The recently published book, Start-Up Nation, by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, describes the idiosyncrasies of Israeli society that have transformed the country into a high-tech powerhouse.
But, while reading accounts of Israel’s much-praised field hospital in Haiti, it occurred to me that some of the same societal characteristics identified by Senor and Singer account for another Israeli accomplishment: providing humanitarian aid during what medical professionals call “mass casualty incidents.”
Writing in Newsweek, Senor and Singer observed:
For Americans, the idea that military service can be great training for business is surprising. “Innovation” is hardly the first word most people associate with the military. “Improvisation” is even less likely to come to mind. And “flat”—as in anti-hierarchical and informal—would be completely counterintuitive. Yet these are exactly the attributes that employers have come to expect from young people emerging from their stint in the IDF.
Talk to an Israeli Air Force pilot and you will see why. “If most air forces are designed like a Formula One race car, the Israeli Air Force is a beat-up jeep with a lot of tools in it,” one pilot told us. A U.S. Air Force “strike package” often consists of four waves of specialized aircraft: a combat air patrol to clear a corridor of enemy aircraft; a second wave to suppress enemy antiaircraft systems; a third wave of electronic-warfare aircraft, refueling tankers, and radar aircraft; and, finally, the strikers themselves—planes with bombs. In the Israeli system, almost every aircraft is a jack-of-all-trades. “You do it yourself,” one pilot noted. “It’s not as effective, but it’s a hell of a lot more flexible.”
I couldn’t help but be struck by the similarities in this account of an Israeli field hospital set-up in 1999 to help Albanian refugees fleeing Kosovo:
Israeli rapid reaction to crisis has become a niche of sorts. In addition to setting up hospitals in Cambodia in 1979 and Rwanda in 1994, Israel sent a rescue team to Kenya after the terrorist bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi last year.
Joachim Gardemann, from Germany, who proudly displays a red Star of David pin given him by his Israeli colleagues, touts them as “world champions” of army field hospitals.
But that is a dubious distinction, indeed. It is a specialty borne out of necessity, say the Israelis, what with so many wars and grisly terrorist acts in the Jewish state’s 51 years of existence.
“One of the greatest things about Israeli society is our ability to improvise and be creative,” said Ron Maor, a 14-year army surgeon who also served in Nairobi. “If something urgent needs to be done, we don’t need a lot of bureaucracy to do it. For a country almost continuously at war, we can’t afford the luxury of being surprised or caught unprepared for any mission.”
BTW — If you aren’t adverse to “journal jargon,” here are some academic [pdf] articles about lessons learned from Israeli field hospitals in the Balkans and earthquake-ravaged Turkey—lessons that are now saving lives in Haiti.