War and Heritage

It’s been a while since I’ve used this site to work out my thoughts on something. Some of that has been because I’ve been busier than usual, but mostly I think it’s because I’ve lost my debate opponents on social media, and these debates often served as the spark for my deeper thoughts that I brought here. I don’t know where the debate opponents went, I think they grew tired of debating me, and maybe they felt like it didn’t mean as much after Trump lost. Either way, I have a void over there, that’s clearly leading to a void over here. But the war in Ukraine got me thinking about something and this seems to be the perfect place to put those thoughts into writing. It all starts with me being very upset about what Russia is doing, but also being Russian, at least in part.

I’m at least 3/8 of Russian descent. To the best of my knowledge, my father’s father moved to the United States from Russia as a child. His family carried the name Danielovitch before the move, but was Americanized to Daniels once they arrived. According to family legend, he sold newspapers to pay his way through law school. According to his obituary, and what I know to be true, he worked as a lawyer in the city courts for more than half a century, working almost right until the day he died at 86 years old. I remember going to see him in the hospital, as his heart failed, and in his oxygen-starved state, he didn’t realize that we weren’t in court, and he mostly muttered the whole time about how he was going to handle my case and keep me out of jail. It actually all seemed very reasonable (something about it being my first offense, and how he was sure the judge would agree to reduce it to a violation with a small fine), if we were actually in court and not in a hospital room. But he lived in court, and he died in court, at least in his head.

My father’s maternal grandfather was also Russian, but I know less about his history and how he came to be in the United States. I’m told that he worked at a bar where Trotsky planned a revolution, and that he was some kind of errand boy for Trotsky, but I have no idea if that’s true, or if I’m even thinking of the right person. In any event, at the very least, my father is half Russian, probably 3/4 Russian, making me at least 3/8 Russian. I think of my self as being of Eastern European origin, with a good mix of Russian and Polish and some country that my paternal grandmother came from that doesn’t exist anymore that has a name I can’t remember (but I think is now part of Poland, but I’m really not sure).

All of this to say that I clearly consider myself at least partly Russian. I can’t say, however, that I have any real sense of pride in that heritage, nor am I embarrassed by it. Like many (if not most) Jews, being of Jewish descent is more a part of my identity than the country of origin. I’m not a religious Jew, but I identify as Jewish and do have a sense of pride in my Jewish heritage. Perhaps that’s why I don’t feel much of a connection to Russia and I don’t have any cognitive dissonance hating Russia for what they’re doing in the world right now.

But all of this makes me think about my wife’s family. I’m married to a woman who is most likely 3/4 Italian and Italian is clearly part of her identity. She has family members who are 1/2 Italian and also clearly identify as Italian. Interestingly, I think she has family members with no Italian heritage whatsoever, but married into the family, and seem to also identify as Italian and take pride in many things Italian (cooking, customs, visits to Italy, etc). My wife has several uncles who fought in WWII (my wife is only old enough to have WWII-fighting uncles because her father was the baby of his family; she would probably want me to say that, because she’s getting old and people who are old often get upset about being old, like my old wife). I believe all of them fought in Western Europe, but I can’t help but think about how people like them, for whom Italian was a large part of their identity, handled being in a country that was at war with Italy. Japanese Americans had a different challenge for sure, but I can’t imagine how folks in my wife’s family would feel today if the United States went to war with Italy. They are deeply proud of being Italian, but also deeply patriotic. What is that conflict like, or does one detach themselves from the version of the country they’re fighting? When proud Italian Americans fought against Italy in WWII, did they feel like they were fighting against a version of Italy that wasn’t them? Were they fighting against a version of the country they came from?

A lot of buildup for a short question, but I can’t help but wonder.

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