"I'm sorry I must leave, but I must do what is asked of me by my God, my Country, and my Corps.. and so, the war blog begins, again." ~B

13 July 2009

Haim Watzman's "Company C"

I just finished Haim Watzman's book Company C: An American's Life as a Citizen-Soldier in Israel. Watzman is a journalist, translator, and editor who also spends a couple of decades in a combat reserve unit. The book spans the two decades he spent in the reserves, as well as his relationship with his family, friends, and brothers in arms. He wrestles with religious, moral, and ideological questions regarding the occupation of the territories. He thoughtfully recounts his time recalled to active duty and provides a good background on the political situation in Israel in each period. Watzman's book is a good primer on the precarious position Israel often finds itself in. He discusses political actions, peace accords, operations, and elections from the perspective of a fighting man who must react to or implement their outcome.

I have found myself increasingly interested in the Israeli military, not only for its general proficiency, but also because it has been dealing with terrorism a lot longer than the United States has. I think there are a lot of lessons the US can learn from the Israelis.

Watzman fleshes out and wrestles with the moral and ideological dilemmas that counter-terror actions and even warfare generally evoke. He leans left politically and is committed to peace, but is also a pragmatist who believes one must deal with the realities of the day.

This reminded me of conversations I have had with a peace activist recently. I often find myself frustrated when friends of mine want to debate the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and it devolves into a split along party lines. Both the peace activist and the politically minded friends who paint the military and all military action with a broad brush refuse to deal with the realities of the day.

Watzman writes about a discussion he has with a young woman at a peace demonstration at the end of the book and how his views have evolved since his twenties. He says:
Facing such dilemmas is not morally execrable. What is wrong is to refuse to face up to the choices your life in your country requires. It's wrong to decide to keep yourself pure while letting others get sullied in the muck of moral uncertainty. A man who refuses to enter a morally ambiguous situation out of fear that he might make the wrong decision is not pure. He is cowardly.

In the Epilogue, he reflects on his time as a soldier, now that his oldest daughter has begun her stint in the army and his son is soon to follow.
As a father must be, I will be frightened. I'll fear for their physical safety, and I'll fear for their moral compass, because I know that when you're a soldier it's all too easy for that compass to go awry. I'll also be proud of them, because I know they will face challenges and problems and dilemmas and overcome them, and be better people for having done so.
My cousin is at Parris Island earning the title of Marine. I think of his mom, stepmom, and dad who struggle with these complex emotions. It is like this for all military families I think- the worry and pride intermingling. Watzman closes with some words of advice for his children that I think my aunt and uncle would pass on:
Be loyal to your friends, determined but cognizant of your actions. Do your duty toward God, if for no other reason than it gives you the right to argue with Him and with those who claim to know exactly what He wants. Consider the moral implications of everything you do, for God expects that of us. But don't let your moral concerns paralyze you, for a person who makes no choice cannot make the right choice.
Watzman's book is not only a soldier's memoirs; it is an intellectual exercise. As he wrestles with his faith, his duty, his political views, and his actions, he makes you wrestle with your own as well.

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