During the 1970s, there was a post-Yom Kippur War joke that was very popular in Jewish circles:
Arab soldiers realized that at least half the Israeli troops they were fighting were named David. They decided to use this information to deal with situations in whch they were facing Israeli fighters who were hidden from sight. The order came down from on high that Arabs were to holler out “Hey, David!” When the Israeli soldier stood up or waved in answer, he would get shot. Alas, the best laid plans….
When the Arab soldiers hollered out “Hey, David!”, the Israeli soldiers, instead of standing up or waving, would hell back, “Is that you, Mohammed?” The Arab fighters would instantly stand up and wave, at which point they’d get shot.
It’s a pretty awkward joke, but it came to mind almost irresistibly when I read this news story:
Taleban insurgents fighting German forces in northern Afghanistan have often lived to fight another day thanks to trilingual warnings that have to be shouted out before the men from the Bundeswehr can squeeze their triggers.
The seven-page pocket guide to combat tucked into the breast pocket of every German soldier offers such instructions as: “Before opening fire you are expected to declare loudly, in English, ‘United Nations — stop, or I will fire,’ followed by a version in Pashtu — Melgaero Mellatuna — Dreesch, ka ne se dasee kawum!”
The alert must also be issued in Dari, and the booklet, devised by a committee in some faraway ministerial office, adds: “If the situation allows, the warning should be repeated.” The joke going round NATO mess tents poses the question: “How can you identify a German soldier? He is the corpse clutching a pocket guide.”
Max Boot, who brought this story to my attention, thought that the story was a joke, but it’s not. The only good news is that Germans are relaxing the above requirements so that they can actually kill the bad guys, while preserving their own lives.
I cannot for the life of me figure out what it means to live in a world that sees yesterday’s jokes as today’s reality — with ourselves as the butt of every punch line. I’m pretty darn sure, though, that it’s not a good thing when it comes to long-term survival.