It was a radio show in the 1940s and it got a nice laugh. It was Jimmy Durante’s comedy show, and in this skit he was on trial in federal court. The clerk of the court proclaimed loud and clear, “Hear ye! Hear ye! We now proceed with the case of the People of the United States against Jimmy Durante.”
Then you heard Durante’s raspy voice muttering, “How d’ya like them odds?”
Now I know the feeling. I grew up believing what the majority of Americans believed, from Communism to sex to the Taft-Hartley labor law. I wasn’t faking it out of any desire to avoid argument or to “fit in.” I just happened to feel the way almost everybody else did about almost everything.
Where did all my allies go? Week in and week out now I write my honest and earnest opinion on controversial issues confronting America. No sooner does my column get posted than I’m hit with a riptide of hostility from American readers, especially the younger ones.
If you were doing research on what Americans think, you could have saved a lot of money in the 1950s by just asking me questions and taking notes. Now you could save a lot of money by just asking me questions and noting the opposite!
Somewhere in Jewish liturgy – the Talmud, I think – it tells us, “If one person tells you you’re an ass, consider it. If a second one tells you you’re an ass, consider it more profoundly. If a third one tells you you’re an ass, get a saddle!” This, alas, is one Jewish mandate I cannot obey!
The lessons of World War II cannot be ignored merely because masses of people learn the catchy phrase, “… only if America’s vital interests are threatened!”
We know the ways of the drug addict, the alcoholic, the sexual predator, the congenital liar. Can’t we agree that malignant dictators have their “ways,” too, and that they’re as inevitable and immutable as any of the above? Notice, I specify the malignant dictators. There are dictators who keep a full nelson on their own countries, but never seem to covet a square-inch of anybody else’s. How do you tell the dangerous dictators from the plain old dictators? The tip off is, do they design their own uniforms? Benign and benevolent dictators wear business suits, and you never hear of them. There are dozens of dictators who fit that mold. They are not the Hitlers, the Stalins, the Kim Jong- Whatevers.
And they are not the Bashar al-Assads.
The malignant dictators know instantly whether we – the civilized world – are allowing chemical or other weapons-of-mass-destruction in battle. If the civilized countries answer with “This doesn’t threaten my vital interests!” you will get more and more and more horror weapons we outlawed almost a hundred years ago, confident they would stay outlawed. Whatever evil the decent nations cowardly condone, the malignant dictators will joyously embrace.
I’m not at all sure we know who used sarin gas first, or most. I’m convinced we have the wherewithal to find out. Whoever they are, they’re the ones who should pay civilization’s price. Really, the only difference between the refusal of the “civilized” world to act today versus the 1930s is that today the proclamations of “Don’t bother me!” are louder and less ashamed! In the build-up to World War II, the “Don’t-bother-me!” countries were at least a little bit ashamed. Now they’re strident.
What is the definition of “vital American interest”? The majority seems to think we have no duty and no right to intervene unless America faces a clear and present danger. If enemy tanks are about to enter Philadelphia, that would do it. To me, ignoring the lessons of World War II puts us in jeopardy extremely dire.
Among those lessons are Churchill’s famous definition of appeasement, namely, “Feeding everybody else to the crocodiles in hopes they’ll eat you last.”
Also, “Aggression and genocide condoned are further aggression and genocide guaranteed.”
Preparation, the lack of it, is another menace. Ronald Reagan said, “I’ve lived through a lot of wars, and not a one was caused because America was too strong.” The lack of American readiness for war in Asia in 1941 is probably the major American crime overlooked because at least there was a victorious conclusion to that conflict. In spite of America’s criminal unreadiness, where’s the praise for those unready American heroes in the Philippines who held out almost half a year against the well-trained and totally ready Japanese?
“Know your allies” is another valuable lesson. America was wrong to fawn so droolingly over “Good Old Uncle Joe,” referring to Soviet ruler Josef Stalin, the second-worst man on earth, whose help we needed against No. 1, the late Adolf Hitler. (Thanks to Charles Krauthammer for that formulation!)
Another “lesson” of World War II is taking care of your logistics. Shortly after the ending of that war the colonial French Indo-China army announced they were missing 400 military elephants. Four hundred elephants!
“Gee, fellows,” quipped The New Yorker magazine. “Did you look everywhere?”