How I learned to hate war and love country music - my spiritual journey in Lebanon

Lenny Bruce is American born, Israeli and Dutch by naturalization, an IDF veteran, living the past 19 years in Holland and by happenstance in life and love, married with a SE Asian Muslim. In the following piece he describes how his transformation to committed peace lover happened while he was in Lebanon in 1982:

As an IDF regular and then later reservist, my experience with Lebanon in 1982 led me through two lasting transformations. I became an ardent fan of country music and an even more ardent believer in peace and the nonsense of war. When I was called up on the eve of the hostilities, I had been out of my regular army service for a number of months. My last months of regular service had seen a sort of buildup in the north and I was then serving on the Golan border. Since radio was then our most accessible medium, we listened a lot, and I discovered a transplanted American born-again Christian radio station broadcasting from the Christian south. Their formula was country music and I became a big fan, of the music that is.

But more importantly is the journey I took in June and July 1982, the period I spent as a combat medic fighting in southern Lebanon. It was a journey that took me only 40-50 km into Lebanon but much much further into my soul. I will never forget either journey, as they have both changed me forever.I became a diehard believer in the possibility of peace over time. I think it began after several days of my first combat experiences. On a four-hour leaveback on the Israeli side of the border, I was allowed to use a telephone in the ad-hoc international press center to call my parents in the United States. I needed to talk to my father, the closest person to me who had also been in war (US army in WWII in Europe). I needed to express a feeling I couldn’t share with anyone else. I was confused by my first days of fighting. I realized I couldn’t quite get my head around the concept that I was trying to kill people, who were trying to kill me, and we didn’t even know each other. The political and nationalistic ideals, the preconceptions and misconceptions, apparently were losing traction for me due to the human personal experience of war.

But I will never forget the evening that my transformation began in earnest. At one point, my unit became one of several units acting as security details searching the homes of suspected PLO members or sympathizers. We would be led to the ‘suspect homes’ by our liaisons in the SLA. I quickly got the feeling that these ‘tips’ could have been either genuine or some settling of accounts between the Christian SLA and Muslim villagers. That already gave me an uneasy creeping feeling that everything may not be what it seems to be in southern Lebanon. Especially for the outsider.One of the nights, we entered a particular home. We encountered there a woman, her husband and their three children. A few soldiers took away the husband after securing his hands behind his back with those plastic‘hand-cuff’ strips. Her three children, one girl and her two older brothers, seemed to be in the age range of 6 or 7 to 13 or 15; a young daughter and two young teenage boys. Our job was to check under the floor, in the closets, cabinets and bookshelves, looking for weapons or any documents that could have value for intelligence. As we went about our business, the mother stood silently by, with her three children huddled behind her, often glancing at what we were doing, the two teenage boys occasionally holding, in any case, my gaze in their eyes. And they were not gazes of curiosity. They were rather ones of a very unsettling mix of fear, shame, anger and hate. We began to remove books from the shelves, placing or letting them fall on the floor and looking behind them. At that point the mother became quite vocal and agitated, protesting in Arabic, a language I don’t understand.

When we returned later to our base, a large unfinished, what we called Arab-style villa, I became curious as to what that woman had been so agitated about. I mean, of course, I could imagine on my own what she was agitated about - us. But I was curious what she was saying since she had been silent until we got to the bookshelf. I asked one of my Arab-speaking mates for a translation. That mother, rather poor in a rather simple and by the looks of it poor village, was screaming about her children’s’ schoolbooks. She was not scolding us as dirty Zionists, or filthy Jews, or murderous Israelis. She was pleading with us to please take care with her children’s books. She couldn’t afford to buy new ones. I guess it was logical and not so spectacular but it somehow swept over me like a moral tsunami.

I realized in that moment, that all the things that united us as human beings, are so much stronger and more fundamental to our human-ness, than the things that may have divided us along political, ethnic or religious lines. I realized that she and I were no different from each other. That her children and I were no different. And if we were no different, then how could I any longer maintain a belief that my rights were any more right than her rights? That my pain is any more profound or horrible than her pain? That my grievances had any more claim to resolution than her grievances. And once that moral tsunami swept over me, there was no way to swim back to morally indifferent or comfortable shores.
The second thing I realized that night was the message in the eyes of that woman’s two teenage boys. I knew, that what I was doing that night would not only stay with me forever but that it would stay with those boys forever as well. In retrospect, it was bad enough that I, or anyone else for that matter, must face death and killing so close up and personal. But I was an adult and had chosen to be where I was. They were just kids, developing and impressionable as kids everywhere are. And they were probably just as curious, just as mischievous, just as everything that kids are everywhere. They had no place being there. They didn’t ask to be there. I was the one who brought this madness into their home.

I realized there was maybe a good chance that I had just contributed to creating the next generation of Israel’s adversaries. I realized that what we saw as intimidation to induce obedience may work short term,if at all, but in the long term will only lead to being further from peace. I wish I knew what happened to that family. How her children turned out.In my fantasy I imagine they are all well, each of the children now happy and successful adults on their chosen paths. And that in the last month, that they are all safe. But I don’t know of course. I pray that none of her children have fought or are today fighting other Israelis, looking to pay back the debt I created that night in their home. Because that may mean that their lives became defined by anger and revenge and that I would have been at least one contributor in them having become that way.In some way, writing now over my transformation from agung-ho believer in my own preclusive righteousness into a peace activist is maybe part of my journey in coming to terms with that summer in Lebanon and givingback something to those from whom I earlier took.


At Tuesday, August 15, 2006 2:34:00 AM, Blogger Mirvat said...

thank you for posting this. i loved reading it.

At Tuesday, August 15, 2006 4:59:00 AM, Blogger Doons said...

wow, very touching. i wish u knew the family name or some info about them, mayb we could look them up for u. i can imagin what it's like to b wondering about their fate and what effect u had on them...
thnx for sharing

since all comments shud b aprroved by u, i am writing this and hoping u'll remove this part if u keep the comment:ever since this war started i'v been reading lots of forums and blogs. it would b gr8 if u could join the forum HolmHalom http://www.cmc.blackcurranthost.co.uk/community/index.php
check it out, it might b interesting to u, and if u don't mind i'd like to post ur blog link there. mail me on dajody@hotmail.com
thnx in advance

At Tuesday, August 15, 2006 9:29:00 PM, Blogger mnuez said...

Hi, I've very rarely copmmented in these pages but I've read probably half of the posts here since the war began. I appreciated your write-up here and I've profited from much that you've written. I've also had the good fortune to come across others (though in the minority on this particular page) who appear to be entirely reasonable, good people with whom I empathise and who's point of view regarding the war I often agree with (and often don't).

One thing though which truly scares me is something that I see nobody in Lebanon truly knows for a fact, even people who hate Hizballah and understand Israel's reaction to it.


I truly am frightened by the fact that most Lebanese bloggers appear to believe that Israel was going to attack in any event at some point and even those bloggers who don't believe that aren't absolutely positive about it.

Please understand that the thought that Israel had any intentions whatsoever of invading Lebanon is as crazy as believing in aliens abducting people on long stretches of highway. It's truly insane. No Israeli has the slightest interest in it. Nobody. The only reason why Israel ever entered Lebanon twenty years ago was in response to terrorists murdering our diplomats and citizens. and Israel's interest at that time was to leave as soon as the terrorists were gotten rid of.

The facts happen to be that Sharon was a bit of a wild ass and he made some new enemies in Lebanon at that time so that the threat from Lebanon and the rockets continued even after Arafat was gone, which is why Israel had to stay in Lebanon. for all of those terrible years. But realize that no Israeli wants to be in Lebanon. At all.

You guys were fed lies for sixty years. Crazy lies. About how "Zionists" want to "colonize the whole Middle East" because they think they're the "chosen people".

Guys, this is nuts. But again, the main point. To even consider that Israel had the slightest intention of invading Lebanon before Hizballah murderers killed 8 of our kids and kidnapped two more is insane.

And it scares the hell out of me that even the most reasonable Lebanese don't know that for sure.



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