Golden State Warriors

Reviewed by Samuel G. Freedman

GI Jews: How World War II Changed a Generation
by Deborah Dash Moore
Harvard University Press, 2004, 352 pages.

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or a fatal disease, tuberculosis has enjoyed an unusual cachet. It was the illness of tragic heroines, of Mimi in La Bohème and Violetta in La Traviata and Camille in Dumas’ eponymous novel. The fatigue and pallor suffered by these beautiful victims were seen as somehow alluring. So, too, in Thomas Mann’s novel The Magic Mountain, the infected protagonist’s commitment to a sanitarium becomes the means of his enlightenment. Even in contemporary youth culture, the Goth style appropriates the pale, haunted soulfulness of another one of tuberculosis’ bards, Edgar Allan Poe.

One might similarly imagine weakness as the tuberculosis of modern American Jewry, an affliction invested with moral grandeur and artistic insight. A century after Zionism disowned the feeble, bespectacled, and inevitably persecuted galus Yid in its embrace of the rifle and hoe, Jews in the physical safety and material comfort of the United States are deeply discomfited by the coreligionist who picks up arms. “Never Again” was a motto abdicated by the mainstream and the Left to the extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane. He, in turn, perpetually delighted in taunting his establishment opponents as “Nice Irvings,” a disparagement that stings with a certain truth, even when uttered by an outcast.
Since the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, this uneasiness with Israeli military force has increasingly become a feature of American Jewish discussion, especially among those Jews born too late to have experienced the Holocaust, the birth of the state, and the existential wars of 1967 and 1973. The first intifada, with its enduring image of Palestinian Davids hurling rocks against the Israeli Goliath, only deepened this discomfiture. Not even the enthusiastic Palestinian embrace of suicide bombings during the last five years has changed the perception in certain American Jewish quarters that Israel is the unprincipled aggressor, and, more broadly, that being a soldier is somehow a deeply un-Jewish thing to do.
The same sensibility informs a good share of American Jewish opinion on the home front. With draft deferments for college students during the Vietnam War and the subsequent shift to an all-volunteer army, Jews have fallen to a flyspeck within the American military. They make up less than 1 percent of current forces, which is below half the Jewish share of the population. Not even al-Qaida’s attacks on New York and Washington, attacks on the American mainland by a group with a stated program of killing Jews, brought about any notable increase in Jewish enlistment. Regardless of how American Jews express themselves about support for Israel or the Iraq war in opinion polls, their personal attitudes about military service and armed conflict look a lot like the Western European model: Pacifism at virtually any price.

Samuel G. Freedman is a professor of journalism at Columbia University. His latest book is Who She Was: My Search for My Mother’s Life (Simon & Schuster).

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