Making up is hard to do, but not with old enemies


President Clinton is being bashed by Republicans and some veterans because he is establishing normal diplomatic relations with Vietnam.

But I don't understand why they are so upset. It's been 22 years since we dragged ourselves out of that mess of a war. And that's a long, long time to hold a grudge.

Some might disagree. But once the fighting is over, nations can bury the hatchets and patch up their differences faster than a lot of divorced couples.

Consider World War II, the most terrible conflict in this angry planet's history, which, fortunately, we won. Or so it appeared at the time.

We had ample reason to be angry at the defeated Japan and Germany.

The sneak attack on Pearl Harbor was just for starters. The Japanese didn't think much of the Geneva Convention's rules of war.

Starting with the Bataan Death March, they treated prisoners like so many lab rats. In fact, they used American prisoners for sickening medical experiments. When their scientists wanted to do research on treating abdominal gun shot wounds, their doctors just shot a hole in a prisoner's stomach to see how much shock and bleeding he could withstand.

We executed and imprisoned some Japanese war criminals. But not nearly as many as deserved to have their necks stretched. In many cases, it was not politically expedient.

So how long did we hold a grudge? Twenty-two years, as with the Vietnamese?

Not even close. In 1951, only six years after Japan surrendered, we ended our official winner's occupation. We signed a peace treaty and became diplomatic chums.

Beyond having our diplomats remove their shoes at the door and sip weak tea, we gave Japan a democratic form of government, billions in loans and agreed to protect them from their enemies.

All this financial and military help led to their present status as an economic superpower, since they could use their resources to build better TV sets, radios, oil tankers and cars.

If Japan had won, would they have been that nice to us? I doubt it. Most likely, they would have used our spacious lands to satisfy their frustrated national craving for golf. And today you, me and Bill Clinton would be toting golf bags for stumpy-legged Samurai car dealers.

That's why I was suspicious of our quick peace deal with the Japanese. What is the sense of fighting and winning a long war if the loser ends up with a better standard of living than the winner? Even today, a decent American Cadillac owner knows TTC he will have squeaks and rattles before some unpatriotic Lexus driver. What humiliation.

If we had the arrogance of the ancient Greeks, Romans and Mongols, who knew how to plunder and enslave, every American veteran of World War II would have had his own indentured

Japanese gardener. Imagine how lovely Rolling Meadows, in suburban Chicago, would have looked with all those cute little Japanese dwarf trees.

Then we have Germany. I love Germans. My grown children are more German than anything else.

But in World War II, it was as if they had a need to compensate for the cultural civility of Bach, Goethe and Beethoven. So they gave us a little pervert like Hitler.

How long did it take for us to give them diplomatic forgiveness?

By 1951, we had opened diplomatic channels. That's only six years after our shocked GIs found German death camps filled with the bones of every European minority group that wasn't tall and blue-eyed and blond.

Once again, we didn't know how to enjoy our victory. If we had, every American vet would have had his own German car mechanic and a tall, leggy Aryan cook.

But I'm not sure about the cook. Italy, in its carefree way, was part of Hitler's evil Axis. But the moment an American GI tossed a can of Spam in anger, the entire Italian army quit.

Even before the war ended, Italy signed a secret surrender pact. It is said that they promised to give us their best recipe for pasta carbonarra in exchange for clemency.

So let bygones be bygones.

And if they build golf courses in Vietnam, who needs Florida.

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