The Adventures of a Jewish Bomber Pilot in World War II

Dec. 21 2021

Now ninety-seven, Si Spiegel is one of few American World War II B-17 pilots still alive. Spiegel, a Jew who grew up in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, enlisted in the army without telling his parents, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. To his disappointment, he was assigned to an aircraft-mechanic school; he instead wanted to fight Nazis, and to that end applied to be a pilot. Laurie Gwen Shapiro tells his story:

He was accepted into pilot training, which took him to Nashville, then California and then, as a cadet, to Hobbs, New Mexico where he’d learn to pilot a B-17, the massive bomber known as the Flying Fortress. . . . Then he left New Mexico and went to meet his crew, a motley collection of “leftovers.”

“We had five Catholics, two Jews,” he said. “Catholics weren’t treated too well, either. We had a Mormon, too.” Mr. Spiegel said the only WASP was a ball-turret gunner who had gotten into trouble with the law in Chicago.

Over the next year, Mr. Spiegel would carry out 35 missions, all of them in daylight, which conferred a strategic advantage but often resulted in significant casualties. Their odds of survival were terrible. Over 50,000 American airmen lost their lives in World War II, mostly on B-17s and B-24s. The Eighth Air Force suffered 40 percent of all casualties in the air war.

His plane was shot down over Berlin in February 1945, and he managed to crash land in Soviet-occupied Poland, from which he and his fellow crewmembers—tired of waiting for repatriation and eager to rejoin the fight—would make a daring escape. Shapiro continues:

Looking back, having spoken to other Jewish GI’s, [Spiegel] believes now that many Jewish soldiers were denied promotions because of anti-Semitism. He has some thorny memories: many heroes in the Army Air Corps joined the commercial airline industry after the war, which was then based in New York. But here too, Mr. Spiegel said he faced discrimination. “They weren’t taking Jews after World War II,” he recalled. “They were blatant.”

In the years after the war, Spiegel worked at a brush factory, and then made a fortune selling artificial Christmas trees.

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Read more at New York Times

More about: American Jewish History, Jews in the military, World War II

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy