National defense against wicked acts is never simple, but the Israel Defense Forces have always striven to be deeply moral. From Israel’s birth amidst war’s ugliness in 1948, consider how David Ben Gurion responded to the poet Natan Alterman’s rebuke of a particular soldier’s dereliction of duty.
“Congratulations on the moral validity and the powerful expressiveness of your latest column” Ben Gurion wrote to Alterman. “You are a pure and faithful mouthpiece of the human conscience, which, if it does not act and beat in our hearts in times like these, will render us unworthy of the great wonders vouchsafed to us until now…I ask your permission to have 100,000 copies of the article for distribution to every army person in Israel.” Israel’s Prime Minister made sure every soldier read and pocketed as part of his or her battle gear the searing censure of misconduct.
Being self-congratulatory takes no courage. As pleasureful as self-confirming thoughts may feel, Israel’s founding leaders recognized that self-critical expressions are necessary to sharpen ethical ardor.
As God stood with the powerless against the powerful in our founding Exodus story, we ever seek to balance might with right.