Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Book Review: A SAFE HAVEN: HARRY S TRUMAN AND THE FOUNDING OF ISRAEL by Allis and Ronald Radosh (Harper, 2009)

Nowadays, it seems that those who do good deeds don't get "full marks" for their efforts unless their intentions are as pure as the driven snow. By those standards, Harry Truman, a peppery-tongued man who wasn't shy about expressing his opinions -- opinions about ethnic and racial minorities included -- traced a fairly "politically incorrect" path on the way to becoming the first world leader to recognize the new state of Israel in 1948. Truman, after all, resented the constant pressure from Zionists of all kinds (including Eddie Jacobson, Truman's old partner in the men's clothing business back in Missouri) to help the Jews establish a country of their own, and he was known to hold forth about Jewish "pushiness" and the like. As Allis and Ronald Radosh relate in their lengthy but fascinating story of Truman's role in the birth of Israel, Truman overcame these feelings at the last and, drawing from his strong sense of sympathy for the victims of the Holocaust, did the right thing at a moment when the history of the Middle East could have turned in any number of different directions. By starting their narrative with a description of the last days of Franklin Roosevelt's presidency, the Radoshes make a compelling case that, had FDR lived, Israel's "moment" might never have come. Be prepared to thrash through a host of commissions, pressure groups, State Department flunkies, and UN meetings (this was back when the UN actually seemed to promise a better world, rather than simply prop up existing patterns of tyranny!), but if you're interested in the history of the Middle East, this is a very worthwhile read.

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