Lebanon War citations / A surplus of heroes
Days turn into weeks, weeks become 12 months, and still the issue of citations for the combatants who served in the Second Lebanon War drags on. The army's top brass are now saying that it will be resolved after the commemoration and mourning services have come to an end. That's all the powers that be would tell me.
From summer to summer, for a whole year, officers in the Israel Defense Forces have been debating the nominations for the various citations: from the Medal of Valor, the highest of all military decorations, to the Medal of Courage and the Chief of Staff Citation.
The General Staff's citation committee, headed by Major General Yishai Bar, has studied the cases of all candidates individually and has consulted their commanders. It has already submitted the list of candidates to the chief of staff. When I inquired as to why the decorations have not yet been handed out, I was assured that delayed though they may be, they will come. Soon.
I can only imagine the reason for the delay: naming heroes is no simple matter. Everyone was a hero during the war, soldiers and civilians alike. When the government sends ill-trained and ill-equipped soldiers to the front to contend with a chaotic reality owing to unreliable intelligence and vague destinations, then every combatant is a hero, regardless of his desire - or lack thereof - to become one.
Similarly, when the government abandons its citizens at the home front - another type of active front - to their own misfortunes and leaves them to fend for themselves with no one to turn to and without support, then they also become heroes.
The soldiers wanted to make it back home. The civilians wanted to make it through the war alive, while staying in their homes because they lacked either the will or the ability to flee with their families.
Demonstrations of bravery occur in direct proportion to the government's failings, so states the "law of fragmented vessels." Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, his former defense minister Amir Peretz and their cabinet had privatized war, forcing civilians and soldiers alike to take care of business. And so the self is forced to regain its full stature, without realizing the heroism of its actions. And the self's valor serves to compensate for the establishment's omissions and failures.
A government of dilettantes produces a culture of hero debutants. An arrogant high command necessitates fortitude in the face of danger.
The chief of staff - the poor man - must now select a guard of heroes from a list of candidates that leaves out countless others. Moreover, he must contend with another problem: any citation he pins to his heroes will equally serve as a scarlet letter on the foreheads of those who sent them. It will also reflect badly on those who gave them orders from afar via plasma screens.
When the decorations are handed out, we will be reminded once more of how heroes fought and died in a war that never received the title of war. After all, the government did not realize the meaning of its own decree. The war was declared as such only in hindsight, by the Ministerial Committee on Ceremonies and Symbols, of all instances. How symbolic and ceremonial indeed.
The United States is yearning for heroes, too, in its war in Iraq, and in so doing is using the very same law of fragmented vessels. The Americans have their own sorting method; when the Pentagon and the White House fail to find heroes who fit their bill, they simply make them up. The renowned football star Pat Tillman, who was killed in Afghanistan, is one example. The U.S. military's top brass immediately produced a custom-made heroic story concerning his death, while hiding the fact that Tillman was killed by what is known as "friendly" fire.
Unlike the Americans, whose government lacks heroes and therefore has to invent them, ours has too many. That surplus of heroes is meant to invent the government, or rather reinvent it. But those who hope the decorations will conceal their failures stand to be corrected. They will only accentuate them.
Maybe a single citation is a better solution, for the families of Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier Hamas kidnapped last year, and those of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, who are held by Hezbollah. For their families, bravery is only beginning - and it must continue.
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