My father gave me only one single example of philosophical richness, but that one example was to me so powerful it equals all the praise of all the other parents of which I've read.
It was early 1942. I was 12. The Japanese had attacked us at Pearl Harbor only a few months earlier and American forces were reeling in retreat and ruination.
One morning I got to our copy of the Greensboro Daily News first. The headline was "Two Thousand Sons of the Rising Sun Will See It Rise No More." American warplanes had sunk a Japanese destroyer with great loss of life.
I bounded into my father's bedroom yelling, "Daddy! Daddy! Great news. We killed 2,000 Japs."
My father, in his one and only trip to philosophical bat, knocked it over the philosophical fence.
He said, "Barry, I know what you mean. I know what you mean. But I want you to remember: It is never, absolutely NEVER, good news when people die."
In Daddy's memory I will not say I'm glad the spy-plane incident with Communist China happened. I must say, though, that if it were not for the loss of the Chinese pilot, I'd actually be glad the whole thing happened.
Ignorance is the sperm of apathy. If you don't know, you can't care. And this generation of Americans knows little and cares less about Communist China. That may have changed on April 1, 2001, when the Chinese fighter plane over-harassed the American spy plane to the disastrous point of collision, sending the Chinese pilot to his doom and forcing the spy plane to make an emergency landing on Hainan Island.
More than a full regiment of anti-Communist talk-hosts; more than all the documentary films of Chinese Communist oppression; more than all the Chinese Christians who've been persecuted and escaped to tell; more than all the professors detailing how far below the standard of Thomas Jefferson our Chinese "strategic partners" have plummeted; more than the innocent American academics picked off Chinese streets and held incommunicado; more than the Dalai Lama coming on "The Larry King Show" to describe Chinese genocide in Tibet; even more than the testimonies of the young survivors of the massacre at Tiananmen Square - more than all of that and more, this incident and the abrupt old-cold-war swineheadedness of the Chinese handling thereof have mashed ordinary Americans' faces into China's true nature.
From the speed of the rickshaw to the speed of light (and enlightenment), our population got the point of Chinese Communism and instantly graduated from yawns to yellow ribbons and gathering rage.
These ignorant, apathetic Americans, who one week earlier thought of China (if they thought of China at all) as a gigantic billion-plus market of people who manufacture what we like at low prices, came to learn what they should have known about Chinese Communism since 1949. And that is that China is not just some sort of Asian Sweden that never quite got around to forming more than one political party. I honestly believe I could mount a better case economically and militarily for helping Adolf Hitler's Third Reich in the 1930s than Communist China today. At least Hitler LOOKED boxed-in by neighbors who had the strength to contain his aggression. Little did we realize at the time how lacking was the fighting will of those Nazi neighbors.
So long as our American military personnel are well and well cared for, I say to Beijing, "This is one ordinary American Dirty Harry calling, urging you, please, continue to make our day, day in and day out."
It's high political fun to watch a stomp-down murderous dictatorship come apart like a gigantic Alka-Seltzer tablet under Niagara Falls. It beats watching a 6-year-old's videos of evil empires dissolving into boiling oceans. First liberal California senator Dianne Feinstein almost sends me to the Mayo Clinic for a hearing check when she urges our legislators not to make that holiday junket to Communist China. (After, of course, her obligatory birdcalls of apology to Beijing!) Then equally liberal California congressman Tom Lantos warns Beijing that they're "losing votes every day," votes that might give them the coveted Olympics, lose them a continuation of normal trade relations with America, and deny them any more of the incredible gains that "niceness" with America has brought them.
China is plugged into our socket. What if we disconnect?
Here's my plan.
a) Don't apologize. Their plane hit our plane over international waters. Tell the Chinese that the democracies learned in the 1930s not to pretend it's raining when dictators spit in their face.
b) Let President Bush publicly instruct Attorney General John Ashcroft that every suspected case of Chinese purchasing or purloining of our technical secrets, plus every suspected case of Chinese cash going to the previous administration, is to be brought under active investigation immediately; even if we have to draft new prosecutors and find the energy to keep the lights on late. We had intended to let all that rich evidence go, since we didn't want to appear to be persecuting or prosecuting former president Bill Clinton overmuch. Sorry, Bill. Something came up off the coast of Hainan that changes our imperatives.
c) Arrange for one item from China's wish list from America to evaporate every day our crew members and plane are not returned: no Olympics today, no more most-favored-nation status tomorrow, no ITO membership the day after, no more diplomats in residence the day after that, free yellow ribbons the day after that, calls for a boycott of any and all Chinese goods the day after that, stronger calls for a nationwide boycott the day after that, no more American training of the Chinese military in America Wednesday after next; and so on and on, drip, drip, drip, like Chinese water torture.
What about those poor rich American companies that invested so heavily in Communist China. Again, sorry! Firms should invest in democracies, not dictatorships. You capitalist pig exporters of hangman's rope knew what you were getting into. Next time, go with the good guys.
Is it too much to hope that the tensions unleashed inside the Chinese Politburo AT THIS TIME OF TREMENDOUS DISSATISFACTION AMONG THE CHINESE MASSES might lead to a total collapse of Communism in China and the beginnings of a democratic government like Taiwan's? Don't laugh. Did anything that hopeful look possible inside the Soviet Union in 1987?
d) Remember how James Carville gained political immortality by posting a sign inside Bill Clinton's campaign headquarters in 1992 reminding the unfocused, "It's the economy, stupid!"
Someone should post a similar sign within easy viewing range of the president, the secretary of state and the secretary of defense that says "China is not a STRONG man. China is a FAT man.
And only a blind, blithering continuation of Clinton's policies can convert that fat into muscle.
And please, can we hear a little less about world public opinion?
Our job is not to please the world.
Our job is to defend America.
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