Friday, August 10, 2007

Life-Threatening Tools

Achikam called home late last night. His unit had spent most of the week out in the field, and cellphones had been strictly forbidden. He sounds fine, given that he's in basic training, an event meticulously planned to be unpleasant. The only problematic incident, so he told, had been when while handling his rifle on the firing range he had committed some very minor infraction of the safety rules, and he now expects to be hauled before the entire company to have the episode analyzed.

I told him that's a good thing. Within months this group of teenagers will be handling not only rifles but weapons of far greater potency, and they will be doing so under conditions of physical exertion and exhaustion such as they never encountered in their civilian lives, and - given where we all live - they may be called to do so under conditions of emotional tension that make the exertion and exhaustion pale. In all of this, it will be a matter of life and death that they know what they're doing, not as an academic exercise, but instinctivelly. (And note the correct response of the guard discussed in the previous post as an illustration).

Furthermore, I reassured him, he wasn't about to be disciplined, he was to be part of an act of education. One of the most important thing an army needs continually to do is to analyze its actions, to learn from its mistakes as well as from its successes, and next time to do better. Sure, analyzing why he misunderstood the leutenant's command and cocked his rifle ten seconds too early isn't going to help the IDF prepare for war, but what must be done at the top levels is inculcated from the very bottom levels up, always. His training consists not only of learning how to obey orders as a new soldier, it also includes how to think as a future combat soldier and beyond. This is a point I expect to return to from time to time: the extent that the IDF tries to be a thinking army.

(Though admitedly, insisting that basic trainees look straight forward no-matter how much their sargeant is bawling them out two inches from their left ear isn't conducive to constructive thought).

From the micro to the macro: I am often astonished that commentators on military matters are unable to understand the degree to which military forces need to learn how to deal with new challenges. There always seem to be the expectation that if it's an army, and it has generals, they must know what they're doing, and if at first they're not supplying results it must be for some nefarious reason.

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