Not Dying in Vain

We must learn to accept the terrible price of war, which will always be the sacrifice of our children on the alter of our country.

Once upon a time, Israeli public opinion classified a war as just if it was a war of necessity. Today, a war is just only if it is a sterile one with no casualties, or at least very few. Based on that criterion, this war can only be judged as right or wrong, necessary or unnecessary, in retrospect. And that, of course, is absurd. Casualties in a war do not constitute a failure. They are the default option.

As soon as an Israeli missile ship was hit by a rocket in waters near Beirut, an investigation began to determine how it happened and whether there was a failure. The truth is, it happened because in war there are two sides, both of which try to harm and destroy the other, and both sides fire rockets and missiles. And if a rocket hits a target as large as a missile ship, there is no need to look for the guilty party on the Israeli side. We should be happy the ship didn't sink.

This war was necessary before two Israeli helicopters collided, and has remained necessary since then. It was a necessary war before a Katyusha rocket hit a train depot, and is necessary afterward. To tell the truth, the attack on the train depot only proves that the army was compelled to deal with the rocket threat. And if Tel Aviv is hit by a long-range rocket, what does that prove? That we should have shown restraint, or that we should take action before Hezbollah gets thousands of such rockets? And if a Haifa chemical factory is hit before the chemicals are removed? Even such a disaster would not retroactively transform the war into a superfluous one.

But if there is something that can compete with the capabilities of the strongest army in the Middle East, it is the Israeli home front's inability to tolerate casualties. This attitude involves quite a bit of boastfulness, as though the enemy is so inferior and unimportant that we can simply crush it. However, such enemies do not exist in reality - especially when the enemy in question is Hezbollah. If there are anyway going to be casualties, Israelis say to themselves, there should at least be fewer - much fewer - than those sustained by Hezbollah. How much fewer? Is 10 percent all right? Is one-third insulting already?

Is this patronizing attitude one of the spoiled fruits of the Six-Day War? Is it also a result of employing Arabs, over dozens of years, to do unskilled physical labor?

Perhaps because we are not willing to pay the price of casualties, everyone involved in the war effort is potentially suspected of negligence under fire. And every disaster is a failure until proven otherwise. But the truth is that mistakes in war that lead to unnecessary deaths are expected, just as traffic accidents are expected on the roads. And just as our expectation of a war without casualties is a large and troublesome burden for the Israel Defense Forces, so too, the combatants' knowledge that the sword of an inquiry committee is hanging over their heads hampers their effectiveness.

The inability to tolerate losses is part of Israel's crisis of values. Once upon a time, not so long ago, we still learned that it was good to die for our country. Since then, most of us have agreed that it is bad to die and good to live. The problem is that in the meantime, the consensus that sometimes we are forced to fight and suffer losses for our country has in itself been lost. American soldiers went off to fight World War II to defend their way of life. That is a great reason, but the truth is that Israelis fight for far more. Israelis fight for their right as Jews to live in their own country and defend themselves.

Sometimes people are sacrificed on the altar of this right. And it is terrible that they have fallen, but generally they do not die because of a failure, and they do not die in vain. There is a reason for and a significance to the tough losses sustained by their families. Because for most of us, there is no other country.

We must embrace not only the north and the families of the abducted soldiers, but also the dead and their families. It seems that the end of this piece resembles the text of a Memorial Day ceremony. It is sad that I feel that nonetheless, there is a need to write these words - because they are no longer taken for granted.