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The Toronto Sun
A long time ago in another life I once wrote that one way an author can be assured a positive review was to have your son review your book about his father.
I was reviewing a book about my father by my mother.
Time moves on, and I suppose I could amend that assessment to a father-in- law reviewing a book by the guy who married his daughter and fathered his grandkids—which is kind of how I feel about writing about the new book by that nice David Frum, How We Got Here: The 70’s (Basic Books).
With my mother’s book, I was prepared to be cheerfully noncommittal if it was no good. I hadn’t read the manuscript and my father refused to read it—he initially thought it nonsense.
As it turned out, it was a good book, got good reviews. My mother became mildly miffed when the subject of her writing got more media attention than the author. My father relished the attention, but still wouldn’t read the book.
I was a trifle uneasy about David’s book. When he first outlined his plan—an analysis of lunacies of the 1970s as they affect today—I thought it too ambitious to be readable or of value .
Like many, I blamed much of today’s mischief on the 1960s and the self-indulgent, indolent hippy generation which now occupies positions of influence and has tenure in universities but still needs a good spanking.
But no, David takes the ‘60s a step further and persuasively makes a case for the ‘70s being the significant decade of our times.
I’m mortified (sort of) at my initial doubts. This is not just a good book, but an extraordinary one that aptly recaptures that decade and puts the whole 20th century into perspective. The research is prodigious, the writing exceptional. Frum concisely and wittily renders salient events of the 1970s into what the New York Times glowingly calls "A quirky, irreverent book and great fun to read."
Coincidentally, as the ‘70s decade began, so did the Toronto Sun. It was our formative decade. Although David’s book is aimed mostly at an American audience, there’s lots of overlap. When the Sun started, "conservative" was a dirty word and according to conventional wisdom, a reason why the Toronto Telegram failed.
The Sun made the Tely’s "conservative" viewpoint seem wishy-washy. By the next decade, Ronald Reagan’s conservatism had the "evil empire" in retreat and the world saved.
There’s so much significant trivia, facts, anecdotes and analysis in this book that any review falls short—as admitted by such organs as the Washington Post, Time magazine, the Wall Street Journal, etc.
Two areas stand out in my mind as especially memorable.
One is a succinct description of how the lunatic U.S. busing law ripped children out of neighbourhood schools and transported them to alien districts in order to be racially mixed, thereby supposedly eliminating discrimination and prejudice.
Few parents, regardless of race or politics, favoured this.
Politicians of all persuasions deplored and vowed to fight busing, but social engineers and human rights despots prevailed. Through ignorant court rulings, busing became entrenched at horrendous cost to education and lives.
David Frum superbly documents this sorry saga.
Another horror of the 1970s was America’s cynical betrayal of South Vietnam and Cambodia—as shameful, in its way, as Britain’s post-World War II policy of forced repatriation of refugees to the Soviet Union and death.
It’s not that the Vietnam War was bad or unpopular (only losing wars are unpopular), it’s that America extricated itself so dishonourably—promising to provide the necessary weaponry for Cambodians and South Vietnamese to defend themselves, then reneging.
When the last 82 Americans were airlifted out of Cambodia in April 1975, the U.S. wanted to evacuate leading government figures who were on the Khmer Rouge’s death-list. Frum quotes Henry Kissinger: "To our astonishment, the vast majority refused...."
Sirik Matak, a former Cambodian prime minister, responded to Kissinger’s offer in a handwritten note: "Dear Excellency and Friend: I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion. As for you and your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would (be) abandoning a people which has chosen liberty ... You leave, and it is my wish that you and your country will find happiness ... If I should die here in my country that I love, it is no matter ... I have only committed this mistake of believing you."
Shades of the spirit of John McCain!
Matak was shot in the stomach and left untended. He took three days to die.
As for this most violent of centuries, Irving Kristol has noted: "The most important event of the 20th century is not the crisis of capitalism, but the death of socialism."
Something David Frum would endorse. Me too.
© 2000 The Toronto Sun
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