Wednesday, June 30, 2010
The McChrystal ousting was definitely a drama worth watching. It featured a daring journalist who broke mainstream journalistic conventions by exposing more than some thought he should have, a driven general who botched his career, and a beleaguered president who saved his image.
I haven’t heard a lot about McChrystal before this drama began to unfold, but coincidentally, I did read in the last few months several books about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among these books was Jon Krakauer’s account of Pat Tillman’s accidental death by “friendly fire” and apparent cover-up by none other than McChrystal, Where men win glory; David Finkel’s account of one army battalion fight during the surge in Iraq, The good soldiers, and Rick Atkinson’s In the company of men, about the second invasion of Iraq. These books and others I’ve read on the topic made me feel I could form some kind of opinion, if not the most accurate one, when the s**t hit the fan with surprising velocity.
My first reaction was total dread. How would Obama cope with the crisis? How would the crazies use Team America derisive comments to paint him as a weakling? What would be the fallout? Is my first gut reaction that the general had to go was a result of a grudge I held against him because of the Pat Tillman’s cover-up? I wasn’t sure what to think. Then everything was quickly resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.
So as usual I turned to my favorite bloggers and columnists to read about the affair, including, of course, the culprit article in the Rolling Stone, and came to my own little conclusion: civilian and military cultures are like oil and water, they just don’t mix too well.
You see, civilian and military personnel come from completely different cultures. While the civilian environment can thrive on debate, and on top down and bottom up collaboration, the U.S. military is strictly hierarchical and unapologetically authoritarian. Add to this mix some government bureaucracy and you got a very strange and unappetizing concoction.
More than once I heard thru the grapevine about frustrated civilians who had to respond to military bosses that meddled in their business; what civilian experts thought when generals and colonels stepped into their territory and made demands, aware on unaware that their and expectations were ridiculously unattainable. But the civilians kept their mouths shut and followed the orders like the good soldiers that they were not. And everyone kept on working and pretending that the system worked well and that things got done according to the plan, until things started falling apart and the general came storming in demanding some straight answers which no one was able to give.
This resentment flows in two directions and is unavoidable: military vs. civilians, civilians vs. military. When a general demands the impossible from his subordinate civilians they consider him as a clueless dweeb no matter how many stars and stripes decorate his uniform. The same goes when civilians demand the impossible from the military.
What we need to realize is that when McChrystal was interacting with the civilian leadership he was the expert, the ‘doer’ on the battle ground, the general who was running an impossible war, and the civilians were wasting his time with their demands and political considerations. All he heard was background noise and interference in his mission. And he did not like it. The unfortunate thing for him was that at his level of leadership, his discontent and indiscretion were violating the constitution which he swore to defend.
No wonder the general and his team regarded their civilian bosses as a bunch of morons. They were not kvetching, as David Brooks pontificated in his NYT column. They were speaking their mind.
The Nation: David Brooks, king of kvetching
Skepticblog: I didn't know the mic was on
Saturday, June 19, 2010
How could that be, you are asking?
It started with a Korean movie, chosen by... yes, you guessed it. That girl of mine. My Son is a depressing story about a 39 yr-old convict who gets a day out of prison after 15 years to go see his son whom he hasn't seen since the boy was 3. In any case, there is one scene at the beginning of the movie in which the convict sits in the prison's chapel talking to the chaplain, and the chaplain, trying to sooth the convict's frustration about the short time he got to see his son, says that one day is not as short as it seems, and that even God was able to create the world, the light and human beings in one day. As soon as he says it, the convict rises from the bench and shoots back, "it took him 6 days, and he took a day off because he was tired. I told you I read the bible three times cover to cover. What's wrong with you?"
I don't know what made me stop and turn to my daughter and say, "yeah, that's why we have Shabbat."
To my total surprise I found out that she didn't know that. She also didn't know much about the story of the creation, like what happened each day or that man was created before woman (in the second version, only). Her ignorance was a real surprise to me. We've been living in the same house for almost 14 yrs and I had just found out that my daughter knew close to nothing about the bible, and most of what she knew was attributed to the movie Year one with Jack Black. Oh, please, hide me somewhere.
This is the part where I see my failure. I raised a child who has very little knowledge of early Judaic literature, mythology, customs, laws, world view, and history. She doesn't know the intricacies of the Canaanites kingdoms, the betrayals, the incest, the curses, the mass murders, the miracles, the crazed prophets, the wars, the disasters, victories, intrigue and fatal mistakes of all those mentioned in the Book. There is so much she doesn't know and will have to learn about to be a well-rounded person, and more importantly, a person who can fully relate to me, since part of my language, imagery, and culture comes from that Book, which I studied cover to cover, inside and out, during my school years and later as an adult. But learning the (Jewish) bible and the various interpretations that accompany it, is not the only thing she still has to learn. There is so much more out there for her learn, and learning the (Jewish) bible is definitely not the most important thing, in my opinion.
And this is where success enters the picture.
Many people become quasi religious/observant when they have kids. Suddenly they start visiting the synagogue or church, feel compelled to celebrate their kids' bar mitzvah when they're Jewish, or baptize them when they are not, and then, horror of all horrors, send them to Sunday school, where they learn to read biblical Hebrew and make holiday decorations.
When my daughter was born I decided that I was not going to expose her to the quintessential abuser, God of the Jews. I was going to spare her this trauma and not tell her anything about Him until she was old enough to understand the true meaning of religion. And so she grew up oblivious to what generations of children had to endure from very early age. Even I, growing up in a secular kibbutz where people ate lobster and hunted wild boar, developed the fear of God in my early childhood. Although my parents were not religious and the first time I visited a synagogue I was in eighth grade, just hearing the stories and seeing the pictures was enough to scare the beJesus out of me. I mean, a small child does not have the tools to process the removal of Adam and Eve from Eden, or the murder of Abel, or the fate Lot's wife. God's omnipotence and omnipresence is absolutely terrifying and no child is immune to God's voyeurism. Every grown up is so powerful already, so you can imagine how God can come across when you are five years old.
So I shielded my daughter from God. And I am happy to say that I succeed. Now she has no fear of being punished by God, or sent to hell or just having apprehension that she is being observed by an invisible male entity, when she really wishes not to be observed, like when she is taking a shower, for example. (In general, I think that only after a female's first visit to a male gynecologist should she be introduced to the concept of God. Anytime before that would be very damaging.)
Then, before I knew it, I was vindicated.
On Sunday I went to a Thai Buddhist temple where I mentioned to the head monk how I wanted to spare my daughter the fear of God, so I never taught her about Him. The head monk did not flinch at my brazen disregard for the One. He smiled and said that the important thing is knowing good and bad, not learning about god. Then, he asked me to wait, exited the temple and went to the monks' living quarters. He came back a few minutes later with a small book entitled No Religion by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, and gave it to me. To summarize the premise of this little book, here is what it says: "When there is truly no religion we will live in genuine love, harmony, and peace."
Too bad monks are not allowed to be hugged by women.
Monday, June 14, 2010
When Eliya was a baby, I used to put my face very close to her face when she was asleep and check if she was breathing. Now, that she is almost fourteen, I have to pretend that I'm totally jaded about this thing that is my kid and learn to be totally ignored, unless, of course, she needs money, a ride somewhere, or food, preferably outside the home. (And a little bit of love - she asks to add to the list). However, last weekend while I was doing whatever I do on weekends, I suddenly realized that it was almost two o'clock in the afternoon and her bedroom door was still closed, and not a beep was coming from behind it. I got tensed. So what if she is almost fourteen; I still have to make sure she is alive, which is how I see my main role in her life- keeping the child alive! I went to check if she was breathing. Well, you guessed it. She was curled under her blanket in total teen oblivion, sleeping off a night drenched in Korean dramas and music videos.
She is definitely not my baby anymore.
This morning she graduated from eighth grade. It's a big deal in America, I found out recently. There are speeches and flowers, and the kids dress in their best and receive diplomas and kudos from the teachers. Some people even cry. Nothing like my experience back in the kibbutz. Not that I would expect her life to be similar to mine in any way. That would be harsh.
First thing in the morning I was told that I needed to dress up for the occasion. No black cargo pants, Ima, she said. Oh, well, I thought, in the past my Ima was the one who insisted that I dress up; now it is my daughter who acts as my fashion police. I put on a pair of dressy black pants and she approved. Welcome to my world!
She wore a new dress she got especially for her graduation and new sandals. Her toenails were painted puke green. She looked perfect. Exactly the way I would want my daughter to look on her eighth grade graduation day. She was going to give a speech after being elected by her classmates even though "she is not even one of the popular girls," she told me after texting me: "I had the best speech, I think I got the highest vote!!!!!" This is from a girl who wouldn't bother to text me a whole sentence if the house caught on fire.
She practiced giving her speech a few times at home. I coached her a little, telling her she needed to make sure she didn't swallow the sentences into one long word. I admired her determination to give a speech in front of so many people. She said she was not nervous, until two nights before graduation when she realized it was actually going to happen.
I got her Rescue Remedy. Some people may think it is witchcraft, but my position is that the earlier you get her on the alternative stuff, there is a better chance she will not turn to prescription drugs later on for every little headache. But I didn't tell her any of that. I just got the black currant flavored ones and gave them to her and told her they would help to keep her cool.
She aced her speech. People laughed at all the right places. She paused when they laughed, showing great sense for timing. She looked up, smiled, and continued speaking as if every day she does this kind of thing. And with a straight face she said she might be a senator one day. I am not kidding you.
People came afterward and told me she was great. Someone said she gave the best speech at the graduation. It felt good to hear good things about my daughter. People say in these occasions stuff like, "you should be proud of her." For a moment I wanted to go to her and say, "I am so proud of you," but I never really understood what it meant. What does it mean to be proud of someone else? And in any case, pride is supposed to be a bad thing, so how can I be proud of my daughter and come across as doing something good? It just never made sense. I can be happy for her for making a good impression on other people, or pulling something like this off without breaking a sweat (although someone later discovered the rescue remedy and claimed that I drugged my daughter... and that was why she did so well), but how can I be proud of her?
I guess what I am trying to say is that I am really proud of myself for raising a really cool kid who makes me look good with so little effort on my part.
Monday, June 7, 2010
It's so depressing. My Jewish paranoia is resurfacing. Can't help it. It's in my DNA. In my mind's eye I already see the gas chambers and the SS officers in their immaculate uniform. I try to tell myself that I now live in America, I am an American citizen, I'm safe, I have nothing to worry about, but the feelings persist and the images don't go away.
All I can think about is that by pure luck I was not born in the forties in Europe. I could have been born there, easily, and end up like all those distant relatives who perished in the Holocaust. After all, my grandparents came from Eastern Europe. Now Ms. Thomas wants Jews to go back "Home." That is what she called it, on the White House lawn, during Jewish Heritage month, no less.
That's more than just depressing.
When I think "Germany and Poland" in the same breath, I think Auschwitz-Birkenau, Dachau, Sobibor, Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Theresienstadt. They are as familiar to me as Tel Aviv, Haifa, Eilat, and Ashkelon. I grew up knowing the names of these places, as if people I know live there. (or more likely, died there.)
I don't have any bad feelings about Germany or Poland. I don't keep a grudge. I don't dwell on the Holocaust. I just don't want to live there or be forced to go back there with all my Israeli family and friends. I don't think we will be a good fit. No matter how you look at it, it will not work. She should have known.
Yet, I wonder, what made her think that the Germans and the Poles and the Lithuanians and Romanians and Hungarians and the French and the list goes on and on would accept all these aggressive, violent, Palestinian hating Israeli Jews, some of which are not even European? There are Ethiopian Jews in Israel as well. Would she send them back to Ethiopia? And what about the Moroccan and Iranian and Syrian Jews? Where would they go? And where would I go?
I wouldn't know where to go. I know my grandparents came to Palestine sometimes in the 1920s from Eastern Europe, but that's about it. They never spoke Polish or Yiddish or whatever language they spoke over there. They never mentioned the relatives they had left behind or showed me any pictures. They were just my grandparents.
The only place I've ever heard about was Vishniva. My grandfather came from there. Last year I googled Vishniva and found it in Lithuania. Unfortunately, all the Jews of Vishniva were killed one night in August 1942, according to the book my grandfather left behind. A book that I now own. In the end of this book there is a long list of names of all those who were slaughtered on that fateful night, and a good chunk of those names have the same last name as my grandfather. That's not too encouraging. I mean, what kind of "home" is that?
Now I understand why last Saturday night, instead of going out and doing something fun, I decided to stay home and watch a documentary about... genocide. It is called Worse Than War. It was produced by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, the same guy who wrote Hitler's Willing Executioners.
I think Helen Thomas should take a look at it. She might change her mind about sending those damn Israeli Jews back to Europe after watching it.
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Written by Yoram Baron (my brother), translated by me.
Israel has lost its ability to maneuver - like a man with a borderline personality who becomes psychotic every time something unusual happens - she is controlled by her own violent response to radical organizations, who in fact determine her destiny and the future of the entire Middle East.
The Israeli leadership was unable to come to the only possible decision it had to make about the Gaza "peace" flotilla. It simply did what it always does: It decided to mobilize the IDF in order to stop the flotilla without considering any compromise. The instant this decision has been made, it was only a matter of time -- plus the sophistication and determination of the activists -- before people started to get killed or injured on the ship.
Because of its one-dimensional view of the world - Israel has lost its ability to maneuver, and can now be manipulated by any organization or group that is ready to pay the price: whether it is Islamic terror organizations, right-wing Jewish extremists, or international organizations. Anyone prepared to pay the price (in lives) can now stop the peace process, damage Israel's image, and drag the leadership of the "Israeli democratic military" to open fire and lose the last remnants of Israel's quickly disappearing legitimacy.
It can be the kidnapping of a soldier, the launching of a few rockets, a terrorist attack on a sensitive area, a provocation by Jewish right-wing extremists (which will go unpunished), violent demonstrations of Israeli-Arabs near a fence or a freeway, and more...
Any incident defined as a "serious incident" with many injured victims, will cause a violent response which will deteriorate into another cycle of violence and stop any attempt at reconciliation.
Today, there is not one leader in Israel who can decide to withhold a violent response or choose restraint. Everyone in the Israeli leadership thinks exactly the same. Try to imagine any of them giving in to the other side - Ehud (Barack, minister of defense, former prime minister), Bibi (Netanyahu, prime minister), Bogie (former chief-of-staff, gov't minister), Fuad (gov't minister, was minister of defense), Avigdor (minister of foreign affairs), Benny (Begin, son of former prime minister Menachem Begin). They can't allow themselves to be embarrassed by conceding to the other side. They embody the fighting Israeli, ready to attack and pay any price... Will they let a ship pass through a blockade because some people might get injured? Only cowards worry about such things....
When the command group moves in one direction, people start thinking the same, and the way the group thinks becomes more powerful than individual thinking. So even if there is someone who thinks differently, who sees other alternatives, his chances at making himself heard are very small. There was one person who thought differently (cabinet secretary Tzvi Hauser), but once his opinion was made pubic, he immediately denied it in order not to lose his place in the group.
Unfortunately, this dynamic exists not only at the top of the leadership pyramid; it is a part of a process that is taking place in Israel today. The issue is not a shift to the right (which is a different demographic issue), but a shift to a one-way thinking and a herd mentality.
On the one hand, the news media provide quick and short one-liners and flood the public with shallow stimulants. Newspaper editors and television news producers need to keep their ratings high, and that means being "acceptable," popular, and staying within the consensus. On the other hand, the high standard of living and the life of comfort dis-incentivize the public from analyzing ideological issues and in depth thinking. These tendencies lead to a limited thinking and keeps everyone in line with the herd.
This shift is not typical to Israel alone; it is a global phenomenon. However, the effect of this behavioral shift on countries who function under normal conditions is barely noticeable. But in Israel - a country who has to manage itself in a very complicated conflict - the effect of this shift is very dramatic. The consensus is simplistic and clear: We are in danger, we live under the threat of Hamas, Muslims, Iran, Palestinians, Lebanon, Gaza, Syria, everyone.... And they are all Arabs, the product of a macho, violent, aggressive culture, therefore we have to be strong, and in every situation we have to use deterrence, and prove our strength, prevent them from becoming stronger and fight them on all fronts. And anyone who supports them or sides with them is our enemy. This is the guiding rule, and from this everything else emerges: the language, the ideas, the positions, the values.
In these circumstances, an Israeli politician needs immense amount of courage, self confidence and an ability to lead in order to agree to concessions, to a positive gesture toward the enemy or to exercise restraint in the face of provocation. There are no such leaders today, and if there is one such person in the cabinet or the government, this person has no influence or voice.
As a result, we are doomed to continue in this way of thinking, to continue our utter dependence on the impulsive reactions of our leaders, and to continue the cycle of errors that will only worsen our situation. Like a man with a borderline personality who refuses to go to therapy in order to modify his behavior, our sick country will continue to react with aggression to every vain provocation no matter how deranged and insignificant the culprit.
Saturday, June 5, 2010
As you see, not everyone is going to be able to read part two of being Israeli. It was written in Hebrew by my brother. I called him this morning and asked him to write an analysis of the latest crisis. It is now posted on my blog.
This past week was a tough week for me. I spent most of my free time combing op-ed columns, blogs, and online dailies in Hebrew and English as well as youtube and comedy central. I read obsessively about the Israeli fiasco. It was gut wrenching. I didn't feel like writing. I needed to find clarity.
I am not a supporter of the right wing government of Israel. I have never voted even for the labor party; they were not lefty enough for my taste. I have strong opinions about the occupation and the radicalization of Israeli politics. But at the same time, part of me is Israeli and I can't deny it, no matter what.
I like the way my brother thinks and expresses his ideas. So here it is for those of you who can read Hebrew.
I will do my best to translate his words as soon as I can.
כרוניקה של כישלון ידוע מראש
ישראל איבדה את יכולת התימרון - כמו אדם בעל אישיות גבולית שכל אירוע מערער אותו וגורם לתגובות פסיכוטיות, כך נשלטת ישראל למעשה בידי תגובותיה האלימות לכל פעולה של ארגונים קיצוניים המכתיבים את גורלה ולמעשה את עתיד המזרח התיכון...
למקבלי ההחלטות בישראל לא הייתה יכולת לקבל את ההחלטה היחידה האפשרית באירוע משט ה"שלום" לעזה. הם פשוט עשו מה שתמיד הם עושים, החליטו להפעיל את צה"ל כדי לעצור את המשט ללא פשרות. ברגע שנתקבלה החלטה זו, הרוגים ופצועים היו רק שאלה של זמן ומידת הנחישות או התיחכום של המשייטים - תלוי בהשקפה.
ישראל בראייתה החד מימדית את העולם סביבה איבדה למעשה את כושר התימרון, היא צפויה בתגובותיה, נתונה למעשה למניפולציות של כל ארגון או גוף שמוכן לשלם מחיר. מארגוני טרור איסלאמי, פעילי ימין קיצוני יהודיים, או ארגונים בינלאומיים. כל מי שמוכן לשלם מחיר, יכול היום לסכל מהלכים, לעצור תהליך שלום, לפגוע בתדמית ישראל, ולגרור את מנהיגות "הדמוקרטיה הצבאית הישראלית" לפתוח באש ולאבד את שאריות הלגיטימציה שהולכת ונעלמת לה.
זה יכול להיות חטיפת חייל, שליחת כמה טילים, פיגוע במקום רגיש , פרובוקציה קשה של אנשי ימין (שלא תקבל מענה) הפגנות אלימות של ערבים ישראלים ליד גדר או כביש, ועוד... כל ארוע כזה שיוגדר קשה ועם נפגעים, יגרור למעשה תגובות אלימות שידרדרו את המצב למעגל אלים נוסף ויעצרו כל תהליך פיוס.
אין היום בישראל מנהיג שמסוגל לקבל החלטות של דחיית תגובה אלימה או איפוק, במעגל ההנהגה בישראל יושבים כיום אנשים החושבים למעשה אותו דבר- נסו לדמיין אותם מתאפקים ומוותרים קצת לצד השני.- את אהוד, ביבי, בוגי, בני, פואד, אביגדור, הם הרי לא יכולים להרשות לעצמם לחזור הביתה אחרי שספגו את ההפשלה שבוויתור . הם המגלמים את הישראלי המסתער קדימה בכל מחיר, ולא רואה ממטר את המהססים, הם ייתנו לספינה לעבור כי יש סכנת נפגעים, זה עושים רק פחדנים....
וכך כאשר הדינמיקה בחדרי הפיקוד פועלת בכיוון אחד, נוצרת חשיבה אחידה, ואין כוח חזק יותר הפועל על נפשו ורוחו של אדם מרוח הקבוצה. כך שגם אם מישהו בחדרים אלה חושב אחרת, רואה אפשרויות נוספות, הסיכוי שלו להשמיע את דבריו בקול קלוש ביותר. היה אחד כזה , מזכיר הממשלה האוזר, אבל הוא מייד הכחיש כדי לא לאבד את הקבוצה.
לרוע המזל דינמיקה זו פועלת לא רק בראש הפרמידה השילטונית, היא קצהו של תהליך עומק בחברה הישראלית שמתרחש כבר מספר שנים. עיקרו אינו המעבר ימינה (זו סוגייה דמוגרפית נפרדת), אלא המעבר לחשיבה אחידה ולהתנהגות של עדר. עיקר התופעה היא תוצאה של השינויים בתקשורת ובמבנה האידאולוגי של החברה.
התקשורת המהירה והמתוקצרת, זו שמציפה את הציבור בגירויים גופניים ברמת מוח החתול, ומנגד נוחות ורווחה שמרחיקה את הציבור מכל מניע לחשיבת עומק או חלילה ניתוח אידיאולוגי, מגמות אלה מובילות לאחידות מחשבתית, לפופוליזסם ולהתיישרות גורפת עם הקו הכללי של העדר.
גם עורך העיתון וגם ערוצי החדשות המשודרים, כולם רוצים להישאר על הגלגל. הדרך היחידה היא הרייטניג שמשמעותו להיות "מקובל", פופולרי, בקונצנזוס, בקיצור פופוליזם.
התהליך אינו ישראלי, הוא עולמי, אבל השפעתו על מדינות הנמצאות במצב נורמאלי אינה מורגשת, ואילו מדינה כמו ישראל הנמצאת בעימות מסובך וזקוקה להתנהגות רגישה ומורכבת,ההשפעה היא דרמטית. הקוו המקובל הולך ומתגבש סביב קוצנזוס פשטני וברור, ומהו אותו קוו כללי? אנחנו בסכנה, מאיימים עלינו מוסלמים, חמאס, איראן, פלשתינים, לבנון ,עזה, סוריה, כולם.... והם כולם ערבים תוצרי תרבות כוחנית גברית אלימה, לכן עלינו להיות חזקים, ובכל מצב של עימות גלוי עלינו להראות להם הרתעה, להמחיש את כוחנו, למנוע מהם להתחזק לפעול כנגדם בכל החזיתות. וכל מי שתומך בהם או רק מצדד בטענות שלהם הוא האוייב שלנו. זה הקו השולט, מכאן הכל נגזר, השפה , המושגים, העמדות, והערכים.
במצב זה לפוליטקאי ישראלי נדרשת מידה עצומה של אומץ, ביטחון עצמי, ויכולת מנהיגות כדי להוביל לוויתור, מחווה או איפוק מול פרובוקציות. אין כאלה מנהיגים כיום, ואם יש אחד כזה בהרכב האנושי של הפורום , הקבינט או הממשלה אין למנהיג כזה יכולת ביטוי והשפעה.
אי לכך , אנו נדונים להמשך שליטת הקונצפציה, להמשך תלותנו המוחלטת בתגובות אימפולסביות של מנהיגינו, ולמעגל של טעויות שרק ידרדר את מצבנו. כמו אדם עם אישיות גבולית שנמנע מללכת לטיפול התנהגותי, כדי לשנות את דפוסי התגובה שלו כך המדינה החולה שלנו תמשיך להגיב בתוקפנות לכל גירוי סתמי של אחרון המטורפים במזרח התיכון.
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