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Jewish World Review Sept. 8, 2004 / 22 Elul, 5764

Tony Snow

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Bill Clinton and the Ravages of Age | Bill Clinton has undergone what surgeons are calling a successful quadruple-bypass operation. Let’s hope that’s true. The president apparently was almost at death’s door, with an astounding 90 percent blockage in the arteries leading to his heart.

Post-surgery, the Marcus Welby crowd — people who act, rather than actually serve, as doctors — have delivered stern sermons about exercise, proper diet, sufficient rest, and so on. They no doubt are right: Bill Clinton lives harder in a week than many people do in a year, and most of us would be well advised not to follow his example, even if we had the stamina.

As Dr. Christine Dumas noted on my show, the Clinton fable tells one and all not only to adopt good habits, but to get aggressive with testing as well. (I need to heed this advice.) Dr. Dumas advises one and all to take something called a C-reactive protein test. It’s a simple bit of blood work; any doctor can do it  and the test helps determine if you are at risk for heart attack and stroke, even if you score well on other measures, such as blood pressure and cholesterol.

If there’s a moral to Bill Clinton’s brush with expiry, it’s that we all have an obligation to take care of ourselves. So let’s get out there and do it!

The former president’s ailment also ought to remind his generation (my generation) of a truth it never took seriously — that we age.

If you think I jest, open a newspaper, look at your television, or listen to the radio. You will confront a tsunami of advertisements that promise eternal youth — firm, taught flesh; shimmering hair; chiseled muscles; brilliant white teeth; corrected vision; and for men only, sufficient virility to father a new nation. This has become an obsession for those born shortly after the Second World War, and it explains why Baby Boomers bear the dubious distinction of being the first American generation to have failed to acquire wisdom over time. We’re too busy trying to remain fit, hip and young — rather than to accept the challenges and comforts of maturity.

The Kerry campaign illustrates the way in which many members of the Sixties Counterculture talk vaguely about tomorrow and feelingly of long-gone yesterdays; how they have turned bitter rather than mellow, resentful rather than respectful of life’s hard facts and bracing challenges. But there’s something more: In many ways, this generation has lived a life of fiction, not fact.

Consider Vietnam. The conventional wisdom holds that America fought an unjust war there and lost. In fact, we embarked upon a noble war, analogous to the battle in Iraq, but we lost our will – in part because war protesters concocted tales of widespread viciousness and butchery. John Kerry gave those canards a huge boost on April 22, 1971, when he famously told the Senate Foreign Relations committee:

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They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country...

Kerry ostensibly relied on “testimony” given at an anti-war convention in Detroit, a thing dubbed the “Winter Soldier Investigation.” Many if not most of those who testified were patent frauds – men who either didn’t see combat or never served at all. Unfortunately, the organizers (including Kerry) were less interested in fact than in support for their fantasy of an America gone mad, salvageable only by a new generation of leaders blessed with superior moral instincts and more refined manners in dealing with the rest of the world.

The errors became absolutely inescapable after the antiwar movement won. When America left Vietnam, many (including Sen. Kerry) predicted that the people of Vietnam would embrace socialism, and that the Vietcong would hurt few if any of their countrymen. Here, again, is the testimony:

We found that not only was it a civil war, an effort by a people who had for years been seeking their liberation from any colonial influence whatsoever, but also we found that the Vietnamese whom we had enthusiastically molded after our own image were hard put to take up the fight against the threat we were supposedly saving them from.

We found most people didn't even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart. They wanted everything to do with the war, particularly with this foreign presence of the United States of America, to leave them alone in peace, and they practiced the art of survival by siding with whichever military force was present at a particular time, be it Vietcong, North Vietnamese, or American.

We found also that all too often American men were dying in those rice paddies for want of support from their allies. We saw first hand how money from American taxes was used for a corrupt dictatorial regime. We saw that many people in this country had a one-sided idea of who was kept free by our flag, as blacks provided the highest percentage of casualties. We saw Vietnam ravaged equally by American bombs as well as by search and destroy missions, as well as by Vietcong terrorism, and yet we listened while this country tried to blame all of the havoc on the Vietcong.

We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them. We saw America lose her sense of morality as she accepted very coolly a My Lai and refused to give up the image of American soldiers who hand out chocolate bars and chewing gum.

We learned the meaning of free fire zones, shooting anything that moves, and we watched while America placed a cheapness on the lives of orientals.”

It turns out that Sen. Kerry and the American anti-war movement “placed a cheapness on the lives of orientals.” When America bailed out of Vietnam, it didn’t leave behind a nation eager to embrace communism. We abandoned millions and exposed them to butchery they could not have imagined before. More than a million South Vietnamese died at the hands of the Viet Cong conquerors. Hundreds of thousands fled on leaky boats, seeking freedom. Despite this horrifying evidence that we fought in a just cause, Sen. Kerry and others still maintain they were in the right, and their government in the wrong.

This insistence on an unreal past constitutes something far more pathetic and profound than mere nostalgia. It betokens a childlike fear of things unknown and unseen. But unlike a child’s pleas to eradicate the monsters under the bed, the menace this time is real. One can’t abolish terrorism by switching on a light or getting a hug from mom. This time, the one-time practitioners will have to practice something hardier than Flower Power. The Protest Generation will have to grow up.

Some have not accepted the challenge gracefully. Take the musty protesters who showed up last week in New York, armed with anger and Nixon-era chants. None spoke of the cult of murder that has engulfed a significant portion of the Islamic world (a sad fact bemoaned by this Arab writer). None dared speak of evil as a real thing. The complaints were more puerile – against war and hate and death, against armaments rather than terror itself.

Almost as if on cue, Chechen murderers occupied a school in Beslan, Russia. More than 350 men, women and children died before, during and after the siege, which had been a year in the planning. Islamo-fascist killers moved in and quickly demonstrated the depth of their cynicism and inhumanity. They deprived their captives such things as food and water, despite temperatures that regularly exceeded 100 degrees. They wired children with explosives. They shot in the back youngsters who tried to escape. And in one of the more horrifying episodes, one captor answered a child’s request for water by impaling the youngster with a bayonet.

When the dust finally settled, the European Union responded by criticizing...the Russians! They complained that Vladmir Putin hadn’t given negotiation a proper chance.  To use Sen. Kerry’s famous formulation, they were angry that he had not waged a suitably sensitive war on terror.

It would be wonderful if words would soothe such killers, but smooth talk won’t do the job. Bill Clinton himself understands something the placard carrying Give-Peace-A-Chance crowd doesn’t get: You have to win the war before you can create peace and give it a chance.

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