Fire in the Night: Wingate of Burma, Ethiopia and Zion
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True Crime. Profession: Author. Event Coordinator. Film Executive. Foreign Publisher. Literary Agent. In , Wingate led another guerrilla-style force, this time into Italian-occupied Ethiopia, where he was instrumental in restoring Emperor Haile Selassie to his throne. But the campaign that was to bring him world fame was conducted behind enemy lines in Burma, where his Chindits shattered the myth of Japanese invincibility in jungle fighting, giving Allied morale a much-needed boost at a crucial point in World War II.
Throughout his career, Wingate's unconventionality and disdain for the superiors he dismissed as "military apes" marked him as a difficult if not impossible subordinate. He was that, but also, as this vigorous new study reveals, an inspiring leader.
Wingate was eager to dedicate his talents to this cause, and he did not have far to look. The grand mufti of Jerusalem had recently launched a coordinated military and economic rebellion aimed at ousting the British from Palestine and bringing the Zionist enterprise to an end. This insurrection was then at its apogee, with Jewish settlements cut off and thrown on the defensive. Wingate proposed to create units of swift-moving, hard-hitting commandos who would take the initiative and strike Arab guerrillas in the villages that hosted them.
Fire in the Night
Archibald Wavell, who would remain his mentor throughout the campaigns of Palestine , Ethiopia and Burma. Rex King-Clark. But there was also a less heroic side to Wingate: An irascible, moody, mercurial side.
He was known to strike soldiers who disappointed him, and to employ collective punishment against Arab villagers suspected of aiding guerrillas. Thus, when Wingate requested home leave to London a few weeks after he was wounded at Dabburiya and in the wake of narrowly escaping assassination at the hands of Arab assailants , his superiors were only too happy to comply. Wingate took advantage of his time in London to lobby tirelessly for the Zionist cause.
Returning to Palestine in December, he found himself barred from further contact with the SNS, which was disbanded soon thereafter, and transferred back to Britain. In May , the notorious White Paper was issued, imposing crippling restrictions on Jewish immigration and land purchases in Palestine.
Wingate, however, remained undeterred. Further friction was averted when Wavell ordered Wingate to Ethiopia , there to apply his guerrilla tactics to defeating the Italian fascists. With a meager assemblage of British officers and mountain tribesmen—Gideon Force, he called it—Wingate, now a lieutenant colonel, succeeded in tricking an enemy column fourteen thousand strong into surrendering, and then rode a white horse into newly liberated Addis Ababa.
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Willing though he was to die for it, Ethiopia was for Wingate merely a means of returning to Palestine with a higher rank and greater influence in the army. Throughout the campaign, he insisted on keeping an SNS veteran, Avraham Akavia , as his aide-de-camp, and on using doctors from Jewish Palestine to treat his wounded. Posted to Cairo to await reassignment, Wingate languished there for months while the battle for North Africa raged.
Idle, depressed and suffering from severe malaria, he took a knife to his own throat one night in July He survived the attempt, and during his long and painful convalescence, shunned by fellow officers, he received a long line of visitors from Palestine , including David Ben-Gurion. The Japanese, whom the British believed to be invincible in the jungle, were at the time poised to invade India. Though the army continued to resist his efforts, Wingate managed to construct his force and, in January , march it across the Chinese Himalayas into Burma.
The fighting was brutal. Wingate returned to find himself a celebrity and a favorite of Prime Minister Churchill, who took him and Lorna to meet President Roosevelt at the Allied summit in Quebec.
There, before the leaders of the free world, he presented his plan for using light, mobile forces to defeat the Japanese in Burma , and it was accepted. After years of vilification by his superiors in the army, Wingate was at last vindicated. But for him, the impact of his success was to be measured not in Burma but in Palestine. By early , Wingate, now a major general, commanded a Chindit force four times as large as the first.
He led his men back into Burma , but on March 24, while flying to a forward position, the Mitchell bomber carrying him crashed in the jungle. No identifiable remains of Wingate were ever found, save for his trademark pith helmet. Charges of foul play were later raised and never conclusively settled.
Since five out of the nine men aboard the Mitchell bomber were Americans, their common remains-several pounds of bones-were interred at Arlington National Cemetery , far from the places in which Wingate was revered as a hero. Orde Wingate, who had just turned forty-one when he was killed, never saw his son Jonathan who was born two months later, nor did he see the birth of the Jewish state he so longed for.
T he Wingate of Fire in the Night is an astounding, quirky and poignantly human figure, who stands in utter contrast to the cold and one-dimensional killer depicted by Tom Segev in Days of the Anemones.
Wingates Wisdom: Why Diplomats Blame Israel First - Ashbrook
Yet the Hebrew sources are overwhelmingly flattering to Wingate. The answer lies, rather, in the perspective that Segev brought to his writing, and in the way he used these sources. They [the operations] will invariably spoil relations with the neighboring Arab villages. These operations, they believe, can only be carried out by an army, and not by our settlements.