Down the hatch, &c.

Slobodan Praljak drinks poison in a courtroom at the Hague, November 29, 2017. (Photo: ICTY via Reuters)
The suicide of war criminals; the power of the U.S. president; the Most Representative State; and more

Rather than serve a prison sentence, Slobodan Praljak, the Balkan war criminal, drank poison, killing himself — right in the courtroom. A lot of people thought of Goering and Himmler and their suicide pills.

I also thought of Tojo. Here’s the story, in brief.

Japan was on the verge of surrender. (Tojo had been forced out a year before.) One person who didn’t like the idea of surrender was Major Hidemasa Koga, a member of the imperial guard. He was also Tojo’s son-in-law.

Koga joined a plot to prevent the emperor from surrendering. The plot failed, of course, and Koga killed himself, using a gun.

Let me now quote a book, please — my Children of Monsters: An Inquiry into the Sons and Daughters of Dictators:

Before long, it would be Tojo’s turn. He sought a neighbor, Dr. Suzuki, for advice: Where exactly was the heart? The doctor marked it on Tojo’s chest with sumi ink. When the Americans arrived on September 11 to arrest him, Tojo took the gun that the late Koga had used and aimed it at the marked spot. He did not succeed in dying, however.

Sumbitch survived. The Americans nursed him back to health — in order to try him and hang him.

Very interesting story, very interesting drama, as you know.

‐You also know that the U.S. president has great power — including the power to boost a cause. (It is one of the perks of the job.) Reagan allied himself with Solidarity, the trade union in Poland. (Incidental fact: Reagan is the only union leader to rise to the presidency.) He placed a candle in a White House window on Christmas Eve (1981). He asked other Americans to follow suit.

Symbolic power is not no power.

In recent days, Trump has done two organizations the immense favor of retweeting them. This gave them a huge boost. Those organizations are MAGAPILL and Britain First. They are shady and rotten organizations.

These things matter.

At National Review, we have had a bit of a debate about “calling balls and strikes” — about serving as umpire during the Trump presidency. You say what’s good, you say what’s bad. Obviously, there is much merit in this. But umpiring does not quite capture the moral dimension of a presidency, in my view.

The boosting of MAGAPILL and Britain First — how would you call that? Ball, a little outside? Wild pitch? In a tweet, Trump hinted darkly that Joe Scarborough, the television host, had something to do with a young woman’s death, years ago. How would you measure that in balls and strikes?

I trust you see what I mean.

‐Kim Jong-un, ordering the launch of rockets, said this: “Fire with courage for the party and country!” Note the order of those things: party and country. Sounds about right.

For a while, some people laughed at the idea of North Korea having massively destructive technological power. “They can’t even feed themselves!” True. But I remember a jibe about the Soviet Union: “Upper Volta with nukes.”

You can be a poor, desperate country and still have the power of annihilation.

(Note to the young: “Upper Volta” was the name of the country now known as “Burkina Faso.”)

‐News has come that Mitch Daniels will be a columnist for the Washington Post. Daniels is the president of Purdue University. Before that, he was governor of Indiana. Some people wanted him to be president of the United States.

He is a sterling conservative, a model, really — and a throwback. (I appreciate throwbacks, always have. And I appreciate them more and more.)

Anyway, I’m impressed with the diversity of the Post’s roster of columnists.

‐Keith Olbermann, the television lefty, has announced that he is retiring from political commentary. I guess he’ll do sports only, instead. One of the things Olbermann was famous for was naming “The Worst Person in the World.” This was a recurring feature. The “winners” were conservatives, such as yours truly.

My colleague Dan Foster said on Twitter the other day, “With Olbermann retiring, does that mean that we, the Worst People in the World, are freed from our eternal curse?”

No way, man. It’s like the only thing I have ever won …

‐Let’s do a little music. Someone alerted me to Alma Deutscher, a prodigy in Britain. She is twelve, and composes. (She also plays the piano and the violin.) I was taken with this statement of hers:

“Some people have told me that I compose in a musical language of the past and that this is not allowed in the 21st century. In the past, it was possible to compose beautiful melodies and beautiful music, but today, they say, I’m not allowed to compose like this because I need to discover the complexity of the modern world, and the point of music is to show the complexity of the world.

“Well, let me tell you a huge secret: I already know that the world is complex and can be very ugly. But I think that these people have just got a little bit confused! If the world is so ugly, then what’s the point of making it even uglier with ugly music?”

Heh. Nice goin’, Alma. Love her. (To hear her, go here.)

‐I read newspapers — physical newspapers — just a few times a year. Two or three times a year. This always happens on airplanes, when newspapers are offered to passengers. And, you know? I always love the experience. I love the experience of reading a newspaper — holding it in my hands, going through it, as in olden days. There on the plane, I resolve to do it more often.

And I never do. Ever.

Weird, huh? I wonder if something similar applies to you.

‐I had a wonderful note from a reader, about “rivalry weekend” in college football, just past. He said, “This is the weekend when Americans from all backgrounds come together to magnify the extreme differences they have with people who live 200 miles away from them. But what can you expect in a country where Coke and Pepsi can’t exist side by side in the same restaurant?”


‐In an October column, I had the following item:

The most representative American state? I’m sure there are stats on this — science — but I’m going seat-of-the-pants: It must be Ohio. Ohio has virtually everything: urban blacks, rural whites (urban whites, rural blacks). It is both northern and southern. Maybe even eastern and western. It is microcosmic, I think.

I always thought that their license-plate slogan — “The Heart of It All” — was justifiable.

Of course, you could make a case for Illinois. And for [name your state] …

In an accompanying blogpost, I invited readers to send me their responses — giving their own nominations for Most Representative American State.

I had an excellent letter making the case for my own choice of Ohio — from a woman who lives in Toledo, or, as she said, “Holy Toledo, Ohio.” I had this from a Floridian, nominating his home state:

We truly do have it all. Elites, “deplorables,” blacks, whites, Hispanics of many different stripes, and transplants from all over the nation. We have former residents of the North by the millions, as well as good-ol’-boy southerners. Industrial cities (like my native Tampa) and the cosmopolitan (Miami) and the tourist-focused (Orlando) and the agricultural towns all in between.

A common practice here is to ask where you’re from, and lots of folks are surprised when a native Floridian (such as myself) is encountered. I like to say that north of I-4 (our bisecting interstate) is part of the Old South, and south of I-4 is part of New York/New Jersey. It’s (mostly) true.

Make no mistake, we’re the most diverse. Hands down.

I got a long, eloquent letter from Markham Shaw Pyle, making the case for Missouri. He speaks of Missouri in his book “Fools, Drunks, and the United States”: August 12, 1941. Another reader, also making the case for Missouri, quoted a line from Blue Highways, the 1982 book by William Least Heat-Moon: “A Missourian gets used to Southerners thinking him a Yankee, a Northerner considering him a cracker, a Westerner sneering at his effete Easternness, and the Easterner taking him for a cowhand.”

Enjoyed that a lot.

‐You know what I’ve also enjoyed? Doing this little podcast, Jaywalking, which is essentially an audio version of Impromptus, but with added touches, such as the playing of music. Episode No. 2 is here. And you can subscribe in a number of ways (iTunes, etc.).

That’s about me done. Have a great rest of the week, y’all.

Jay Nordlinger’s ‘Jaywalking’ Podcast

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A word from the National Review Store: To get Digging In: Further Collected Writings of Jay Nordlinger, go here.

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