By: CPT Gabriel Koshinsky, USAR
The future of Army leadership and the soul of our culture will not be rooted in technology. As General Omar Bradley said, “Man is stumbling blindly through a spiritual darkness while toying with the precarious secrets of life and death. The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know living.”
Moreover, the soul of an army cannot be preserved via Twitter hashtag phrases like #leadership, #multidomainwarfare, #resiliency, #SHARP, #EO, #Armyvalues, or #wtfarmymoments. Fancy badges and medals only show the surface, but our Army culture requires a deeper meaning of purpose that is intrinsic.
Jewish wisdom can provide invaluable insight to inspire the Army of tomorrow. Its answers draw more questions, but within those questions are challenges we must answer individually and collectively. However, a delineation must be made between the popular conceptions of being Jewish on the surface before we can get beneath the surface.
Through nine years of being in the Army, most Soldiers I meet do not know many Jews. As a result, they know less about Judaic thought. From my experience, the perceptions of Soldiers and the public at large are fueled by the media and age-old stereotypes. These must be exposed for the cognitive fallacies they are.
The negative stereotypes of Jews range from the following: we killed Jesus, we kill children (blood libel), we run the banks, we planned 9-11, we are to blame for COVID-19, we run the media, we are rich and greedy, we are poor and needy, we are evil, we are communists, and we are cheap. This list is not all-inclusive, but it gives a good idea.
Just as negative stereotypes simplify generalizations, so do positive stereotypes. These range from the following: we are intelligent, we are well educated and hardworking, we are resilient, we are good with money, we are generous with our money, we are hilarious, and we are family–oriented. These stereotypes offer a glimpse of the surface through fallacious generalization. Like all groups, Jewish people vary widely. The true wealth of Jewish culture is not what is seen on the surface. The wealth is found within. This analogy applies to our Army as well.
Beneath the Surface
The Army of tomorrow can gain tremendous insight from Jewish wisdom. These are the goldmines I have found over the course of my 32 years. Perhaps they can provide purpose beyond a hashtag or acronym in practice:
1. Welcome the Stranger
Judaism has 613 commandments. I can only guess a bored staff officer felt the need to add onto the original 10 commandments, only after the subordinates clearly couldn’t follow the original order. The most frequent phrase within the Torah entails welcoming and taking care of the stranger. The rationale provided is that we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. Thus, we customarily invite strangers on Passover to celebrate the commemoration of leaving slavery for freedom. Peace always starts at home.
Soldiers and their Families, more than most, can empathize with feeling like strangers. Every permanent change of station (PCS) is a hardship of going somewhere new, feeling uncertain, missing friends, and trying to meet new friends. This is not easy. Army leaders should brand a culture rooted in “welcoming the stranger.” I would suggest further that we should get to know the stranger.
2. Doubt, questions, and debate are good
In the Torah, Moses’ response to leading the people from Egypt is to identify his own doubt in himself. Instinctually, he doubts people will follow him. Later in the Torah, we hear of 12 scouts that report on the “land of milk and honey.” We are told 10 of the 12 reports the land is too dangerous; only two argue that it is safe. We are told the Israelite women doubted the 10 scouts and questioned them. Unfortunately, following the majority opinion led to getting the “wandering Jew” tab for 40 years in a desert.
First, doubt in the Army is not futile, it is human. Faith in greater ideals can ensure doubt does not lead to paralysis of action. Any leader who says they never doubted themselves either never tries or always lies. Second, questions drive our capacity to understand. My alma mater at Capital University has the motto, “Ask, Think, Lead.” You cannot think or lead without asking the right questions. Lastly, the debate is equally valuable for demonstrating care through due diligence. The difference of opinion is good for thinking deeper.
3. Some are guilty, but all are responsible
Rabbi Abraham Heschel wrote on his position of opposing the Vietnam War saying: “The more deeply immersed I became in the thinking of the prophets, the more powerfully it became clear to me what the lives of the prophets sought to convey: that morally speaking there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty but all are responsible.”
We all share the individual and collective responsibility to one another. Being conscientious and retaining our values makes us stronger. Ideas have greater power than weapons.
4. Be strong, be courageous
These sacred words were spoken to Moses. Being strong and courageous means to commit to a purpose and stand by it. These words hold true meaning when leaders must stand against the majority and do what they believe is right. This is easier said than done, but these words are a great azimuth in uncertain times.
5. Be a light, not a shadow: L’dor V’dor
Our world is a work in progress. We cannot eliminate all the darkness, but we can serve as an example that illuminates our own spheres of influence from generation to generation. Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) says, “It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.”
A light that is not shared is lost. Dor L’dor means from generation to generation. As leaders, we must enshrine a hope that sees beyond ourselves and inspires others we may never know. When I assumed command of my company I said, “our measure of success will not be measured in a year from now with numbers, it is measured 40 years from now when you look into the eyes of your grandchildren knowing you did your part.”
Moving forward, it must be said that the Army is facing a complex world. While it is true that we face a number of adversaries, the truth is American victories share the common denominator of being rooted in what is beneath the surface of those who fight. These values can provide a remedy to the numerous troubles of the present. As we face numerous challenges of the social ills and emerging threats, we are obligated as leaders of today to put forth an effort that is focused on development beneath the surface.
A “ready” force starts from within, not through hashtags. Our success is dependent on focusing on the core values that give purpose and unity. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US Army, Department of Defense, or the US Government.
This article was originally published at fieldgradeleader.themilitaryleader.com.