Politics & Policy

A matter of compassion, &c.

The headline over this story tells us, “Clyburn says compassion necessary in deficit talks.” Who’s Clyburn? A member of the Democratic House leadership. You know what I think compassion is? Saving the country from insolvency. Not dooming future generations to penury. As far as I’m concerned, Paul Ryan and his Republican allies are just about the most compassionate people around.

‐This headline is related to our current woes: “Number of 100-year-olds is booming in US.” In the story we read, “. . . turning 100 isn’t such a big deal anymore.” Which is wonderful. But we have to figure out how to handle this tricky — very, very tricky — matter of what goes under the name “entitlements.”

‐Who says the Obama administration is taking no action on Syria? Eat your words! “US urges Americans to leave Syria amid violence.”

‐I know more than a few conservatives the cockles of whose hearts would be warmed by this story: “Belgium goes 1 year without full government.” Of course, to people who think that compassion equals government, those who would be warmed by this story have no hearts. Or cockles. (What are they?)

‐I settled down to read a long piece on Samantha Power, the Obama foreign-policy aide. I figured I should learn more about her. But I couldn’t get past the first paragraph. I couldn’t continue reading. That paragraph begins as follows:

Humanitarian intervention — the conviction that American presidents must act, preemptively if necessary, to avert the massacre of innocents abroad — is steadily acquiring a new prominence in the Obama administration. For America’s foreign-policy elite, it is a precept that provides a way to expiate the sins of the past, either bellicose action (Vietnam) or complacent inaction (Rwanda).

Let me say something about Vietnam. Why do people fail to appreciate the magnitude of what we Americans, with South Vietnam, were trying to prevent? When Reagan, after the war, referred to Vietnam as a “noble cause,” our liberals, broadly speaking, freaked out. Why? (Well, we know why. I’m just being rhetorical. When they finally got their way — a complete cutoff of the South — great horrors ensued.)

Face the facts: When the Communists brought peace and unification to the peninsula, they killed approximately one million people. You don’t like that number? Too high? Okey dokey: Call it 783,694. Happy now? This is to say nothing of other unpleasantnesses in “reeducation camps” and elsewhere. It is also to say nothing of what the Communists did in neighboring Cambodia (i.e., murder over 20 percent of the population).

I remember the words of Gen. Vernon Walters, words I have quoted in this column before. They are (in paraphrase), “For over ten years, bombs rained down on every village and hamlet in South Vietnam, and no one budged. It took the coming of a Communist ‘peace’ to send hundreds of thousands of people out into the South China Sea, on anything that could float, or might float, to risk dehydration, piracy, drowning . . .”

“Bellicose action,” said the above-quoted article, about America in Vietnam. More like merciful action, I would say.

‐I have a memory of August 2007. President Bush gave a speech in Kansas City, before American war veterans. Our media establishment howled in pain and fury. At no time in the Bush presidency did they howl louder — and they did a lot of howling in those eight years. What did Bush do? He was warning of the danger of leaving Iraq too soon. And he took note of Southeast Asia. An excerpt:

In 1972, one anti-war senator put it this way: “What earthly difference does it make to nomadic tribes or uneducated subsistence farmers in Vietnam or Cambodia or Laos whether they have a military dictator, a royal prince, or a socialist commissar in some distant capital that they’ve never seen and may never have heard of?”

A columnist for the New York Times wrote in a similar vein in 1975, just as Cambodia and Vietnam were falling to the Communists. “It’s difficult to imagine,” he said, “how their lives could be anything but better with the Americans gone.” A headline on that story, dateline Phnom Penh, summed up the argument: “Indochina without Americans: For Most a Better Life.”

Oh, did they howl. It’s not nice to mention the aftermath of the Vietnam War, you know. (For the full speech, go here.)

‐You may have heard about Bob Dylan in China. I quote from a Los Angeles Times report, dated April 7:

At a time when many other American performers have been banned from China, Bob Dylan was allowed to play Wednesday night in Beijing, but with a program that omitted Dylan’s most famous ballads of dissent.

Conspicuously absent from the program at the Workers’ Gymnasium were “The Times They Are A-Changin’” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Dylan’s set list had to be sanctioned beforehand by the Ministry of Culture, which in its formal invitation decreed that he would have to “conduct the performance strictly according to the approved program.”

Oh, yes. And he apparently had no trouble complying. Which reminds me of how much I admire Björk, the Icelandic pop star. In 2008, she sang a concert in Shanghai. The authorities did not like this one so much. Because she sang a song called “Declare Independence,” and yelled out “Tibet!” several times.

Gutsy gal, Björk. Before that, I knew her as the young lady who wore a swan dress to the Oscars. After that, I knew her as — what’s the word? I’ll say “braveheart.”

UPDATE: Readers have urged on me two blogposts, defensive of Bob Dylan — by Ron Radosh and James Fallows, here and here. They have interesting and persuasive things to say, as do other articles on this affaire Dylan. We might ask ourselves, “Would I perform in China, ‘strictly according to the approved program’?” The answer, I’m afraid, is not clear-cut. It is probably, “It depends.”

‐Last week, I had breakfast with a British-born American, a longtime captain of finance. I asked him what he thought of our present situation — the deficit, the debt, and so on. He said, “I’m very depressed. I’m very worried. I’m 80 years old, and I’ll be all right. In ten years, we’ll still have a country. But I am very worried for my grandchildren. What kinds of lives will they have?”

I was quite arrested and moved by this.

You say, “Jay, you moron! What are you talking about? Everyone says this! We’ve heard this, out of every mouth, for some time!” Yes, but here’s the difference: This man, my breakfast partner, knows something. He has vast knowledge of financial structures, economies, money. Vast experience, too.

To hear it out of his mouth was something else . . .

‐We had breakfast at the Pain Quotidien in Central Park. (Would you say “the Le Pain Quotidien”?) He noticed that everything on the menu said “organic” — organic this, organic that. The menu was dotted with this one word. Along came the waiter. Across the front of his shirt were the words, “100 Percent Organic Cotton.”

‐Let’s go back to China for a minute. Easter Sunday was pretty bad there. Every day has been bad there lately — worse than in a long time. On Easter, an evangelical church in Beijing, Shouwang Church, tried to hold a service. The authorities prevented them. They kept hundreds of members under house arrest, and hauled off at least 35 others to fates unknown.

A Shouwang pastor, Yuan Ling, said something poignant. He said that his church’s “sole desire” was to “awaken the conscience of our rulers through our peaceful and holy action of sacrifice.” He added, “Only in this way can we really love our government.”

‐Thought you might enjoy the below letter:

Dear Jay,

Every time you mention Carnegie Hall, I recall the only time I ever went there. It was in 1938 or so, when the school I was attending, All Hallows on 164th St. and Walton Ave. in the Bronx, held a debate. The subject was, “Resolved: The United States is more in danger from its internal enemies than from its external enemies.”

‐A little music? Actually, I don’t have a piece for you — but I do in the next National Review, available in digital format on Friday. It’s about Lee Hoiby, the American composer who passed on at the end of March. I knew him in the last several years of his life. Glad I did, too.

‐A little language? I have that, in the form of a letter. A reader responded to an item I had about peculiar and flavorful American pronunciation:

I had to laugh. I am a native of South Carolina and have seven years of education beyond college. I have lived in eight states, the Republic of Colombia, and the Republic of Germany. And I still find myself saying “chanch” for “chance.” I am 68. I don’t think I’ll ever change.

‐Let me give you a little vignette. I was having a walk in Central Park near dusk the other day. The trees were blooming. The air was warm and lovely. Everything was relatively still. Then this piping voice, belonging to a boy about ten, broke out. He was on a skateboard-like thing. And his parents were walking briskly ahead of him. And he was piping, with annoyance, “Mom, you must have the smallest bladder on the planet.”




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