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

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This Country Is Unconstitutional (Perhaps for the Best)

Gershom Gorenberg

Prof. Yedidia Stern came to my shul yesterday to give a lecture in honor of Independence Day on creating a constitution for Israel. Stern teaches law at Bar-Ilan University and is a fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, a think-tank that has been assiduously pushing the idea that Israel needs a written constitution. Stern is brilliant,articulate and – at a congregation made up largely of American immigrants – should have been preaching to the choir. As often happens to me, I found myself listening to the sermon agnostically.

Years ago, another brilliant law prof, David Kretzmer, punched a large hole in my American 5th-grade-civics-lesson faith in written constitution. A constitution is worth no more than the judges interpreting it, he said. The Soviet constitution looked gorgeous, but was irrelevant to how the Soviet Union was governed. Bolivia has had more constitutions than anyone seems able to count.

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