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The Book of the Week is “The 188th Crybaby Brigade, A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah” by Joel Chasnoff, published in 2010.
The author related his experiences as an American who joined Israel’s military (Israel Defense Forces; IDF) of the late 1990’s, and had various rude awakenings. He observed a major lack of skills-training and deterioration of leadership. Plus, he wrote, “What disturbs me about our endless fun isn’t just that it’s so often misogynistic, racist, and in the case of Ziv the redhead, outright insensitive, but how easily I go along with it.”
At 24, he was the oldest member of the testosterone-fueled group of mostly immature 18-year old boys who had too much time on their hands. The book’s major themes reflected those in Catch-22 (the same kinds of craziness) and “Portnoy’s Complaint” (only insofar as their gender led them to behave the way they did).
In February 1997, a helicopter accident that killed 73 Israeli soldiers, led the IDF to change its training and treatment of its ranks. It was a time similar to that just after the Yom Kippur war, when the Israeli military realized that it was unprepared to defend the country.
However, unlike in the second half of the 1970’s– in the late 1990’s, the IDF gave certain soldiers a pass, via an honor system. Ultra-Orthodox scholars could avoid military service altogether– a very emotionally charged controversy in Israel. Moreover, due to civilian complaints from families of soldiers, the military became less of an abusive hierarchy, and more socialistic, allowing soldiers to falsely claim they were injured or ill, to shirk the rigorous aspects of military life. The soldiers who weren’t crybabies, were subjected to harsh weather and severe sleep deprivation at the hands of an “arrogant, impudent, and thoroughly incompetent” captain. The other leaders were sociopathic sadists with weaponry.
The author was assigned to the tank division. A class lecturer told soldiers-in-training that Israel’s presence in Lebanon was necessary due to terror groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and their various factions. Monetary help from Iran, Syria and the former U.S.S.R., funneled to Hezbollah, supposedly made the terror groups’ resources actually superior to the IDF’s. That’s why the death toll of soldiers in Israeli tanks in Lebanon was so high, and why soldiers were killed so much sooner than troops in other divisions, even sooner than those in the infantry.
Each Merkava tank was equipped with: “…one ton of explosives in the form of depleted uranium 120-millimeter missiles, hand grenades, two MAG machine guns, a crate of .5-caliber shells and five hundred 35-millimeter bullets.”
The younger generation did not understand the mentality of their grandparents because they hadn’t personally experienced the Holocaust. They had, however, heard about or seen needless deaths and ruined lives resulting from America’s meddling in Vietnam (plus Laos and Cambodia), and Israel’s own constant fighting against its Arab neighbors and Palestinians, and its aggression in Lebanon (1982)– and they wanted no part of that.
Every major Israeli leader whose name is known worldwide (especially by American Jews fifty and older), was an old-school war-hero who also worked in Israeli intelligence (except for Golda Meir) and saw major combat, right up through Netanyahu. Since the 1990’s, leaders of the U.S. have been draft-dodgers rather than war heroes. Apparently, times are changing in geopolitics, war-mongering and energy (oil) needs and usage.
Read the book to learn how the IDF fanned the flames of racial tensions (hint: it was not because the light-skinned Ashkenazi soldiers had their private jokes), how the author struggled with his own religious identity, and many more details on the late-1990’s culture of the IDF.