.

As a side point, in the IDF, once you get drafted you have very little say in getting out of a combat unit once they decide that you are going to be in a combat unit.

Posted by: JoeSettler | Nov 29, 2005 10:59:17 PM

Joe Settler.
From what I can see, you are frustrated with public policy and feel sympathy for soldiers who feel as you do and act on it.
Trouble is, if you advocate soldiers refuse orders it swings in the opposite direction too.
So leftist soldiers can pick and choose too:
They could refuse to guard settlements they don't agree with.
They could refuse to demolish houses based on the immorality of collective punishment.
They could refuse to fire a strategic air strike based on the presence of civilians.
They could refuse to produce sonic booms over population centers.
They could refuse to man checkpoints.
Point is, you could go on and on with this and David is right - it would produce anarchy at the worst and a totally ineffective army at the very least.
The fact that the Israeli army is a civilian army is irrelevant. It is still expected to behave professionally and there are numerous "professions" within the army. David is right, if someone does not want to follow all orders in a combat unit, don't join the combat unit, there are plenty of other options.
It seems that your problem is not with the army rather than with civilian USE of the army. The correct place to combat this is in the Knesset, and in the forum of public opinion not on the field.

I'll say it again. David is Right.

Posted by: Lisoosh | Nov 29, 2005 10:59:44 PM

Joe Settler - I know lots of people who got out of combat units.

Posted by: Lisoosh | Nov 29, 2005 11:15:56 PM

Wanderer: You’ve just wandered into a very complicated area in the army.

As I recall it, the army by law is not allowed to give orders that cause a soldier to violate halacha (like Shabbat and Kashrut).

There is absolutely no violation of halacha if it is connected to your security related army duties.

It might not be the best or most accurate example, but if you are a cook in the army, you can’t cook on Shabbat if your officer told you to make him an egg because he was hungry, but if the unit needed a solid meal before going out on a mission and everything you have requires cooking, then it would probably be allowed.

Platoons have Rabbis who are supposed to help ensure that illegal orders (against halacha) aren’t issued, or at least not to those that care about it. And the army has a Chief Rabbi to give any final psak.

Before being drafted we learned in Yeshiva the Halachot relating to the army (I don’t really remember them anymore though). Certainly the more common questions have been dealt with already.

Religious soldiers generally don’t play around with this. If they say something is open-and-shut against halacha, it generally is.
The long-term ramifications of lying, etc. are too severe to consider.

Unlike other armies, the IDF is less rigid and formal (understatement). Individual soldiers receive quite a lot of responsibility and even some autonomy. Soldiers are expected to find improvised solutions, its part of the training. They are given a lot of trust.

It’s simply a different army than the US army.

Posted by: JoeSettler | Nov 29, 2005 11:36:21 PM

The only people that I know that deliberately got out of combat units, got out on: a. psych discharges, b. fake injuries c. sitting in jail for refusing to go where they were told to serve, and of course the all-time favorite d. influential parents.

Once again, I repeat, I am not advocating any behavior or disregard for orders.

I am describing an observed situation where soldiers feel unmotivated or confused because of the mixed (or subjectively immoral) messages they receive from the top down and how that directly affects their ability to do a particular job. It can be on the left or the right.

As Jameel once pointed out to me (correct me if I’m wrong Jameel), he prefers that radical leftists don't man checkposts.
He doesn't trust that a soldier like that will do his job properly when that soldier feels that it is immoral, inhumane, humiliating, etc. while never considering that by being nice and letting that old Palestinian lady through without checking her, he just let a bomb get into Tel Aviv.

I've personally seen soldiers act that way (not with a bomb though), and I've seen a soldier suddenly refuse to enter into combat situations with the unit (I don't know what happened to him afterwards).

So you know what, if someone finds something so absolutely immoral and abhorrent (and there is no immediate danger) then let him face the consequences of his actions and beliefs; yes, let him sit in jail for a while; let him get court martialed, and then get thrown out or turned into a jobnik, unless after the court martial he was proven right.

I personally wouldn’t want to trust my life to someone who doesn’t believe in what he’s doing, when push comes to shove, no amount of indoctrination is going make that person into a reliable cog.

But the whole point is irrelevant, the IDF doesn’t create cogs.

It tries to create motivated soldiers with proper reactive training.

The upside is that IDF soldiers react incredibly well to spontaneous and difficult situations, the downside is that there is a certain level of anarchy and autonomy in the army. That’s it.

Posted by: JoeSettler | Nov 30, 2005 12:24:32 AM


Apologies, I've been writing your moniker wrong.

Posted by: JoeSettler | Nov 30, 2005 12:33:05 AM

Joe Settler

Reading your posts I do understand in some regard where you are coming from and in some things I agree with you. Noone wants soldiers to be mindless automatons and certainly not murdering psychopaths. I have felt the sadness just as many others have in seeing young boisterous boys of 18 return from a few months of basic training as serious men.
However, all you are really arguing for (and successfully I might add) is a solid, comprehensive policy regarding the occupied territories and the use of the army there that has the support of the majority of Israelis. Check previous comments sections and you will see that that is exactly what I think is part of the problem in Israel at the moment. If you were to argue that there is a strong case to be made to tone down the use of the army in the territories and increase numbers of policemen to actually police the area, then yes, I would agree with you there also.
However. The army is just that, an army. Its job is to function in wartime and I don't know anyone who would argue that war is a pleasant thing. Military thinking, and training suggests that discipline is one of the most important things if not most important thing that allows the army to function effectively and that includes the self discipline to follow orders in the field, even though the soldier may not agree with it. (And yes, I think that there is a moral imperative to refuse certain orders - mass murder and rape spring to mind, all thing condemned by the international community). Each soldier in the field relies on the idea that his fellow soldiers will be following the same orders and there to protect him if need be.
The place to make a stand is in politics, not the battleground.

I could be a real lefty here and say that if we withdraw from the OC and build a nice border then many of these problems would go away. Don't hit me.

Posted by: lisoosh | Nov 30, 2005 1:28:15 AM

or Anne or whatever you are calling yourself these days.
Not everyone serves in the army. Even fewer serve in combat units. All armies require discipline and the ability to follow orders to function, the soldiers are allowed to switch this off when they go home.
Totalitarian states require a dictator, Israel has elections, open and fair even if you don't like the outcome.

Posted by: lisoosh | Nov 30, 2005 1:41:15 AM

Hi Lisoosh:

Wow...what a thread this is turning out to be.

Even if we totally abandon Y&S, and build a wall, we'll have to go back eventually, and the urban comabt will be alot worse than what we have to deal with today. But thats off topic, so we'll leave that to another post.

However, your point of solid, comprehensive policy regarding the occupied territories and the use of the army there that has the support of the majority of Israelis is right on the mark. I believe that's the root cause of why the soliders opted out, not because of free thinking debate/free to question society position that David hypothesized.

When the Knesset, Government, Supreme Court, and the IDF don't have clear policy...and soldiers feel they may be risking their lives for nothing, then it becomes alot harder to motivate soldiers. Why do you think that hesder soliders in combat units are so motivated? Its because they have very clear cut and idealogicial backing to be doing the job they do. When serving in the IDF is considered a mitzva, the motivation to a religious combat solider is increased tenfold.

The stupidity of the government and the Knesset to use the IDF for kicking people out of their home has severly damaged the motivation for religious combat soliders. They joined the army, and volunteered for elite combat units to serve in protecting the country. When off-topic, political missions are thrown at the IDF, it hurts everyone. They should have found a different solution...like using the police exclusively.

The stuff I did in the army is considered "urban comabt"...and I actively volunteer on a 24x7 call-up basis, despite having 7 kids (and I'm eligable for exclusion).

David: great talking to you last night - I appreciate your viewpoint and insight. Even if we don't agree the open discussion (between us, not soliders ;-) is valuable in and of itself.

Posted by: Jameel Rashid | Nov 30, 2005 9:24:56 AM

Joesettler, is your website down temporarily or for the count? I went looking to get a little background but couldn't access the server.

Jameel - It is an awsome thread, and remarkably civil, although we seem to be managing to keep away from left/right psychosis which probably helps.

(Off topic, It is a shame that you feel that if there was a separate state that we would have to go back in. I know you have many reasons for thinking that, some of them reasonable, but it doesn't have to be that way. There was a time before the intifadas when unarmed Jews were quite comfortable going into places such as Ramalla and Nablus, for lunch or to shop and a lot of people on both sides still remember that. In a way it is a pity that religious Jews are in some ways always "in uniform". You lose the opportunity that comes with meeting people without them having preconceived notions about you and behaving accordingly. I hope that changes.)

Back on topic.
So we all agree, left or right, that the a lot of problems are attached to a lack of comprehensive policies and methodology (and maybe laws) and the use of the army, trained for wartime, to fulfill civilian functions.

On the other hand, there are certain policies that people point out as particularly problematic - for the right this was the disengagement, for the left what is viewed as a heavy handed approach to security. Trouble is - we again get back to individuals in the army using their service to protest government policies - which is now politics.

Israeli society is made up of very different groups- religious and secular, right and left, each has a different agenda and a different vision for the country and different ways to bring that about. Policies will change. It is inevitable. It is also inevitable that not all of the soldiers will be happy with all of those policies all of the time.
Israel can't afford to be pulled apart from within. At some point in time someone, or probably everyone will need to compromise some of that vision in order to maintain a unified country with a solid legal system and solid borders. The army is the lynchpin of that security and as such it has to remain unified. Joesettler likes the trade off of a little anarchy for a little independance. But how much anarchy? Where do we draw the line? If we allow all hell to break loose in the army, what does that say about the rest of Israeli society?

So .. I stick with David thesis, soldiers need to do their jobs and that alone. Leave the politicking to the political arena which of course anyone can join at any time.

Nice discussion though.

Posted by: lisoosh | Nov 30, 2005 7:11:36 PM


Totalitarian societies eventually are ruled by dictators, but they don't necessarily start out that way. Hitler was elected.

It isn't that easy for soldiers to "switch off" when they come home. Just look at what happened to the Vietnam veterans...

Posted by: Elizabeth | Dec 1, 2005 2:36:23 AM

Lisoosh: Sorry for the delay in replying; if you're still reading, here's a fascinating blog entry from an Arab in Beit Lechem who goes on a visit to the zoo in Jerusalem.


I'm not advocating reading the rest of the blog, since alot of it is offensive. This particular posting (and the comments) are interesting.

I even wrote a few things that reflected what you wrote above, without having read what you wrote :-)

Regards and Shabbat Shalom.

Posted by: Jameel Rashid | Dec 1, 2005 7:09:38 PM

Interestingly enough I had already read that article via a different link. I hadn't read any other part of the blog, but I scanned it quickly and don't find it offensive, it just offers a different viewpoint.
I'm glad I am not the only one who remembers a time when the area was more open. It becomes more and more important to remind people, especially as there is a whole new generation out there who does not remember a time before the intifada, and they are now of age.
I think we are all (and our fear) responsible for the situation as it stands now, and don't forget, it is nearly 40 years since the six day war. It took us a long time to get where we are now.

Posted by: lisoosh | Dec 1, 2005 8:33:02 PM

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