Reviewed by Jack Smith
Herman Wouk is one of the greatest historical novelists ever. It began with “The Caine Mutiny” and continued with “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance.” He saved his greatest work for last though: “The Hope and The Glory.” These novels chronicle one of the most thrilling events of our time, the modern birth of Israel. After World War Two the Jews had had enough. They demanded their own homeland, Israel. This is the story of the Jewish migration and settlement of that country. “Balagan” is a Hebrew word that can be translated as chaos or fiasco, and it’s a word that comes up again and again in the novel set amid the several wars that forged the state of Israel. Instead of Roosevelt, we have Ben-Gurion, Israel’s Churchill. Instead of Eisenhower, we have Moshe Dayan. The miracles of military ingenuity, raw courage —sheer Chutzpah— have become the folklore of the Israeli Defense Forces. For example, when the army needed to find a road in order to break the Siege of Jerusalem in 1948, an American Colonel (made commander of the Jerusalem front by Ben-Gurion) managed to save the city with a barely-passable, last-ditch road carved through winding mountains along old animal paths that bypassed enemy lines, bringing desperately needed supplies to the besieged city. Anticipating the next war, the undersized Israel air force bombed all of Egypt’s runways keeping its planes out of the fight. This is the study of the world’s largest underdog and its refusal to surrender. I once had the occasion to speak to a Special Forces operator from Israel and asked why they fought so hard. He gave me a one-word answer in Hebrew that sounded like “Embara.” He later translated the word to mean “no choice” If the Arabs lose the war, they go home, if we lose we go into the sea.