Where Are All the Losers?

Last Saturday, I became acquainted with a man after my own heart: Courtesy of the television program "Fact," I met David Ben-Shimol and his brother Yossi. Until recently, Ben-Shimol was commander of the Yamam, the police counter-terrorism unit. As such, he is a fellow who has seen a lot of combat and shown a lot of courage. Now the two brothers raise antelope in the Arava, where they are building a Noah's Ark. Why Noah's Ark? Do they know something we don't?

I liked him very much, this retired commander, with his direct candor: "If I hadn't been a soldier, I would have been a sculptor. Sculpting is building; killing people is destroying," he said. "We all failed - senior officers, generals, chiefs of staff. Israeli citizens have less security now than they did 30 years ago," he said. "Yaakov Turner, the former police commissioner, didn't want me to be the commander of Yamam, because I wasn't representative enough. Talking really isn't my strong point," admitted Ben-Shimol.

Had it been up to me, I wouldn't have made do with Ben-Shimol's appointment as commander of Yamam. I would have appointed him army chief of staff or commissioner of police. He understands the limitations on the power to destroy, as opposed to the power to create, where the sky is the limit. He sees reality as it is, and not as all the "representative" people paint it for us. And because he is not gifted with a glib tongue (not the impression I got from the television program), he has no choice but to try harder when it comes to action.

After all, we already know what really happens. We've been there before: Every time an appointment is made here, of a chief of staff, say, everyone fawns over the fellow with profuse praise - he is always a scholar and a warrior, a bold fighter with a gentle soul, head and shoulders above the rest, but able to speak "at eye level" with the simple soldier, assertive and doctrinaire, but sensitive as a poet. The new chief of staff begins his tenure as the great hope of an army that marches on its hope: he will be the one to make the revolution, he will be the one to turn the Israel Defense Forces into a small, smart army; the time has come, except the army holds the line, is stronger than its commanders, and succeeds in remaining big and somewhat stupid.

The next chief of staff is always treated as if he bears the rapiers of Hannibal, Alexander the Great and Napoleon in his scabbard. Everyone seems to forget that, although the great generals open their offensives with stunning momentum, conquering half the world and laying waste to empires, they eventually suffer stinging defeat. Napoleon, for example, is still considered a national hero in his country, even though he retreated ignominiously from snowy Russia, while abandoning his tattered army, of which remained only 100,000 soldiers of the original half-million. It isn't entirely clear why Napoleon felt the need to spill the blood of Europe and of France in particular, but he was and remains a war hero. The French even gave him a second chance (sounds familiar), which lasted only 100 days, ending - you guessed it - with the rout at Waterloo. Only lionized and failed generals are given second chances, because they speak so well, unlike the tongue-tied David Ben-Shimol, who has a hard time spinning defeat into victory.

There's nothing quite like a grand military defeat to perpetuate the name of an army leader in history. Actually, there are no vanquished military leaders, because even defeated nations continue to venerate their decorated commanders; even the dead venerate them from their graves.

I once visited the Egyptian museum dedicated to that country's victory in their October War, which is our Yom Kippur War, where I was surprised to learn that both they and we won the same exact war. The same is the case for the intifada - we are rooting out terror and winning, and the Palestinians are shooing us out of Gaza and northern Samaria, and are winners, like us. This was also true for Lebanon - Israel silenced the northern border, pulled out and won, while Hezbollah struck at Israel, sent it reeling back to its border, and recorded a victory.

Victors all. Where are the losers? Perhaps the time has come to erect a monument to them, to the losers of the world, of which there is hardly a trace. Not a bad idea. Can it be that the Ben-Shimol brothers are now attempting to bring this idea to fruition in the middle of the wilderness, raising aggressive antelope and building Noah's Ark? Like responsible, silent military commanders, are they preparing for the next flood, unlike the chiefs of staff and commissioners of police, who are always preparing for the previous war?