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Israeli Defense Forces: What a Democratic Army Looks Like

The Israeli Army is what a democratic army looks like. I would have said that before setting foot in Israel, but after two train rides, two bus rides, and walking in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, I saw an army that is of the people.

First, they are young.  I shared bus stops and train platforms with dozens of men and women somewhere around 20 years old at the most with backpacks, smartphones and automatic rifles.

They are also fit. I went to Iraq with a unit in which four in ten of the soldiers flunked the basic fitness test. All the Israeli soldiers I saw would bury me in a fitness test. And they should. Our all volunteer army cannot compel people, so they entice. And some people they entice are really not the kind of people who should be in the military.

They are part of Israeli everyday life. No one thinks it strange to see a young man sling his weapon under his arm so he can read a book while he waits for a train.  At one bus stop a young woman made a practiced move swing her carbine from her side to her front then holding the muzzle with her left hand she bent forward flipping her hair long over her head and brushing it. She then wrapped it into a ponytail. And her weapon was in her control the whole time.

The Israeli soldiers on the street are not like the knots of four French soldiers in combat gear and carrying assault rifles that patrol train stations and airports with their game face on. They are part of everyday life. They read, the laugh, take selfies, smoke. One woman I saw walking and both sip an espresso and smoke with the same hand.

The Israeli Army is a patriotic army. Everyone serves. Everyone makes some sacrifice. Some make every sacrifice. And just as in America before the Vietnam War, no one could run to be Commander-in-Chief of the nation after dodging the draft. That person could not run for anything. Benjamin Netanyahu, the current Prime Minister, was wounded in action in 1972, was part of a Special Forces team in the Yom Kippur War and left the military a captain with a distinguished record. From Truman to Eisenhower to Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush 41, our postwar presidents were all veterans.

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