Thursday, August 30, 2007

Talking to Israelis About War

Next week the army will award 135 medals of honor for acts of bravery in the 2nd Lebanon War last year. Israel is traditionally quite stingy in awarding medals (no Silver Stars for flying once in a bomber, as once happened to a very prominent American). There is a saying that medals are awarded to soldiers and junior officers when the generals screw up, and this seems an accurate assessment of last year's war. I haven't done a systematic breakdown of the present awards, but it's pretty clear that lots of them went to the fighters in the battles that were mismanaged. This reinforces an impression most of us had anyway, that the grunts on the field did well, and in most cases beat their enemy, while the higher-ups - division commanders up to the prime minister - were making some very strange decisions.

Of the 135 awards, only 5 went to colonels (and of them only 2 to full colonels); of the five, three seem to be pilots, probably helicopter pilots whose acts of bravery were committed while evacuating casualties under fire - so they are actually more like fighters than like high officers.

I may try to link to some of these stories over the next few days. The most obvious one is the story of Major Roi Klein, but I don't seem to see an English-language post about him. He was posthumously awarded the second highest award Israel has (and the highest awarded in this war) for throwing himself onto a live grenade so as to spare the lives of his troops. Another recipient of the same medal (Itur ha-Oz, Medal of Courage), is Lieutenant Anton Simion, who evacuated one of his sergeants under fire. For those of you who can't decipher the names, Anton is Russian, and Malko Ambau was Ethiopian.

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