At the end of his very informative book, Ethics of Our Fighters, Rabbi Dr. Shlomo M. Brody quotes General Omar Bradley’s November 1948 observation, “The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants.” Brody comments that much has changed since 1948, “yet I fear that our moral compass remains insufficiently developed. Some people are simply not thinking enough about ethics in general and the impact of technology in particular.” He criticizes all nations for their inability to agree on any conventions or ethics. He encourages a dialogue between Israel and other countries about warfare. We need to learn why and when it is right to go to war and how to do the fighting. His book shows us why this is so.
He tells us that there are many books on the ethics of fighting wars, but the few that do so are far from adequate. He tells us why with many examples. He notes that Judaism has much to say about this topic and gives many examples but explains that while what was said is often good, it is inadequate. He provides examples from World War I, World War II, the many wars and conflicts against Israel, and others. He points out the mistakes, often well-meaning, but still mistakes, often with many losses of life.
One of the many topics discussed is civilian casualties. Is this hillul Hashem, a desecration of God, murder? How do we handle the problem that military technology, no matter how sophisticated, will not prevent collateral damage?
Others include whether self-defense begins by attacking an enemy before he attacks us and, if so, when. Another is how we evaluate the different goals of war, such as destroying the enemy, world opinion, and saving hostages. Others are how we should understand the Bible’s command to destroy Amalek, should Israel hold itself to a higher morality,” and how self-restraint should be implemented.
We learn many interesting facts. For example, during World War II, nearly thirty thousand Jews in pre-Israel Palestine served in the British army. In total, over 1.5 million Jews served in Allied armies across the globe: 550,000 in the US, 500,000 in the Red Army, 100,000 in the Polish Army, and 60,000 in the British.
In short, Dr. Brody’s book should be required reading in all military academies and by politicians in every nation. It will save lives and help make the world behave ethically.