Society Owes IDF Career Officers Nothing

A person who devotes his life to defending his country is making a career choice no different from someone who chooses to be a doctor, a lawyer or a contestant on 'MasterChef.'

Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher
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IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot attends an officer training graduation ceremony, June 17, 2015.
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot attends an officer training graduation ceremony, June 17, 2015.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher

Career soldiers and their loved ones find it difficult to be told they are not sacrificing their personal well-being for the sake of state security. Following my recent article (“It’s time to put an end to the IDF’s emotional terrorism,” July 12), I received many hurt and angry responses from them. Maj. Gen. (ret.) Ran Goren called on me to “stop tarnishing the image of those who serve as career soldiers.”

The people protesting against my article raised three main arguments: One cannot deny the fact that career soldiers do it for the common good, while fulfilling the ideal of defending their country – a value they hold dear; for this they sacrifice their personal welfare (and that of their families), in contrast to those ‘café-frequenting’ citizens whose ultimate goal in life is self-gratification; and since the latter’s way of life is only possible thanks to those serving in the military, the ‘café frequenters’ owe them a moral obligation, which is also expressed in the form of monetary compensation. In any event, they have no right to criticize career soldiers.

These three arguments constitute the theory of career officers’ moral superiority.

According to this view, these people sacrifice themselves for the sake of the state’s existence, whereas other citizens (those café dwellers) are selfish, reaping the benefits of the sacrifice.

This is an exploitative relationship. On a moral superiority scale, combatants are ranked higher than soldiers in service roles – since they are willing to sacrifice their actual lives, not just their quality of life.

If you deprive career soldiers of their moral superiority, you deprive them of their rationale for serving in the standing army.

This is the basis for their demand that the ‘café-frequenters’ salute them and feel grateful.

They need Israeli society to hoist them aloft on its shoulders. And in a state where security is the foremost value (above democracy) and the Israel Defense Forces is a sacred institution with the status of a quasi-religion, they are used to getting what they want.

It is said of a retiring senior officer going into business (and he’s usually the one saying it) that after so many years serving the country, he is now “looking after his own affairs.”

Therein lies the entire myth. It’s time to shatter it, in order to bring about a change in the excessively bountiful employment conditions of career soldiers, as well as to soften the militaristic nature of Israeli society.

Against this conception of moral superiority, career officers have cited their utilitarianism.

We can demonstrate this by examining combat soldiers, since what applies to them certainly applies to pencil pushers.

A person who chooses an occupation in which he has to risk his life for the safety of his country does so since this security is the most important thing in his life, and this is the job that affords him the greatest sense of meaning – therefore, he should not impose his set of values on others or demand gratitude.

A person who devotes his life to defending his country does so at his own discretion and for his own personal satisfaction, and society does not owe him anything. He is realizing his dreams – just like a competitor on ‘The X Factor’ or ‘MasterChef,’ or like a doctor, lawyer or accountant.

He is neither a masochist nor an ascetic; not a monk or a sacrificial lamb. He doesn’t retire “to look after his own affairs.” He always has done.

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