The story of General Mickey Marcus:
Israel’s first General couldn’t even speak Hebrew!
Hi everyone, I am Ron Cantor and you are listening to the podcast: The Miracle of Modern Israel. Before we get started, I want to send you my book, The 15 most important facts about the Israeli Palestinian Conflict free of charge. Just go to roncan.net/Israel48. This podcast is sponsored by Up-to-Zion Israel tours. Checkout uptozion.net to get information on one of our upcoming life-changing tour to Israel.
If you are in the United States and you are roaming the cemetery at the famous West Point Military Academy, you might be a little surprised to find Israel’s first modern General buried there. Colonel David Mickey Marcus served in World War II. He landed the with allied troops on Normandy beach on D-day. In fact, without any training, he jumped out of the plane with other paratroopers. In addition, he was given the responsibility of assisting the Jewish survivors of the concentration camps. Seeing how his people were treated changed his life.
He returned home as a full colonel and highly decorated war strategist. Back in New York, he faced a promising law career. However, the Haganah, the precursor to the Israeli Defense Forces, would soon seek his help. Reluctantly he left the safety of the U.S. to go serve the cause of a future Jewish nation. He slipped past the British authorities in Palestine as Michael Stone, a wine dealer, and was thus nicknamed “Colonel Stone.” Initially he served as a military advisor.
When it became clear that he had far more experience in winning real wars than any other of the Israeli commanders, Prime Minister David ben Gurion promoted him to be the first Israeli General. Mickey was fearless and it was contagious. He had a magnetic personality, incredible memory and tireless work ethic. He wasn’t recruited to actually come himself, but to lure others. When no one was willing he volunteered.
“’I may not be best man for the job, but I’m the only one willing to go.’ Two weeks after he arrived in the country, Mickey already knew every significant spot on the map. In that short time, he had learned about the enemy, the type of war, and the best way to tackle it. He had personally been part of the American army’s expansion and growth to meet the problems of World War II and understood the problems Israel would have to face in establishing an army overnight.” Biographer Zipporah Porat
When he submitted his report to Ben Gurion on March 2nd he said, “The Haganah has educated a type of commander who could easily be converted into a first-rate officer.” The man who rescued Jews from Nazi tyranny, Jews who were slowly duped into not resisting, until it was too late, was now enamored with this, “New breed of Jew,” eager to fight.
The problem was organization. Israelis love to disagree and express their opinion, which was great for debate in peacetime, but would not work in war. Soldiers, according to Marcus, needed to know who they report to and who needed to report to them. Ben Gurion was so impressed with Marcus that he confessed he needed 10 more just like him.
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Some of the commanders were intimated by Mickey. To slow him down, Yigal Yadin had him prepare a training manual. What he didn’t expect, was that Marcus, who had put the US manual to memory, would have it finished by morning. Those manuals continued to be used by the IDF for some time, unedited.
Marcus longed to lead men into battle, but the commanders felt he was not ready. He was urging them to stop playing defense and go on offense to expand the borders of the new state.
In April he returned home to the United States. While in the US he met with General Omar Bradley who asked him “How long can the Israeli army hold out in defeat?” Mickey replied, “Since we’re not an army, but a nation at arms, we’ll only be defeated when we are destroyed.” That is what so many don’t understand—for Israel to lose, the Jews would be slaughtered and there would be no Jewish nation. However, if the Arabs lose, it was no big deal—they still controlled the overwhelming majority of the of the Middle East.
This is one of the man reasons Israel won the War of Independence. A man fighting for his life, can defeat a much stronger man, who doesn’t know why he is fighting. In a few weeks our man, Mickey would return to Israel to lead them to victory. Stay tuned for part 2 of the Mickey Marcus story.
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Note: Marcus was played by Kirk Douglass in “Cast a Giant Shadow,” the movie about his life.