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“A Bond Far Stronger Than Politics”: Trump Awakens Kerry’s Vietnam Anger With Slam On McCain

John Kerry was angry.

“Listen to this. Listen to what Trump just said about John McCain,” Kerry was saying over the phone. “‘He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.’

“That’s unbelievable,” Kerry said. “That’s beyond outrageous.’”

“John and I have some serious differences on a lot of things but he is nothing other than a hero and a good man. Where was Trump when John got shot down over North Vietnam? In school? At a party? Where was he?”

For many months now, years even, Kerry has been point man in Barack Obama’s attempt to restrict Iran’s plan to develop a nuclear bomb. He has been a walking high-wire act, traveling a region that is nothing less than a geographical bonfire filled with the debris of failed nations, countries that have collapsed into chaos and terror largely because of the contrived plans of men like Dick Cheney who dreamed of the day when Saddam Hussein could be toppled. The conservative ideologues got their wish while the United States got a larger, longer war and the Middle East became an even bigger source of horror and death.

Trump’s assault on McCain evoked immediate anger in Kerry because it resurrected feelings within him that are always there, certainly beneath a surface calm but always, always there: a long gone war called Vietnam.

“All of us sat for weeks and months around a table trying to get this deal done,” Kerry was saying. “The Russians, the Chinese, the French, the British, the Germans, all of us. And every once in awhile I thought about that other table, that other time, and that was nearly a half century ago.”

He was talking about the Paris Peace Talks that began in 1970 and concluded with an agreement signed on January 23, 1973. Henry Kissinger represented another president, Richard Nixon. John McCain was in Hanoi, in captivity. John Kerry had returned from Vietnam to help organize Vietnam Veterans Against The War. Donald Trump was somewhere else.

As talks in Paris dragged on, more than half of the 58,195 names carved into the wall of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington were killed. Thousands more were wounded and carry those wounds still, today.

Both Kerry and Obama are firm believers that conversation is a better starter-kit than combat when it comes to dealing with a country like Iran. Neither man is naive about that nation’s aspiration to dominate the region.

“But the Iranians are not suicidal,” Kerry pointed out.

Clearly, the Iranians are well aware that Teheran would be turned into a field of glass and sand if they ever stepped toward open war with Israel or Saudi Arabia. And every nation around that table in Vienna knew that the sanctions that crippled the Iranian economy and caused Iran to accept a deal would soon collapse under the weight of countries like France, Russia and China that were eager to begin doing business in Teheran, the dollar emerging as the strongest weapon of all.

So as he shuttled back and forth between Washington and Vienna, his leg broken, his spirit determined, Kerry found himself thinking about that other time and those other talks. He is a student of history and in his mind’s eye he saw another president, Lyndon Johnson, broken by a long war that still lingers in the American psyche. He thought about the Ivy League sophisticates that surrounded John F. Kennedy and then Johnson, men named Bundy, Rostow, McNamara, and others who spent the lives of so many younger men pursuing their old men’s dreams of defeating communism in the lethal laboratory of Vietnam.

In a trick of history and irony communism collapsed on a deathbed that Ronald Reagan helped make up by…talking; talking to Mikhail Gorbachev. A wall fell. One continent, Europe, changed forever. Two nations, Russia and the United States, altered their behavior toward each another because of a handshake and a conversation.

Last week, John Kerry returned to the United States. After months of discussion, Germany, China, France, the United Kingdom, and Putin’s Russia along with the U.S. had a deal with Iran. Now it goes to a Congress more than half full of politicians who place a higher priority in defeating anything Barack Obama supports than educating the country and the world with an honest debate about a deal structured to insert more than a decade’s worth of roadblocks in Iran’s drive to develop a nuclear weapon.

And as John Kerry came home, his mind filled with facts, the ups, the downs, the potential, and the politics of getting an accord with Iran through the Congress, he was brought back to his own war five decades ago. A war that won’t go away. A war that awoke him one more time because of a libelous slur uttered by a real estate man against a friend of Kerry’s who will line up against him on the treaty with Iran. But that didn’t matter because brothers in arms form a bond far stronger than politics.

 

By: Mike Barnicle, The Daily Beast, July 19, 2015

July 22, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, John Kerry, John McCain | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Why Russians Aren’t Smiling At You In Sochi”: The First Rule About Smiling Is You Do Not Smile At Russians

When Ed Leigh arrived in Sochi to cover the Winter Olympics, something struck him as odd: None of the Russians there returned his smiles.

When Leigh asked a native why that was, the man told him, “In Russia only two types of people smile: idiots and rich people—and rich people don’t walk on the street.”

For Russians, a smile in public is not the polite expression that Americans reflexively offer strangers on the street. A smiling person must have a good reason for doing it, and it should be obvious what that reason is. When people smile without hesitation—for no reason—Russians find those grins artificial or insincere. And they think those people have a few screws loose.

Americans, on the other hand, seem to smile for any reason at all. The “American smile” has a long-standing bad reputation in Russia, explained Michael Bohm, the opinion-page editor of The Moscow Times, in an in-depth 2011 story on the matter.

National distrust of the Westernized grin dates back to the early Soviet era, when anti-U.S. propaganda abounded. Later, in the 1980s, Soviet media regularly blasted reports called “Their Customs,” explaining that Americans, a power-hungry people, smiled to deceive others. Behind that smile was an “imperialist wolf revealing its ferocious teeth.” One prime example of that, Bohm writes, came in 1990, when then-Secretary of State James Baker used his “charming, cunning Texas smile” to trick former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev into agreeing to a unified Germany in exchange for the U.S. halting NATO’s eastward expansion.

“There’s so much to be happy about here!” the Soviet government told its people—guaranteed jobs and housing, free education, a nuclear war chest to protect the empire. The people, frowning as they waited in line to buy bread or milk, respectfully disagreed.

Russia’s poker face “has little to do with Dostoevsky or the cold climate,” Bohm says, and much more to do with centuries of government oppression and corruption. The very form of government can dictate how its people control their expression of emotions, according to David Matsumoto, an expert on micro-expressions, gesture, and nonverbal behavior. In collectivist nations, like Russia and China, people tend to neutralize happy expressions, blending in with the rest of the population. In contrast, members of individualist societies, like the United States, crack smiles freely and often, reflecting the openness of their political climate. The 2008 World Values Survey found that freedom of choice strongly affects people’s happiness.

Everyday life for Russian people has historically been grueling, a fight for existence. Their hardships were reflected in their expressiveness, and deep concern, along with a tangle of worry lines, became entrenched on their faces. Russia ranked 167th out of 178 countries on a “World Map of Happiness,” a 2007 survey of 80,000 people worldwide that measured a nation’s level of happiness by factors most closely associated with the emotions, such as health, wealth, and education.

All this research makes it sound like Russians are perpetually unhappy people, doomed for depressing lives. They’re not. Take it from this native Russian reporter.

Russians smile for genuine happiness—fair health, a pleasant mood, prosperity. All good reasons.

When two Americans make eye contact in a crowded restaurant, they smile out of habit. Russians look away instead, since smiling at strangers is a cultural taboo. The Russian cashier ringing you up at the grocery store won’t offer a smile because he doesn’t know you, and he won’t mimic your pleasant expression.

That cashier is also working, and Russians stay especially tight-lipped while on the job. Work, simply put, should not be fun or taken lightly. Russian President Vladimir Putin may look markedly sullen while standing next to his American counterpart, but it’s usually not because he is angry or upset—he’s just doing his job.

When Russians do crack a smile in public, it’s usually directed at someone they know. Still, they tend to smile only with their lips, revealing only a hint of the upper row of their teeth if the grin widens. Any more, and that smile comes off as unpleasant or even vulgar.

The biggest and most natural smiles come out at home, where Russians laugh and joke like any American would, with close friends and family members. But when someone brings out a camera, the corners of their mouths turn down again. The permanence of photographs makes the images somehow less personal and more public; they reflect how Russians appear to everybody else, including strangers on the street. Entire family photo albums capture not one smile. My Russian parents appear stone-faced in black-and-photos from their young adulthood, during beach trips and barbecues, at weddings and parties. They are not the same people who today, after 16 years in the United States, smile widely, flashing their white teeth, in front of the camera.

Russian culture is full of quirks many Americans would find strange, from making long and complicated toasts to never, ever throwing away a plastic bag. In 2011, singer Alina Simone offered a terrific explanation for why Russians hate ice cubes. This week, BuzzFeed‘s Ellie Hall documented their love of dill.

So, smiling in Sochi is a surefire way to reveal you’re an outsider—and probably annoy a native Russian—but, in modern times, it’s relatively harmless. Whatever you do, don’t play the “got your nose” game with a Russian. That hand gesture, a fist with a thumb between the middle and index fingers, is a lot less playful and a lot more offensive over there.

 

By: Marina Koren, The National Journal, February 7, 2014

February 10, 2014 Posted by | Olympics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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