Monday, August 15th | 18 Av 5782

July 13, 2011 4:07 pm

Of Jews and War

avatar by Dovid Efune


Jewish soldiers at prayer in Iraq. Photo: Debbie Shlussel.

In my column last week, I strove to make the case for the expedient invasion of Iran as a war to end all Middle East wars. Understandably, reactions were heated and varied. A disproportionate number of responses seemed to aggressively question the Jewish commitment to fighting militarily for the values of freedom. Here is a particularly harsh letter that I received, and my response.

Dear Mr. Efune:

I note that you’re Jewish and, like so many Jews both American and Israeli, you advocate war with Iran. It’s a near perfect correlation; Jews seem to uniformly want war.

What’s interesting, however, is a little tidbit I learned while serving as a Marine Infantry Officer during the last years of the Vietnam conflict and thereafter. There just weren’t any Jews in the Marine combat arms units to speak of.

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We saw plenty of Jews in the JAG corps. We saw plenty of Jews in the Navy hospitals serving as doctors. But I never once knew a Jewish line officer or enlisted man in combat arms, despite the fact that I knew thousands of Marines and despite the habit of the Jews then and now of regularly agitating for America to go to war against their imagined and real enemies in the Middle East.

This begs the question, are the Jews afraid of fighting the wars they advocate?  Are you pleading for conflicts in which you have no “skin in the game”? It sure seems so. At least, it seems so for American Jews. Perhaps it’s true of Israeli Jews too as the Israeli military is as heavily dependent on U.S. support as the Israeli economy.

So, may I ask if you’re an American Jew?  And, if so, would you mind sharing with me the many martial exploits and military honors IN THE SERVICE AND IN COMBAT ARMS AND DURING WARTIME that the Efune family probably has which so emboldens you to advocate the commitment of American troops against Iran?  Please also tell me how many of your own family members are currently serving in combat arms in either Iraq or Afghanistan. I’ll bet there are none.

Or are the Efune’s cowards like so many American Jews?  And, do you advocate wars against Israel’s enemies under the banner of JC and Old Glory and with the tune Onward Christian Soldier playing in the background?

Just wondering.

Oh, and don’t reach for that old canard of anti-Semitism just because I asked for a clarification of a contradiction I’ve noticed. I tend to adhere to the British view of anti-Semitism, i.e., an anti-Semite is someone who hates the Jews more than absolutely necessary.

Personally, I dislike cowards and blowhards. I especially dislike those who harbor both characteristics simultaneously. But I have no excessive distaste for any particular religion…not even the Muslims.

Can you say the same?

D. W.

Dear D.W.

Firstly, thank you for taking the time to read my article and share your thoughts with me, I humbly thank you for your service. You are certainly an antisemite, but that is beside the point.

The illustrious and storied history of Jews in the US military is a matter of public record, beginning in colonial times and continuing until this very day. Among others, this is documented by historian Simon Wolf in his 1895 work The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier and Citizen, as well as by Mark Twain in The American Jew as Soldier.

During World War II, approximately 500,000 American Jews served in the various branches of the United States armed services and roughly 52,000 of them received US military awards. At least 37 Jewish men and women have lost their lives serving in the current theaters of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Personally, whilst I am a British citizen and not an American, my family’s military activity is extensive. My paternal grandfather lied to authorities about his age when he was 16 years old, in order to serve with the allies during World War II. My maternal grandfather’s brother Michael, an RAF gunner, was killed in combat. My maternal grandmother’s brother was killed fighting for Israel’s independence with the Haganah in 1947. My brother-in-law is an active serviceman, who was recently awarded an Army Commendation Medal with a “V” (valor) Device for heroic actions that took place on April 13th on the battlefield in Afghanistan; he has also recently been accepted to Rangers school.

Additionally, one of my younger brothers and a cousin are currently actively serving with the Israel Defense Forces. As fallen Jewish serviceman Jeremy Kane replied to his mother when she asked why he had chosen to serve in the United States as opposed to Israel, “It doesn’t matter whether I fight for the Israelis or the Americans. We’re all battling the same thing.” Dutch politician Geert Wilders famously said, “Thanks to Israeli parents who send their children to the army and lay awake at night, parents in Europe and the US can sleep well.”

If you are questioning the Jewish history of boldness and military prowess based on your limited experiences, I recommend that you take a trip to Israel, spend some time with IDF personnel, and meet army veterans in every segment of Israeli society. Ask your friends in the Marines if they have ever conducted military training exercises with the IDF, and see what they have to say on the matter of Jews and battle.

Whilst all of the above is true, it is fundamental to note that the Jewish approach to war is one of great reservation and reluctance. Molded by the blood-stained tide of Jewish history, our utopia is one where “swords will be beaten into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks.” Yet, the Jewish sages of old also warned that, “He who is compassionate to the cruel will ultimately become cruel to the compassionate.” Misplaced pity and reluctance to face an enemy can result in the greatest death and destruction.

Throughout history Jews have endured untold suffering as a result of a reluctance to take decisive action. From the days of King Saul in the ancient battle against Amalek, to Golda Meir in 1973, the narrative is the same. But this experience is by no means limited to Jews. In his memoirs Winston Churchill writes, “One day President Roosevelt told me that he was asking publicly for suggestions about what the war should be called. I said at once, ‘The Unnecessary War.’ There never was a war more easy to stop than that which has just wrecked what was left of the world from the previous struggle.”

Iran is clearly by no means only a Jewish issue, nor an Israeli one; it is a global issue of extreme relevance to the United States and all free nations around the world. Imagine for a moment that the enemies of Israel succeed in their mission to wipe the Jewish state off the face of the earth.  Are you really of the opinion that peace will reign? That Iran’s nuclear program will be brought to an abrupt halt? In truth it is Israeli soldiers who sacrifice fighting on America’s front line in the Middle East.

Indeed the Jewish people have bled for the freedom of others, but never have we asked others to bleed for us. We will only share the wisdom of our sages, inspired by the lessons of our past, so that no nation shall ever endure the suffering of our people.

Dovid Efune

The Author is the editor-in-chief of The Algemeiner and can be e-mailed at [email protected].

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