The right to be wrong

There is a big difference between a debriefing and a witch-hunt.

lapid 88 (photo credit: )
lapid 88
(photo credit: )
The Israel Defense Forces top brass has expressed concern about the growing number of young officers who are refusing to sign on for continued service in the army. While there may be various and sundry reasons for the refusal, it may be assumed that underlying it is the fear of being investigated. Investigated for what? For any action that may produce a negative outcome. All armies carry out internal probes or operational debriefings after every operation. That is normal. But there is a big difference between a debriefing and an investigation. It is crucial that the IDF analyze what happened during the war in order to draw conclusions for the future. However, unlike a debriefing, an investigation is a hunt for those who are to blame for what did or did not happen. After battles end, there will always be people who look for someone to blame for mistakes or failures. But the impression we are getting in the wake of the second Lebanon war is that the cart has been placed before the horse: First, it will be decided who is to blame, and only then will the search for what went wrong begin. WHAT WE are seeing is a violation of the basic right of every commander to make a mistake. Those who act make mistakes. But if action means risking one's career for every mistake, why take action? Mishaps occur in every battle. Errors of judgment, mistakes in performance - these are a given. And while sometimes such mistakes can cause injuries, and even the death of soldiers, in all armies in the world it is understood that this is unavoidable. Only in the IDF are they convinced that anyone who errs is to blame and must pay the price. But not only him; his commanding officers too. Now, the families of fallen soldiers are petitioning the High Court of Justice in order to make sure that the army does not allow those responsible to escape punishment. The life of every single one of our soldiers is dearer to us than in other countries. Of that we are proud. But this also leads to the mistaken assumption that somebody has to pay for every mistake; that otherwise the mistakes will be repeated and more people will die. That even a senior commander who was not involved in an operation that ended in tragedy must bear responsibility. So that in the future, they will be more careful. We will all end up paying the price of this obsessive search for blame in the next war. It has been sadly noted in jest that, in the future, officers will go out to battle only with an attorney by their side. Because without an attorney, they will think twice before ordering any operation involving a risk. Excellent, you say. Let them think three times before endangering the lives of their soldiers. The problem is that they will hesitate to take action even when it is absolutely necessary. Why should they take the risk? After all, doing nothing is less dangerous and at least then they can't be faulted for anything. An army that does not take risks because it is afraid of failure, a commander who does not take the initiative because he is fearful of an inquiry, an officer who has concerns that ordering an operation could endanger his career, will prefer to do nothing. Instead of an army with vision, we will have one suffering from paralysis; instead of daring officers, we will have high-ranking functionaries; instead of a fighting spirit, angst will prevail. In every battle, soldiers encounter situations that require quick black or white decisions; every battle involves calculated risks, in every battle, a commander's decisions decide the fate of human beings. If instead of weighing what needs to be done in order to win the battle, commanders are worried about which decisions will least risk their careers, the battle will be lost. "Covering your ass" cannot become the dominant norm in the IDF. The writer is a former MK.