Thursday, July 31, 2008

July Book of the Month

WARRIOR: Ariel Sharon
An Autobiography
With David Chanoff

I thought for this month’s book review I would examine Warrior, the autobiography of Ariel Sharon who was perhaps the most daring and successful commander in Israel’s extraordinary military history. During the short span since Israel’s founding, Sharon’s life of military and government leadership is reminiscent of many of our great leaders. Raising from ordinary circumstances this modern warrior became widely admired through a remarkably successful series of military and political achievements. Sharon was aided in his spectacularly impressive career by a personal force associated with his great physical and mental strength. It is safe to say that Sharon has been bigger than life in his country and on the world stage.

Ariel Sharon was born in 1928 in Israel of Russian immigrant parents who were known for their uncompromising strength, determination, and stubbornness. His father was an individualist in a socialist setting and that created an ill fit with their neighbors adding to the family’s already hard existence. The family, even though lacking money and material possessions, did maintain a rich cultural life revolving about the Russian heritage that they had been brought up to love. However, attempting to conquer the rugged land for agricultural purposes was the main effort of their everyday life.

Sharon’s and other Israeli village families outwardly held the prejudice that their farm children were superior. And, that purposeful but difficult existence derived from the soil during Sharon’s childhood and into adolescence formed a personality that was able to make decisions quickly, firmly, and clearly in the midst of battle or political turmoil. When at age seventeen he left home for military training that would begin the career of one of Israel’s great warriors, no one would have suspected his innate abilities or the scope of his future. But seldom would that be so for any as they are, without prior awareness, thrust into positions of major leadership relying mainly, during times of immense stress, upon the bedrock character developed from their youthful upbringing. Closeness to the soil creates a love for a country to defend it to one’s last full measure of breath. For Israeli’s there was no place else to go.

Modern terrorism against the United States upon its own soil began in the 1990’s and culminated September 11, 2001 with the attack upon the World Trade Center and the Pentagon resulting in 3000, mostly civilians, deaths. However, Israel has been a victim of such activity since its existence. Beginning in 1950 Palestinian terrorist groups began systematic raids within Israeli borders. Vehicles were ambushed, farms attacked, fields booby trapped, and roads mined and by 1956 nine hundred and sixty seven (967) Israelis were killed out of a population of about 1.5 million. This reign of terror was especially terrible during 1953 with over three thousand incidents, almost ten a day, with over 160 deaths.

Sharon was appointed commander of a newly created special anti-terrorist unit named Commando Unit 101 that was to be highly trained to kill and to destroy. This Unit was to strike at terrorist strong holds inflicting as many casualties as possible showing there would be a heavy price to pay for continuation of across border incursions. During the Unit’s development, Sharon showed and amazing grasp of organization, leadership, training, and tactical planning abilities. He always led from the field of battle rather than the command post. Sharon’s men came to have full confidence in him and would follow without hesitation. This was the beginning of his legendary military career, and the lessons learned by this initial terrorist-fighting cadre are still true. Today, we engage in practically the same fight; only time separates.

In Warrior, Sharon describes the major military battles that Israel was involved and in which he was a participant. His descriptions of the men, the battlefield, and the battles are lucidly described along with his role. Sharon had joined the Haganah at age fourteen, the Army at seventeen, and became an important player in all military operations from Independence through the Yom Kipper War of 1973. His discussion of the lead up to the Yom Kipper War was especially interesting. Reserves were mobilized and consisted of whole families where fathers had been participants in the early days of Israel’s founding battles and the sons had now become frontline soldiers as well. Many families lost both.

During the conflict, Sharon made one of his most famous and critical decisions that turned the tide of the War in Israel’s favor. The Israel Army could prevent an Arab victory only by crossing the Suez Canal in order to threaten the Egyptian forces in Sinai from their rear. Sharon’s division, with him personally in the lead, on the night of October 15 had taken on the most difficult, most complex, and the cruelest effort of the war by crossing the Canal. The crossing was described in Sharon’s final order of the day as the “…IDF’s greatest achievement…it brought victory.” In spite of headquarters’ doubt he made this most dramatic decision and was later vehemently attacked as a person who disobeyed orders. However, the Agranat Commission investigated and fully justified General Sharon’s actions stating that his decisions met the demands of military discipline.

Since Sharon had been called out of retirement for the Yom Kipper War, I would now like to briefly focus upon his civilian career as he returned to the political battlefield of the Knesset. He had previously been prominent in forming the Likud, a political Party to compete against the forty-five years of Labor dominance that was socialist in application. In 1981, as the Likud became successful, he was appointed minister of defense. Sharon continued to serve brilliantly and extended his reputation into the International arena as Israel prospered and as its military and commercial ties grew. There was much intrigue during that time as the Cold War was in full progress and the Middle East was an important battleground for both sides. Sharon’s description of this historic time reads somewhat like a spy novel as Communism and intrigue always threaten the fragile peace of the area.

Many of the particular occurrences described in Warrior will be familiar to C-133 crewmembers as a considerable number were participants in airlift missions relating to the events. In addition, our country as a whole was mesmerized by the depictions of the Wars on television. Sharon has described this important period in world history such that Warrior has taken its place among the most worthy and readable of modern historic documents. I have recommended it to several friends who have thoroughly enjoyed it for his informative description of significant happenings that have continued to elude resolution to this day. This we have lived.

Since Warrior’s publication in 1989, Ariel Sharon’s life has had many downturns and recoveries; and, one must turn elsewhere to learn of them. He was elected Prime Minister in 2001; endorsed The Road Map To Peace put forth by the United States; resigned from the Likud and formed another new political party in 2005 called Kadima; re-elected as Prime Minister; and, then on January 4, 2006, General Sharon suffered a massive stroke. He now lies in a long-term care facility having entered into a permanent coma with an extremely low chance of recovery.

His life was also filled with personal tragedies as he had a young son killed in a gun accident, lost his first wife, was severely wounded, had an ancient death curse placed upon him, engaged in a long libel battle with Time magazine, and was continuously involved in serious political controversy. But, through it all, he persevered to high command and sweeping victories that made him world famous. Sharon is well known publicly but Warrior helps one understand the private and complex personal side of this modern and outspoken Israeli military and political leader.

In order to obtain a critical overview here is a reference site that I suggest you peruse before you begin Warrior: Enjoy!

Click on: Wikipedia on Ariel_Sharon

Reviewed by:
Richard Spencer
39th ATS Dover AFB 1962-1965

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