To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell

Friday, November 14, 2014

Tell It To The Marines, Part 2: In Fact, David Brooks' Son Josh Enlisted In The Israeli Military Only After Trying To Become A Leatherneck

Potomac Almanac, June 2009

Last week I posted something about David Brooks’ son Josh enlisting in the IDF, which Brooks Sr. acknowledged in a cursory manner in an interview with Katie Couric at The Aspen Ideas Festival in July as well as in two Haaretz interviews, one of them in Hebrew, but has not acknowledged yet in his New York Times column. I argued there was something “off,” on several levels, pointing out that:

* Brooks had failed to recognize and address the issue of full journalistic disclosure, echoing Pubic Editor Sullivan and many Times readers Sullivan cited, that the son’s IDF service represented a emotional conflict of interest for the columnist or at least the appearance of one. In the interests of journalistic transparency, I argued, Brooks should address it to his Times readers directly in his NYT column itself.

* No one at Aspen, chock a block with members of the American chattering classes as well as members of America's policy elite, seemed to think it important enough/ noteworthy enough to write up or blog about, despite an audience response which seemed to indicate that those attending that particular panel  thought it significant.

* The way that the son’s decision and the father’s expressly political affirmation of that decision seemed to refute Brooks pere’s adulation of American military service, American patriotism and American national greatness and expcetionalism, which form a major core of his work as a columnist and as a commentator for NPR and for PBS.  I said it was not hypocrisy, per se, but that it edged pretty close.

Now something has come into view that makes that story as it’s been laid out so far even more “off”: News that Josh Brooks actually enlisted in the US Marines right after he graduated from high school in 2009 but was discharged after washing out of boot camp half way through it in the fall of that same year. 

Usually, I would not write about this kind of thing any further than I did in the original post. I’m uncomfortable writing about anyone’s child, the decisions that child might make, the parental support that kid gets or does not get for those decisions, and the political significance associated with all that, if there is any. It's just too easy to come off as mean. But this new information seems relevant, providing context for why Brooks might be reluctant to discuss the son's Israeli military enlistment and to make the necessary journalistic disclosure.  

The news about the aborted Marine enlistment came last weekend when an anonymous Coloring The News blog reader, through a mutual friend, sent me a June, 2009 piece from a Potomac MD community newspaper bearing the headline, “For Brooks, Joining the Marines.” According to the article, while most of the Washington area’s 18-year olds who graduated from local high schools that month were “signing up for dorm rooms and writing checks for college, Jewish Day School graduate Josh Brooks, however, enlisted in the Marines. While most seniors were at beach week, Brooks headed for basic training.”

The article continued:

"I don’t think there is really one reason why I joined the Marine Corps but it’s probably a mix — idealism, wanting to be a rebel and a desire to test myself" Brooks said.

Brooks is the only member of his family to ever join the Marines and he wants to make sure he did something that would make a mark in his family. Brooks’ father, David, is a New York Times columnist as well as a commentator on the PBS show "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer." 

Both of Brooks’ parents are supportive of Josh’s decision to join the Marine Corps instead of going to college.

Josh’s mother, Sarah, said that the decision was "extremely hard" and it was with "sort of our blessing."

Brooks explains that his father and his job as a nationally- syndicated columnist influenced his decision to fight for his country.

"I grew up very patriotic" Brooks said.

Since Brooks’ father happens to work with two Ex-Marines, he thinks that may have influenced his family to be supportive of his decision.

Brooks also says he found inspiration in the book One Bullet Away by Nate Fick. The book describes the background of the Marines and success and pride that comes with being a Marine.

Mentioning a key quote that he remembered from the book "to hold a sword not a pencil," Brooks said "I plan on staying in the Corps as long as I am doing a job that allows me to be active and to ‘hold the sword.’"

At some point "they put you behind a desk," he said.

Brooks makes it clear he intends to go on an adventure before hitting the books again. Brooks is looking to expand his horizons and meet people in the world who can teach him different lessons and values.

"Afterwards, I want to make sure I have gotten an education and then I either want to get involved in politics or own halfway houses that help people who are in trouble or going through a rough time," Brooks said.

Brooks admits that the Marine training and lifestyle "will be very tough. I hope I learn to deal with any situation and push my limits."

I had taken a pretty hard line on Brooks Jr. going to serve Israel instead of his own country and on the father’s personal and political approval of that. But if he’d enlisted in the IDF after doing a hitch in the US Marines, it was a bit of a different story. Israel is, after all, an American ally; dual American-Israeli citizens, which Josh Brooks technically became once he joined the IDF, are in fact legally allowed to serve in any foreign army not at war with the US. I did ask Brooks Sr. quite explicitly why a hitch in the US Marines wasn’t apparently in the son’s range of “service” options, which might have been an opportunity for him to nod to the son’s attempt to enlist in the American military before he joined Israel’s. But Brooks hadn’t deigned to answer that question, or any of my questions for that matter. Still, my first response to the article I was sent was to think about a correction or a clarification of some sort.    

The article I was sent, however, came with a cover note drawing attention to the fact that the son had graduated Indiana University in 2014, which highlighted some suspicious math. Unless Brooks Jr, was able to finish a typical four year college degree and complete a typical four year hitch in the Marines at the same time, there was something funky going on. There was also the mystery of why Brooks had not mentioned the son’s US military service in any of his Times’ columns, especially the ones he wrote after the son had enlisted. Not that he had to dwell on it, but in saluting the idea of national service in order to strengthen the fabric of our “tenuous common culture” as he did in this 2012 cheer for Charles Murray’s Coming Apart, a reference to his own son’s national service would have been quite appropriate.

According to the US Marine Corps public affairs unit however, Josh Brooks did indeed enlist in the Marine corps, did indeed take the typical oath to protect the US Constitution that all US servicemen and servicewomen take and did indeed show up for boot camp on September 8, 2009 at Parris Island, South Carolina. The “release-able information” that the Marine Corps’ public affairs unit was able to give me from Joshua Brooks “official military personnel file” however indicates that he finished exactly half of the 13 week course of basic training, being discharged on Oct 27.  The last “duty station” listed on the file for Brooks, who held the rank of private and had the “Military Occupational Specialty” of “Basic Marine,” was his first one:3rd Recruit Training Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C.”

[Here is the information in the form I got it in an email from a public affairs officer in the Marine Corps’ Department of Manpower and Reserve Affairs:

This information is from the official military personnel file for Joshua R. Brooks:

Rank: Private
Dates of Service:  8 Sept 2009 - 27 Oct 2009
Military Occupational Specialty: Basic Marine
Last Duty Assignment: 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C.]

The PAO I spoke to about this information told me that the “releasable information” they were able to provide did not include the “character” of the discharge Brooks Jr. was given, meaning it’s hard to figure whether he left Basic on bad terms with a less than honorable discharge, or was injured sometime during the six and a half weeks he was at Parris Island and had to leave because of a medical issue or if he simply quit realizing that the life of a Marine just wasn't right for him. Information about discharge status is only available on the “certificate of release or discharge from active duty” which is the form that the military refers to as a DD 214. The PAO told me I could use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain that bit of paper, but that it often comes back with the discharge status redacted anyway. 

The “releasable information” I was given also did not include any indication that any higher-ups got involved in the discharge, which might suggest that Brooks had gotten special treatment because of his father or because of his father’s connections, including the two “ex Marines” Brooks Sr. worked with who were referenced in the Potomac article.  Nor did it include any reference to Brooks running into the anti-Semitism that many American Jews claim is common in the American military, which discourages them from enlisting and to some degree accounts for a striking level of ethnic underrepresentation in the American military as a whole, as this 2011 editorial in the Forward acknowledges. At this point then there’s no reason to think it’s anymore complicated than one young man failing to finish Basic, which happens to about 12% of Marine recruits on an annual basis.  

As noted, learning that Brooks son joined the IDF only after washing out of the US Marines and graduating from college, did seem to lessen the sense of putting Israel before the US, or of putting it on equal terms, reflecting a problematic “comingling” of political cultures common in many pro-Israel circles in the US where service to one nation is seen as service to the other. As Brooks himself said in the second Haaretz interview:

Every Israeli parent understands the circumstance (of having a child join in a military often at war), and that it is worrying,” he says, “but I do think children should take risks as they get out of college and university. They should expand their expectation of risk, and I do think they should do something hard – and military service is hard. And they should do something outside themselves. I think that service defines all those three things, and I can’t very well advise that to other people if I don’t think my own family should do it.

But in the US, if military service doesn’t work out, there are a lot of other opportunities for nonmilitary service, especially for young college graduates like Brooks: The Peace Corps, Teach For America, the CIA or even paramilitary service like the FBI, the ATF or the NYPD, if holding a “sword," figuratively speaking, is all that important. When assessed against these other options for American service, Brooks Jr’s Israeli military enlistment still seems as much about serving Israel ahead of the US as it did before the failed Marine enlistment came into view. But now it also seems to involve finding an outlet for an uncured case of youthful military adventurism---“to hold the sword,” no matter if the sword belongs to his own country or that of another.

1 comment:

  1. There are lots of Zionist Australian young people who head off to serve with the IDF. We hear precisely NOTHING of this in any mainstream press - presumably they travel to Zionist Israeli on any other of the passports available to them EXCEPTING their Australian passport (presumably South African or Canadian or US or such! And return "undetected" to live again within our community attracting none of the opprobrium directed at misguided (presumably) young people from the wider Muslim community who head off to the same Middle East for similar kinds of motivations (sadly, I would add)! We need a little more oxygen on these kinds of things! Thanks, William.