For Jews who emigrated from Eastern Europe in the years before World War I, one of the many motivations to leave was the prospect of service in the Czar’s army, which often amounted to a death sentence. Only a generation later, people in uniform exterminated most of the Jews who had remained behind. It should come as no surprise that this sad history is frequently cited as the cause of the low representation of Jews in the American armed forces.
So recent was the Holocaust and so pervasive was the notion that military service was not for Jews that when I joined the Army in 1966, the perception was that we became soldiers only if we were forced to do so. In the minds of both Jews and gentiles, the prevalent stereotype was, and still is, that Jews are doctors, lawyers, accountants, professors — everything except soldiers.
To be sure, Jews are under-represented in uniform: We are significantly less likely to serve than other Americans. But single-factor analysis can be misleading, and there is more at work here than merely the agony of the Jewish experience.
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