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
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
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.
My rating: 3-1/2 of 5 stars