For decades it’s been merely a charming family story. Suddenly, it’s useful.
When my baby brother Jerry was 4, we were all having breakfast in a Florida cafeteria. Along came a Cuban family with a boy my brother’s age, a beautifully dressed, almost costumed, Hispanic “caballero.” They reached out for each other. “This ought to be rich,” I thought. “They can’t speak the same language.” It was even richer!
Jerry started wailing at the Cuban boy, “Talk right!” Jerry grabbed him by the shoulders, shook him and yelled, “Talk right!” Jerry, from North Carolina, wasn’t even aware there were foreign languages. He thought the Cuban boy was teasing him by speaking Spanish. Meanwhile, the young Cuban, speaking quite educated Spanish, was trying to explain to Jerry that he, too, wished they could communicate, but, alas, they could not. Finally, on the verge of tears, Jerry turned to me, big brother, and begged, “Barry, make him talk right!”
I now have Jerry’s urge to make the Pentagon “talk right.” And, for that matter, the president and the secretary of state, too. The Pentagon released a six-months-overdue report on China’s expanding military capability. It was such a piece of unskilled labor I cannot escape the suspicion that our leaders are arranging a kind of “pre-surrendered” state. Nothing frightening or even troubling shouts forth from the report. The tone is more akin to, “Hey. Looka-here. China’s strong!” – as if Communist China were a gigantic Norway that accidentally struck oil. Calculation? Threat? World domination? The report body-blocks all such disturbing notions. It speaks of the increased possibility of “misunderstandings” between China and the U.S. amid mild warnings that China might seek “regional domination” in its corner of Asia. I’d give my eye-teeth if all China sought were “regional domination.”
I learned everything I need to know about Communist China by moving from a state with a lousy football team to a state where even the lesser teams beat “my” team by 50-0.
We moved from Maryland to North Carolina. Duke used to beat Maryland that badly. So did the University of North Carolina, Wake Forest, N.C. State. And, after each beating of Maryland by a North Carolina team, I’d get beaten by the local gang, which, at the age of 9, carries logic smarter than the Pentagon’s.
Suddenly, in 1947, Maryland got a new coach, a new offensive formation and a new football fate. Jim Tatum out of Oklahoma brought the split-T, which North Carolina had never seen before. Maryland won its first three games that year, with halfback Lou Gambino running for three touchdowns per game. The sweet part for me was, North Carolina knew nothing of this “new Maryland.” The crowd in Duke Stadium that year was expecting another 50-0 rout. On the very first play, Maryland quarterback Vic Turyn faked a handoff to Gambino, kept the ball and ran 79 yards to the Duke one-yard-line. It was like a magic show. The extra point was done before the Duke crowd figured out where the ball was.
Duke won, but only by 19-7. Maryland won everybody’s respect. The same boys who used to beat me up after the standard Maryland defeats now respectfully told me their fathers wanted me to come over and explain this “split-T” thing Maryland had brought into our lives. Maryland went to the Gator Bowl that year. All this felt good; very good.
China used to be Maryland. They were derided as the most ridiculous losers on earth. Naughty boys in San Francisco used to pull the “pig-tails” of the elderly Chinese on the street. It seemed like every other country owned a piece, a “concession” inside China and could do as they pleased. Tiny-looking Japan had no difficulty carving China up militarily. China was hapless, helpless, hopeless – until they got their “Jim-Tatum-Revolution” and their “split-T” formation military.
China pulled off 15 space launches last year. America hung up its space jerseys. And so on. A vastly less-capable China mauled America’s forces in Korea 1950-1953. Do you remember how we were going to “unleash Chiang Kai-Shek” on them? Will some Pentagon “Sino-genius” please explain to us why, after centuries of humiliation at the hands of the whole outside world, China should now launch aircraft carriers and continue to modernize its largest army in the world just so they could show their skill at avoiding “misunderstandings”? When a country with China’s history continues to amass so much raw power with no threats to itself, it’s dangerous to suppose their ambitions will remain nice and “regional.”
China is building, watching, waiting and playing. They play well. The famous Chinese banker, J. Wellington Koo, was once seated at a Washington banquet dais beside a hopeless American dolt who asked him, after the soup course, “Likee soupee?” Dr. Koo smiled and nodded; the soup was pretty good.
Later, when Koo took the podium for the keynote address, his powers of articulation in English brought the audience to instantaneous, prolonged standing applause.
When he arrived back at his place on the dais, he turned to his doltish neighbor and said, “Likee speechee?”