By the time of this article is published, Israel will have been engaged in hot war with the Hezbollah and Lebanon for nearly a month. The media have been covering the military story from hour to hour and in our democracy certain types of information have been reached the public at an unprecedented rate. We received detailed reports of cabinet discussions; one commentator announced in the pages of Ha’aretz that the troops were demoralized, and Zev Schiff reported that in his view the war had been badly managed. More recently, the Chief of Staff appointed Major General Moshe Kaplinsky as his personal representative on the Northern Front, which meant effectively that he had relieved Major General Udi Adam of his command. This means not only that the Chief of Staff was unhappy with the conduct of the war, but also the government of Israel failed to achieve the political military goals it had designated. Instead, a torrent of missiles has killed civilians and disrupted the life and economy in the North. Thus, we are now engaged a conflict in which we have been unable so far to disarm the enemy and force it to do our will. Our leaders have greatly misjudged the enemy and its military capabilities. But there is more to the story.

A democracy, after a long period of relative peace, namely not being involved in a major “hot” war, must undergo serious changes in order to wage war effectively. It is also known that at the beginning of a war a democracy which has been at peace for a long period of time experiences a temporary disadvantage. This interpretation applied to the situation of England and the United States at the beginning of the Second World War.

The person who made those observations was none other than the French historian and thinker Alexis de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America whose second volume was published in 1838 [Vol. II, Part 3, Chap. 24]. He wrote:

I think… that a democratic people that undertakes a war after a long peace risks being defeated much more than any other; but it ought not to allow itself to be easily beaten down by setbacks, for the chances of its army are increased by the very duration of the war.

When prolonged, war finally tears all citizens away from their peaceful work and makes their small enterprises fail; and the same passions that made them attach such a price to peace turn them toward arms. After having destroyed all industries, war itself becomes the great and sole industry, and then the ardent and ambitious desires that equality has given birth to are directed on all sides toward it alone. That is why the same democratic nations that are so difficult to get into the battlefield sometimes do prodigious things when one has finally succeeded in putting arms in their hands.

Tocqueville also described another transition of a democracy at peace to a state of war. Younger, more capable, and more ambitious men begin to replace the older officers who during peacetime had become inflexible and unimaginative. According to Tocqueville’s interpretation, the new appointment of Moshe Kaplinsky should represent the beginning of this healthy process in the Israel Defense Forces. For the same matter, a good shake-up of Israel’s political echelon would definitely produce fine results.

War is not only a contest of armies; it is a contest between societies. Basically, Israel has a healthier and stronger society than the enemy but it responds slowly because it is a democracy. Of Israel’s many advantages its main strength is the democratic society which stands behind its army.

Published in Makor Rishon on August 11th, 2006

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