Jewish World Review March 31, 1999 /14 Nissan 5759
The Flower Child goes to war
(JWR) ---- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com)
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
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
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©1999, Creators Syndicate