I don’t know if you’ve been following Syria for the past week or so — but what’s happening there is astounding. Tens of thousands have massed in the streets, shouting, “We want freedom!” Oddly enough, when they say, “We want freedom!” I actually interpret them to mean, “We want freedom!”
Few of us can really know what it’s like to take to the street in a totalitarian society and protest — even in the (relative) safety of a crowd. It requires tremendous courage. To take the risks they’re taking, these people must be desperately fed up.
I saw a photo — here — snapped by someone on his cellphone. It shows a crowd of women gathered in the city of Banias. Brave women. Apparently uncowed women.
The most startling headline I’ve seen is this: “Syrian soldiers shot for refusing to fire on protesters.” The story begins, “Syrian soldiers have been shot by security forces after refusing to fire on protesters, witnesses said, as a crackdown on anti-government demonstrations intensified.”
I’m reminded of a message sent to the Cuban armed forces by Lincoln Diaz-Balart, the Cuban-born American politician. He said (and I paraphrase), “If you repudiate the Castros, anything is possible. If you stick with them, nothing is possible. And if you pull a Tiananmen Square — if you do what Chinese forces did in 1989 — the Cuban people will never forgive you.”
What will the Arab militaries ultimately do? A key question.
As far as I know, the U.S. government, in the form of the Obama administration, is saying nothing about Syrian citizens in the streets. I would like to think we are doing all we can to help them, behind the scenes. But I doubt it. The impression I get is that our president and his team would rather deal with the Assad dictatorship, same as U.S. administrations have been doing decade after decade. Stability, you know.
‐So, it was the 50th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs the other day. The operation started on April 17, 1961. If the Obama administration had an official statement, I didn’t see it. But I have a memory — a bad memory — of something that occurred in April 2009.
Obama attended a Summit of the Americas. And Daniel Ortega, the old Sandinista, delivered a long diatribe against the United States, which included a blast at the Bay of Pigs. He conceded, however, that Obama could not be held responsible for the operation.
And what did our president say in return? Did he tell Ortega to stuff it and stand up for freedom? Um, not exactly. He said, “I’m grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old.”
At the time, I scribbled what I called a “fantasy response” to Ortega. Here is what I wish the American president had said:
“Well, the Bay of Pigs was terribly executed. But it was a noble cause: the overthrow of a heinous dictatorship. One that denies an entire people their natural, God-given rights. Had that operation succeeded, Cuba would have been infinitely better off, and the world would have been better off. And many good and brave men died in that operation. If we are to be sorry for anything, it’s that the operation did not succeed, not that it occurred.”
But Obama could never say anything like that — because it is utterly contrary to his mindset. He would be only slightly less likely to say it than would Bill Ayers, Rashid Khalidi, or Jeremiah Wright.
‐I was disturbed by the story of Vittorio Arrigoni. (You can read a little about him here.) He was an Italian and a true believer in the pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli cause. A member of the International Solidarity Movement, he went to Gaza, to aid the struggle. Tattooed on his arm was a guerrilla slogan, in Arabic. This cause was his life.
He died horribly, as people tend to do in Gaza: strangled by a Palestinian group even more extreme than Hamas. Or at least by a group competing with Hamas.
When he lived, Arrigoni maintained that he was doing what his grandfather had done before him: The grandfather had fought the Nazis; Arrigoni would fight the Israelis. That is a belief inculcated in many Europeans: the belief that the Israelis are like the Nazis, and the Palestinians like the Jews under the Third Reich. This fantasy must relieve some European guilt.
In thinking about Arrigoni, and the path he chose, I thought of the atmosphere in Ann Arbor, Mich., when I was growing up there. I heard much of the same stuff. I particularly heard it in the Near Eastern Studies department of the University of Michigan. The Palestinians were innocent victims; the Israelis embodied iniquity. You know the deal.
It was easy to see how one could be led into the cult that Arrigoni later joined — the cult of “Palestinianism,” as some have called it. I felt the tug myself, for a time.
Arrigoni’s story made me think about some others’ — about some other people who fell under an ideological sway. Do you remember Ben Linder, the “Sandalista”? How about Lori Berenson, who went off to join the Maoist monsters in Peru? Then there was John Walker Lindh, of course, the “American Taliban.”
You will remember Rachel Corrie, too. Like Vittorio Arrigoni, she was a member of the International Solidarity Movement. Offering herself as a “human shield,” she was killed, accidentally, by the IDF in Gaza. She naturally became an international cause célèbre. A play about her was staged in London: My Name Is Rachel Corrie.
Tom Gross wrote one of the most memorable pieces of journalism ever — about the “other Rachels,” namely, Israelis named Rachel who had been killed by Palestinians (and not accidentally, of course). (Go here.) Not one of them will ever be known internationally. Not one of them will ever have a play in her honor.
Will someone write and stage a play about Vittorio Arrigoni? Given that he died at the hands of people not Israeli, I doubt it.
‐There has been a rash of stories about air-traffic controllers, sleeping on the job. People often joke about do-nothing government jobs, or jobs you can sleep through. Air-traffic controllers? Not the workers you want napping.
I wonder if you saw the movie Pushing Tin: 1999, about the life of air-traffic controllers. I liked it a lot, as I recall. It highlighted the importance of air-traffic controllers. The last time they had been in the spotlight, I believe, was in 1981, when the Gipper went up against PATCO. Pushing Tin put them in a better light, I think.
The movie starred John Cusack, who is a Democratic activist. One of my favorite actors, incidentally. I also like Alec Baldwin. I must have a soft spot for Democratic activists.
How about Republican activists in the Hollywood set? Oh, yeah, sorry — forgot. (But we had Shannen Doherty, didn’t we? The mean girl on that show? And Cheryl Ladd? She was not mean, at all. And, speaking of beautiful blondes, Bo Derek — she hung around the Bush 2000 campaign, as I recall.)
‐Not the happiest headline in recent days: “Moms killing kids not nearly as rare as we think.” (Article here.) Great, great.
‐Like you, I hope, I watched Richard Brookhiser’s PBS documentary on Alexander Hamilton. Rick made the documentary with that director par excellence, Michael Pack. And, as I was watching, I felt something somewhat unusual, for me: pride. This is not my favorite quality, or emotion. In fact, it is one of my least favorite. Let me say “appreciation”: I felt appreciation.
Appreciation for what? That Rick is on our team, meaning National Review’s team. He was on it well before most of the rest of us were. What a valuable, valuable player.
‐A little language? Writing a piece of music criticism the other day, I said something about a “clenched fist.” And the phrase struck me as unusual: Fists are of course clenched, aren’t they? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to refer to a clenched hand?
I mentioned this to my colleague Fred Schwarz. He said, “I’m reminded of P.D.Q. Bach’s Iphigenia in Brooklyn. The prima donna sings about someone ‘kneeling on bended knee — like there’s any other way to kneel.’”
‐Finally, a word about Bill Rusher, aka William A. Rusher, or “WAR.” For many years, he was Bill Buckley’s partner in crime — partner in good — the publisher of NR. He was also a prominent political writer and activist. He passed away over the weekend — and I wanted to offer just a little vignette.
We were at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, for an NR fundraiser. Before dinner, we did a little panel. Then, as the main course was being cleared away, we were summoned to do a little more paneling. We were called away from our dinner tables and reassembled at the “panel table” — a long, rectangular table placed in front of the round dining tables.
Sitting on my right, Bill leaned over to me and said, “This means we’re screwed out of dessert and coffee.” I remember clearly the way he said “screwed”: with heat. I asked the wait staff to bring dessert and coffee to our table. Bill was pleased. So was I.
I’m so glad I knew him. He loved dessert, he loved freedom, and that’s good enough — more than good enough — for me.