You have probably read about the dust-up between Rep. Chris Shays of Connecticut and Mayor Mike Bloomberg of New York. Shays is chairman of a subcommittee dealing with terrorism, and, right before New Year’s, he cautioned people about visiting Times Square or taking flights from Europe to the U.S. I believe I can see him wrestling with his conscience: He receives information, he knows things. The government declares an Orange Alert, but says, “Just go about your business.” Shays asks, “What kind of help is that?” And, erring on the side of alarm, he speaks out.
The wrath of New York comes down on his head. Bloomberg shows off Shoshana Johnson–an Iraq war heroine–and says, “She was a woman who was fighting to protect the congressman’s freedoms. She was captured and wounded in Iraq. Maybe he should call her and learn a little bit about courage.” Now, I’m a fan and defender of Mayor Bloomberg, generally, but this has to be the slimiest thing he has ever said. Chris Shays was merely being prudent, and conscientious–not keeping his information to his privileged self and his family and, say, 20 of his closest friends, but sharing it with all Americans. It is not “courageous” for ordinary citizens to place themselves needlessly in danger; normal living is dangerous enough; it is the job of armies, bless them, to bear the brunt of menace.
New York police commissioner Ray Kelly described Shays’s warning as “a classic case of letting the terrorists win.” That is a classic case of the misapplication of a sometimes-useful cliché. And, given the grounding of European flights to the U.S., wasn’t Shays on to something? Were those cancellations a granting of victory to the terrorists? Or were they more on the order of regard for life?
Since September 11, we have struggled with the question of what the government should tell the public. An ongoing debate is necessary. But the pillorying of Chris Shays doesn’t contribute to that debate, it just renders it stupid.
‐On New Year’s Eve, Iraqis were celebrating in a Baghdad restaurant when terrorists attacked, killing five. I had the thought: “It’s like Israel now, Iraq–at least Baghdad. You’re sitting in a restaurant, celebrating some occasion, and who knows when the terrorists will strike with their bombs?” They are essentially the same people, too, those terrorists.
Of course, the U.S. is a little like Israel too–a little. Last Friday, services of a Jewish congregation in Westfield, N.J., were moved, owing to a threat. Did these worshipers allow the terrorists to win? What do you say, Commissioner Kelly? Mayor Bloomberg?
‐Further on Jewish news, Poland and Israel have just signed a deal–worth $350 million–in which an Israeli company will supply the Polish army with anti-tank missiles. Poland and the Jewish state in military cooperation: Yes, the world has, in some respects, changed, and it has done so, in some respects, for the better.
‐Bob Kerrey–the former senator–gave a fascinating interview to the New York Sun, of which I will relate a couple of fascinating bits. Said Kerry, about the Iraq war, “It breaks my heart whenever anybody dies, but we liberated 25 million people who were living under a dictator. It puts us on the side of democracy in the Arab world. Twenty years from now, we’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who says it wasn’t worth the effort.” That is hardly the voice of the Democratic party, these days. Would that it were.
Kerrey also said, about airport security, “They take away our knives, they take away sharp objects. They probably should issue knives to everybody. It probably increases our chance that we’re going to be able to put down somebody who tries to take a plane with a box cutter.”
No, this is not the voice of the Democratic party. But it’s nice to know that there are some who think that way nevertheless. Would that more of them held office–or were running for president.
‐The New York Sun also had a piece on Iraqi torture victims, and I quote from one: “For 30 years we lived with fear inside us. But we had conviction that God would punish Saddam.” I quote from the paper: “Mr. al-Obeidi watched with joy as TV stations broadcast images of Saddam in captivity, his mouth being probed by a U.S. soldier. The very next day, he went to an organization of former prisoners to let them know he wanted to take the stand”–the witness stand, against the former ruler.
Who says the capture of Saddam changed nothing? It did not bring paradise on Iraq, or us, but it was a bolt for good.
The invaluable John F. Burns also had a piece on torture victims, in his paper, the New York Times. Burns’s mission in life seems to be to remind people–or to inform them–that Saddam’s regime was one of the most wicked conceivable by man. A bit of that engrossing piece: “‘If you had come to me and asked me about Saddam Hussein a year ago, I would have told you that he was a hero, that the Iraqi people love him,’ Dr. Moosawi said, ‘because if I tell you the truth I’ll be finished. They will kill me.’” A republic of fear, indeed.
And, by the way, if CNN had heard those words–the words this man says he would have had to utter–would the network have broadcast them, gullibly? Would Christiane Amanpour have treated them as a sincere expression of Iraqi opinion?
As Burns tell us, this Dr. Moosawi and his friends had one major fear on the eve of the American invasion: “that President Bush would compromise with Mr. Hussein at the last moment, giving him a reprieve of the kind he gained when American troops stopped at the Iraqi border in 1991.” Said Moosawi to Burns, “We wished that Saddam would leave without a war, but unfortunately this didn’t happen. So we Iraqis came to a place where we said, ‘We will have to sacrifice something to have our freedom,’ and the war fought by the Americans was the price.”
Yeah, not to mention the price the Americans paid, and are paying.
I had a frank conversation with a dear Arab-American friend recently. “True or false,” I said. “Many Arabs would rather be tortured by Arabs than liberated by non-Arabs.” “True,” said my friend, unhesitatingly.
But that is a long, sad, bewildering essay for another day. And don’t even get me started on some Chinese dissidents–people of whom I’m in awe–and their special racial and nationalist feelings.
‐The Israeli foreign minister (whose name is Shalom, by the way) had a nice line. Calling for the reclaiming of the Nobel Peace Prize from that great man of peace, Yasser Arafat, he said, “Alfred Nobel invented dynamite for peaceful use. But Arafat uses it for terror and should be excommunicated from the family of man.” No one will pay any attention, but it’s still nice.
‐Do you care to hear an example of good ol’ American understatement? I’ll give you one. American forces had to raid a mosque in Baghdad, because they knew that it housed a gnarly arsenal. Afterward, “hundreds of Sunni worshipers gathered at the al-Tabool mosque in a rage-filled protest,” proclaiming, “America is the enemy of God,” etc. So reports the New York Post. But a U.S. military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, explained that our boys had found–as detailed by the Post–”several sticks of high explosives, hand grenades, AK-47 rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and thousands of rounds of ammunitions.”
All right, here comes the understatement. Said Kimmitt, “There is clear evidence from what we seized that this mosque was being used for things other than free religious expression.”
‐In case you’ve forgotten about the brilliance of Thomas Sowell–the sometimes cold brilliance–peruse his column on a tale of two earthquakes, one in California, and one in Iran. The two quakes, of almost equal magnitude, brought drastically different results. I dare say that no one but Sowell could have written this column.
‐You have seen, I hope, the amazing photo from Page One of Granma–that is Castro’s newspaper, the official party organ. Someone doctored the photo to make the Maximum Leader resemble another maximum leader: Hitler. This is one of the most thrilling, and most daring, jibes at tyrannical power I am aware of, throughout all history. Of course, it’ll get virtually no play. And if the man–the photo-shop prankster–is caught: certain death (preceded by torture).
But, oh, what a thrust!
‐Get ready to rub your eyes. The following statement, by a retiring politician, is both extraordinary and typical, in that way that life can be.
Rep. Karen McCarthy, a Missouri Democrat, announced that she would not seek reelection owing to a battle with alcoholism. She said, “I want to focus on balance in my public life. Too often, I’ve put my career and helping others ahead of my own needs. I made sacrifices willingly; it was what I did best.”
Yes, I’m suffering, and I’m quitting politics, because I’ve been all too wonderful! Gotcha.
‐Chester Finn and William Bennett said, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, that the Republicans are the party of “the consumers of education” while the Democrats are the party of its “producers.”
What a simple, beautiful, and right formulation. Wish I had thought of it. And it would behoove the Republicans to remember it (and the Democrats to think more about the schools’ consumers).
‐Do you know that Gov. George Pataki of New York pardoned Lenny Bruce, for all that obscenity? (This was a posthumous pardon, needless to say.) Fat lot of good it did him–Pataki, that is. Critics of Lenny either disapproved or didn’t care. Fans of Lenny said, basically–in many different articles–”Hey, man, Lenny wouldn’t have wanted your stinkin’ pardon, so why don’t you and the rest of the Establishment take your stinkin’ pardon and . . .”
No, Pataki couldn’t win. (But maybe he issued the pardon because he thought it was right. Imagine. Oh, no, that was another leftist pseudo-sage.)
‐Finally–speaking of Lenny Bruce, not John Lennon–I’m going to offer something a bit off-color, so avert your eyes (or whatever). Oh, speaking of that–before I get to my closer–I wanted to say that, in my last column, I mentioned seeing the movie Bad Santa, in order to make a point. (I mean, I didn’t see the movie to make a point; I mentioned my having gone to see it in order to make a point.) And I was shocked at the amount of mail I received that said, “For shame, Mr. Nordlinger [or whatever], I am stunned that you would see such a movie.” And, as I said, I was stunned that others were stunned. And all I have to say is, “Thank you, I guess, but . . . I have done much worse than see Bad Santa!”
Anyway, my final, blue item. A homegirl of mine went to New Orleans, and, in the famous oyster bar, the man preparing her meal said, “You go back to New York and tell ‘em you met a bad mothershucker!”
Well, it was funnier when she related it. And seeing as we like puns and slang and humor and all . . .
I’ll get out now. Check you later.