When I was doing research in Israel for The Lion’s Gate, I spent hours and hours interviewing fighter pilots. I had never known any before; I had no conception of their unique and super-specific mindset, the way they were trained to think and to prepare for life-and-death missions in the sky. I was amazed. I found these airmen’s way of thinking not only fascinating but extremely applicable to the way you and I work as writers and artists.
I’m going to take the next few weeks on this blog to explore some of the parallels.
One point before we begin. The aviators I interviewed flew during the period around the Six Day War, i.e. the late 60s. Their world was old school. No computers. No satellites. No “fire and forget” missiles.
Air-to-air combat in their day was man-against-man, Red Baron, get-your-enemy-in-your-gunsights-and-shoot-him-down-before-he-shoots-you flying. In other words, a perfect parallel for what you and I do against the foes inside our own heads.
Let’s start this investigation with a passage from Giora Romm, who as a twenty-two-year-old lieutenant became the first fighter ace [shooting down five enemy planes] in the history of the Israel Air Force. The following comes from one of his interviews in The Lion’s Gate:
When I was fifteen, I applied for and was accepted into a new military boarding school associated with the Reali School in Haifa. The Reali School was the elite high school in Israel. The military school was a secondary school version of West Point. We attended classes at Reali in the morning and underwent our military training in the afternoon.
I don’t believe there is an institution in Israel today that can measure up to the standards of that school. Why did I want to go there? I wanted to test myself. At that time in Israel the ideal to which an individual aspired was inclusion as part of a “serving elite.” The best of the best were not motivated by money or fame. Their aim was to serve the nation, to sacrifice their lives if necessary. At the military boarding school, it was assumed that every graduate would volunteer for a fighting unit, the more elite the better. We studied, we played sports, we trekked. We hiked all over Israel. We were unbelievably strong physically. But what was even more powerful were the principles that the school hammered into our skulls.
First: Complete the mission.
The phrase in Hebrew is Dvekut baMesima.
Mesima is “mission”; dvekut means “glued to.” The mission is everything. At all costs, it must be carried through to completion. I remember running up the Snake Trail at Masada one summer at 110 degrees Fahrenheit with two of my classmates. Each of us would sooner have died than be the first to call, “Hey, slow down!”
When I first started writing, I could never complete anything. I would get to the finish line and choke. I’d quit. I’d blow the project up.
It took me years to face down these demons of self-destruction.
I wish I had known then Giora’s principle of dvekut ba mesima. I certainly think about it now before I start any new book, article, creative project, anything.
I set my mind at the start just the way Giora would before taking off in his Mirage IIIC or his F-4 Phantom.
Mesima is the mission.
Dvekut is” glued to.”
The mission is everything.
At all costs it must be carried through to completion.