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Impromptus
Thatcher was right. Sarandon is wrong. O welche Lust!


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Well, the war has been over for ages and ages — it seems so yesterday — and the press has been consumed with griping and sniping and pouting. But I’m still grateful. Still grateful and amazed at what U.S. forces accomplished. The country, with its allies, committed a great act. A noble and humane and necessary act: Don’t let “them” make you forget that.

According to Warren Hoge in the New York Times, Tony Blair has “avoided victory talk . . .” Far be it from me to advise the PM on politics. He’s the savviest of the political lot. But don’t: Don’t “avoid victory talk.” If you do, people are apt to think that their natural feelings of pride and gratitude are wrong, embarrassing.

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Mona Charen, in her excellent new book on the Left in the Cold War — Useful Idiots — notes that America never properly celebrated, and never properly appreciated, the end of the Cold War, in part because the first President Bush refused to express any joy over it, or anything much at all. In fact, he acted as though his favorite uncle had just died.

John Derbyshire mentioned the other day that, after the Falklands victory, Margaret Thatcher said “Rejoice.” She was attacked for it. But, yes: Rejoice. There’s a ton of work left to do, not only in Iraq — which is daunting enough — but in the world at large, in this fight against terrorists and their state supporters.

But rejoice. Every stage in the effort to get well and get free is to be welcomed.

The lead in the paper the other day was, “With the fighting mostly over, attention has turned to making Iraq work again . . .” I couldn’t help muttering: Whaddya mean, “again”?

I hope you’ve noticed that Syria has begun to make nice, having beheld the de-Saddamized Iraq with wide eyes. And who is responsible for this, er, diplomatic achievement? That’s right: the much-maligned, twangin’ President of the United States. Not the State Department hand-wringers and appeasers, not the U.N., not the world’s favorite general/cabinet member/former presidential prospect: but ol’ George W.

After Bush said, “I’m confident the Syrian government has heard us, and I believe it when they say they want to cooperate with us,” the New York Times reporter wrote that the president’s comments were “the most conciliatory in weeks . . .”

My question was: Yes, but are they true? Conciliation aside, are they, in fact, true?

That was, I submit, the relevant question. But then that’s “unnuanced,” isn’t it?

Very little is so overrated in the modern age as nuance.

I have remarked before that the nature and means of repression vary little across the years and across the globe: In the Soviet Union, in China, in Africa, in Cuba, it’s pretty much the same. This is a point that has been amply confirmed by Paul Hollander: that the “compulsory” states are more alike than not alike.

I was reminded of this when reading some (redundant) testimony out of Iraq. A man was whispered about by a rival and forced into a dungeon. Then came wires on the genitals, etc. They “tortured him and asked him to sign a confession.”

Said the man — “Masawi” (no last name given), as reported in the New York Times — “I did not see their faces, but I will never forget the sound of their voices. They told me that if I did not confess to smuggling, then they would accuse me of organizing an anti-government group. That charge would be [even] more severe. So I signed.”

Yes, you’ve read it a million times: in memoirs from Cuba, Eastern Europe — and from the Nazi period, of course. (The Baathists modeled themselves on the Nazis, or on “the national socialists,” as someone I know insists on saying.)

And these absolute dictators are all alike. It doesn’t matter whether their names are Asian, European, “Hispanic,” or Arab. Saddam had the little ones learn the alphabet according to his glory: “A” is for “Ammu” Saddam — Uncle Saddam — and so on. Mao’s little book was red in color; Saddam’s was blue. (Red states, blue states?) The kids chanted, “With our hearts and with our blood, we will protect you, Uncle Saddam.” They were made to exhort, “Bomb the Americans and the Zionists!” Saddam was their god — and now they have a chance to indulge in sweetest idolatry.

Again, rejoice.

I know who your favorite member of the Aziz family is: Tariq’s aunt, no? The fine lady was asked whether her nephew had done anything to help his “fellow Christians”: “Zero, zero,” she said. “He’s very, very bad.” I like the two “very”s. “Saddam is finished,” she continued, “and we are okay. We are very happy and merciful [?] to God and the Americans, our uncles.”

Oops, more “uncle” talk. But then, better Uncle Sam than Ammu Saddam, I suppose.

A surprising number of people have asked me to respond to Nicholas Kristof’s recent column in the New York Times. I could . . . but I won’t, at least in full. Let me confine myself to a few brief points (these being Impromptus, after all).

He seemed to throw cold water on America’s liberation of Kuwait, all those eons ago, because “women still don’t have the vote.” What’s more, Kuwait “amble[s] along as a family-run country.”

Okay, sure: It’s not New Hampshire, and neither will Iraq be, at least anytime soon. But Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had invaded the country and utterly raped it (in thousands of cases, literally). U.S. forces, with their allies, expelled Iraq, giving Kuwait back to the Kuwaitis. No more rape, no more enslavement.

Doesn’t that count for something? For a smidgeon of rejoicing (still)? All right, women don’t “have the vote” — where in the Arab world do they, genuinely? (Where in the Arab world does anyone, genuinely?) But doesn’t not being raped by invading soldiers count for something? And the country is “ambling along,” is it? Well, given the situation they were facing in 1990, isn’t ambling along pretty good? I mean, not perfection, but pretty damn good?

Later in his column, Kristof speaks of “conservative idealists” (thanks for that): “Their intentions are honorable. [Thanks again.] But they also have a limited attention span [say what?], and they seem inclined to rush out of Iraq.”

You can’t win with these people. You just can’t. In one breath, they accuse you of “imperialism” and “occupation” and “conquest”; in the next, they damn you for “rushing out,” “quitting,” “abandoning” (see Afghanistan).

I know that you’re mighty tired of hearing these anti-war celebrities whine about being persecuted. The European press is full of such whining, even more than ours is, I believe. In the Corriere della Sera, there was a sob piece on the tribulations of Susan Sarandon. You would think she were Solzhenitsyn. It mentioned an interview that her husband (or whatever), Tim Robbins, had given to the Independent, in England: Hollywood — far from being a left-liberal oasis — “is the first to punish dissidents,” he said.

Give me, and us, a break. Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins share the opinion of most of the establishment media in this country, and virtually all of academia. Not to mention their fellow pop-culture rulers. They rarely have to be around people who are actually pro-liberation and pro-Bush. As we’ve said before, they want the right to speak without challenge, without criticism, without consequences. And when other people exercise their own right to speak, Sarandon et al. cry that they’re being persecuted. They think that the Constitution gives them the right to be universally approved and adored.

But you know all this, I realize.

Oh, hang on, I’m still ranting: Do you love that use of the word “dissident”? Robbins claiming that he and his wife (or whatever) are “dissidents”? It reminds me of a previous rant of mine — concerning the title that Abbie Hoffman gave his radio show: “Radio Free America.” Very funny. You appropriate the trials and suffering of others for your own bad self, without doing any real suffering at all.

On to a celebrity one can admire: Larry Flynt. (Memo to itchy-fingered readers: That was a joke.) Speaking of his rival over at Playboy, he said, “It comes down to this: Hef thinks he is publishing Time or Newsweek. He has never been able to come to grips with the fact that he is a pornographer.”

Beautiful. Just beautiful.

According to the New York Times, Hef’s magazine is getting a makeover, courtesy of a new editor, James Kaminsky (formerly of Maxim). “Kaminsky was not brought in to reinvent Playboy so much as to modernize its look and make the institutional voice more contemporary. As part of that effort, the magazine will depart more frequently from its tradition of total nudity so that it can entice celebrities to pose for its covers.”

Okay, that’s all very nice, but here’s the beauty part: Kaminsky said of his mag, “It is a living, breathing thing, and it needs to evolve.”

Just like the Constitution, see?

Let’s have just a touch of politics. A small matter in an article by the Times’s Carl Hulse caught my attention. It had to do with who might vote for President Bush’s tax proposal and who might not. Have a look:

“A Democrat, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, might also come under pressure [to vote for the measure], but Mr. Nelson saw what happened to fellow Democrats who helped Mr. Bush with his tax cut in 2001 only to find the president campaigning against them in 2002.”

Okay, but here’s the thing: Does Nelson think the tax proposal is good for the country, or not? Isn’t that the question he faces — that all of them face?

There I go again: Joe Naïve.

P.S. Republicans are supposed to campaign against Democrats, and vice versa! That’s politics, Charlie!

The Times published an op-ed piece by Bates Gill, described as a China scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Wait, wait, wait: How do we know that “Bates Gill” isn’t just some transparent pseudonym for the chairman of Microsoft?

Think how rich the scholar Gill would be, but for the juxtaposition of a couple of consonants!

Ben Hogan, when he was little, had an imaginary friend, who sat on his shoulder and encouraged him: His name was “Hennie Bogan.” Decades later, he would tell young pros associated with his company, “If you really need to get a hold of me, call and tell the secretary that you’re looking for ‘Hennie Bogan.’”

I’d like to return to the matter with which this column began. I am just back from the Easter Festival at Salzburg, which I covered for The New Criterion (account to appear in the June issue). (Bear with me — this has to do with Iraq.) The opera that concluded the festival was Beethoven’s Fidelio.

A few days before leaving for Salzburg, I received a letter from a reader who had been following the news out of Iraq. It seems that Allied forces discovered an underground prison. The poor devils in there hadn’t seen the light in years. As they stumbled out in their rags — shielding their eyes — their families gathered around them, to greet and embrace them.

My correspondent, of course, thought of Fidelio, whose own prisoners emerge into the light. “O welche Lust!” he quoted. “O welche Lust! In freier Luft den Atem leicht zu heben!” Yes, what joy — what joy it is to breathe free air. Anywhere, and always.

And, later, Don Fernando sings that he has “uncovered the night of crime, which black and heavy encompassed all. No longer kneel down like slaves! Tyranny, be gone! A brother seeks his brothers, and gladly helps, if he can.”

Look, I’m all for Realpolitik (speaking of German). No fuzzy-headed, willy-nilly liberator, I. But: A brother should seek his brothers, and gladly help, if he can.

O welche Lust!



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