Bad War, Bad Soldiers

Haim Watzman

One of our regular readers, Alon, comments (ungermanely) on my previous post:

i would like to know is how do you feel on the day that the testimonies of soldiers on the killing of civilians and vandalism in gaza — after saying in your
“Bad War, Good Soldiers” post that you were “happy to hear” a soldier telling you that “we had to show them we’re not suckers and beat the hell out of them”, and that soldiers should forget their scruples and just “do the job?”

I’m writing an op-ed for the Forward this week about these recent soldier testimonies, and I’m giving a talk on Tuesday at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies on Tuesday on the moral responsibilities of the individual soldier (sorry, the talk is not open to the public). Since the subject is a serious one, I intend to take the necessary time to research and think through the issues before commenting on these revelations in detail.

However, here are a few pointers for readers interested in the subject—food for thought until my substantive post:

1. Anyone who has Israel’s interests at heart should be outraged at the thought of IDF soldiers shooting women, children, and old people.

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Dueling Ethicists in Gaza

Haim Watzman

What was most surprising about the conference on Battle Ethics in the Cast Lead Operation held on Sunday by the Ethics Center at Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem was how much agreement there was among speakers with ostensibly different points of view. Everyone from noted liberal Mordechai Kremnitzer to the IDF’s favorite ethicist Asa Kasher dissented from the simplistic extremes and sought to balance the conflicting demands of defense and respect for human life.

As Daniel Statman noted at the beginning of the conference, there’s no need for a discussion of Israel’s battlefield ethics if one’s position is either that either fighting in general or Israel’s fighting in particular is absolutely and utterly criminal. Or if you think that in war Israel can do whatever it pleases, without any constraints, in order to win.

That these two extreme positions play a prominent role both in Israel’s internal debate and in the international polemic about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not, thankfully, deterred the philosophers, journalists, and legal scholars who spoke at the conference from thinking through the issues.

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Who Am I to Say (Occasional Advice – For Soldiers)

Haim Watzman

Gershom gets requests for advice from seekers of Jewish identity, I get them from soldiers. I’ve edited the letter slightly to make it clearer and to avoid giving away the writer’s identity.-hw

Dear Sojo,

You have said something to the effect that soldiers do not have the right to refuse orders to go to war even if they disagree with the war. Morality happens at the trigger level.

soldier-doing-paperworkNow what if the military system is designed so that no one person is pulling that trigger?

I ask this because I have oversight for the pay records of servicemen who sometimes deploy to GITMO, assigned to guard servicemen who may or may not have been waterboarding detainees. If I believe that waterboarding is illegal, do I have a moral responsibility to do something contrary to military orders and the good order and discipline of the unit?

My aunt, uncle, and cousin ended up at Treblinka, sent from Warsaw. That entire system of death was designed so that no one would normally feel any onus of responsibility.

I want to avoid ever being a part of system that is similar to what happened at Treblinka.

Confused personnel officer

Read moreWho Am I to Say (Occasional Advice – For Soldiers)

Who’s In the Way Here? On War Ethics and Mahsom Watch

Gershom Gorenberg

In your last post, Haim, you mention the soldier who is outraged by Machsom Watch volunteers at checkpoints in the West Bank. Much as I understand him, I think he’s got it backwards.

Read moreWho’s In the Way Here? On War Ethics and Mahsom Watch