The social value of memoirs is in allowing us a view of someone else’s life experience. Obviously, life is short – we can’t experience everything we might want to during our short span of years. But we can add vicariously to our experience through the ways in which external happenings bring others’ lives to a crisis point, creating the need for change. In this way, we come to understand the resilience, the malleability possible – as well as the long-term emotional traps possible in life experience.
In this memoir of a bratty rich boy Aaron Cohen, a Jewish adolescent living a pampered life in Beverly Hills, California, we note a transformation no doubt similar to many entering military service around the world. Following an episode in which he runs up a horrendous bill on his mother’s credit card, Cohen is sent to a Canadian military school. Surprisingly, he takes to the harsh discipline and begins to develop an interest in his Jewish heritage, in the state of Israel itself. This leads him to apply for military service in the Israeli Army.
His experience there begins to harden as he moves from kibbutz life to army enlistment to an arduous experience in Israel’s special forces. He doesn’t dwell in this memoir on the details of his bouts with Hamas and other Palestinian factions considered terroristic in Israel. But he does give us a first person account of such a clandestine experience on his own life.
As one might expect, his life perspective narrows with the focus such work demands. He struggles in the memoir to balance the feeling that all Palestinians are enemies, but his training has left him hyper-aggressive, with hair-trigger responses to possible threats that might him and those nearby.
Still, he begins to sense the negative effects of such training and under-cover experience, and ends his military life in Israel, despite an offer to be enrolled as a Mossad officer.
Returning to the States, he’s at loose ends, unable to trust anyone except those who fought with him in and near Israel. This is then the baggage one carries as one attempts to reconcile the gentler civilian lifestyle that inevitably follows modern warfare experience. Cohen is unable to crawl from under the possibility of terroristic threat, so he forms a company to train police, soldiers, even schoolteachers, in coping with terroristic acts.
The presence of Douglas Century shouldn’t go unnoticed here. No doubt something of a ghostwriter for Cohen, he gives us largely a replication of Cohen’s experience in Cohen’s own vocabulary and reproduced personality. But such dual-author writing often labors under the inescapable possibility of random changes in voice and tone. In this one, Century’s voice seems to appear early on, in narrative passages that are much more elegant than the salty, confident, often troubled voice of Cohen.
This book does reveal much about the narrowing of perspective, the commitment of soldiers involved in modern military life, as well as a consequent alienation from civilian life. Cohen does air his burdens with great candidness here. But I suspect an equal interest in promoting the quasi-military protection and training service he’s begun. That this became his interest in civilian life, speaks loudly to the emotional baggage such combatants will carry, probably for the rest of their lives.
Causes Bob Mustin Supports
Native American culture. Education. Creative writing.