The Generals' New Clothes

The world of generals and admirals is as narrow as a cricket's, unless someone (that is, someone in the military) can prove otherwise.

Amos Oz expressed his view: A return to Gaza would be a bad move on Israel's part; after going in, Israel will never know how and when to get out. Soldiers will be killed, but Sderot will not be liberated. When the moment comes for a retreat, the entire situation will revert to what it was before.

Brigadier General (res.) Oded Tira was up in arms. After publishing an angry ad in the newspaper, he repeated his drivel on television: "Writers, you are not strategists, just hold your tongue." It is truly regrettable that a former chief artillery officer in the Israel Defense Forces cannot hear the sound of history's wings, which are invariably black. We can recall the times and places where the "professionals" ordered the intellectuals to hold their tongues, where epaulets won the day, and the results were disastrous.

The ad has renewed a controversy: Who has the right to express an opinion on questions of war and peace? The issue is not just the questions but also the answers, and it is not just an issue of "freedom of expression" but the right to shout to the high heavens, as one sees in the works of classic modern Hebrew author Yosef Haim Brenner. In such times, intellectuals cannot and must not be silent. Does that mean that we must listen solely to loud-mouthed warriors? When intellectuals face off against generals, should the former be silenced? Must we adhere to a simplistic version of "When the cannons roar, the muses are silent?"

I have heard many generals and brigadier generals - in sessions of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, as well as in meetings of the cabinet and kitchen cabinet. Only on rare occasions did they have anything important to say. Generally, they chewed their own cud and the cud of others like them. In the best of cases, they displayed a high degree of "military expertise," which is only part of the puzzle of "national security" - although an important part, it is not the crucial factor. In the worst of cases, their "military expertise" was limited, as demonstrated by the Winograd Committee's findings, for those who did not or did not want to know. The reality of the IDF is different from what many people think.

The world of generals and admirals is as narrow as a cricket's, unless someone (that is, someone in the military) can prove otherwise. It is no coincidence that well-established democracies never place responsibility for national security in the hands of generals, in or out of uniform. Instead, they place that responsibility in the hands of civilian experts, whose worldview is much broader. National security is too serious to be entrusted solely to the self-proclaimed professionals, who are managing the previous war, which did not have a successful outcome anyway. And you do not need to be a Winston Churchill to know that.

Even former chief of staff Dan Halutz had something to say about his colleagues in an impressive interview he gave to Yedioth Ahronoth. He talked about "those reservist generals who were interested in their television appearances, not in the closed-circuit television screens in their command centers; those generals who have forgotten the burden that all of them must bear on their shoulders. False expectations arose from the various commentators who explained how things were in the past and who knew how to give advice to everyone. Unfortunately, they were unable to apply that counsel when they were in command."

He talks about them, they talk about him. Every general is right, and yet the dead remain in their graves.

We read in the Book of Isaiah (3:6), "When a man shall take hold of his brother of the house of his father, saying, Thou hast clothing, be thou our ruler, and let this ruin be under thy hand." That is precisely the problem: Generals feel they have the privilege to have a monopoly on freedom of expression because of the fancy uniforms they wear, although, underneath the uniform, all generals are naked. Every singer in a choir wants to be a soloist.