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December 4: Jewday

Political theorist Hannah Arendt died on this day in 1975 at age 69. In 1959 she became the first woman appointed to a full professorship at Princeton.

“The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.”

“Dedicate yourself to the good you deserve and desire for yourself. Give yourself peace of mind. You deserve to be happy. You deserve delight.” —H.A.


December 1-3: Jewday

I've begun sending out a daily celebration of Jewish history. If you'd like to be included, send your e-mail address. Here are the first three entries:

Dec. 1
Woody Allen turns 74 today.

“We stand today at a crossroads: One path leads to despair and utter
hopelessness. The other leads to total extinction. Let us hope we have the
wisdom to make the right choice.”
—“My Speech to the Graduates,” New York Times, 1979

Dec. 2
On this day in 1763, 80 Sephardic Jews and their guests in Newport, Rhode island witnessed the dedication of the Touro Synagogue, the first synagogue built in America. Thirteen years later, Newport was captured by the British; the building survived the American Revolutionary War as a hospital for British soldiers.

“The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy . . . For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance . . . requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens . . .”
— Letter from George Washington to the congregation of the Touro Synagogue in 1790

Dec. 3
On this day in 1655, Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, declared that he would permit Jews to live in the land from which they had been thrown out by decree of King Edward I 365 years earlier (1290).

“Although this sounds surprising – even unbelievable – [King Edward I’s] edict has not been cancelled and is still listed among British legal documents. . . . All that needs to be done is for the queen to sign a contradictory decree, and this has never been done. I wonder when the Israeli government will appeal to the UK to have Queen Elizabeth II sign such a decree and revoke the edict issued by one of her forefathers.” —Ori Katzir, Israeli historian


Withdraw from Afghanistan Now

The following is a "Viewpoint" piece by our magazine's editorial board member, Barnett Zumoff. Dr. Zumoff is a retired general in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and was a four-time president of the Workmen’s Circle. The piece appears in the hot-off-the-presses Winter, 2009 issue of Jewish Currents.

The Obama Administration is currently engaged in an intense debate about what tactics to use to pursue the war in Afghanistan, and specifically how many additional troops to send there. To my mind, this decision is an easy one: We should send no additional troops and should make plans to withdraw all the troops we have there now.

All of the arguments, pro and con, are eerie reflections of the same arguments we had during the Vietnam War. The U.S. lost that war, we should recall, after pouring in more than a quarter of a million troops and vainly expending the lives of nearly 60,000 of them, as well as the lives of some million Vietnamese.

Tactics are only the methodology of attaining a strategic goal. If the goal is unnecessary or unattainable, even the best tactics in the world are inappropriate. In Vietnam, we deluded ourselves into thinking that the poor villagers of Vietnam could be diplomatically sweet-talked or militarily pounded into abandoning their legitimate grievances against a corrupt and oppressive government. We further deluded ourselves into thinking that if that small, geopolitically insignificant country fell to communism, all of the non-communist world would collapse with it like a row of dominoes. This was a preposterous idea, and it didn’t happen when we finally did lose in Vietnam.

Long before the end of the war, as early as 1968, our government officials had concluded that the war was lost, yet we nevertheless continued to pour blood and treasure and tens of thousands more American lives into it. This was nothing less than government-sanctioned murder. Let’s not repeat the same mistakes in Afghanistan.

The U.S. made war in Afghanistan for goals that sounded reasonable at the time: primarily to destroy the bases and training capabilities of Al Qaeda, which were the foundations of its worldwide jihadist activities, and secondarily to overthrow the Taliban government in order to deny Al Qaeda a safe haven. It has been argued that the primary goal could have been attained (and could still be attained) through massive manned and unmanned bombing of Al Qaeda’s bases, without pouring our troops into the country. The secondary goal, in turn, would have been unnecessary had we accomplished the primary goal by lesser methods — yet it has been the pursuit of that secondary goal that may now undo us.

Why? There are several reasons. Afghanistan is a much larger country than Vietnam, with a far more difficult terrain. That, with our current (and future) inability to field even one-fourth as many troops as we did in Vietnam, makes it impossible to subdue the country; the paltry number of troops we are planning to add in Afghanistan will not change that equation significantly. Second, the Afghan government we are now working with is every bit as corrupt as the South Vietnamese government was, and is equally despised by the people. Third, the Taliban, though many (but not all) Afghans hated its cruel and oppressive laws, are far closer to the Afghan people than are the hated Western “infidels.” Their government was less corrupt than the current Karzai government and was often able to secure the loyalty of villagers even without using force. Finally, the Taliban has a bottomless resource for support and resupply from its fundamentalist allies in Pakistan, just as the Vietcong had from Laos, Cambodia, and China.

It is worth remarking that three of history’s mightiest military forces, those of Alexander the Great, the British Empire, and the Soviet Union, were unable to subdue Afghanistan after years of war. Why should the U.S. expect to do so now, with our severely limited military resources and without the support of the American people? Why is the effort necessary, and how can we possibly afford the physical, financial, emotional, and political drain that the war is imposing on the U.S.? Most military authorities believe we could keep Al Qaeda perpetually weak and off-balance with military measures far short of maintaining nearly a hundred thousand troops in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future.

We should get out now. Any political bogeymen that we are threatened with if we leave — loss of face, loss of political influence in the world, etc. — are no more real than the “domino theory” was in Vietnam. The Afghanistan war is not worth one American life, let alone thousands


For Better or Verse

Our rhyming poet, Henry Foner, offers this off-deadline installation of his Jewish Currents column, "For Better or Verse."

News Report: Amy Goodman of "Democracy Now!" was halted at the Canadian border in Vancouver and questioned about her intended broadcasts regarding Canada's future hosting of the 2010 Winter Olumpics.

Amy and the Elves

Who'd have thought when our Amy fair
Disembarked in old Vancouver
That she'd have her passport waived in the air
By the ghost of J. Edgar Hoover?

She thought we'd removed him out of our sight
Along with his partner, McCarthy.
But lo! and behold, when she tried to alight
They were standing there, both hale and hearthy.

So hearken, ye goodmen, fickle and fine --
Whether you're girlish or boyish --
Please caution our neighbors north of the line
Lest they behave paranoi-ish

Henry Foner