About three years ago, I attended a panel discussion at the Royal Military College of Canada. The panel consisted of a senior Naval officer and former ship commander, a Catholic theologian, and an international lawyer. The subject of discussion was juris bellum - just war. When is it legal to go to war? What are the rules when it happens. The ship commander at one point in his career avoided shooting down a civilian jetliner only because the missile failed to launch. The plane identified itself after he had given the order to fire.
I found that while listening to these men that I had very little time for the lawyer. It seemed that he had no experience seeing the effects of potential legal decisions in combat operations. It is so easy to open a book and see how the law applies. To apply those books in real time, when bullets are flying and lives are at stake, is simply not a task for the faint of heart.
It is with that in mind that I don the first of my hats. This hat is my military cover. I am a naval officer. I have affirmed an oath to support and protect the Constitution of the United States. This hat says two things to me right now. We do not leave a soldier in the field - ever. It is an issue of honour that those whom we send to advance the Nation's policies must go with the security that the Nation is not just using them as tools. Whether or not my country will do its utmost to rescue me or those for whom I am responsible has direct relation to the level of risk I expect any Sailor, Marine, or Soldier to take. On the other hand, those of us who have affirmed the oath of office or the oath of enlistment affirmed that oath knowing the risks. We would never want our captivity to be treated as a political tool by the enemy. As well, we would not want our our freedom to place the Nation's security at increased risk due to the price tag of securing our release. This issue is not black and white.
And so I switch to my second hat. This is my kippah. This is the Rabbi speaking. Oddly enough, the military issues are not different from the Rabbinic issues. The Mishnah in Gitin (Page 45a) already tells us that we do not redeem a captive for more than his/her worth. The discussions of this issue throughout the ages come back to what the community can afford, whether or not the payment to redeem the captive encourages others to kidnap as well, and the like. The Rabbis are quite divided. As a Nation, we need to tell our people that we will work for their safe return. We also need not to sacrifice the security of a nation in the process. This issue is also not black and white.
And so I turn to my third hat. I am a father. I have taken several looks at the picture of Gilad Shalit hugging his father Noam. Even now, after five or six looks, I have a lump in my throat looking at it. I cannot imagine the mental torture that Gilad's parents must have endured over the last five years. I do not want to imagine it. The quiet dignity they maintained over the time of their son's imprisonment would probably defy most of our abilities. There is nothing morally, politically, or militarily ambiguous here.
My first hat and my second hat are desperately seeking black and white in a situation that dwells squarely in the gray. My third hat is black and white. When the decisions for a nation are so difficult, then we must make decisions for a family and for a person. I congratulate Prime Minister Netanyahu for navigating this awful decision. I congratulate the country of Israel for understanding some small piece of the black and white.
A final word: the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot 1:7 reads as follows: "Nitai the Arbelite says: keep far from an evil neighbour. Do not become friends with a wicked person. Believe in karma." We are stuck living close to an evil neighbour. We will not become friends, and should not be encouraged to do so. The Palestinian enemy (no longer dignified with a name) in Gaza must realize that those who behave with an utter lack of humanity will often see their own behaviour imitated by those who suffer under their oppressive thumb.