Begin with a quick word about the EU–about which I am awakening, at last. Years ago, I would hear my British friends–very bright, very balanced–talk about the EU in the most severe terms. They said it was a kind of Soviet Union in the making, and would lead to a host of ills. Frankly, I thought this talk was a little overblown. I thought it could be interpreted as hysterical. But my friends knew far more than I, and I was given pause.
Now I am something like a believer. As David Pryce-Jones tells us in our current issue–his piece is found here (subscription required)–Vladimir Bukovsky and Pavel Stroilov have put out a pamphlet on the EU. It bears the arresting title EUSSR. I wish to quote from the introduction (and bear in mind that Bukovsky was one of the leading Soviet dissidents, a great, clear-eyed man):
For anyone even remotely familiar with the Soviet system, its similarity with the developing structures of the European Union, with its governing philosophy and “democracy deficit,” its endemic corruption and bureaucratic ineptitude, is striking. For anyone who lived under the Soviet tyranny or its equivalents across the world, it is frightening. Once again we observe with growing horror the emergence of a Leviathan that we had hoped was dead and buried, a monster that destroyed scores of nations, impoverished millions, and devastated several generations before finally collapsing. Is it inevitable? Is the human race bent on self-destruction and doomed to repeat the same mistake time and again until it dies in misery? Or is the EU, indeed, simply a clone of the USSR imposed upon reluctant nations of Europe by the same political forces that created the first one?
Look, if Bukovsky talks this way, who am I to scoff? He may not be right–but anyone who ignored him would be a fool.
‐In my column on Monday–which dealt mainly with Terri Schiavo–I said something about Dr. Mengele, which raised some eyebrows. I should elaborate.
In a discussion with a friend, I brought up the slippery-slope argument (generically), an argument so often pooh-poohed: If we allow X to happen, then Y and Z will ensue, and that would be very bad. Sometimes the slippery-slope argument is dumb (the banning of hardcore porn will lead to the banning of D. H. Lawrence); sometimes that argument is more plausible. I am a bit of a slippery-slopist when it comes to “life issues”–abortion, euthanasia–because I think, ultimately, too much casualness, or relativism, will lead straight to Dr. Mengele’s laboratory. When we start deciding whose life is worth living–watch out.
So, I was going on about this with my friend, when he–and I–engaged in some gallows humor, as many of us have done in the last couple of weeks. Look, at least ol’ Mengele had a pretense: He said he was benefiting all mankind, with these inhuman experiments. You know, plucking their eyeballs out for the greater good. Is there even a pretense in the Schiavo case?
I did not mean–nor did my friend–to equate those on the other side of the Schiavo debate with Nazis. I have long appreciated the dangers of “reductio ad Hitlerum,” and have warned against them.
But neither do I think that we should eschew all comparisons to the Nazi period, on a kind of principle. The Holocaust was unique. But totalitarianism is not, and genocide is not. Never again happens again, and again. And some rhetoric can remind you of bad old days, from which lessons should be drawn. Anyone reading about how peaceful–even euphoric–it is to be starved to death, should shudder.
One last point on the Nazis, or related to them. I was with someone recently who made a crack about the upcoming NR cruise, which will take place on a Crystal ship. The term he used was “Crystalnacht” (a play on Kristallnacht, the 11/9/38 prelude to the Holocaust).
The Nazis are always being thrown in conservatives’ faces, of course. That’s why an acquaintance of mine–a conservative writer–always insists on referring to the Nazis by their full name, the National Socialists. Why not let socialists, nationalizers, collectivists, atheists, race obsessives–why not let others answer for the Nazis, and endure the cracks?
But that is an old plaint, of which we’re all tired, I’m sure.
‐In my column yesterday, I illustrated how the Schiavo case has provoked tremendous passion about other, seemingly unrelated issues. Many people have used the case to scream their hottest thoughts. (I don’t exclude myself here.) For example, I’m getting a lot of anti-war stuff–triggered by Schiavo. Listen:
Please spare us your fraudulent sanctimony and feigned horror about the extent of the so-called “death cult” in our nation. This from a man who was publicly champing at the bit to unleash ungodly forces of death and destruction on the nation of Iraq, with barely a single thought or regret about the lives lost, whether ours or theirs.
Roughly the same majority of the American “death cult” agreed with you then. This is daft hypocrisy on your part.
Of course, the ultimate aim of those of us who supported the Iraq war was to save lives–American, Iraqi, and other. And the removal of Saddam Hussein, like the removal of the Taliban, has done that. Care for another letter?
You are an abysmal moron. . . . You don’t give a sh** about sending American soldiers off to their deaths in Iraq based on lies and distortions, or turning your back on a genocide in Darfur, a real human tragedy. [Me, turning my back on Darfur! Not a regular reader, one gathers.] You only care that this sensationalized family feud has provided a highly charged emotional issue with which to bash the liberals and Democrats, not that there is any difference between the two in your mind. [That’s interesting.] So, go ahead sputtering and spurting your inane indictments, and as you’re perched like a vulture over the soon-to-be-deceased Ms. Schiavo, you, along with the media merchants of death responsible for whipping you and your fellow vultures into such a feeding frenzy, can continue to proclaim your righteousness and respect for the sanctity of life while ignoring the deaths of thousands who don’t rate high enough for mention on the evening news.
There are many other missives of a similar stripe. And I have a bit of a theory: I think that some of the “let her die” people know that something creepy is taking place–know that something is rotten in Florida. I think they suspect that Pat Robertson and the other loons (as they see them) are on to something. I think–I hope–there is a little guilt in play. I sense an unease. And I think that this is responsible for some of the lashing out we’re seeing, a lashing out that is amply reflected in my mailbox.
Just a thought.
Oh, and by the way: I think that many of the anti-war people sort of know that it was good–that it was moral, that it was demanded–that George W. Bush and his allies take out the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. Conscience may prick, causing all the sharper an anti-war tongue.
But enough of my psychologizing.
‐Here is a point that should be borne in mind, too:
Regarding the glee with which those on the left have observed a “marginalization” of “Christian conservatives,” I’ve been keeping my eye out for reporting and commentary on how wonderful it is to see advocacy groups for the disabled–the invisible wing of the Save Schiavo coalition–being likewise marginalized. Funny, I don’t see any.
And you won’t, baby, you won’t.
‐I direct your attention to Rick Brookhiser’s latest column in the New York Observer. He speaks of the “culture of life,” and suggests that it is not advancing. It is, indeed, being set back.
Have a taste of the matchless Brookhiser thought, and prose: “Some of those who wanted Terri Schiavo to live were distressed that President Bush could not simply reach down and pardon her. He couldn’t do that because of her innocence; pardons are for the likes of Marc Rich, not for the guiltless.”
‐I saw yesterday that Bill Kristol was hit with a pie while giving a speech at Earlham College in Indiana. He was talking about foreign policy; the student who hit him with the pie didn’t like it much. I have no doubt that Bill handled this with cool and grace, and the AP report indicated as much.
The report says that the student “was suspended and could face expulsion following a disciplinary review.” I feel sorry for the punk, in a way. He may grow up to realize how stupid he was. But then, if he attacked Kristol on principle, he should be proud–martyrish–to suffer the consequences. And I’m sure that other schools would be delighted to have him. Hell, Columbia would probably offer him a full scholarship! Or give him a professorship in the Middle East Studies department. For goodness’ sake, Bennington College might erect a monument to him.
Speaking of pies, I will always harbor a sneaking admiration for Anita Bryant, for one act, or remark. Years ago, when she was on her anti-gay-rights campaign, she was hit in the face with a pie. Quick as a flash–with consummate sangfroid–she quipped, “At least it was a fruit pie.”
‐Longtime readers may remember that, in September 2002, on the anniversary of 9/11, I had a speaking tour in the Balkans. This included a stop in Albania. My experience there was one of the most moving I have had, professionally. I met with several former dissidents–people who had been in dungeons for a very long time, and who had not broken. They were forthrightly and thoughtfully pro-American (or pro-freedom and pro-democracy, if you like). Indeed, Albania had been billed to me–by the State Department–as “the most pro-American country in Europe.” Some of the Albanian intellectuals told me that their neighbors jeered at their country as “the Israel of the Balkans.” I said, Wear it proudly.
Anyway, shortly after writing about Albania–that piece is here–I had dinner with the marvelous Fatos Tarifa and his wife. Fatos is the Albanian ambassador to the United States. And the other day, he published a stirring op-ed piece in the Washington Times. (Here.)
The announcement several days ago that Albania–a small country with limited resources–was sending an additional 50 well-trained troops to Iraq came as a surprise to some observers. But it really should not have surprised anyone.
Albania was one of only four countries to send combat troops during the operation “Iraqi Freedom.” . . .
From a country with only 3.5 million people, [our] troops–the flower of Albania’s youth–represent the best Albania has to offer. [The country’s troops in Iraq total 120.] Why does Albania do this when it could have avoided President Bush’s call for support, or when it could have dropped out as others have done when the going got tough? The answer is not difficult to find. If you believe in freedom, you believe in fighting for it. If you believe in fighting for freedom, you believe in America.
Unlike people in other countries in Europe and elsewhere, the Albanian people have not forgotten what it is like to live under tyranny and repression. . . .
Although it is not fashionable to talk about it, the face of Europe would indeed be much different today were it not for the Americans who died storming the Normandy beaches. . . .
The difference between the United States and the Islamic terrorists is this: The terrorists export death. The Americans export freedom.
The surprise is not in Albania’s decision to send more troops to fight for freedom in Iraq. The surprise would have been if Albania had not.
In the run-up to the Iraq war, when President Bush was assembling his “coalition of the willing,” Mark Shields cracked sarcastically on CNN, “Everyone’s feeling better–Albania signed on.” Well, I felt better. And I have an Albanian flag “flying” in my office. It has been there since I returned from that rare, recovering, emerging country. It is one of my favorite objects.
‐In this New York Sun column, published a week ago, Deborah Lipstadt explained why she refused to allow a speech of hers to be broadcast by C-SPAN–they wanted to “balance” her with David Irving. Who’s Deborah Lipstadt? A scholar who writes about the Holocaust. Who’s David Irving? Perhaps the world’s leading Holocaust denier, who sued Lipstadt in Britain for pointing this out. Lipstadt prevailed, which is no easy thing for a libel defendant in Britain to do.
Reading her column, I was reminded of an event, some years ago, that I’ve brought up several times in this space. I will do so again: When I was a grad student, Armando Valladares, the great Cuban dissident, came to speak. But the school–this was Harvard–wouldn’t give him a platform of his own. He had to be “balanced” by a faculty member whose job, basically, was to assure the kids that Fidel wasn’t so bad. This made an impression on me that has never left.
Deborah Lipstadt–not unlike Armando Valladares–is a truth-teller who deserves our thanks.
‐How about another truth-teller? Wang Dan is a Chinese dissident, now in exile here. He published an op-ed piece in the Financial Times–a subscription is required to read the whole thing–arguing against the French-led attempt to lift the EU’s arms embargo on Red China. (Do you feel a McCarthy-era frisson?) Listen to just a little:
. . . it is important to remember why the EU imposed its embargo in the first place: in response to the June 1989 massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Ironically, perhaps, it was classical European thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Locke whose ideas of democracy and liberty enlightened me 16 years ago, when I was studying history at Beijing university. . . . Europe has made an important contribution to history by firmly grounding its societies in ideals of democracy and freedom. This should make EU leaders proud.
When the EU adopted its resolution 16 years ago to ban weapons sales to China, it was an expression of moral outrage at the Chinese government’s use of the military against peaceful demonstrators. Such reactions from the international community both moved and inspired us–the student leaders who were arrested, imprisoned, or exiled at the time. They showed us that justice remained a fundamental principle in international relations. In this context, our concern about the EU’s move to lift the embargo is surely understandable. . . .
To me, Europe symbolises the origin of humanity’s quest for freedom. My respect for Europe comes from its protection of democratic traditions and the values of freedom. As China’s regime still defends the slaughtering of peaceful student protesters, the notion that the EU might be willing to make more weapons available distresses me greatly; I can only hope that Europe will keep our hopes alive.
Yeah, lotsa luck, Dan (although you never know . . . the Bush administration’s pressure seems to be having an effect).
‐NR’s Rob Long is about to give birth to another sitcom. You know Rob, surely, that national treasure. He writes “The Long View” in our pages–neat title, huh?–and was one of the brains (and pens) behind Cheers. The new sitcom is called Red and Blue (as in conservative and liberal states–Utah and New York, for example). Rob warns that conservatives won’t like the show all that much, but I have a feeling we’ll like it more than we like most television.
Anyway, he was explaining to me recently that a writer is very much in charge of a TV show. In film, the writer has to relinquish the script, and pretty much slink away. But in television–the writer’s the man. (So maybe the joke about the would-be actress so dumb she slept with the writer doesn’t apply to television. I must ask Rob.)
I thought of Rob, and his remarks, when reading the obit of Paul Henning, who died–aged 93–last Friday. Henning was the creator of The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres. The Los Angeles Times said he died a euphoric death of starvation. No, actually, the Times said,
Henning produced and wrote or co-wrote the majority of the “Beverly Hillbillies” episodes. He also wrote the lyrics and music for the show’s innovative theme song, “The Ballad of Jed Clampett.” . . . “I believe in the country-store concept of TV,” Henning once said. “It means you gotta watch the store yourself.”
‐May I tell you what’s not so marvelous? Check out this lead from an article in Gramophone magazine:
“The terrible fire that destroyed the Opéra-Comique in Paris on May 18, 1887, killing many of the audience, can now be seen not only as a human tragedy but, more positively, as the harbinger of fresh directions in French opera.”
Uh, er, no, it can’t. No, it can’t.
‐I offer a li’l music criticism: For a review of the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Don Giovanni, please go here.
‐Finally, a letter–a brief one. A few columns ago, I referred to a newspaper item about what people make (earn). The New York Post said, “No wonder Katie Couric’s so perky. The early-morning talk-show host rakes in a staggering $15 million a year. And her cab driver? [Like she ever takes a cab.] Barely making enough to get by, with a $24,000 salary, including tips.”
I’m a part-time (when I’m not full-time) limo and car-service driver in Austin, Texas. Let me say: I LOVE rich people. The more they make, the better I like it. I don’t care for Katie Couric’s politics–but God bless her, I hope she stays rich enough to pay her limo driver well!!!!
There is a man who understands–who has not been trapped by envy and illogic. Celebrate!