29 May Globe and Mail review

By Matt Lennox

May 20, 2016

The term “asymmetric warfare” refers to any conflict where there is a large disparity between belligerents. This disparity may be reflected in size, organization, equipment, tactics, strategic objectives and even philosophical beliefs. To put it a little more crudely, asymmetric warfare generally consists of a modern military force combatting some kind of guerrilla army, insurgency, uprising or armed resistance. In many ways, large-scale conventional wars are a thing of the past; almost every conflict in the world today is asymmetric. Indeed, Canada’s recent expeditionary efforts in Afghanistan fit this bill perfectly, and one might argue that we still don’t quite know what to make of the whole thing. That’s why Pumpkinflowers: An Israeli Soldier’s Story, by Toronto-born author Matti Friedman, may prove instrumental. […]

The titular Pumpkin of Friedman’s book refers to a hilltop outpost in the Security Belt. Other such outposts bore similar names, Crocus and Red Pepper, among others. The other part of the title – Flowers – was the IDF codeword for casualties. Thus, whenever “Pumpkin Flowers” was transmitted over the radio, military personnel behind the lines would know exactly what the situation was.

And there were many casualties throughout this protracted, unnamed, asymmetric war. Some 250 Israeli soldiers alone lost their lives in the Security Belt. Figures on the Lebanese side are a little amorphous, but in any case, civilian deaths and displacement likely outnumbered any other figures. So much for low intensity. The day-to-day life of the Security Belt in general and Friedman’s Pumpkin in particular was characterized by roadside bombs, firefights captured on video, short skirmishes with vague adversaries, coffins airlifted home (the same kind of fighting Canadians would learn all too well in Afghanistan). All of this is captured in Friedman’s stark, unflinching prose, and it’s not for the faint of heart.

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