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A nation in two pieces.
Oh, the Middle East, the Middle East. Everybody has an opinion, and most of the opinions are held with fierce passion. This, of course, creates rancor. Now, you know me: irenic, amiable, easy-going old Derb. I hate rancor, and will have nothing to do with it, at least for today. To make a Buckleyism of... Read More
The Third World's cargo cult mentality.
If you write things in public about the Middle East, you get a lot of reader responses. After a while you start to spot trends in these responses, trends that are very suggestive about how people think and feel on large subjects. When I myself write about the Middle East, I generally pause somewhere along... Read More
Are you starting to get the feeling I'm getting, the feeling expressed in my title? The feeling that there will be no war against Iraq? Not this year, not next year, not ever? Let me emphasize the word "feeling." As a responsible columnist, I am going to do my best to justify my title with... Read More
Am I an unfeeling brute?
Why don't I care about the Palestinians? It is, of course, wrong of me not to care. It can't be much fun being a Palestinian. You, or your parents, or your grandparents, ran for their lives in the 1948 war. You — and/or they, plus a couple of generations of uncles, aunts, siblings and cousins... Read More
The Middle East is nuts.
I recently got a long, carefully-composed email from a reader, who begged me to circulate it among "other opinion-formers." It laid out a plan for peace in the Middle East. The writer, obviously an intelligent and well-informed person, had done the email with great care. With some passion, too — he really wants to find... Read More
The most interesting place in the world.
When I write about Irish affairs for U.S. readers I generally begin by apologizing for having brought to their attention a tiny country that seems to be of no real consequence to the great affairs of the world. This time I am going to depart from that formula. I am, in fact, going to begin... Read More
Probably not.
In his splendid (translation of the word "splendid": full of things to argue and write web columns about) new book The Death of the West, Pat Buchanan relates a story about his days working with President Nixon — who was, as Pat quotes Golda Meir saying, one of the best friends Israel ever had. In... Read More
Wang Ruowang, 1918-2001.
Wang Ruowang, 1918-2001 The Central Funeral Home on 41st Avenue in New York's Flushing district is, one of the ushers told me, the largest Chinese-owned establishment of its kind in the city. On Saturday we had its biggest room, but that was still too small for the crowd of mourners who came to pay tribute... Read More
It's a funny business, writing. Sometimes you give up days to crafting a piece, sweat blood over it, research all the background stuff the way journalists are supposed to, make sure the ideas all connect, weed out all the superfluous adjectives and adverbs, add just the right amount of "seasoning" — a pinch of literary... Read More
There is a little discussion rumbling on here and there in newspapers and magazines, and very likely in your local bar, about torture. As far as I can tell, it seems to have started with a piece by Walter Pincus in the Washington Post of October 21st: "Silence of 4 Terror Probe Suspects Poses Dilemma... Read More
I practice humility.
I'm going to perform a little exercise in humility — one of the trickier virtues, in my experience, since it is one of the easiest to fake, and also one that is grossly unattractive when taken to excess. Well, I'm not going to fake it, and I'm not going to cringe and wring my hands,... Read More
In the fall of 1939, during the early weeks of what in England was called "the phony war" (the Germans called it sitzkrieg — "the sitting-down war"), there was an illuminating exchange in the House of Commons. Some Members of Parliament were putting pressure on Sir Kingsley Wood, the head of the Air Ministry, to... Read More
In chapter 9 of his book The Birth of the Modern, the historian Paul Johnson notes the following feature of British life in the early 19th century: Scholars of the future, looking back on our age with the long perspective of historical hindsight, may marvel at the tremendous stroke of good luck the human race... Read More
Watch your backs, America.
It's nice to be British at the moment. Prime Minister Tony Blair has been getting high marks from Americans for the loud and clear support support he has given to George W. Bush's war on terrorism. After his two powerful speeches about the war — at his own party's annual conference on October 3rd and... Read More
A long-term diplomatic strategy.
Lifting our eyes from the current crisis, and the fireworks no doubt soon to begin, let us ponder some more general lessons for the West. Here, to get us started, is the story of Shining Lady Wang, an actual incident from ancient Chinese history. Shining Lady Wang was one of the great beauties of her... Read More
Twice the usual congregation at church this Sunday. If I were more of a churchgoer myself, I would be smug about this. As it is, I confess to a teeny bit of smugness. Though not an active member of my church, never having faced up to the hundreds of hours of time and thousands of... Read More
I actually went there.
This summer I spent six weeks in China with my family, travelling all over the country, visiting with friends, relatives and ex-students. (My wife is mainland-Chinese with a large extended family, and I taught college in China in the early 1980s.) We mainly stayed in the homes of these people: in Beijing, in the Manchurian... Read More
• Cry havoc! and let slip the appropriate dogs God knows, there has been enough to feel depressed about these few days. One of the lesser things has been the way these events have exposed the terrible poverty of our public language. May I be the first to say that George W. Bush's speech on... Read More
Why they hate us.
Back in 1982 there were some horrible massacres at two Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Christian Lebanese Arabs actually did the killing; but the Israeli army was in the neighborhood, and was responsible, at some theoretical level, for keeping the peace in the zone that included the camps. Because of this, the Israelis took much... Read More
If you are a reader of right-wing opinion websites, you will by now have heard the voice of the Paleos, loud and strong. That last one is from Pat Buchanan, who will be on TV a lot these next few weeks, and whose royalty statements (the bit of paper your publisher sends you twice a... Read More
I am writing this less than an hour after the U.S.A. was struck by what looks very much like a coordinated wave of terrorist attacks. Two planes, one said to have been hijacked, crashed into the World Trade Center, setting both towers on fire. From my front lawn here in Long Island, thirty miles away,... Read More
The Derbs do China.
————————— Beijing, China: Week of July 1st to July 7th Having written a couple of pieces on this site in strong opposition to Beijing getting the 2008 Summer Olympics, I find myself in something of a moral quandary over here. I still don't want Beijing to get the Olympics, for the aforementioned reasons. On the... Read More
Bush decides not to decide.
After careful deliberation, the Bush administration has decided to take no position on Beijing's bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics. By itself, this is not a very remarkable decision. The U.S. government is not required to take any position on bids to host the Olympics, and many people would prefer they not do so.... Read More
I was interested to see, in a recent copy of The Nation, … What's that? You want to know what an honest reactionary like Derb is doing, reading a lefty whine-list like The Nation? Well, in the first place, like Walt Whitman, I am large, I contain multitudes: humani nihil a me alienum puto. In... Read More
Translation of a Chinese poem.
  A Song of Valediction: Dreaming I Roamed on TianMu Mountain by Li Po (Li TaiBai), tr. John Derbyshire Seafarers tell of the Blessed Isles — Veiled, indistinct in the mists of the sea. Southern folk speak of TianMu Mountain, Now seen, now hidden in slow-shifting clouds. TianMu soars straight to the sky, to the... Read More
China-Taiwan: What might happen.
[Local announcer] Viewers, please continue to stand by. Do not change station. The President's address will be carried on all network channels, and on all cable news services. As soon as … Excuse me … Yes? … We do? … Thank you. All right, we are now going over to … [Washington announcer cuts in]... Read More
Modern Chinese nationalism.
The recent crisis in Hainan Island has brought Chinese nationalism to the front of our minds. Specialist China-watchers have understood for some time that the events of 1989 — not only the student and worker movements that were crushed in Tiananmen Square on June 4 of that year, but also the collapse of Soviet and... Read More
Guess what? They're in it for the money.
In yet another display of that selfless humility for which I am well-known, and with the generous permission of our noble editor, I once again direct my readers' attention to a piece far superior to any of my own meager offerings. This one is by John B. Judis in the current (issue date 4/23/01) issue... Read More
China wins first showdown with Bush.
So the United States has done a full kowtow, begging China's pardon for having the audacity to land a plane, crippled by the antics of a hot-dogging Chinese pilot, on a Chinese airfield, without first securing the written approval of 43 bureaucrats in Beijing. The President has also, by implication, blamed U.S. military personnel for... Read More
Hint: They're commies.
To judge from the Internet chat groups and radio call-ins, there is widespread disgust and anger in the U.S. at China's attitude in the spy-plane incident. China's peculiar way of addressing the matter has especially got people's backs up. Colin Powell's statement of regret over the loss of that Chinese pilot is "a step in... Read More
Trash that plane!
With all due respect, Admiral: the hell you say. The U.S. can prevent the Chinese from boarding the plane very easily, by destroying it. The administration should do this as speedily as possible, without any regard whatsoever to Chinese sensitivities, or indeed lives and property. The only question worth serious discussion is that of technique.... Read More
The future of China, Africa, Russia, Israel.
"Let observation, with extensive view, survey mankind from China to Peru." I'm afraid that Peru, along with the rest of the Americas, Europe and some minor places like New Zealand, will have to wait for another column. Today I am just going to survey mankind in the Middle East, Africa, Russia and China. I've only... Read More
What George W. Bush should say.
The news that China is continuing its build-up of missiles opposite Taiwan, with 100 more short-range ballistic missiles now in place at a newly-built base, comes as one of China's most senior officials, Vice Prime Minister Qian QiChen, arrives in Washington for the first high-level Sino-U.S. discussions of the new administration. (That "q," by the... Read More
Why Beijing shouldn't get the Games.
Inspectors from the International Olympic Committee were in Beijing last week, studying that city's qualifications to host the 2008 Olympic Games. The purpose of the inspection was to make sure that Beijing has suitable facilities for staging Olympic events, can accommodate the expected number of visitors, has sufficient infrastructure to move them around efficiently and... Read More
China's Three Kinds of Crises.
January 8th saw the publication of the so-called "Tiananmen Papers," transcripts of high-level discussions among the Chinese leadership in the period leading up to the suppression of the 1989 student movement. What do these documents reveal about the inner workings of the Chinese leadership? What guidance do they offer to the new U.S. administration in... Read More
Surely we can do something.
Some years ago I was sitting around with a bunch of colleagues at the Wall Street firm I worked for. These were "two-year analysts" — kids recruited straight out of college to do two years drudge work in the firm's back offices ("turning out equity margin crap for little old ladies," as one of them... Read More
Last Tuesday the prosecution rested its case in the trial of the Lockerbie bombers, two Libyans accused of blowing up a jumbo jet over Scotland in 1988. Lost your attention? Yes, I know, this is one of those news stories that seems to have been bobbing about in the media for ever. The bombing was,... Read More
What we can learn from them.
This week has seen the publication of the so-called "Tiananmen Papers." These are said to be transcripts of high-level discussions in the Chinese leadership in the period leading up to the suppression of the 1989 student movement. It possible that these documents are some kind of bluff, put out by a united Chinese leadership to... Read More
Prospects for the next few years.
The world is full of surprises. With the Middle East coming to the boil again and the Russians acting up, it would be foolish to guess what foreign-policy headlines might look like this next four — let alone eight — years. However, there is not much doubt that China will feature in many of them,... Read More
President Clinton has announced that he will not, after all, be making a state visit to North Korea before he leaves office. He gave as his reason that "there is not sufficient time to close a deal" with the leaders of that country. The choice of words here betrays how egregiously wrong-headed has been U.S.... Read More
The China Threat, by Bill Gertz
In the middle 1930s, as Hitler consolidated his power in Germany and began re-arming that country in earnest, the facts of the situation were duly reported back to the British foreign secretary, Sir John Simon. However, Sir John, as one of his underlings later remarked, did not want to know "uncomfortable things." Still less did... Read More
Perhaps it is a bit much, in an election season, with a major crisis a-building in the Middle East, to expect Americans to concentrate their minds on Ireland. Ninety-nine per cent of Americans do not care about Ireland one way or the other; and the one per cent that do care mostly have attitudes frozen... Read More
The March 18 elections in Taiwan.
————————— In the minds of Chinese people, the modern history of their country is marked off by "incidents," most of them unknown to the general Western public. Each incident is remembered by the digits of the month and day on which it occurred. The grandaddy of all these milestones is "Five Four": May 4th 1919,... Read More