Tag Archive | Jean Lafitte

Who Wins When Siblings Fight?

On January 8, 1815, an odd assortment of U.S. Soldiers, French and Spanish Creoles, African slaves and free men, Kentucky frontiersmen, and French pirates set aside their differences to fight as comrades against an invading British army at New Orleans.  The peril they shared transformed these disparate residents of the western frontier into Americans - a single people who shared a common identity regardless of their past and future differences.  (Image: The Battle of New Orleans January 8th 1815 / drawn by Oliver Pelton ; engraved by Hammat Billings,1882. Accessed from the Library of Congress.)

On January 8, 1815, an odd assortment of U.S. Soldiers, French and Spanish Creoles, African slaves and free men, Kentucky frontiersmen, and French pirates set aside their differences to fight as comrades against an invading British army at New Orleans. The peril they shared transformed these disparate residents of the western frontier into Americans – a single people who shared a common identity regardless of their past and future differences. (Image: The Battle of New Orleans January 8th 1815 / drawn by Oliver Pelton ; engraved by Hammat Billings,1882. Accessed from the Library of Congress.)

Something very strange happens when people face an imminent threat to life and livelihood.  The strange thing is unity such as would never have been possible otherwise.  History provides countless examples, such as the defense of New Orleans in January 1815.  When a veteran British force attacked the city, an odd assortment of people turned out to defend their home.  They included Regular soldiers of the American army under Major General Andrew Jackson, as well as Creole gentlemen and their American merchant rivals, common laborers, farmers, militia men from far away states, black slaves and free men, and even pirates and smugglers affiliated with the infamous Jean Lafitte.  Once the threat was past, these disparate segments of society returned to their separate lives and the circumstances that divided them, but for one glorious moment they experienced the joy of being a people united in a common cause.

We might consider as well the example of our Jewish brethren in World War II.  Immediately before the war, an Arab revolt in British Palestine compelled His Majesty’s government to issue a White Paper in 1939 which closed the door on Jewish immigration to the Holy Land.  This was a political and military necessity for the British; another Arab revolt would threaten their hold on Egypt, their link to India and the Pacific, and the lifeline of the Empire.  When faced with war against Hitler’s Germany, Great Britain could not afford to lose that lifeline, and thus European Jews in peril of their lives in the Shoa (Holocaust) lost their last and best chance at escape from the death camps.

One might suppose the Jewish response to the White Paper – particularly among those living in the Land – would be violent rejection and revolt.  Some did respond that way, but the most memorable response was by David Ben Gurion, at that time among the most prominent leaders of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish settlers in the Land.  He expressed his position this way:

We will fight the war as if there were no White Paper, and we will fight the White Paper as if there were no war.

Ben Gurion’s pragmatism was instrumental in establishment of the Jewish Brigade, the only regular military unit of any Allied army in World War II comprised entirely of Jews.  The Jewish Brigade served with distinction in the British forces in Egypt, Italy, and Northwest Europe, and it also served as a training ground for Jewish warriors who carried the fight for Israel’s independence after the British Mandate over Palestine ended in 1948.

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