How a Pacifist Rabbi Came to Join the Marines on Iwo Jima

“In relation to the late war,” wrote George Orwell in 1949, “one question that every pacifist had a clear obligation to answer was: ‘What about the Jews? Are you prepared to see them exterminated?’” Such a question appears to have occurred to Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn, who was the first Jewish chaplain to serve with the Marines in World War II. Jonathan Bratten reviews Gittelsohn’s memoir of his service, written just as the war was ending and recently published for the first time.

As a pacifist, Rabbi Gittelsohn was an unlikely chaplain, and, in fact, he cautioned the Jewish community against calling for U.S. entry into World War II—until Pearl Harbor. His dramatic change of heart did not happen overnight; it took eleven months of soul-searching for Gittelsohn to don the uniform of the U.S. Navy. Like any good scholar, he laid out the reasons for his change: pride in Jewish military service, worries over the fate of Jews during the war, a desire to be there for the service members who would need the comfort of religion in the darkest of places, and last—the need to silence his conscience. “And what are you doing about all this?” he asked himself day after day once the United States entered the war. Did Gittelsohn remain a pacifist? The best he offers his readers is this statement: “Our mistake as pacifists was that we held peace up as our God and forgot that peace can come only along with the rest.”

While Gittelsohn does write about combat and the suffering it brings, often in great detail, he is surprisingly focused on life. When these young men in the most difficult of life circumstances had no one else to turn to, there was the chaplain. Much of the book is devoted to vignettes about working with young marines to help improve their lives and show that they were not alone.

It is Gittelsohn’s frank self-awareness and candor that make his memoir so exceptional. He chides his readers toward the middle of the book for expecting a work on religion in uniform. “Religion is a part of life,” he tells us, “not apart from life.” He lived alongside his marines through the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

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

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict