Reviews in American History 30.1 (2002) 132-135
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Anti-Semitism in the American Army
Frederic Cople Jaher
Joseph W. Bendersky. The "Jewish Threat": Anti-Semitic Politics of the U.S. Army. New York: Basic Books, 2000. xvii + 538 pps. Bibliography and index. $30.00
The "Jewish Threat" is an indefatigably researched study that presents abundant information on anti-Semitic politics in the U.S. Army from World War I to the present. Despite the vast accumulation of data, however, little emerges that is new. Historians will not be surprised to find that the army was rife with anti-Semitism, especially before the 1960s, that among army intellectuals this bigotry was rationalized in terms of the distorted Darwinian world of scientific racism and manifested itself by postulating a world Jewish conspiracy that assisted America's national foe of the time. In World War I this meant that American Jews collaborated with Germany and after 1917 with Russian Communists. Thereafter Jews were in league with the Soviet Union to undermine America in Europe and the Middle East. In sum, military officers reflected the same type of hostility articulated by civilian anti-Semitic ideologues.
The chief distinction of The "Jewish Threat" is that it is the first systematic scholarly venture into anti-Semitism in the U.S. Army. The author, Joseph Bendersky, frames the negative attitude toward Jews in the army in the same context as in American life as a whole, i.e., conventional anti-Jewish stereotypes and particularly according to the canons of racial anti-Semitism that became increasingly dominant in views of the Jew at the turn of the twentieth century. Bendersky also attempts to show how these prejudices influenced policy, in terms of immigration restriction in the 1920s, refusal to admit Jewish refugees or bomb concentration camps in World War II, and postwar hostility to the state of Israel.
While Joseph Bendersky is prolific in supplying evidence of Jew hatred in the army, his scope is too narrow. Most of the data comes from the Military Intelligence Division (MID--now called G2) and related branches and institutions of the service, including military attachés and the Army War College. Nowhere does Bendersky assess the importance of MID within the army. Was it crucial in strategic or tactical decisions? How did it rate against other [End Page 132] branches, such as general staff, ordnance, and supply? While he mentions some important generals who disliked Jews (George S. Patton, George E. Stratemeyer, Albert C. Wedemeyer, and George Van Horn Moseley), most of his anti-Semites, especially those in MID, are brigadiers and colonels. The top commanders (Douglas MacArthur, George Marshall, and Dwight Eisenhower) may be indifferent to Jews but evince no hostility. Bendersky's failure to address these issues makes it impossible to determine how influential anti-Semitism was in shaping military and associated policies. An obvious test of prejudice that is not applied in this book is whether Jewish soldiers systematically encountered animosity and whether anti-Jewish feeling systematically prevented Jewish officers from being promoted or placed in important posts.
In addition to these deficiencies in analytic categories, Bendersky makes no attempt to assess degrees of anti-Semitism. Were all the officers who expressed anti-Jewish sentiments equally hostile? If not, at what degree of anti-Semitism would it become operative? At what degree would it become prevalent? It is not enough to demonstrate anti-Semitism in the army, especially since that is widely known. What is important is to show that anti-Semitism determined, or at least influenced, key decisions: If military attachés had liked Jews, would significantly more Jewish refugees have been admitted to the U.S. before World War II? Would the concentration camps have been bombed if some generals had not been hostile to Jews? What impact did Jew haters in the army really have on America's recognition of Israel's nationhood? The generally apt comment on these questions is that policy decisions were not always made because of dislike, indifference, or other feelings about Jews. The critique applicable to The 'Jewish Threat' is...