Skip to content
Our Best Stuff on 2024, Congress, and War in Israel
Go to my account

Our Best Stuff on 2024, Congress, and War in Israel

Plus, thoughts on Veterans Day.

My grandfather Daniel W. Rowland’s plane and crew. He’s the fourth in from the right. According to the American Air Museum in Britain, British radio host was broadcasting from a base in Norfolk, England, when this was taken.

Hello and happy Saturday. To mark Veterans Day, we published a piece  this weekend about the importance of having conversations with veterans about their service—and about the challenge of doing so. A sad but understandable consequence of veterans being an ever-smaller share of our population is that too few people understand their experience. People don’t know what to say, or they are concerned they will trigger stressors.

The message is one that hits home for me. Growing up, I knew that my grandfather had served in World War II, but he shared details mostly on a need-to-know basis. We knew he’d been shot in the leg because we couldn’t sit on his lap for long when we were little and we could see the scars when he wore shorts in the summer. He didn’t try to hide it, but he didn’t elaborate much either. And we knew he’d lost a brother to the war effort—my great uncle died in an accident while training to fight in the Pacific theater. As a child, I didn’t think to ask much more. World War II felt like ancient history, something that happened in the “olden days,” when people had horse-drawn carriages and no indoor plumbing.  (I was born 27 years after the end of WWII—a time span not much longer than the gap between 9/11 and today—so it’s safe to say my perspective has changed.) Maybe occasionally he’d mention something that happened or someone he served with, but nothing that left a big impression. 

That changed as I approached adulthood. In my late teen years and during college, my grandmother couldn’t be left alone because of various health issues. I’d go sit with her so my grandfather could do the shopping, get a haircut, etc. And a funny thing happened. I don’t know whether my grandmother’s health made him realize his own mortality or whether the quiet afternoons were more conducive to conversation than the raucous gatherings they’d have when the whole family got together, but my grandfather decided to tell me his war stories. 

He was a waist-gunner on the crew of a B-24 Liberator, the Fascinatin’ Witch. As he explained to me one day, his understanding when he was sent to Europe was that he had to fly 25 missions and then he could come home. So when he arrived, he would volunteer for missions when other crews were shorthanded. But at some point, his superiors informed him that he had to fly 25 missions with his crew. Turns out he didn’t get extra credit for all those extra missions. 

By August 1943, the crew had flown 24 missions and needed to endure just one more. (I’m going to stop right here for a moment: No, my grandfather’s crew was not the inspiration for the movie Memphis Belle.) Their final mission was a big one—Operation Tidal Wave, designed to take out a collection of Axis oil refineries in Ploesti, Romania. As I’ve learned since, the Allies did knock some refineries out of commission, but only temporarily—and at a high cost. Out of 178 bombers that took part, 53 were lost and hundreds of men died.  The Fascinatin Witch’ came under fire, and my grandfather and another crew member were gravely wounded. Fortunately, his captain successfully evaded the Axis attacks and managed to land at a hospital in Malta. My grandfather spent months recovering in hospitals in Europe and Africa. 

Today, some of those details are available online. Over the years I’ve found different websites that have detailed accounts of the battle—including one that described my grandfather’s injuries in even more detail than he did (that site is sadly defunct but I had grabbed a snippet for a Facebook post a few years ago). But reading those accounts, however detailed, can in no way compare to hearing my grandfather tell the story. When you’re reading, details like casualty counts and planes lost become just another statistic. But when someone is telling you the story, it puts you there. You realize how fragile life is, and what those soldiers experienced—and what they were willing to give up for their country. It’s also an important reminder that so many didn’t live long enough to tell their own stories. 

There are obvious reasons we should exercise care and empathy when talking to those who’ve fought. But when veterans talk—whether they are young soldiers back from a deployment in the Middle East or a grandfather finally ready to discuss his time in Korea or Vietnam—make the time to listen.

Thank you for reading. And please if you have stories you want to share, from your own experience or from a relative, please do. 

Donald Trump is facing 91 felony counts, has vowed to run a campaign based on “revenge,” and might be considering invoking the Insurrection Act on the first day of his hypothetical second term. He’s also leading President Joe Biden in five out six battleground states in a new New York Times/Siena College poll. In Boiling Frogs (🔒), Nick tries to set aside his preternatural pessimism for a moment to consider a plausible explanation for this scenario: What if voters aren’t paying attention yet? “Rumblings of a fascist takeover of the executive branch with an election less than a year away rank far below, say, Taylor Swift in what’s occupying voters’ headspace,” he writes. But he’s not really buying that argument. “The less charitable interpretation is that voters understand very well already that a second Trump term will get constitutionally hairy and don’t care. Biden’s too old, the price of eggs is too high, and there’s too much war abroad. … They’ve heard about his criminal indictments. They know what they’d be signing up for by electing him again and seem ready to do so anyway.”

Some inside baseball for you. In the days after Hamas’ attack on Israel, we assigned a piece on Hezbollah’s potential to widen the conflict into a two-front war. We were a little worried that events would render the piece obsolete before we could publish it. But … that hasn’t happened. Charlotte gets into the possible reasons that the Iran-backed terrorist group based in Lebanon has limited itself to cross-border skirmishes instead of a broader incursion. She writes: “This reluctance points to the high price of full involvement for Hezbollah and its Iranian backers. The Lebanese militants are Iran’s most loyal, established proxy in the region, and a declaration of war runs the risk of delivering Israel a key military victory against its longtime adversary in Tehran. And it’s a war Hezbollah, also a political party in Lebanon, may not survive amid brewing discontent at home.”

How do you solve a problem like Rashida? That’s an important question for Democrats right now, Michael Warren reports. The Israel-Hamas war has exacerbated a divide within the party between supporters of the Middle East’s only democracy and supporters of the Palestinian cause. Tlaib, the only Palestinian American in Congress, represents what Michael describes as “small, but important, part of the party’s political coalition: Arab-Americans, many of whom are concentrated in Tlaib’s Detroit-area district.” She has accused President Biden of supporting genocide and defended the phrase “from the river to the sea”—essentially a call for the eradication of Israel—as aspirational call for freedom, human rights, and peaceful coexistence.” Democrats largely back Israel, but pro-Palestinian sympathizers are vocal—and they are upset with Biden’s support of Israel. Tlaib’s comments earned her a censure resolution from House Republicans, and 22 Democrats voted for  it.* And some who voted against it aren’t exactly happy with her. Michael writes: “One Democratic House member who voted against censure and has defended Tlaib publicly told The Dispatch on Wednesday that Tlaib’s inflammatory remarks have nonetheless made this lawmaker’s life ‘hell.’” 

Here’s the best of the rest:

  • President Biden has said all the right things about the war in Israel, just as he has with Ukraine. But when it’s time to turn those words into action, he has hesitated—asking Israel for a “pause” in its campaign against Hamas and dragging his feet before giving the Ukrainians the weapons they need to win. Rebeccah Heinrichs argues that such timidity only invites conflict.
  • In 1864, when Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman occupied Atlanta, local officials begged him to lift an evacuation order. Sherman responded, offering assistance to those who wanted to get out but stood firm about his plans to sack the city. Kevin Caroll notes that his statements on the necessity of war are strikingly relevant in regards to Israel’s efforts to defeat Hamas.
  • Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin sank a bunch of time and money into the campaigns of Republicans across his state, hoping to deliver GOP majorities to both chambers of the General Assembly. But Republicans didn’t win enough votes to take the state Senate, and Democrats won a few elections in the House, shrinking the GOP majority. The Dispatch Politics crew gets into the hows and whys.
  • Anti-Zionists like to say that they aren’t antisemitic, but Jonah wonders why it’s only the Jewish state that people proudly argue shouldn’t exist. “Normally, if you talk about your desire to erase a people, nation, or culture, you’d get accused of bigotry or even genocidal designs. Not so with anti-Zionism.” 
  • It’s a very bipartisan edition of The Collision, as Sarah and Mike check in on both the House Republicans’ impeachment investigation of President Biden and Donald Trump’s civil fraud trial in New York.
  • On the pods: On The Dispatch Podcast, Jamie Weinstein interviews Grame Wood of The Atlantic about his coverage of the war in Gaza. And on Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah take up this question, soon to be addressed by the Supreme Court: Should public officials and other state actors be allowed to block private citizens on social media? And, finally: How is it that Israel has become one of the happiest societies in the world in the last few years while Americans are feeling ever-less fulfilled? On The Remnant Jonah discusses it all with Dan Senor, who has a new book out about Israel. 

Correction, November 12, 2023: This piece initially stated that the censure measure of Rashida Tlaib failed.

Rachael Larimore is managing editor of The Dispatch and is based in the Cincinnati area. Prior to joining the company in 2019, she served in similar roles at Slate, The Weekly Standard, and The Bulwark. She and her husband have three sons.