When Never Forget Regains Its Spine

I started writing this shortly after the attacks on the Paris police, Charlie Hebdo, and the kosher deli/market by sympathizers of Daesh (aka ISIS, but let’s start calling them Daesh, they hate it). I feel like today (January 27, 2015) is a good day to finish it. Especially with the latest question posed by @bbcbigquestion, about laying discussion about the Holocaust to rest.

Take out a pen/pencil and paper and prepare to copy.

I grew up in an interfaith family, multicultural. My father is Jewish. My mother was raised Roman Catholic, though we can trace back about 200-300 years for Jewish ancestry from Verona, as well as 150 years back in Calabria, where a mass conversion to the Light of the Burning Bush took place.

Growing up, I never felt too many strong ties to Israel, or the community. Funny, considering my great-grandpa Max was homies with Golda Meir, BAMF of the Decade, 1970-1979, before she made Aliyah.

I grew up obsessed with the American military. Two grandpas were in the service. Pasquale (my mom’s dad) was a US Army doctor in the Pacific Theater. My dad’s dad, Gabriel (who passed away last year), was a US Navy officer in the Pacific Theater, with five invasions under his belt: Luzon, Saipan and Tinian, Okinawa, and Peleliu. He started off as the forward anti-aircraft battery officer (a harbinger of things to come, for me), and became the chief engineer, and eventually the XO of his ship. In addition to that, he also would direct the tanks out of the belly of his ship, LST-267. He hit the beaches with nothing more than a helmet, a life preserver, and a Colt M1911 pistol (Colt .45 for the uninitiated). And he was a Jew.

“I, Charles Samuel Muirhead Jasper, having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of Second Lieutenant, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against ALL ENEMIES, FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God.”

I entered service, officially, in May 2006, upon being commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army’s Air Defense Artillery Corps.

Jews aren’t very common in our nation’s military, and we get perfunctory thanks for our service from the “slick civilians” in the community. In some cases, funny looks and/or awkward silences as we stand alone when the Consul-General acknowledges us in the crowd at the FIDF gala.

I was activated on June 5, 2006, and served until December 23, 2009 (more on that after the break). I deployed to Camp Bucca, Iraq in 2008 – the one-time home of some guy who became Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Five and a half months into the deployment, I was sent home (without the military’s version of due process) for reporting on my battery commander for mistreating our detainees and soldiers. But it didn’t start, nor end there. During my deployment, I began to somewhat seriously self-identify as a Jew. Precisely when, the Snake, as we called him, and I were walking to the head shed (command post) and he said “I didn’t see you in church on Sunday.” My reply was “well, I’m Jewish…” He responded “oh? We’ll see about that.”


In the spring of 2009, I went to my first Holocaust memorial forum. Pretty much every Jew on Fort Bragg was in attendance, about 300 (mostly) men in uniform. I didn’t understand, fully, the horror, prior to that day. Yes, I knew from growing up that over six-and-one-half million of us were killed among the eleven million victims of evil, statist tyranny.

A political religion started by a single man, drawing on the fears of the unknown and emplacing an external locus of control on his people. If something good happened, it’s because you were a good Aryan and you were blessed to live in Germany, run by the National Socialist party. If something bad happened, it was the Jews, the gays, the Roma, the Poles, or the other undesirables…

I went to the symposium because a friend I had made on base, another Jew, who spent a few years during a break in service living in Israel, brought me home. Figuratively. We were sitting in the Trial Defense Services office, where he was talking to his attorney about his anti-Semitic company commander, and I was meeting my attorney to discuss why I felt I was being treated unfairly by my command. He said to me “Sir, you’re one of us. Come home.”

So there I was, sitting in the very back row next to a Master Sergeant in the US Army Special Forces command. A Green Beret (a common sight at the Home of Special Operations and the Airborne). The woman giving the lecture was an Orthodox woman, I think she was Frum, with children, and a husband. She was bright, articulate, and able to reach deep within me to awaken something, which Wikipedia calls “amiut yehudit.” By the end of the lecture, whatever was left of my facade of emotional armor was destroyed. Crying in the back row, doing everything I could to hold it together, with that Master Sergeant’s arm around me.  What a blessing in disguise!

Anti-Jewish discrimination continued against me. After a series of unfortunate events in my life, my new supervisor told me I should go see a rabbi and talk about it, even though I was begging for real help. The jokes didn’t stop. “Hide your wallets! Here he is!” I rolled over and took it.

…I was a “good Jew.”

Now I am a bad Jew. I went on my Birthright trip in February of 2012. I learned about our people, our history. I became enamored with Israel. I made it my mission to marry Jewish (still single according to the IRS, but not Facebook).

I choose to stay in the Diaspora, it is as much my home as Jerusalem. I am learning a smidgeon of Ashkenazi Hebrew, enough to where I can read, though not necessarily understand, a Siddur and the Torah. I still eat bacon, lobster, and clam chowder. And ribs. I went to the “meat-market” events and was severely disappointed that the only whiskeys they had were Johnnie Walker Black and Jack Daniels, and am seriously considering holding a seminar for my fellow Los Angeles tribe members about the good stuff. When in doubt, ask the guy who spent way too much time in rural Kentucky.  And who drinks apple pie moonshine.

And I am sad. I see man after man acting like a child, women giving up. I don’t know the exact root of it, but I know this: that childish – the horror, he called a spade a spade – behavior embeds in people a desire to run and to shout “SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!” Because Mommy and Daddy always knew what to do.

Fuck you. You do it. Some people, though, are so set in their ways. They wave flags and chant “never forget” and run when something happens. Then when someone dares to tell them to learn to fight, to protect themselves, they say “THINK OF THE CHILDREN!” Fuck you. I AM thinking of my (future) children.  I’m thinking of your children.

I stand in the shield wall like my Norse ancestors (my dad’s mom converted), though many times, I feel I stand alone. There is an old Viking saying that goes something like: Fear not death, for the hour of your Doom is set, and none may escape it. They would pray, upon their imminent death or a seemingly hopeless battle, to all the gods that they would not shame their ancestors and should they fall, they live forever in Valhalla. I compared this to two Jewish prayers I had found. The ancient one is quite similar. The modern one, very nebbishy, not exactly a fan of it.

Never forget.

In Israel, they say “never again.” They mean it. It’s why everyone there must serve. It’s why hundreds, thousands of Diaspora boys and girls become Lone Soldiers. They fight for Israel and our people because they know, they were taught at an early age, never again.

Paris. Again is here, and yet, the masses in my community say “SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!” And they wring their hands and wail to the heavens. Very few, but more, now, are saying “what can we do?” No longer do they say it out of exasperation, they ask specifically. I answer. Truthfully. Honestly. Sternly. With as much compassion as I can muster, because I am preparing them for a difficult task. When a lion is surrounded by hyenas, he makes one decision: live, at all costs.

We cannot be sheep. We must be like wolves (contrary to the simplistic and biologically/zoologically not-so-correct view of the sheep/sheepdog/wolf theory). Wolves are strong, silent, fierce, and noble. They work together, everyone knows their role in the pack. Sheepdogs bark and bark and wait for the humans, and guide the sheep away while barking to the world that something must be done!

Baa ram ewe.

To me, after walking through Yad Veshem twice, with an even more intense emotional response the second time, never forget is not a hollow statement. It never can be. Something will be done. I will do it. Should they come for me or mine, should I not come out on top, I would hope to be surrounded by a pile of empty brass – but I can’t, because people said “think of the children,” and now I walk unarmed, a wolf whose fangs are removed by frightened and uneducated sheep. But if I have anything, I have hands. And I value my life, and the lives of my family, friends, Americans, and Jews, and their families and friends.

This is long, and possibly slightly rambling. I do not apologize. And for the following, I cannot apologize. I, like so many veterans, of both my service, and the IDF, who are tired of fighting and desire only true peace, agree with the following statement made by Gen. James Mattis, USMC (Ret.) after the initial push into Iraq:

“I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me, I’ll kill you all.”

Je suis Charlie, et je suis Juif. Merci.

About the Author
Born and raised in LA with not much of a religious background, rediscovered my roots in the Army and put them in fertile ground after Birthright.
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