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The Lion's Gate: On the Front Lines of the Six Day War

The Lion's Gate: On the Front Lines of the Six Day War

Author: Steven Pressfield
Rating: 8/10
Last Read: September 2016

Quick Summary:  I would classify this book as a "written oral history".  Pressfield interviewed many participants of Israel's Six Day War, putting together a compelling picture of the state of Israel and the mindset of its inhabitants and warriors during this challenging time.  From the interweaving of the various narratives, one gets a sense of the fog of war, the pain of combat, and the heartbreak of losing friends.  And even with all the talk of war, I learned much about the early history of Israel, a region I have not spent much time focusing on.  

My Highlights

Memory, we know, is notoriously unreliable. Memory can be self-serving, self-glorifying, self-exonerating. Memory fades. People forget. Memory contains gaps and blank spots. --loc 73

We are being bullied, my father said, and the only way to handle a bully is to punch him in the face. --loc 291

Second: Whatever you do, do it to your utmost. The way you tie your shoes. The way you navigate at night. Nothing is academic. --loc 335

If you had screwed up, you admitted it and took your medicine. Ego meant nothing. Improvement was everything. --loc 345

Voice is everything when you command. As a company commander in a tank battalion, you have fourteen four-man crews listening to you through their headsets. Many times in combat, when I have been frightened or unsure, I have deliberately paused to be certain that I had my voice under control. You don’t want your men to hear that chicken voice. --loc 633

I could see the sergeant’s eyes settle on the line on the enlistment form that said, “Religion.” On it, I had written, “Jewish.” All of a sudden the sergeant looked up. He hadn’t looked up for any of these Catholics, but he looked up for me. He eyed me up and down. “The Marine Corps is a tough outfit,” he said. “Are you sure you can make it?” I was so furious I wanted to tear this sergeant’s throat out. I knew the only reason he would ask that question was because my enlistment form said I was a Jew. But I also knew that I couldn’t get mad or shoot my mouth off or he might not let me join. So I stared him in the eye, as directly and as hard as I could. “If you made it, I can make it.” That was it. He stamped my form and I moved on. --loc 741

“Complexity at the top, simplicity at the bottom,” Arik declares, defining in a nutshell his philosophy of command. “A commander,” Sharon says, “may keep complicated schemes of battle in his head and among his staff, but when the orders reach the operational units, they must be so simple that a child can understand them. ‘Go here, do this.’ Nothing more complex.” --loc 1016

came to despise the idea of parade ground order. Wingate felt the same. “Keep your rifle clean and kill your man before he kills you.” That was all he wanted of discipline. --loc 1235

The principles Wingate espoused—fighting at night, the employment of stealth and surprise, taking the battle to the enemy, the use of unconventional tactics, timing, and weaponry—became the core precepts of the Haganah and later the IDF. --loc 1246

It is a terrible thing to shoot a man and see him die. A pilot does most of his killing at altitude; he can report later in the briefing room that he destroyed this many tanks or that many trucks. But down at eye level it’s another story. I did not feel so sure, anymore, about my resolve to slay the enemy without conscience. No one who has killed face-to-face will ever sleep the same again. --loc 1364

It is an inviolable principle in the Israel Air Force that one must speak the truth in a debriefing session, even if—particularly if—it reflects negatively on himself. --loc 1383

Dayan reserved time to think, and he did his thinking alone. When he had arrived at a plan or an idea, the door to his office would open. “What do you think of this?” --loc 1544

Once he asked my opinion and I hesitated. “The moment you think twice before answering,” he said, “our work together is over.” He liked it when people contested him. He listened. “Only a donkey,” he would say, “never changes his mind.” --loc 1546

Why do we train? To perfect our flying skills, yes. But far more important, we practice to elevate our threshold of emotional detachment, to inculcate that state of preparedness and equilibrium that enables a pilot to function effectively under conditions of peril, urgency, and confusion. --loc 2080

pull the crew out of a burning tank, a man must go in face-first. He reaches in with his hands and arms. The tank crewmen are screaming in pain and out of their minds with fear. The interior burns like a furnace. High-explosive shells are cooking, half a meter from their face. When you witness this, when you do it yourself, you cannot believe it. In war soldiers perform feats of valor of which they never, before they do them, believed themselves capable. --loc 3265

Improvisation is not a wild scramble at the last minute. You are not pulling plans out of thin air. Improvisation is the payoff of scrupulous preparation and drill. --loc 3302

Why am I still above the earth when so many friends, who are better men than I, have been taken beneath it? Why them? Why not me? I am not religious. I don’t think the way a religious person thinks. But now, driving across these ten kilometers of hell, I feel the presence of the Angel of Death. “You,” he says to one man. “I shall take you now.” To another: “You wait. I will come for you later.” It is a terrible feeling. --loc 3512

In the academies of war, students are instructed in the tactical level, the operational level, and the strategic level. Beyond these, ministers manipulate the political level, the diplomatic level, the international level. --loc 3849

In combat there is no time for grief. A commander must act. He must project decisiveness and certainty. No matter how grim the situation, he must act as if it is under control. If your soldiers read fear on your face or discern irresolution in your posture, you have failed them. --loc 4097

Time always works against the defender. The enemy is waiting to be killed and he knows it. --loc 4114

I have learned one thing from this, my first experience of war: Leaders are everything. Individually, we soldiers may be brave. Collectively, we may make up a skilled, well-trained unit. But without a strong hand to guide us, we balk and freeze. We become confused and surrender initiative. --loc 4198

I believe in being stupid. You have to be stupid in war because if you were smart you would never do what you need to do to survive. That’s why being young is so important in soldiers. When you’re young, you don’t know the horrible things that can happen to the human body and the human mind. --loc 4226

In war, the wish to believe the best can be overwhelming. --loc 4851

you. Why? Because you cannot let them. I ask myself sometimes, “Ori, are you afraid?” The answer is, “I have no time to be afraid.” The commander bears responsibility not just for the completion of the mission, but also for the lives of his men. A military unit, particularly a reconnaissance company, is like a street gang. You are closer than brothers. Each life is precious to you. For every man under my responsibility, I see in my mind’s eye his mother and father, his girlfriend or wife, his children, even if he has none yet—his children-to-be, and their children as well. All will suffer if he dies. Such a weight makes concerns such as personal fear, loss, even one’s own death seem trivial. War --loc 5004

My position denies me the luxury of doubt or hesitation or fear. --loc 5011

If there is a universal disease of the modern era, I believe it is the malady of exile. This affliction is experienced on the individual level as well as on the national and the racial—the agony of feeling that one is a part of nothing, that he belongs nowhere and to no one. --loc 5445

The primal Jewish issue is justice. Judaism is a religion of the law, and the seminal concept of the law is that the minority must be protected. --loc 5584

In the Jewish faith, you study. You wrestle with issues. You are a scholar. You deliberate, you dispute. A Jew asks over and over, “What is fair? What is just? Who is a good man, and why?” --loc 5585

Who among us is not in exile? Is not exile the spiritual condition of the human race? Isn’t that what we share, when all differences of language, tribe, and history have been stripped away: the sense that we are estranged at our core from—what? From God? From our higher nature? From who we might be or become, from who we truly are? What, then, does the exile desire beyond all other boons? Home. To come home. To set his feet upon those stones that are his, which belong to him and to which he belongs. --loc 5616

English soldiers captured this first Dov Gruner and put him on trial for participating in an assault on the police station at Ramat Gan. He was sentenced to death by hanging. At the final hour he was offered a reprieve, if he would admit his guilt. Dov Gruner would not. He refused to defend himself, standing upon the principle that to do so would be to acknowledge the legitimacy of the British court. --loc 5627