Azaryahu, Maoz. “Wrecks to Relics: Battle Remains and the Formation of a Battlescape, Sha’ar HaGai, Israel.” In Memory, Place and Identity: Commemoration and Remembrance of War and Conflict (ed. Danielle Drozdzewski, Sarah De Nardi, and Emma Waterton; Abingdon, UK and New York: Routledge, 2016).
Beyond prior knowledge about the association of the relics with history, their interpretation and evaluation in terms of memory and legacy is a matter of perspective based on particular ideological premises. Writing about his bus ride from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 1994, the travel writer Paul Theroux mentioned these relics: ‘Old-fashioned armored cars and rusty trucks had been left by the roadside as memorials to the men who had died in what the Israelis call the War of Liberation. The vehicles, so old, so clumsy, roused pity.’ To Theroux the relics ‘roused pity’. In Israeli patriotic culture they have been associated with heroic sacrifice, evoking veneration and respect. Despite their repeated relocations in the local landscape, the authenticity they exude substantially augments their symbolic capacity to conflate the historical battlefield at Bab el Wad and the contemporary battlescape at Sha’ar HaGai.
The following essay explores some of the problems with “lessons learned.” It offers a few tentative observations on the limitations and dangers of lessons. To illustrate these (but not necessarily prove them), it then looks at the experiences of the Israel Defence Forces, particularly its armoured forces, from 1948 to 1973. Finally, three recommendations discuss how military organizations might reduce the danger of lessons leading them astray.
Traditional combined arms warfare is premised on the assumption that a symmetrical mix of different kinds of units and weapons offers an army the best prospect of achieving optimal results on the battlefield. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has been accused by critics over the years of essentially abandoning the practice of traditional combined arms warfare before the 1973 Yom Kippur War in favor of a nontraditional (asymmetrical) variant that relied much too heavily on tanks and aircraft. While this criticism certainly has substantial merit, the IDF’s reverses in the early days of the war were not due solely to a lack of emphasis on traditional combined arms warfare, but rather also to a “perfect storm” of circumstances that obtained at the outset of hostilities. To its credit, the IDF learned rapidly from its prewar mistakes in force structure and war-fighting doctrine, reverting within days to a traditional approach to the practice of combined arms warfare, at least on the ground. Though not a battlefield panacea by any means, traditional combined arms warfare clearly contributed to the IDF’s eventual victory in the war.