Thursday, September 10, 2009

Orde Wingate

There's a fascinating essay on the Zionism of Orde Wingate. Who was Wingate?

Traveling through Komemiyut in Jerusalem, at the intersection of Jabotinsky and David Marcus, one will see Kikar Orde (known also as Kikar Wingate). There are Wingate Streets in Be'er Sheva, Tel Aviv and Herzliya as well. In the Carmel Mountains, just south of Haifa, there is the Yemin Orde Wingate Youth Village, which serves hundreds of disadvantaged, at-risk and immigrant children from around the world. Israel's national sports and health education institute in Netanya is fittingly named Machon Wingate, the Wingate Institute.

One might be wondering why so much was named after this man. In his book on the history of the Israeli army, Ze'ev Schiff called Wingate "the single most important influence on the military thinking of the Haganah."[1] While a complete analysis of that influence would constitute an article of its own, Samuel M. Katz put it succinctly. "Wingate had a profound impact on the molding of Israeli military doctrine. Defense, when fighting a numerically superior enemy, meant offense, and offense meant fighting deep inside enemy territory where the opposition was most vulnerable."[2] To this day, that concept remains the core of Israeli military strategy.

What inspired Wingate to be sympathetic to the cause of Zionism?

But what actually led to that conviction? It is not only his critics who point to his early Bible-intensive education as a primary source. Yigal Allon referred to Wingate's "extraordinary Zionist ardour inspired by the Bible…"[11] while Shabtai Teveth cited Haganah archives as describing Wingate as "an eccentric, a genius, a man more religious than rational, given to great pathos, a firm believer in the Bible, and fired with a sense of the special mission of the Jewish people."[12] While describing Wingate as having a genius for "grasping and using new mechanical techniques," Lowell Thomas did not argue against the conception that Wingate was also "a Scripture-reading crusader."[13]

However, the complexity that formed the foundation for Wingate's remarkable genius does not readily coincide with the notion that his Zionism was simply based upon the Bible. As Luigi Rossetto wrote, "Wingate had one quality which stands out above all others and that was his ability to examine the situation objectively and to draw on that part of his experience which applied while rejecting that which did not."[14]

Perhaps the most objective and complete assessment of Wingate at that time was made by Derek Tulloch, who broke down the oft-noted facets of Wingate's psyche as follows:

One side effect of Wingate's unhappy experience at Woolwich was to incline him to take sides, invariably, with the underdog. He never forgot the sensation of all men siding against him. . . . The discovery, however, of this quasi-biblical cause in his life, which opened before him just at a time when he was expecting a cause to appear – to justify his existence and fulfil his destiny – explains his decision to take up the challenge.[15]

Tulloch set forth three components that, in his opinion, led Wingate to embrace the Zionist cause. In addition to the "quasi-biblical" nature of the cause, Tulloch added Wingate's inclination to side with the weaker party, and Wingate's need at the time for a cause in which his destiny could be attained. While the Biblical aspect is intriguing on its own accord, the latter two components call for further examination.

There's more on Wingate here, at what appears to be an official site. His terror fighting strategy is worth a mention:

Wingate envisioned carefully selected, small and mobile units of volunteers to fight aggressively and unconventionally. In a report (as laid out in a future, prepared report dated June 5th, 1938 and titled: "Secret Appreciation of Possibilities of Night Movements by Armed Forces of the Crown - With Object of Putting an end to Terrorism in Northern Palestine") he spelled out formally the need for a unique military force. "There is only one way to deal with the situation, to persuade the gangs that, in their predatory raids, there is every chance of their running into a government gang which is determined to destroy them, not by exchange of shots at a distance, but by bodily assault with bayonet and bomb."11 This new unit was to carry the war to the enemy, taking away his initiative and keeping him off-balance. And so it was, "to produce in their minds the belief government forces will move at night and can and will surprise them either in villages or across country."12

Crossposted on Yourish.

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