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Impromptus
Where is Jian-li Yang? The Eastern Europeans and us. "Reds," thank you! And more


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I must have been tired or something, because I had been reading, for days, news stories about this American-based Chinese dissident who had been arrested and who had disappeared into Chinese dungeons, before I realized . . . I know him. In fact, I have written about him in Impromptus.

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I’m talking about one of the most impressive people I’ve ever met: Jian-li Yang. He dropped by my office a couple of years ago, when I was writing heavily about Chinese human-rights abuses (this was pre-war). Even if Jian-li hadn’t been politically heroic, he would have been extraordinarily impressive. He has a Ph.D. in mathematics from Berkeley. He has a Ph.D. in political economy from Harvard. He established a valuable political-intellectual outfit, the Foundation for China in the 21st Century. The guy’s a juggernaut.

But he has the type of bravery a lot of us can only dream of. He was studying at Berkeley when Tiananmen broke out — he rushed back home, at tremendous personal risk, to join those protests, and to lead them. Then, he was put at the top of the PRC blacklist: and he hightailed it out of the country, back to the United States.

He went on to Harvard, where he continued his studies and work. In my conversation with him, I asked whether there was a book that could describe the situation of Chinese intellectuals. He answered quick as a flash, “Milosz’s Captive Mind.” This is a book that transcends every boundary and every time. I remember sort of apologizing to him for the indifference that Americans in general have shown to the Chinese, throughout all their suffering. He said (essentially), “Not to worry, America is a great country. And we’re educating people.”

According to news reports, Jian-li returned to China sometime last spring. He wanted to investigate the labor situation in the Northeast, where a Walesa/Solidarity-like movement is stirring. (I have commented on this in the past.) Apparently, he was traveling with a false passport. He was arrested and he has vanished. Jian-li’s wife and children are American citizens; he himself is a permanent resident. The family can’t hire a lawyer for him, because every lawyer demands to see an arrest notice — and none exists. Jian-li’s fate is unknown.

My wish and prayer is that our government keep a close eye on him: that we use whatever influence we have to save his skin. I knew, when I was with him — even though he was young and rather jolly — that I was in the presence of a great man. I said so, immediately, in my column. His cellmates — if he has cellmates — will sense his greatness too.

President Bush ruffled some feathers when he said that he’d no more be influenced by street protests than he would by some focus group. The New York Times meant to mock Bush when it said, in a “read-out” — a bolded statement planted amidst its columns — “Comparing worldwide rallies to a focus group.” But we know what Bush meant: that, as president, he had to do what was necessary to protect the American nation, no matter what the fury and theater in the streets.

Besides which, the Left is demonstration-minded. Those who support Bush, no doubt, are busy going to their jobs, taking care of their families, etc. They don’t have time for much face-painting, placard-writing, or chanting. It does not naturally occur to them that Hitler and George W. Bush are just alike.

You know?

You have seen, no doubt, that Yasser Arafat has bowed to the demand to appoint a prime minister, spreading power from himself. Do you know who did that? George Bush and Ariel Sharon, that’s who. Not that they’ll ever get any credit for it.

It reminds me of how Jimmy Carter and Martin Sheen — I don’t link those two lightly — advocate continuing inspections in Iraq. And who is responsible for those inspections, feckless though they may be? Bush, of course. Iraq expelled the U.N. inspectors in 1998. Carter, Sheen — and President Clinton and the U.N., for that matter — didn’t care terribly much. Only George W. Bush made it possible for the inspectors to return.

A simple point, but one that needs to be made.

Many of us, I know, are sickened by the repeated denigration of the Eastern European states that have supported the U.S. in this confrontation. A prominent left-wing journalist, as Mark Steyn pointed out, described the former Iron Curtain countries as nations “you can buy on e-bay.” And Mark Shields of CNN said, sarcastically, “Everyone’s feeling better. Albania signed on.”

This struck a nerve with me, as I was in Albania in September. I had never been to that country before. (Few of us Westerners have.) I met with many intellectuals and journalists. I met men who had been in prison for years, because they had dared to dissent from the brutal totalitarian regime that was ruling them. I was terribly moved by their expressions of support for America — and by their gratitude for the American role in opposing Soviet Communism. One intellectual told me that some other Europeans sneered at Albania as “the Israel of the Balkans.” I said he ought to consider that an enormous honor.

I have an Albanian flag — the double-headed eagle — “flying” in my office right now. And I am thrilled by the support and the heart of such people, for they know — more than people in Paris — about tyranny, freedom, and appeasement. In a way, I regard the support of Eastern Europeans as more desirable than the support of comfortable Westerners.

Mark Shields smirked, “Everyone’s feeling better. Albania signed on.” Well, I am.

I’ll give you another reason to love the New York Sun, the five-days-a-week Gotham paper that’s nearing its one-year anniversary: It uses the word “Reds” in its headlines — as in, “Korean Reds Warn U.S.” I believe this is the first non-ironic use of the word “Reds” I have seen in my lifetime. Kudos to the Sun, for calling a Red a Red.

If anyone writes to me claiming that “one-year anniversary” is redundant, on the grounds that “anniversary” applies only to the one-year mark, I’ll ban him from my e-mail, I swear — for life.

The New York Times had a series of small pieces on Americans living abroad, at a time when there’s much anti-American sentiment (and lunacy). I was particularly struck by the story about the nun and angel of mercy in Kenya. One day, she sat down on a bus next to a man who, on learning she was an American, switched his seat. First, though, “when I said I was from the States, he got so upset. He said we were trying to rule the world. Then he said, if he could have been in one of those planes that crashed in New York on Sept. 11, he would have been.”

I don’t know about the sister, but I would have been tempted to respond, “I wish you had been on one of those planes too, bub.”

At the end of this little piece, the nun said, “I felt overwhelmed [by the bus experience], but it made me reflect. What kind of people are we? Why do people think this way?”

This is a problem of mine with American liberals. She should think, “What kind of people are they — that they should be so wrongheaded and heartless.” As I keep saying, Americans are about the most self-reflective and self-critical people in the world. Oh, that other peoples had just a dollop of those qualities! (Especially in the Middle East.)

Playing on an old Goldwater slogan, some conservatives like to say — of their more cringing brethren — “In their hearts they know they’re wrong.” And so it is with many, many handwringing Americans, of whom I met a great abundance when I was a student abroad. Come to think of it, they were fairly prevalent on the homefront too!

I noticed the following in a New York Times Sunday Magazine interview with Robert Kagan. (Kagan is a hawk on the subject of Iraq and other matters.)

Did you serve in the military?
I was 14 when the Vietnam War ended, and I didn’t choose the military as my career path.

But isn’t the military more than a career? What about patriotism?
I never considered going into the military. I never considered being a doctor either.

And you’re not prescribing medicine. But you are prescribing war without any experience.
It’s foolish to say that unless a guy actually served in the military, he’s unable to make a decision about foreign policy.

Neither Bush nor Cheney saw military action. . . .

Just one point, which I have made before (as others have, too). All of my life, liberals — my teachers, my everybody — said that military people should have nothing to do with military decisions. One almost slogan, as I remember, was, “War is too important to leave to the generals.” Civilian control was the great watchword, a kind of holy writ. (And, of course, this is an element of republicanism.) Military people were seen as dangerous Dr. Strangeloves.

And now, the world seems to have turned. I see liberals — Maureen Dowd, for example — say constantly that only military officials or those who have seen combat should make decisions about war and peace. (Of course, they didn’t say this about Clinton, when he was going into the Balkans — an action that liberals generally supported.)

One word of caution, to the newly military-loving liberals: Be careful what you wish for. If Iraq were up to most combat veterans . . .

A bit of grammar that I keep harping on. Said Tony Blair, “I would have liked to have seen the accession countries there [referring to the big recent European meeting].” Of course, he should have said, “I would have liked to see the accession countries there.” That sounds strange to our ears, now, because people do it wrong with such abandon. “I would have liked to have seen the accession countries there” means something else — something unintended by the PM.

But he has proven such a magnificent leader . . .

Turning to the Times’s sports section, I saw a photo of Vern Ruhle. Turns out he’s the pitching coach for the New York Mets. Years ago, he was a young Detroit Tiger, and, at baseball camp, he helped me with my curveball.

I have no point to make. I’m just waxing nostalgic. ’bout to tear up. Où sont les neiges . . . ? etc.

See ya.



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