Paul Greenberg

After five years in lonely captivity, denied visits by the Red Cross let alone his countrymen and kin, there was Gilad Shalit back on native soil.

In his fresh uniform, web belt around his shrunken waist, regulation headgear tucked under a shoulder strap, and looking shrunken in his outsized uniform, Sgt. Shalit was saluting the high-ranking (and well-fed) politicians who are attracted to such occasions -- like moths to even a flickering flame.

Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists -- excuse me, militants -- in June of 2006. Frail, wan, pale, the returnee looked a little like those pictures of newly liberated GIs freed at last from Japan's ghastly prison/death camps circa 1945. Those who had survived, that is.

Recall how painfully thin Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, U.S.A., appeared when he finally got out of some hole of a Japanese prison camp in Manchuria/Manchukuo? Unlike his commander -- Douglas MacArthur had chosen to lead his troops from sunny Australia -- General Wainwright chose to go into captivity with his men after Corregidor.

They'd called him Skinny Wainwright even before the war, and the man was a lot skinnier afterward. He seemed only a shadow of his old self when he was immediately flown to the Philippines to receive the surrender of the last Japanese forces there.

Sergeant Shalit did not surrender to overwhelming numbers. Instead, he was taken hostage in a cross-border raid and now has returned after years of isolation, negotiation and general hand-wringing in Israel. He was being exchanged for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, many of them convicted murderers, child-killers, arsonists and not very pleasant types in general. Most of them scrupulously avoided military targets. Their specialty was innocent civilians. Less trouble that way.

Now this once young sergeant is being welcomed home by his family, which in Israel means the whole country. For it's a small, tightly knit state/community/clan that's been through a lot together. In that country, if somebody in the news isn't your cousin, surely you went to school or through the army together. It sounds a little like life here in Arkansas.

And like some small towns I've known, everybody has an opinion about just how you should conduct your business -- and doesn't hesitate to voice it.

His country is still divided over the wisdom of ransoming Gilad Shalit, for the odds are that freeing all these killers as part of the bargain will only assure more killings to come.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.