In thinking about Iraq and recent events there, I have thought, inevitably, about Ronald Reagan. Remember, “Hello, Freedom Man”? Reagan used this story at least twice: in his radio address on Christmas Day, 1982; and in his farewell address, on January 12, 1989.
Here’s what he said in 1982:
One of my favorite pieces of Christmas mail came early this year, a sort of modern American Christmas story that took place not in our country’s heartland, but on the troubled waters of the South China Sea last October. To me, it sums up so much of what is best about the Christmas spirit, the American character, and what this beloved land of ours stands for, not only to ourselves, but to millions of less fortunate people around the globe.
A sailor wrote,
Dear Mom and Dad: [Today we] spotted a boat in the water, and rendered assistance. We picked up 65 Vietnamese refugees. It was about a two-hour job getting everyone aboard, and then they had to get screened by intelligence and checked out by medical and fed and clothed and all that.
But now they’re resting on the hangar deck, and the kids — most of them seem to be kids — are sitting in front of probably the first television set they’ve ever seen, watching Star Wars. [Pretty appropriate for the Reagan administration, huh?] Their boat was sinking as we came alongside. They had been at sea five days and had run out of water. All in all, a couple of more days and the kids would have been in pretty bad shape.
I guess once in a while we need a jolt like that for us to realize why we do what we do and how important, really, it can be. I mean, it took a lot of guts for those parents to make a choice like that to go to sea in a leaky boat in hopes of finding someone to take them from the sea. So much risk! But apparently they felt it was worth it rather than live in a communist country.
Okay, here it comes:
As they approached the ship, they were all waving and trying as best they could to say, “Hello, America Sailor! Hello, Freedom Man!” It’s hard to see a boat full of people like that and not get a lump somewhere between chin and bellybutton. And it really makes one proud and glad to be an American. People were waving and shouting and choking down lumps and trying not to let other brave men see their wet eyes.
The sailor who wrote that letter was John Mooney, from the aircraft carrier Midway. The letter struck a chord with Reagan, and it does with us. So, when you read a lot of bad news out of Iraq — remember, there are many, many Iraqis who are saying, jubilantly, “Hello, Freedom Man!”
Folks, I’d like to draw your attention to a book review of mine, published elsewhere on NRO today. The review is of Waiting for April, by Scott M. Morris. It is a phenomenal book, a tale of a strange southern upbringing, and rich in its “issues.” Besides, it’s written in beguiling prose.
As I (duly) mention in the review, Morris was a co-editor of mine at The Weekly Standard, moons ago. The talent he had was obvious and huge. In fact, I read some of his early fiction, and I was dazzled. I figured he would “make it,” if there were justice in the world (and in the publishing market). And he has made it. Before April, Scott published a novella, The Total View of Taftly. That, too, is southern — and peculiar. A corker.
Conservatives will be happy to hear that Morris is “one of us.” We don’t have many novelists, but those we have tend to be outstanding. (Think Mark Helprin.) But Waiting for April isn’t political, just brilliant and engrossing. It gave me one of the happiest, most stimulating reading experiences I’ve had in years. People complain that “there’s nothing to read” (as I remark at the top of my review). You just have to know where to look, really.
This Laci Peterson thing has really given the abortion people fits — they never know what to say, when a woman loses an unborn child in some awful crime. We get, it seems, two or three of these cases a year: A pregnant woman gets slammed into by a drunk driver. She survives but her child doesn’t. Can the guy be brought up on manslaughter? Etc.
The abortion people get the shakes, because their position is a house of cards: Any suggestion that an unborn child is more than a “lump of protoplasm” — something different from an appendix — and their position crashes.
So when Mrs. Peterson’s baby washes up onshore, and the press calls it a “baby,” the abortion folks scream bloody murder, insisting on “fetus.” Okay. But their position is getting more and more tenuous, it seems to me. It may be wishful thinking, but I think that many Americans are wising up to the illogic (not to mention horror) of abortion extremism.
I saw Kate Michelman on television once, years ago — I think it was Crossfire. Someone started out by talking about a mother and her unborn child. Michelman got all jumpy and said — approximately — “First, let’s get the language straight. It’s not ‘mother’ and ‘baby’; it’s ‘woman’ and ‘fetus.’”
Yes, the language is extremely important. And when a pregnant woman speaks of her “baby kicking,” the game is over.
Don’t you think?
Last week, Frank Rich wrote a clever, deeply irritating piece on Iraq politics in America. There is much to say about it — I’ll say just a little.
First, he quoted Andy Rooney, who complained on 60 Minutes, “I hate everything about this war except that we’re winning. [This was while the war was still in progress, evidently.] You can’t even be critical, either, without sounding unpatriotic.” That is certainly not true. If you want to read really intelligent criticism of the war, consult Mark Helprin in our current issue. And Helprin is as patriotic as they come (and sounds it).
I think what Rooney means is that he can’t be critical of the war without being disagreed with. Many war critics, I have found, want to be a) admired, b) unchallenged, or c) martyred. Makes them feel better.
Rich then writes, “If you were in the market for that rare TV commentator in the United States who might dissent from the gung-ho view of ‘War with Iraq,’ Rooney was your man.” Funny, but I haven’t noticed a dominant “gung-ho view” of the war in our media. I have noticed deep, deep skepticism, along with some outright ridicule and petulance. Does Rich read his own newspaper (the New York Times), for example?
The writer condemns “most TV reporters” for “mindlessly parrot[ing] the Pentagon speak of ‘coalition forces’ without qualification, as if the dozens of allies touted by the White House were providing troops to the war effort.”
Well, the U.K. was. Australia was. Poland was. Iraq (in the form of Chalabi’s men) was. What were the TV reporters supposed to say? If you say “American” only, you’re accused — probably by Frank Rich — of ethnocentrism or jingoism or other terrible isms. There were coalition forces. What was untrue about that, or “mindless” about saying so?
Rich then faults the “patriotism police” — nice phrase, that. Alliterative and all. He means, of course, those who have clucked at the Dixie Chicks and their like. But that is freedom, and no one has a right to be agreed with. Many on the left would like us to believe that a night of oppression has descended upon America. There is only one response to that: They wish.
What Rich is most interested in doing is praising The Daily Show, starring Jon Stewart. Rich considers this show a haven of the “sensible center” (my phrase — or borrowing of a common phrase — not his). He cites approvingly a mock newscast on the show: “We won! Rebuilding is for losers. Time to party! Then it’s off to Syria for the next invasion.”
Does Frank Rich, a major figure at our most important newspaper, really believe this is true of U.S. intentions, and actions? Has he actually been following the news? Shouldn’t even comedy have some connection to reality? The lines that Rich is praising are not interesting or bright, just college-dorm-room idiocy.
But he finds The Daily Show “a place to find a smart take on the war that does not abide by the strict guidelines that come with either blind support or apoplectic rejection of ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom.’”
I wonder whether this author would consider that the support of some of us — even the very enthusiastic support — is not “blind” at all, but very much seeing. In fact, we’ve witnessed much, much more blind opposition than blind support.
Isn’t that true?
It seems that in every war — every war in which America participates — there is someone, or some group, that attributes everything to big-money interests. The World War I people and J. P. Morgan. The Charles Beard crowd, in World War II. In Vietnam, we heard constantly that the war was being waged in behalf of Dow Chemical.
And now, Bob Herbert, columnist for the New York Times, has it all figured out: Gulf War II was for Bechtel (there might be some Halliburton thrown in there — I can’t remember). I link to this column as an example of high crudeness in antiwar commentary. Charles Beard did a lot better.
I wanted to mention something about Tom Friedman yesterday, but forgot. In a recent column, he wrote, “The message to Arabs who are depressed at how quickly Saddam folded is: You can’t take on America without building something of substance of your own.”
Maybe I’m being picky, but why should Arabs want to “take on America”? What’s wrong with living harmoniously, for a change, with different people in the world? What’s wrong with tending your own garden, letting people — one and all — live in freedom, with their own self-determination?
Arabs (and others) need less envy and malice toward America, not more. In fact, Egyptians — to take just one example — should spend more time thinking about Egypt than about America (or Israel, thank you very much).
Well, we need a little levity. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know of a funnier, wittier, more pleasing interview in entertainment than Hugh Grant. Every time he opens his mouth, he delights you with something off-kilter or politically incorrect.
For instance, he has a new haircut — sort of scruffy, close-cropped — that he describes as “lesbian tennis player.”
I read that in an airline magazine. Am I wrong, or is that remarkably funny — and sort of surprising, for this day and age?
Adam Daifallah of the New York Sun makes a worthy correction. In yesterday’s column, I quoted Maureen Dowd as saying — among many other things, I’m afraid — that Ahmad Chalabi had been out of his country, Iraq, for 40 years. Adam writes, “He lived in northern Iraq for most of the time between 1992 and 1996.” Living in Iraq for a prominent political opponent of Saddam Hussein was never easy. That’s sort of, like, the point of tyranny.
In Wednesday’s column, I had in the title “O welche Lust” — “Oh, what joy” — referring to a line from one of the prisoners’ choruses in Fidelio. A reader wrote and said, “Jay, when I saw that there, I thought for sure you were going to express your fondness for Raquel Welch.”
And finally, readers tell me that when they spellcheck my name, those programs want to change “Nordlinger” to “mudslinger” or “nondrinker.” Remember Art Linkletter’s old line, “Kids say the darnedest things”? Well, spellcheckers say the darnedest things.
Good weekend, y’all.