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An awful specter, &c.


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For decades, many Americans didn’t like it much when you brought up Munich — the Munich Agreement of 1938, that disastrous attempt at appeasement. “No fair brandishing Munich!” they said. I remember a specific complaint by Walter Mondale in the 1984 presidential campaign.

In the same way, a lot of Americans don’t like it when you bring up Vietnam — “the specter of Vietnam.” I can well understand that. Vietnam is a subject that many Americans, and others, just want to turn away from. It’s all too awful.

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But I could not help thinking of Vietnam after President Obama’s latest address on Afghanistan, in which he announced the “drawdown.” We Americans were in Vietnam for about twelve years, in order to prevent a Communist takeover of the entire peninsula. When Congress cut off the South in April 1975, the Communists duly took over the entire peninsula.

So what was the point of our being there? How can you say that all our casualties were not in vain? Isn’t that a terrible, cruel thing to say? But is it an untrue one?

Why did we go into Afghanistan? We went into Afghanistan to rout al-Qaeda and topple its sponsor and protector, the Taliban. If we leave too soon — before winning, if you’re allowed to say “winning” — won’t the Taliban come back? Won’t we be at the status quo ante? Will our years there, and deaths there, have been worth it?

We have given al-Qaeda a tremendous beating, it’s true. But it will be easier for these people to reconstitute with the Taliban in the saddle.

Say this for Obama: He kept his promise. When he announced the Afghan surge, he said we would begin to withdraw in July 2011, come hell or high water. And so we are. Since when do politicians keep promises — especially ones of political convenience? Why this promise, of all promises?

Above, I mentioned that controversial word “winning.” This is a word that seems to be absent from the president’s vocabulary, when it comes to Afghanistan and Iraq. He said, “These long wars will come to a responsible end.” “Let us responsibly end these wars . . .”

To me, these words aren’t greatly reassuring.

One man to follow on the Afghan War is Con Coughlin, a senior foreign-affairs correspondent and analyst with the Daily Telegraph. He had a blogpost titled “Obama’s withdrawal plan is tantamount to surrender.” I hope that’s wrong.

A reader sent me an article from the Kansas City Star, saying he thought I would like it. He was right. The article is about a catcher with the Royals, Brayan Peña. It tells the story of his life, particularly his escape from Cuba. It is a typical story — the kind I have read or heard many times. But it’s stirring and moving all the same. They always are, in my experience.

When Peña was eleven, he went with a Cuban national team to Mexico. They would not allow the team to do anything or see anything. (You know whom I mean by “they”: the Communist authorities.) The kids could only go from the hotel to the ballpark and back again. But, oh, that was enough. They looked out the window. They could see a different, freer kind of life.

Later, at 17, Peña played in another tournament, in Caracas. And he took his chance. He had so many things to decide, so many things to agonize about: If he defected, what would the Communists do to his family? What would they do to his friends? Would they blame and punish his teammates? Take it out on his family?

That’s a lot for a 17-year-old to think about. Anyway, Peña took his chance. And he is so very grateful for life in America — touchingly, almost amusingly grateful. He has the kind of gratitude that may be possible only to someone who grew up under a totalitarian dictatorship.

Again, that article is here. See what you think. I don’t mean to give you more to read, we all have plenty. But I think this article would repay your time. Hats off to the author, J. Brady McCollough.

A reader writes,

Jay,

Here’s something that will get your dander up. [Uh-oh.] On the way to work this morning, I was listening to the local all-sports station. They were interviewing Peter Gammons, a nationally known sports reporter (appears on ESPN) who specializes in baseball . . . The Texas Rangers had just signed a Cuban defector, and Gammons was asked if he thought the player would make it to the majors this year. He responded that Cuban players assimilate socially much faster than other Latin players because of the wonderful educational system in Cuba. He then stated that Cuba has the highest literacy rate in the world, and that two things Castro really cares about are education and health care. I nearly drove off the road. . . .

Yes. I’ve written about this so much, I’m afraid I can’t make my fingers move anymore. Warm feelings in the Free World for the Communist dictatorship in Cuba rest on three myths, essentially. 1) The dictatorship has been good for “Afro-Cubans” (i.e., black people). 2) The dictatorship has done wonders for literacy. 3) The dictatorship has done wonders for people’s health, with a crackerjack health-care system.

All of this is nonsense, disproven many, many times. But the myths endure, and will endure forever, I’m afraid. They are deeply ingrained. They are taught in our schools, by our culture. It is not merely sad, but an outrage. “Live not by lies,” Solzhenitsyn said. But we do.

Feel like a little reading? For a piece I did on the Cuba-and-blacks thing, go here. For a piece I did on the health-care thing, go here. I don’t think I have an entire article on the literacy thing. But many others have written it.

Longtime readers of Impromptus may have heard this story before. Years ago, Armando Valladares came to Harvard. He had been in the Cuban gulag for 22 years, and had written his memoir, Against All Hope. Harvard administration would not let him speak alone, of course. They “balanced” him with a pro-Castro professor.



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