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Jewish World Review March 31, 1999 /14 Nissan 5759

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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The Flower Child goes to war

(JWR) ---- (
SO BILL CLINTON HAS FOUND A CAUSE he thinks is worth fighting for -- preserving the autonomy of the Serbian province of Kosovo.

The question as to whether America ought to use its military might to prevent genocide and other disasters is a worthy one. But without reaching that question (which I do not think yields easy answers), we must ask: How does Bill Clinton, an exemplar of American liberalism, square his belief in this war with his passionate "loathing" of the war in Vietnam?

A glance back at his famous 1969 letter to Col. Eugene Holmes is most interesting in light of the president's newfound bellicosity. Some of the formulations are classic Clinton: He tells the colonel (a survivor of the Bataan Death March) that he has been so disturbed by questions of war and morality that he has resorted to "eating compulsively and reading until exhaustion brought sleep."

He also boasts about how hard he has worked and how seriously he has studied the matter: " ... there was a time when not many people had more information about Vietnam at hand than I did." And he engages in arrogant self-praise, hoping that his three-page rant will help the colonel "understand more clearly how so many fine people have come to find themselves still loving their country but loathing the military ... "

During the 1992 campaign, this letter was engrossing for the light it shed on Bill Clinton's character and honesty. He claimed, for example, that conscience had moved him to come clean about his misleading use of an ROTC deferment, when, as The Washington Post and others stated, changes in the draft law had given Clinton notice two days before the letter to Holmes that he was out of danger.

The president today advances three arguments in behalf of a military commitment in the former Yugoslavia. The first is historically ridiculous.

In his national address on the matter, the president said we must act to "defuse a powder keg at the heart of Europe that has exploded twice before in this century with catastrophic results," implying that the Balkans were the flash points for both world wars. In fact, of course, an assassination in Bosnia did touch off World War I (though it didn't cause it), and the Balkans were irrelevant to the start of World War II.

The president further contends that American prosperity depends upon what language they speak in Pristina. Such arguments needn't detain us.

The president's third case is moral. We cannot allow "defenseless people" to be slaughtered. Slobodan Milosevic will interpret our failure to act as a "license to kill."

This may be true, but in the liberal worldview, how is this so vastly different from the choices we faced in Vietnam circa 1963? The people of South Vietnam wished to be free from the communist tyranny the North Vietnamese were determined to impose. There were serious violations of human rights and even massacres taking place. We know, in retrospect, that communist victories in Cambodia and Vietnam resulted in massive genocide.

And yet that war was regarded by Bill Clinton and most other liberals not just as ill-advised or not worth it but as morally wrong. As Bill Clinton put it in 1969 (and in 1992, saying, "Twenty-three years later, I am still proud of what I said then"), he had toiled in the United States Senate for the chance "of working every day against a war I opposed and despised with a depth of feeling I had reserved solely for racism in America before Vietnam."

Note the moral preening. What, the Holocaust didn't inspire more outrage?

The Moscow show trials?

Today, President Clinton is asking his youngers and betters to risk their lives for Kosovo. Doesn't he owe it to them to explain why this crusade, which clearly involves no risk to "the life of the people collectively" as he wrote to Col. Holmes, is different from the attempt to save South Vietnam? It would be instructive for all of us to learn how the '60s generation, which lectured us ceaselessly about how immoral it was to intervene in a civil war, and which branded us as criminals for choosing up sides, has now beat its plowshares into swords.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate