Today we wrap up “The Execution of Mickey Marcus.” Thursday we’re gonna do a review of everything so far. Then it gets tricky, controversial, infuriating, etc.

“Sir . . . you’re in danger of being killed.”

“And what of it?” Marcus asked with mild disinterest, scanning the sky.

Adam Grafton fought within himself, against where the conversation might lead.

“Colonel, if I speak plainly, will you listen?”

“You called the meeting.”

“I did.” Adam struggled to keep his patience. “Things have changed. After Latrun . . .”

“What about ‘after Latrun’?”

“After that last trip up the slopes and we still don’t hold it, the men are sick and tired of the Mickey Marcus Show. Ben-Gurion wants another attack. You told me yourself, it almost happened. Only the truce got it postponed.”

“The truce and my artful dodging.”

“So you told me. Problem is, the truce is only for what, twenty-eight days, if it lasts at all. The future’s still there. You can’t finesse it forever. The men won’t go into that meat grinder again. Or any other. That includes Jerusalem.”

“Even if Ben-Gurion orders it?”

“The troops don’t know from Ben-Gurion. They know from his General, the guy he set up to draw fire away from him. They know from the colonels who are sick of you, too, and who aren’t bothering to hide it anymore. Colonel, if some p.o.’d Palmachnik or right-off-the-boat Auschwitz vet doesn’t kill you, your own officers will.”

Marcus shrugged. “Aren’t you forgetting a couple successes I’ve had of late that wouldn’t have happened without me? Friend, I’ve saved Israel twice. That doesn’t count for anything?”

“It does. But it won’t if everybody thinks you’re going to let Ben-Gurion lead them into another disaster.”

“What do you think I’m going to do?”

“I think you’re going to cave in again. Yes, sir, you’ve saved Israel twice. Now people see a chance that you’re going to destroy it. Scuttlebutt is, Ben-Gurion’s getting ready to fire a lot of his best officers. The ones who stand up to him.”

“If my infantry had been worth anything . . .”

“Damn it, Colonel, you don’t have any infantry. You’ve got a lot of exhausted boys and girls who are tired of watching their friends die. You’ve got new recruits to train. You’ve got DPs coming in who’ve maybe had a couple weeks junk training in some transit camp somewhere and have zilch for stamina and don’t know enough about fighting to take the damn safeties off their rifles. That’s right, Colonel. That’s how we found them at Latrun. Scattered all over the hillside, with the safeties of their rifles still on. Dying of heat stroke because nobody thought to get them canteens.”

“We didn’t have any canteens to give them,” Marcus fumed. “If the water bottles hadn’t broken . . .”

“If my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a trolley. Colonel, I was there. It wasn’t war. It was human sacrifice.”

“We learned a lot of lessons. I had nothing to do with the first attack.”

“You should have spoken up.”

“OK. Maybe I should have. Then I took over. I did my best. Others didn’t. The next time . . .”

“Colonel, you’ve failed three times.”

“I wasn’t involved in the first attack.”

“I’ll say it again. Your failure was, you should have been. Or were you glad he didn’t run it by you? Your plan for the next two attacks was too complicated. I kept telling you that. It might have worked with a regular army. You don’t have a regular army.”

“Listen, boychik, before I’m finished, I’ll have infantry. And artillery. And armor. Ben-Gurion brought me here to give Israel a real Army. That’s what I’m going to do.”

“Then do it.”

Marcus looked at him sharply. “Just what the hell do you think I’m doing?”

This . . .

“Colonel, I’m going to say this so clearly that if you don’t understand, it will be because you refuse to understand. You are not now, nor have you ever been, a field commander. Not in war and not in peace. You have no business holding the position of Central Front Commander. You’re a lawyer and a staff officer. You came here because Ben-Gurion thought we needed an American with staff skills to help this crew transition from a bunch of roving bands and ambush-happy farmers into a real military. You’re what was available. You weren’t their first choice, maybe not even their fifth. But you were out of the Army and available for the job. Did they ever get a look at your service record? Or did they just believe everything you told them?”

“Captain, that’s enough.”

“No, sir, it isn’t. You came to do one hell of a hard staff and planning job. That’s what you ought to be doing.”

Marcus did not raise his voice. “Yeah, yeah, of course. That’s why they brought me on. But why do you suppose Ben-Gurion made me a general, then gave me the Central Front, Jerusalem . . . Jerusalem! – to command. Me. The washed-up, burned-out colonel, the broke, busted and disgusted civilian lawyer of six months ago, is now a front commander. Because down in Gaza, I showed them what I could do. Because that road that’s moving the guns and food into Jerusalem exists because of me. Because B.G. knows I can do more than build an army. I can lead it.”

Adam exhaled deeply, then went on. “Ben-Gurion’s a vicious, petty, self-obsessed little man who’s terrified of his own commanders. He’s using you to control them. He’s spent the last twenty years destroying anyone who might rival him politically. But he can’t do it with his colonels. There’s too many of them and they have real power behind them. Ben-Gurion may be God in America. Maybe it’s because he reminds everybody of their Uncle Benny or Cousin Max. But this isn’t America. This is here.

“Colonel,” Adam said heavily as he ended, “this country’s three weeks old and it may already be on the verge of a military revolt. Maybe even a civil war. You’re in danger all around.”

“What do you think I should do about it?”

“Give up your field command. Concentrate on what you’re good at. You got the job because Ben-Gurion hates the sabra colonels. He hates anyone over age twenty who didn’t come over from some filthy shtetl in Russia. He doesn’t trust them. They’re young, they’re brilliant, they’re dedicated. This is their home, their only reality. If they feel that you’re endangering their only reality, they won’t hesitate. Colonel, if they kill you, it wouldn’t be just about getting rid of you. It would be about sending Ben-Gurion a signal. Is it worth your death to send that kind of signal when there are other ways to send it?”

Marcus paused. “What other ways?”

“A united front of the real soldiers against the civilian who doesn’t know kosher crap from pig Shinola.”

“Did Nordau say what he wanted?”

“I don’t know what he wants.”

“Really, Captain? Don’t you think he’s against me, too?”

“Colonel Nordau’s a brilliant fighter with no military ambitions. Look at it this way. Nordau could be a real friend. He’s not a sabra, not a member of the inner circle. But they respect the hell out of him. There’s a chance he could be, how would you call it, an honest broker between you and the colonels.”

“You think that’s what he wants to see me about?”

“I said before, I don’t know what he wants.”

“The question makes you nervous.”

“Ask it as many times as you like. The answer won’t change.”

Again, Marcus paused. “You really believe I’m in serious danger from my officers?”

Adam relaxed a little. “Yes, sir. I do. Colonel, this is all so damned unnecessary. You came here to help Israel build a real army. Not command it. Hell, you can’t even speak Hebrew. What happens in a battle if your interpreter gets killed and there’s no one around who speaks English well enough to translate?”

“There’s always someone.”

“You can’t count on it.”

“I’ll manage.”

“Colonel, I’ll try to get through to you just once more. Nobody hates you personally. Nobody doubts your commitment or your courage. All they want you to do is go back to the job you came here to do. Time to tell Ben-Gurion, ‘Thanks for the honor, but I’m in the wrong slot.’”

“And if the Old Man doesn’t buy it?”

“Resign. Tell him you’d be delighted to go back to America, give interviews and hustle the rich Jews for contributions. But if this goes on as it has . . .”

Mickey Marcus raised a hand in dismissal. “At my age, this is my last chance to do something really important.”

“Building the Army of Israel is important.”

“Yes it is.” Marcus’ eyes seemed to wander off, or else to fixate on something very distant. “Damn it, Adam, Ben-Gurion’s given me a chance to go down in history as the greatest Jewish military hero since the Maccabees. So he gave it to me for all the wrong reasons. So what? So what if I have to pretend that he actually knows what he’s talking about? So what if he fires a few out-of-step colonels?”

His eyes stared off in a rapture that Adam could not dismiss as alcohol.

“History!” Marcus rattled on. “I went down into the Negev and showed those schlemiels how to beat the Gyptos. Without me, the Egyptians would be holding a Kill-the-Jews party in Tel Aviv right now. It was me. Me! Me, the alcoholic colonel the US Army tried to bury for the duration. Me! Do you hear me, rich young boxer from the fancy East Side family? Take it from a kid who grew up in Brooklyn. I could lick you right now, even if I am fifteen years older. I beat the Gyptos. I saved Jerusalem. I did it. And that’s just the start. If that rabble of colonels doesn’t like it, they can do whatever they please.”

“Sir, is that your final decision?”


“You’ll never reconsider?”



Adam Grafton raised himself slowly, stood erect, walked three paces distant, then turned around. He drew his pistol. Mickey Marcus looked at it, then laughed. “Taking me back at gunpoint, boxer?”

“No, sir. It’s gone beyond that.”

Marcus’ eyes widened a little. “So . . . it’s you they sent to do it.”

“Nobody sent me to kill you.”

“Except Nordau Fein.”

“Nobody sent me to kill you.”

“Is it too late to talk?”

“Yes, sir. It is.”

“So you’re volunteering to do their dirty work for them. Why? So you can go down in history as the Zhid who shot Mickey Marcus?”

“Please toss your bottle to your right, sir. Slowly. Not at me.”

There was a slight sound of glass against gravel.

“Are you wearing anything under that blanket?”

“Skivvies. I’m decent.”

“Are you armed?”

“Would it make any difference if I was?”

“No, sir. Please unwrap the blanket. Slowly.”

Marcus complied. Adam saw no weapon. Marcus shivered a bit. He drew up his legs, clasped his arms around them, and rested his chin on his knees.

“I believe that the Colonel might wish to stand for this.”

Mickey Marcus rose calmly. He placed his hands behind his back and intertwined his fingers.

“If you wouldn’t mind, Captain. In the chest. Not in the head. I’d like my wife to be able to see me one last time.”

“As you wish.”

Mickey Marcus smiled peacefully, perhaps at some long-tortured this of his own that he no longer had to endure or oppose. Perhaps the this of his own desires and demons, and where he knew they might lead him.

“Very well, Captain. You may proceed.”

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