Friday, October 20, 2006

The Wanderer's Return

Sir Jason honors the Round Table with this intriguing review of

O Jerusalem

by Larry Colins and Dominique
LaPierre


From the ashes a fire shall be woken
A light from the shadows shall spring
Renewed shall be blade that was broken
The crownless again shall be king-Fellowship of
the Ring


"They have taken crafty counsel against Thy people,
and consulted against Thy hidden ones
They have said, "Come let us cut them off from
being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no
more in rememberence."...The tabernacles of
Edom and the Ishmaelites; of Moab and the
Hagarenes..."Ps 83:3-6


They are still there. Wrecks in the desert, wrecked trucks, wrecked pickups, wrecks of any vehicle that the ingenuity of desperation could obtain. Preserved as a memorial like the crosses in Flander's Fields. Wrecks marking the road to Jerusalem, marking the price that was paid. The price that is still being paid. The wrecks that once carried their cargo to save the beleagured city. Cargos of food, cargos of arms which were then as valuable as food. And both more valuable than gold. And as the wrecks indicate, more valuable than life. But then life was at a cheap price then. And Jerusalem was selling at a premium.

Few of them pondered that at the time. When the news came it was a time for joy and dancing in the streets. A miracle had occured. For the first time in thousands of years there was a Jewish state. The subjugated were restored to the throne of their fathers. The conquered were to become the conquerors. But mixed with the joy was sorrow. The world might cheer with them (the same world that had spat upon them a few years ago).

However the world was to weary itself to give help. If there was to be a Jewish state the Jews would have to prove their right to it. And in an age proud of it's technical achievement, the test chosen would be the oldest and most primative of all. In 1947-1948 few gamblers except the quixotic and sentimental would have placed a wager on the Jews. Everything seemed to be in the Arabs favor. The Arabs had more firepower, and greater numbers. And yet it was the intangibles that would decide the issue of the War of Independance. The Arabs were not ready. The Arabs hadn't the slightest idea that they would need to be ready. They really expected a pogram rather than a war. Their armies, even the proud Arab Legion, were really constabularies more suited to chasing rustlers than to subjugating the desperate and fierce. In
Palestine itself the Arabs had neglected to form an organization, or even a proper political lobby. If they had done the later their rights would have been
protected. Unfortunately, they refused all compromise and appealed to the "judgment of Mars". As many had before they would find his judgments harsh. As the saying goes "Woe to the Vanquished".

The Jews by contrast had been preparing for years. Zionism was one of the few successful social experimentation projects. It had taken tradesmen, artisans, scholars, even refugees from the corners of the world and taught them how to be yeomen and warriors. It had taught city folk how to dig in the soil, and how to rush to the barricades at a signal. Or how to go into the night pursuing bandits. And they had among them men who had known the battlefields of Europe, where Westerner fought Westerner, where weeks could go by of continuous battle. In the Middle East war was camel rustling. This kind of thing was new here . It was one of the great ironies of the Zionists that if they revived Israel they also revived those who had once scattered them. If Zionism was the rebirth of Israel it was also the rebirth of Rome.

They also had a thing that the Arabs could not comprehend. Organization. For fifty years they had been preparing a state that would take the placewithout a heartbeat when the British left. Prowess will win a battle. War needs dilligence, patience, and even humility-the willingness to do seemingly degrading things for the cause. Most prosaic of all it needs money. The Jews did not have arms. But(as every anti-semite knows) they most definitely had money. Money to purchase arms, money to inspire the idealistic, when required money to bribe the greedy. And they had knowledge, the knowledge of how to marshal what resources they had. The Jews had never had a modern state but they knew what it took to make one. Money is power and knowledge is power and the Jews had both. But money and knowledge must go together. The Arabs had money too, perhaps more than the Jews. But they did not know how to use it. The Jews did.

The effects were seen right away. When the British left the Arab areas a power vacuum took place. Those petty functions which make up a modern society crumbled. Mail was not delivered, electricity went down. Worst of all emergency services crumbled. In the Jewish areas these things did not happen. The Jews had been managing those functions all that time anyway. All that was needed was to go through the formalities.

Finally, the Jews had one advantage the Arabs didn't. Motivation. Arabs are stereotyped as fanatical. At that time fanaticism was more on the Jewish side. Not the fanaticism of ideology so much as the fanaticism of desperation. The Arabs had again and again made bloodthirsty speeches as was their wont. They never stopped to think that they might actually be taken
seriously. As the Arabs advanced every village captured had to be payed for, every house, every street, every room. Every man had a weapon, almost every woman. Today we normally associate "suicide missions" with the Arabs. In those days it was rarely but not unknown for immigrants to be grabbed straight off their ships, given rifles and sent into the slaughter. When the road was finally cut by the Arabs the Jews would carry food around the roadblock, sometimes by porter. It has been said that the Arabs proclaimed a holy war but the Jews fought one.

So it was. Zionism is a mixture of ancient Jewish identity and modern nationalism. The Arabs fought for religion, for hatred, for plunder, for politics and sometimes because they had nothing better to do. Their identity was more to the tribe then to the nation, they were divided and incoherant. The Jews also fought for religion. But they were also fighting for national survival, the way the Briton, the Russian, the Finn, even the German had fought just a few years before.

In an ironic way the War of Independance is proof that love is stronger then hate. And the desire to live stronger then the desire to destroy. Ironically it was those among the Arabs that knew that best that proved most effective. King Abdullah of Jordan knew the Jews better then his fellows, and desired to live at peace. But he was pushed by his fellows, and more creditably by the fear that the Arab section of Jerusalem would fall. The pragmatic soldier of fortune John Glubb, father of the Arab Legion, knew what would happen to his beloved bedouin army if he
tried to face desperate and vengeful folk in the alleyways of Jerusalem. The land did not hold the same meaning to him as it did to others. His pride and joy was the Legion. But he was a good soldier and he followed orders. Originally the orders were to make a show. But his men were more enthusiastic then he. And the Legion, the gallant unlucky, marched into it's finest momment into the streets of the city and enacted an irony that has been seen elsewhere. For
while the boastful and braggart fled before the vengeful Jews, ultimately it was the cool professional Legion that was the only ones to stand. And in that tormented city, two traditions of warfare met face to face. The Jewish citizen-soldiers and the professional Arab Legion stood there and fought for weeks on end. And neither gave place. And when it was finally done
the ceace-fire line was drawn to mark how the Legion had stood where lesser men had feared to go.

O Jerusalem, tells of the war. It tells of the ingenuity of the Jewish gun-runners and ad-hoc arms makers. Of cruelties like the vicious mutual terrorism that so marked that war. Of tragic moments like the Arab who stood in the firing line only to discover that his fiancee was across from him, pointing a rifle at him. Or of the children who threw stones at each other imitating their parents hatreds. Of friendships split and loyalty divided. And once or twice a humorous moment as when some hungry Yeshiva students-turned-soldiers went a-foraging and found in
the ruins piles of bottles which they innocently drank-only to be found by their officer stone drunk.

Other tales include the Jewish commander at Jerusalem. An irreligious man and a classic European aesthetiscist, fond of fine wines and fine living, he yet took the time to set aside a lamb to sacrifice at the hoped for momment when he should take the Temple Mount. Or Tal the Arab commander in Jerusalem. An enthusiastic Arabist he yet retained enough
perspective to abide by his professional-soldier chivalry. And in his joy at repulsing the final
attack on the Arab quarter he was able to have pity on his enemies failure. And the meeting between Shaltiel and Tal who without question respected each other's word even in such a vicious war.

O Jerusalem is a dramatic book and well worth the read. It is a reminder of the birth pangs of a nation.

Sir Jason the Royal Reviewer

15 comments:

  1. Sounds like a great story, Sir Jason, and one that I'm amazed isn't referred to more often in annals of history. Amazing the parallels of the Arab Legion fighting in the city with the modern war in Iraq, eh?

    Do you suppose the outcome will be similar?

    Sir Chuck

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  2. Sounds like a great story, Sir Jason, and one that I'm amazed isn't referred to more often in annals of history. Amazing the parallels of the Arab Legion fighting in the city with the modern war in Iraq, eh?

    Do you suppose the outcome will be similar?
    ___________________________________

    Not really. The advantage of the Zionists was that they had a modern organization and the Arabs didn't. In Iraq the terrrorists organization is daily degrading(Mossad makes a point of encourageing this-most hits now are directed at mid-level terrorists in a manner reminicent of Operation Phoenix in Vietnam).
    In Jerusalem the Legion was fighting the entire population of the Jewish quarter. In Iraqi cities the population is generally indifferent and often hostile to the terrorists. And the Americans at least had the good sense not to publically proclaim a desire to exterminate Iraq(that was always the Arabs main problem-they really weren't up to Israeli standards in the field and terrorism only works if submiting is not more terrifying, so neither can win).
    The present strategy is underestimated. Vietnamization almost worked, and Iraqization can too. We should make it clear to the present government of Iraq that we intend to leave sometime-they cannot become viable if they are in dependance and the better they know that the better. They are probably at least capable of maintaining authority on there own, if not of subjegating the terrorists.
    Urban warfare has been a common theme in the twentieth century. In time gone by it was less common-cities usually collapsed when the wall was breeched.
    Urban fighting is often considered the nastiest form. It tends to break down into mutual exhaustion-most spectacularly at dreaded Stalingrad.
    At the present time urban war in Iraq is sporadic rather then intense. Not like Stalingrad or the siege of Jerusalem. It is to subtle for soldiers and to intense for police. As this format will probably be with us for decades to come Iraq or no Iraq some have suggested building military units specifically designed for it. The Marines have gone part way-their Urban War training center is actually built more with this sort of thing in mind.
    The Israelis also have a bit of experience at that sort of thing from the Intifada(for some reason they always have experience at "those sorts of things"-and it has not been my impression that they are shy about mentioning it!). They found out some interesting details. For instance in World War II taking tanks into a city was suicide. Now tanks are actually beneficial at least in the present conflict. Modern tanks like the Israeli Merkava or the American Abrams are impervious to RPG's. And some tanks can shoot canister(packs of small rounds) out of their main gun as well as using the machine gun(it depends on whether the gun is a smoothbore: cannister clogs rifleing. I believe most modern tank guns are smoothbores). The Israelis used to always have the commander standing up in the turret but they probably don't do that in towns. And then there is Kevlar which was not present at the Siege of Jerusalem.
    Interestingly the Russians don't seem to have been able to do it as well in Chechnya, and they could be hung up for months.
    Much has remained the same. You never spend more time in the street then you have to-if needed you go roundabout rather then cross the street. You skirt walls from about four inches away rather then hugging them so the richochets will go along the wall and miss you(they apparently didn't know that in '48. It was probably discovered in a controlled environment experiment).
    When you enter a building you toss a grenade in and spray it with bullets to "fumigate" the room before entering(this can't be done as often today-unsubtle). Grenades are an absoulute necessity and are sometimes used more then bullets.
    Those are some of the mundane details.
    For a curiousity-during Tet several Marine officers trained their men quickly for urban warfare by showing them reruns of the show "Combat!" Apparently it worked.

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  3. One anecdote from O Jerusalem proved grimly amusing. The last case to be tried by the Mandate was a land dispute-between an Arab and a Jew.

    Sir Jason

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  4. One point about the War of Independance. The Arabs had overwhelming numbers overall. Where the fighting was the Israelis were often superior because of their greater military participation ratio(percentage of population available for campaign). The Arab states kept large parts of their force at home and have never in any case considered their cause serious enough to use conscription. Autocrats seldom like to conscript in any case-good way to get guillotined.
    Another interesting anecdote is Truman originally wrote his recognition as "the Jewish State." He had to send a courier huffing and puffing to catch the order and change it to "Israel" before a faux pax was commited.
    When the Independance speech was made Ben-gurion made a point of never announcing Israel's borders on the grounds that if the fortune of war went in Israel's favor, they might as well take advantage. He had no intention of being predatory: that-was-not-the-Israel-he-wanted But he was not inclined to be quixoticly magnanimous either.

    Sir Jason

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  5. The Arab Legion despite it's continuing ill fortune(they were good-they just met a foe who was better) was a success story in it's own right combining the discipline of a Western army with the hardihood of the Bedouin. It kept the peace in the desert throughout the birth of Jordan and took a creditable part in the opening stage of World War II specifically in eliminating one or two Vichy colonies.
    John Glubb succeeded because he understood the Bedouin who treated him as a sheik("Father of the little chin"). He did better then Lawrance-Lawrance did not teach them anything they did not know. He just used it in the most efficient manner.
    John Glubb actually made them into an army. A primative one to be sure but a reasonably respectable one. He even taught them how to use artillery which is a bourgeois rather then nomadic form of war. The Legion kept the peace in the desert very well and several poor shepherds had reason to be grateful. In a way I wish he was in Iraq.
    All the same the Legion wasn't really fit for the Siege of Jerusalem. However it adapted well enough to do a respectable job.

    Sir Jason

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  6. A large part of the quarrel stemmed from the very fact that the Zionists were injecting a large quanity of resources into the development of a small and barren area. The result was sometimes sudden social change and envy, even though the actual total of wealth in the area was immeasurably greater. They were disliked for the same reasons Wal-mart is disliked.

    Sir Jason

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  7. Very interesting book review. It brought out many point that I had never heard before regarding that very important part of history and fulfillment of bible prophecy.


    Sir John the "sort of" historian

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  8. Sir Jason said..."the Zionists were injecting a large quanity of resources into the development of a small and barren area. The result was sometimes sudden social change and envy, even though the actual total of wealth in the area was immeasurably greater."

    Interesting. I'm currently reading a book on the Knights Templar which focuses primarily on the Cistercians, who apparently built and replicated their monasteries in the same philosophy...choose remote locations, and expand the local economy. Which the authors explain was a historical repetition of what the Essene had done centuries earlier. Guess I'll post on that next week after I finish the book...

    Thanks, Sir Ja, for the fascinating follow-up commentary.

    Sir Chuck, surrounded by battles of the past in preparation for battles of the future

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  9. "Urban fighting is often considered the nastiest form. It tends to break down into mutual exhaustion-most spectacularly at dreaded Stalingrad."

    I think of Warsaw in this context. Ever see "The Pianist?" But the Nazis had an advantage here...they were out to kill or remove everyone in the Ghetto, and they didn't mind blow down the whole place if that's what it took. As tough as it was, it was an order of magnitude easier than what we're trying to accomplish in Iraq...conquer and civilize with minimal casualties and bad PR.

    As you said, Sir Ja, we had better get good at it.

    Sir C

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  10. "John Glubb succeeded because he understood the Bedouin who treated him as a sheik...In a way I wish he was in Iraq."

    You're probably right, our forces and commanders are fighting in a cultural context they don't quite understand, probably never will. But this new type of enemy is quite different than what he faced, isn't it?

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  11. "John Glubb succeeded because he understood the Bedouin who treated him as a sheik...In a way I wish he was in Iraq."

    You're probably right, our forces and commanders are fighting in a cultural context they don't quite understand, probably never will. But this new type of enemy is quite different than what he faced, isn't it?

    7:50 AM
    ___________________________________
    Less then it sounds. It is sometimes remarkable how little changes over there.
    We have changed more then they have.
    And that may really be what has changed.
    So in a sense things have changed. But it is because we have changed. We are more sentimental, have less perspective, and are less stoic then we used to be.

    Sir Jason

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  12. I think of Warsaw in this context. Ever see "The Pianist?" But the Nazis had an advantage here...they were out to kill or remove everyone in the Ghetto, and they didn't mind blow down the whole place if that's what it took. As tough as it was, it was an order of magnitude easier than what we're trying to accomplish in Iraq...conquer and civilize with minimal casualties and bad PR.

    As you said, Sir Ja, we had better get good at it.

    Sir C

    7:44 AM
    -------------------------
    Despite what Palestinians and for that matter Jews will tell you neither side got quite to that point in the War of Independance. This was as much from lack of a chance as from lack of desire-by contrast in India as the British left there were dreadful riots-trains carrying Hindus to India and Muslims to Pakistan often arrived full of corpses as mobs had destroyed their neighbors and perversely dumped them in the train. There are some things worse then war.
    The War of Independance could have done that. There were a number of Arabs who were willing to do so. For that matter probably some Jews. Fortunatly the mainstream Zionists were generally decent enough not to do so and retained general control. The Legion was less restrained but they were not willing to descend into darkness in that way-professional pride if nothing else.
    Perhaps the minimum of civilization is to have a respectable means of controling violance. Civilized people have done dreadful things but the inhibitions set up are there for a purpose.*
    The worst atrocities in the War of Independance were the mutual terrorism and two villiages that were massacared one Jewish and one Arab. Some of the Jews deny it fervently. I don't see what the point is. Such things do happen and Wellington would have simply shrugged his shoulders and flogged the perps to death.
    The most famous of course is the displacement of the Palestinians. This was more a function of the rigors of war then of any policy of the Zionist leadership. In local areas of course it was occasionally considered strategically intolerable for there to be Arabs in the area, which would make it more "General Sherman-ism" then ideology. Most of the time they fled because of the general disoriantation rather then anything specific. This sort of thing was quite common in World War II which is why there is no such thing as Prussia today. The War of Independance was in some ways an outgrowth-when there is a big war on the Great Powers have no time to police the world and are in fact often inclined to exploit local feuds.
    Cynically speaking the displacement was though not sought deliberatly, most convenient to the Jews. However they also felt quite guity about it. Each nation like each individual must bear their own peculiar stain, and that was less then many even though the world chooses to make heavy weather of it.
    The State of Israel has in fact rather overstrained itself in an effort to compensate and been refused. The other Arabs have generally cared more about the Palestinians as spin then as people and only the Jordanians were willing to let them in(the Hashemite dynasty is a bit of a Vicar-of-Bray sometimes, but for all it's faults it is more respectable). The Palestinians did not have to be brought up for generations to think of themselves as refugees. It was just useful to do so.
    Thus the War of Independance had supriseingly few atrocities by comparison. It could easily have had so and sympathies aside, it was as well it turned out the way it did.

    Sir Jason the Grim



    *By the by, I prefer to call Nazi's anticivilised rather then barbarous. They always seemed more a rebellion against civilization rather then like people who had never known it. As Omar Sharif once sarcastically said, "only the Arabs would do such a thing; they are 'a little people, a silly people, greedy, barbarous and cruel'"

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  13. One thing that is suprising is that there are so few Arab-Israeli war movies. Exodus is overrated; it spends more time explaining the situation then making a movie. The characters are wooden and the plot ill-developed. At least it has a good line,"people are different, they like to be different, they have a right to be different". Cast a Giant Shadow might have been good but the heroine is a nymphomaniac. She is also married to a Palmachnik.* Morality aside having the wife of a Palmachnik making eyes at me seems to me a remarkably "distasteful" situation to say the least. If you can life with it(let us give thanks for fast-forward) the movie is ok.
    Raid on Entebbe was good, but I don't really like hostage movies.
    I never saw Munich, but it got bad reviews anyway.
    I suspect that Hollywood was just not inclined to make many movies about an ongoing war. Nazis are a safer target and no one minds having the hero kill them.



    *Palmach-pre independance Zionist militia's "fire brigade".

    Sir Jason

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  14. Oh and I did see "Pianist"

    Sir Jason

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  15. But(as every anti-semite knows) they most definitely had money. Money to purchase arms, money to inspire the idealistic, when required money to bribe the greedy. And they had knowledge, the knowledge of how to marshal what resources they had. The Jews had never had a modern state but they knew what it took to make one. Money is power and knowledge is power and the Jews had both. But money and knowledge must go together. The Arabs had money too, perhaps more than the Jews. But they did not know how to use it. The Jews did.

    ______________________
    They never had enough money of course. They had nothing to compare with what an established state would have-for one thing it was all from private contributions. But "in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king"-or in other words the Arabs were not Germans.
    The Palestinians had no organization at all. The Dynastic States were just getting organised. Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia for instance had both oil and Mecca but was to inexperienced to know what to do with it. The Red Sea city-states were more sophisticated but don't seem to have had much effect then or now. They were more interested in their money, an unexalted desire but one which does less harm then some.

    Sir Jason the Detail-monger
    In essence the Arabs had more resources over all but the Jews made it go farther.

    Sir Jason

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