Identity Replacement: Will Israel Be Like Rosie The Riveter Or Harold Schultz?
Identity replacement, whether individual or national, can be accidental or purposeful. Sometimes it can be corrected in time. Sometimes it may be too late.
Geraldine Hoff Doyle, who many believed to have been the woman featured in J. Howard Miller’s famous historic poster, did not know she was not the real Rosie the Riveter. However, the real Rosie, Naomi Parker Fraley, did know the truth, and nobody would listen to her.
Harold Schultz was the Marine in the famous Iwo Jima photo by Joe Rosenthal, and not James Bradley. The Marines knew of their error. Many history buffs knew of the error. But the truth was not officially acknowledged until 20 years after Schultz’s death.
I am sure that it does not matter to very many people whether the name behind the face and muscular arm is Geraldine or Naomi. But it did matter to Naomi. And it mattered enough to one investigative journalist — James J. Kimble spent six years following a hunch. He uncovered the truth, in his eulogy to Fraley he reflected on the dangers of journalism that no longer investigates, and news consumers who swallow stories whole without question:
The story of Fraley’s discovery is a valuable but cautionary tale. It can tell us much about the 24-hour news cycle, our culture’s need to feed the media beast and what happens to the people behind the stories we consume without questioning.
Birth of an instance of Identity Replacement
Let us see how this is relevant regarding contemporary Israel. Kimble writes:
Most people thought they already knew who that face belonged to: a Michigan woman named Geraldine Hoff Doyle. Her proof was a familiar wire service photograph.
And I think we can safely say that most people think they know to whom the land of Israel, or at least the so-called West Bank (Judea & Samaria) really belongs: to a so-called Palestinian people. This oft-used map that totally distorts the truth is one kind of “proof” offered; but who bothers to read the arguments against this propaganda sleight of hand?
A brief piece in The Economist is just one example of the kind of thing many people will not read. Even people who say they care about the truth.
The Doyle fallacy was not malicious. At the same time, it lasted for decades. Kimble writes:
Doyle innocently believed she was the woman in the photo, which she first saw in 1984. And it did look like her own photos from the 1940s—so much so that friends marveled at how one of their own had become a minor celebrity. Through some twists and turns, before long, Doyle’s identity as the authentic Rosie the Riveter had become accepted fact. The Michigan Senate and the state’s Women’s History Hall of Fame officially recognized her. When she passed away in 2010, there was a worldwide vigil for the loss of the “We Can Do It!” woman.
Now let us see how this works for Israel and “Palestine:” Palestinians innocently (or not) believed they were sovereign over the land of Israel. So much so that the “Palestinian people” became a minor (or major) celebrity. Through some twists and turns, before long, Palestine as an authentic state had become accepted “fact.” The whole world officially recognized her. If a Palestinian state does not actually materialize, there will be worldwide vigils for the loss of the two-state-solution-myth. (And cries for extermination of the Jewish state?)
Challenging Accepted Wisdom
The relentless journalist, Kimble, pursued his hunch:
I was dubious about those accounts. After a previous round of investigative scholarship on the myths surrounding the “We Can Do It!” image (which I co-authored with Lester C. Olson of the University of Pittsburgh), I wondered if there was any way to prove (or disprove) Doyle’s claim. The only way to tell for sure, of course, was to find that original wire photo in hopes that a long-forgotten caption would provide an identity. And so began a six-year journey.
In contrast, there are many journalists, historians, legal experts, politicians and more who try to combat the lies told about Israel. Books and articles debunk the lies. Ben-Dror Yemini’s recent masterpiece does a thorough job of fighting the lies with solid research. But it seems that very few people want to be enlightened.
In a recent discussion on Twitter, my discussant dismissed Yemini’s book out of hand. The blurb advertising the book ridicules the accusation of apartheid, so he nixed it.
Kimble found the evidence he needed. He was finally able to track down the real Rosie the Riveter:
Eventually, I found and bought an original copy of the photograph. The yellowing caption tag glued to the back provided the final smoking gun. It had been taken at the Alameda Naval Air Station in Oakland, Calif. And, in the unknown photographer’s own words, it said: “Pretty Naomi Parker looks like she might catch her nose in the turret lathe she is operating, but she knows to keep her nose out of her business.”
It was, pointedly, not Michigan, and not Doyle.
It was an astonishing moment. Who was this forgotten Rosie? Parker’s name was completely unknown to me. I eventually found out that she was alive and well. Now known as Naomi Fraley, she had only recently discovered that her 1942 wire photo (of which she had a captioned copy) was famous. Sadly, she also had found out that her photo was routinely labeled with Doyle’s name. There is even a name for how this happens: the Woozle effect, when an idea is repeated and referenced often enough that it becomes accepted as fact.
We in Israel are very familiar with the Woozle effect. We may not have called it that. But we know it well. (The origin of the term is described here.)
Impact of Identity Replacement
Kimble writes about Naomi Parker’s experience of having her identity replaced by Doyle:
So when this new face of Rosie the Riveter chatted with me in 2015, it was with a sense of frustration. Parker was proud of her war service, and equally proud that her image might just have been the basis for the poster that had become a rallying cry of women everywhere. But to see someone else’s name replacing hers—and to know that that replacement was generally accepted as an historical fact—created turmoil inside her that words could not describe.
Israelis who care about having our history accurately portrayed understand that turmoil at a very deep level.
Fortunately, journalists were more than happy to report on the discovery of a more definitive Rosie. Gradually, Fraley did get to reclaim her identity as the woman in the 1942 photo—and quite possibly the poster itself.
Ah! Will Israel have such a positive outcome sometime? Somehow I cannot imagine many anti-Zionists being happy to report on the discovery of the true Israel.
Another Story of Identity Replacement
I think our story would more likely parallel that of Harold Schultz. Kimble writes:
The happy outcome of her story, however, is a sad contrast to the tale of PFC Harold Schultz, only recently found to have been one of the flag-raisers at Iwo Jima. Schultz, too, had been anonymous for years. The difference was that researchers identified him over 20 years after his death. He was never able to claim his role as an iconic figure, nor to serve as an inspiration for admiring youngsters.
Were Israel to be defeated and destroyed (God forbid!), I think it would take more than 20 years for the lies told about us to finally be acknowledged as such. All those who currently have a vested interest in the demise of the Jewish state would have to be dead and buried. At least.
Our obliviousness to Schultz during his lifetime—and the eerily similar circumstance that faced Parker until it was almost too late—suggest that our culture’s insatiable thirst for instant celebrities can easily overwhelm the need for careful scrutiny of those whom we would admire.
And here I need to wonder: what is it about the so-called Palestinians that arouses admiration in their promoters? Is it enough to support death of the Jewish state for one to be a cause célèbre today?
Kimble ends his piece thus:
We pay a price, historically, for our haste. Worse, those whom we forget or ignore pay that price in terms of one the cruelest kinds of identity theft.
Don’t we just know it!
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Post Script: I do not have any idea what the eventual solution should be. I agree that today there is a group of Arabs who view themselves as Palestinians, as somehow distinct from other Arabs, and as deserving of a political designation that would cement that separate identity. I do not think that anyone knows how resilient that identity is, nor how long it would last were Israel to lose a war and be overrun. In any case, any solution advanced needs to be based upon the truth. Nothing else would work. Not for them and not for us. Because building your identity on a lie has a way of backfiring.
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Image credits: Rosie the Riveter, by J. Howard Miller, is in the public domain. Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, by Joe Rosenthal, is used under the Fair Use Rule.