Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Jews in the American Military

Ever since the advent of national armies at the beginning of the 19th century, serving countries which sooner or later gave equal rights to their Jewish citizens, it has been interesting to see how the Jews relate to service in their armies. Germany's Jews were very proud to serve in WWI. Soviet Jews served en masse - like everyone else - in WWII; I've seen estimates that as many as 200,000 Jews died as soldiers of the Red Army (and they're not counted as part of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis).

Nowadays, it's a rare European Jew who signs up to the military of his country, even in countries that nominally have conscription.

How about the US? Of course, during WWII Jews were conscripted and fought proudly. Anecdotal evidence indicates that by the 1960s and Vietnam, however, they were preferring not to. Offhand, I can think of only one single American Jewish acquaintance of my generation who has served in the US military. Here's an article from the Forward about Captain Benjamin Sklaver, who was killed recently in Afghanistan; while it lacks full statistics, it seems to say there aren't many Jews in the American military.

Seen from the perspective of an Israeli, this is a bit strange: America is at war, after all, and it's very (very) good to its Jews, so you'd think more of them might wish to pay back a civic debt. But perhaps not.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I can't say that I have spent any time looking into this thoroughly, but I suspect that Jews serve in the military as enlisted men more or less proportionally with non-jews, after controlling for socio-economic status. The one exception is that they are probably less represented in the Service Academies because they are less likely to have a family tradition in the academies.

MDavis said...

Jews are under-represented in the military, making up somewhere between one-half to one percent of the armed forces, versus around two percent of the total population.

There have been at least 35 Jews reported as killed in action.

My son is a career officer in the Army, and has been deployed three times to Iraq. He is also a graduate of a Jewish day school. At times he is the only Jew in his company, at other times there are one or two others. He regards his service as an aspect of Tikkun Olam, particularly when it involves preventing someone from throwing acid in a little girl's face.

It became common during the Vietnam war for Jewish men to find they were suffering from all kinds of congenital diseases that prevented them from serving. These diseases were routinely discovered and documented by family physicians.

Yaacov said...

May he reach a ripe old age in full health.

Soccer Dad said...

FYI

http://www.jewsingreen.com/

ShrinkWrapped said...

When my oldest son enlisted in the USAF, a number of friends and relatives looked at us as if we had suddenly sprouted second heads. Northeastern Middle Class Jewish boys don't enlist in the military! My sister asked how we could allow him to join! I merely noted he is an adult and had our support. Now his second brother is in the US Navy and their youngest brother plans on either a Service Academy or ROTC. Since our oldest joined, we know of several other young Jewish men who have joined. Part of it is that Jewish boys simply do not even understand that they have the military as an option; it is not on their radar. I would like to believe that is changing.

Anonymous said...

As an American Jew, this is my view. The most obvious component to the current level of Jews in the Amercian military is relationship between politics and war. Most American Jews are liberal and democrats and were opposed to George W. Bush, and consequently opposed to the war in Iraq. Why volunteer to fight in a war you do not agree with, against an enemy that poses no threat to America's security. Obama's election has done little to change most people's view of Amercia's wars.

I suspect that if American Jews believed (as I assume Israelis believe with respect to Israel's conflicts) that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were really vital to our nation's security, many more would join up.

Bryan Z said...

America may be at war, but a great many Americans don't see the military as directly protecting the American public (and instead simply imposing American "neo-imperialism" in some faroff land). Unlike in Israel, where the IDF is obviously and unambiguously protecting the Israeli public, the American military's protection of Americans is seen as unworthy of civic debt.

And though this is anecdotal, my father--who was an officer in the US Army for twenty years--said that the majority of his cohort (and himself, though he'd never admit it) were at least a little anti-Semitic, and the few Jewish soldiers he met felt alienated as a result.

Anonymous said...

"view. The most obvious component to the current level of Jews in the Amercian military is relationship between politics and war. Most American Jews are liberal and democrats and were opposed to George W. Bush, and consequently opposed to the war in Iraq. Why volunteer to fight in a war you do not agree with, "

Disagree-the Orthodox jewish world of Brooklyn was in general in favor of the Viet Nam war-but almost no one served in the Armed Forces-even during draft periods. Remember all the Yeshivot that started during the Viet Nam war-4D.

Anonymous said...

Not many jews fought in ww2. but for israel there are alot. America is in islamic country's for the jews.

Anonymous said...

the jewish head of state said" The jew's run America and they know it. what nerve.
There are more jewish millionaires in America and if they contributed 10% they could support Israel.