Discussion Questions for “Company C”

1. In his prologue, Watzman describes the events that led him to move to Israel. His path began, ironically, with a short period of anti-Zionism brought on by an encounter with a fellow student. Why did that encounter lead the author to reconsider his beliefs about the Jewish state? What implications might his experience have for the way Jewish parents and educators ought to teach young people about Zionism and Israel?

2. On his first night in his reserve unit, the author survives a helicopter crash—and his shocked to hear a fellow soldier describe it happily as “an experience.” But Watzman realizes that he feels the same way, even if he’s ashamed to admit it. What does this internal conflict indicate about how he views himself as a soldier, and how is the same feeling revealed in other episodes in the book?

3. Is Watzman’s depiction of Hebron’s Jewish settlers a fair one? What is the significance of the story of the stillborn kid at the end of Chapter 2?

4. Based on Watzman’s description, how do relations between soldiers, NCOs, and officers in Company C, and in the Israel Defense Forces in general, differ from those in the U.S. army and in other armies? Why do you think those differences exist and what advantages and disadvantages might those relations present, in light of incidents described in the book?

5. “The way I see it, I’m more moral than officers who go easy,” Company C commander Elnatan tells Watzman during their first round of duty in the Intifada. “I’m tough because I’m determined that, at the end of our month here, there won’t be any more dead Arabs” (pp. 130-131). Do you agree with Elnatan’s statement? Which actions of Company C in Bani Na’im and elsewhere in the West Bank can be justified on the basis of Elnatan’s principle, and which cannot? In what ways, in Watzman’s account, is Company C’s handling of Palestinian civilians typical of other IDF combat units, and in what ways is it exceptional?

6. The U.S. military argues that the presence of openly gay soldiers can adversely affect unit cohesion. Watzman’s Company C included two homosexuals, with no apparent damage to unit cohesion. What might explain these different attitudes?

7. Company C’s men are both civilians and soldiers. In what ways do they remain civilians when they are in uniform, and in what ways do they remain soldiers when they are out of uniform? Is this combination good or bad for Israeli society? For the Israeli army? Is it a viable option for Israel in the future? Is it a model to be emulated in the U.S. and elsewhere?

8. “I don’t know if American soldiers feel what I felt then and every time I patrolled Mt. Hermon.… [American soldiers] could not have felt the same attachment to Vietnam’s central highlands that I felt for Mount Hermon. The mountains there were not their mountains” (p. 334). Yet Mount Hermon is occupied territory that Watzman thinks should be returned to Syria as part of a peace treaty, should one ever be possible! Is he a hypocrite? How can the sentiments he expresses here help explain the mind of the typical Israeli soldier and officer? Of soldiers in other countries and in other times?

9. “It took me a long time to understand that much of what I believed to be true was actually a delusion. I never thought about it before, but when you hallucinate, you don’t realize that there’s anything fantastic or warped about how you see the world. Your mind does its work—it seeks to make sense of the input it receives. As in the instant after waking from a dream full of vivid but incomprehensible scenes, the mind makes connections and arranges disparate images into narrative” (p. 338).
“Their mind’s eye is, as often as not, more like a fly’s than an eagle’s—made of dozens of cells, each perceiving the world from a slightly different perspective” (p. 356).
The first quote comes from Watzman’s description of coming out of a medically-induced coma; the second introduces his account of how the Oslo peace process collapsed and the second Intifada began. Why did he write these passages?

10. In an otherwise laudatory review in The Jerusalem Report, Noah Efron wrote: “At the same time, Company C can be exasperating. ‘I remember the trip vividly, but apparently not accurately,’ Watzman writes of one journey to milu’im. What he remembers is sitting in the truck of one of his comrades, Falk. But while researching the book, Falk reminds him that he was in Europe at the time, his truck parked at home. ‘Who was in the car? I’m not sure… So I will tell the story as I remember it.’ Watzman continues, describing in precise detail long conversations with a friend who was, at the time, a thousand miles away.… Such passages left me feeling like a sap, and I resented it.” Do you agree? There have recently been controversies regarding authors who included fictional passages in books labeled as memoirs. How does the literary device criticized by Efron affect your confidence in the truth of Watzman’s book?

11. The epigraph to Company C is two lines from Stephen Dunn’s poem, “Odysseus’s Secret,” from the book Different Hours. Read the entire poem. How does Odysseus described in the poem resemble and differ from Watzman’s depiction of himself?