National Security & Defense

The infernal, eternal U.N., &c.

U.N. Ambassador Vernon Walters meets with President Reagan, July 1985. (Photo: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)
On Turtle Bay, baseball, journalism, Tillerson, ‘nucular,’ and more

Stay in journalism long enough — or read the newspapers long enough — and you see that the same issues come up, over and over. Take the U.N. Please (as conservative Henny Youngmans might say).

My entire life, the Right has gone through bouts of “Defund the U.N.!” and “Kick the U.N. out of America!” (This is a nice acknowledgement that New York is in America.) I have been in such moods myself. I have spent a good part of my career fulminating against the U.N. This is especially true where human rights are concerned.

You should read the section on the U.N. in my Nobel book. (Pardon the plug.)

And when Jesse Helms held up those funds, until the U.N. reformed? Why, thrilling.

In any event, I am convinced by cooler heads than mine that the U.N. is in the U.S. interest. That is, our membership in the organization and the location of the organization on our soil, are in our interest.

Last week, I was recalling one of my favorite Firing Line episodes ever, featuring one of my favorite guests ever: Ambassador Vernon Walters, or General Vernon Walters, or “Dick” — you could have called him any of those, depending. In 1987, he was our ambassador at the U.N., and he was WFB’s guest. A splendid guest he was.

And Bill was at his best too. The whole hour sparkled and crackled, as I recall.

If you would like to read the transcript, go here. I imagine you can get the video as well — but it would take an Internet-savvier person than I to lead you to it.

Walters pointed out that Americans, fed up with the U.N., said, “Let them leave! They’ll go to Moscow and they won’t like it!” Walters commented, “They’ll go to Geneva or Vienna or somewhere nice and they’ll love it.” I will never forget the way he pronounced the names of those cities: “Genever” and “Vienner.”

He also said, “As an old soldier, I don’t like to give up terrain by default.”

I was lucky to get to know Walters a little bit — just a little bit — in his last years. Really lucky.

Anyway, on the U.N., to be continued (and continued) . . .

‐Baseball must be the most studied sport there is, examined from every angle. But did you see this article? I will quote the opening:

Researchers say they’ve documented an unseen drag on major league baseball players that can wipe out home field advantage, make pitchers give up more home runs, and take some punch out of a team’s bats.

The culprit: jet lag.

I shared this article with the wisest baseball head I know. He responded, “There had to be an explanation of why Cub bats collided with Kershaw pitches.” (For the uninitiated, Kershaw is Clay Kershaw, of the Los Angeles Dodgers, one of the greatest pitchers today or ever.)

‐You may have heard this plaint from me, as I have repeated it, especially in the last few years: People are always mistaking journalists for politicians. And it’s in part our fault, because we act like politicians — some of us, sometimes.

The other day, I tweeted something, and someone else tweeted, “Do you realize you’ve insulted millions of voters?”

To which one answer would be, Yeah? So? Am I a politician? Am I running for office? Am I asking for votes? Am I appealing to a crowd? Or am I a writer, saying what he thinks, regardless?

I have had my dabblings in politics. In 2000, I took a brief leave from National Review to assist the George W. Bush campaign. In this last cycle, I helped out my old friend Ted Cruz from time to time — disclosing all the way.

But I love a division between journalism and politics. A division that crumbles, and crumbles, and crumbles . . .

I see journalists on platforms, delivering applause lines. I hear them say things off the air that they would never say on — their true opinions.

A pox on all this . . .

‐Senators McCain, Graham, and Rubio — I think they are all very sensible on foreign policy, defense policy, and national security. All three have dropped their opposition to Rex Tillerson (though they are wary).

What if I were voting? (In the Senate, I mean.) I don’t know. But I do think this: I don’t care for litmus tests, in politics or out. But if I were to create a litmus test for secretary of state, it might run like this: No one who has accepted a friendship medal from a murderous dictator.

That’s a fairly low bar, isn’t it? I mean, the pool of people who have accepted friendship medals from murderous dictators must be relatively small!

‐A colleague of mine pointed out a headline (over this article): “Trump takes first steps in a new era of conservatism.” Is that what it is? The term “liberalism” underwent profound shifts. Perhaps the same will happen to “conservatism.”

‐Not long ago, a friend and I were discussing names — names for new entities. And I thought of how people put a premium on the catchy.

I then thought about TLS, the Times Literary Supplement. What an era that was, the early 1900s, when the publication first appeared! I can imagine the conversation at the Times: “We should have a literary supplement.” “Yes, quite agree.” “What shall we call it?” “Why, ‘The Times Literary Supplement,’ of course.”

So simple. And I’m not sure worse . . .

‐Travel with me to Fort Lauderdale. I see a sign for Kelly’s Landing, a restaurant serving “New England Seafood.” And I’m thinking, “New England seafood, in this environment?” I then try to think of an appropriate analogy — and come up with this: like advertising Texas barbecue in North Carolina.

‐Now we’re in the Cayman Islands. I see “Bonaventure Boys’ Home: A Rotary Project.” The good that the Rotarians have done around the world is astounding.

‐There is “Mary Mollie Hydes Road.” And “Genevieve Bodden Drive.” I wonder what these women were like. And what they did, to earn immortality in this fashion. Wonderful names, by the way: Mary Mollie Hydes and Genevieve Bodden.

‐Now we’re in central Texas, near Crawford, where George W. and Laura Bush have their ranch. I see “Bush’s Chicken.” No relation, as far as I know. I also see the “Czech Stop” — where you can get kolaches and all that other Old World stuff. Here in central Texas? Yup.

‐In North Carolina: “Bake Me Happy.” It’s like they’re gunning straight for me . . .

‐I speak with an Italian lady — from Rome. She has a question for me: “Why do people — why do Americans and Brits and other foreigners — make such a big deal about Tuscany? I mean, it’s a beautiful and wonderful region, fully deserving of its fame. But there are other beautiful and wonderful regions in Italy. How did Tuscany get singled out?”

Do you know I don’t know? I have never even heard the question before. It’s a very interesting question, too. I suppose the answer has to do with British writers who went to Tuscany, and then wrote. And with Dante and Michelangelo and all them — indeed, with Florence.

Still: good question, that it would be natural for an Italian to ask.

‐On W. 57th St., near Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, I see a man kneeling on his prayer mat, turned toward Mecca (I can only assume). Doing his thing. Small must be the number of countries where anyone and everyone can do their thing, religiously.

‐Recently, I returned from a trip abroad, and went straight to immigration — in the airport, I mean. Where else can you go, after you get off the plane? There was a long line for U.S. citizens. And a long line for foreigners.

Honestly, I could not tell which line was which, from looking at the people. Both lines had people of various races, ethnicities, and dress — burkas and the whole nine yards. I had to look at the signs, to know which line was which.

This can’t be all that common in the world. And is it good? Sure. Unalloyedly good? Bad?

People could write books on that subject — and do.

‐Let’s have a little music. For many years — glory years — George Szell was the music director of the Cleveland Orchestra. We Americans pronounce his name “Zell.” Back in the Old Country — Hungary — it’s “Sell.”

The music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is formally “the Zell Music Director” — because the position is underwritten by Helen and Sam Zell. (I have met Helen Zell — a happy experience.) So, Riccardo Muti is the Zell Music Director . . .

. . . which I think is interesting and kind of fun, in light of Szell.

‐A little language? (My music item was a language item too, granted.) There are people who laughed mercilessly at George W. Bush for saying “nucular,” rather than “nuclear.” I know a German lady who couldn’t get past it — she kept howling and howling. “‘Nucular!’” she would say. “How can you have a president who says ‘nucular’!”

I tried to explain that it was an American variant — that Eisenhower and Carter, among others, had said it. (Carter was a nuclear engineer, by the way.) But it did no good.

Let me share with you a letter from a reader:

My senior year of college when I was getting my Physics degree, my partner for my honors thesis was the smartest guy I ever knew (to date, still is). One of those guys who make you feel like a trained gorilla in comparison. It was an unequal yoke, you might say. He went on to get a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering at MIT.

Anyway, we used to tease him relentlessly that he would become the world’s first “nucular” scientist. So yeah, I never held it against President Bush.

‐I have friends whose little girl participates in volleyball: Sugar and Spike. Can you stand it? In any case, I’ll see you later.

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