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Soldier at Wailing Wall

“The willingness to fight and die, to sacrifice for a cause, has often been vital in changing history. Napoleon Bonaparte remarked that in war the mental is to the physical as 3:1. George Patton demurred that the mental to the physical is closer to 5:1. In many revolutions (English, American, Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Iranian), the side weaker in weapons and numbers but superior in will to fight triumphed. This will to power, as Friedrich Nietzsche asserted, was critical to success. Alon Peled observed that, in modern armies, the most important factors for success are internal cohesion and the dedication of soldiers. Mossad chief Meir Amit asserted that, ‘the human factor is the biggest and most crucial for our society and our security services.’

A weak will to fight has repeatedly led to disaster. In 1940, the French, despite equal numbers of tanks and manpower to the Germans, lacked a will to fight and were defeated in a six-week campaign. In 1975 the South Vietnamese army, despite massive qualitative and quantitative advantage, was rapidly routed by an inferior North Vietnamese army which lacked airplanes, tanks, or sophisticated equipment — but had a greater will to fight…

After millennia of persecution, the Holocaust and Arab terrorism, the Jews had a very strong will to fight. They were well aware that they had nowhere to go. They saw the struggle as a life-and-death one determining the fate of the Jewish people. David Ben Gurion told his commanders that ‘We will not win by military might alone. Even if we could field a larger army, we could not stand. The most important thing is moral and intellectual strength.’ Yigael Yadin, Israel’s first chief of staff, assessed the will to victory as the most important factor in the victory in 1948, for:

If we are to condense all the various factors, and there are many, which brought about victory, I would not hesitate to credit the extraordinary qualities of Israel’s youth, during the War of Independence with that victory. It appears as if that youth has absorbed into itself the full measure of Israel’s yearning, during thousands of years of exile, to return to its soil and to live in liberty and independence, and like a giant spring which had been compressed and held down for a long time to the utmost measure of its compressibility, when suddenly released — it liberated.

During the 1945-48 period they fought against the British Mandatory government and then the Arabs. The British had almost 100,000 soldiers and police, first-class equipment, international legitimacy, Arab support and the halo of their great successes in World War II. The far fewer Jews, unable to mobilize openly, with little military experience, without uniforms or heavy equipment, fought off first the British and then the numericaly superior Arabs to achieve independence in May 1948.”


Pulled from the twelfth chapter of Jonathan Edelman’s The Rise of Israel: A History of a Revolutionary State. The picture: an IDF soldier after recapturing the Wailing Wall in 1967, 18 years after Israel’s independence.