The President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, visited New York City last week to make an address at the United Nations. Now, I'm unwilling to make the effort to pronounce correctly or spell his name, so bear with me. Late night CBS talk show host Craig Ferguson calls the guy, simply, "I'm a dinner jacket." It works much better if you affect a pseudo-British accent slurred with a Southern drawl. Try it with me, if you will: Imuh dinnuh jacket.
And there you have it: President Imuh Dinnuh Jacket. This guy is Iran's nominee to ascend to the throne of Really Bad People. Oh, if he could just get his hands on a nuclear missile. But bad as he wants to be, Imuh Dinnuh Jacket is not the first of his type to come along.
History teaches that in the 1930s the madman who became known as planet Earth's single most horrific tyrant, Adolf Hitler, came to power and created Nazi Germany. My fractured sense of history recalls that leaders of other European nations, most notably Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of Great Britain, sought to appease the former army corporal by ignoring his ranting and entreaties and making grandiose visits to him.
Entertaining that madman didn't work out too well. Despite Imuh Dinnuh Jacket's claims to the contrary, the Nazi's methodical extermination of some 13 million Jews, Gypsies, Russians and other folks in Hitler's concentration camps - the Holocaust - did occur during World War II.
I know, for I've talked to real flesh-and-blood Americans who helped liberate those death camps. They saw it with their own eyes, and they're not bad about making stuff up.
In my book, anyone who denies the validity of the Holocaust falls into one of two categories: they are either ignorant, or they're a liar. And since Imuh Dinnuh Jacket is an educated man, and therefore not ignorant, that makes him a bald-faced liar.
Please tell me that if this old boy from a small town in Georgia can see this guy for what he is, that those in power surely know it, too. And how many lessons do they need?
In the early 1960s the United Nations entertained a madman from the Soviet Union, Premier Nikita Khrushchev. The bald-headed Communist literally took his shoe off and banged it on the podium, screaming on U.S. television as his face went beet red: "We will bury you."
That did not set well with most Americans.
Our President at the time was the youthful John Fitzgerald Kennedy. JFK, as history records, was a bona fide hero as a PT boat skipper in World War II. Despite his failings in some other matters during the brief time his "Camelot" inhabited the White House, Kennedy stepped up to the plate and defied Khrushchev in what became known as the Cuban missile crisis.
The madman sent a shipload of nuclear missiles to his forward base in Fidel Castro's Cuba, and as my fractured sense of history tells me, Kennedy had our Navy form a ring around that island. JFK gave orders, and announced to the world, that if the Russian ship crossed the picket line it would be sunk. Khrushchev announced that if the ship was sunk, the USSR would attack the USA. World War III, carrying with it the threat of nuclear annihilation, loomed in the balance. The Soviet missile ship approached Cuba, very nearly brushed an American destroyer, turned around and went home.
Secretary of State Dean Rusk summed it up ably when he said, "We went eyeball-to-eyeball, and the other guy blinked."
JFK, you see, knew the value of history's lessons. You don't entertain madmen. You have to make a stand, or pay a dear price.
So when I learned that Imuh Dinnuh Jacket would be addressing the United Nations last week, I was somewhat concerned. It has bothered me for a very long time that those known to be antagonists of the USA are allowed to visit here, to spew venom at us on our own soil, to enjoy our abundance and freedoms, and then return safely home. Yet, if any of our Presidents set foot on their land, how long do you think he'd last?
At any rate, I was absolutely astounded to hear that while Imuh Dinnuh Jacket was in New York City, he'd been invited to speak at a most prestigious institution of higher learning, Columbia University. Surely, I thought, I'd heard wrong.
What in the world were they thinking? Located not far from where the Twin Towers tumbled down in the infamous terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, Columbia nevertheless wished to host a man who would really be happy if he could do away with America. At least, in his introductory remarks, Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, had the courage to excoriate Imuh Dinnuh Jacket by saying that he "exhibits all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator."
History tells us that Columbia University is home to the Pulitzer Prize and has graduated more Nobel Prize winners than any other American university. I recall reading in my Richard Feynman how America's Manhattan Project began at Columbia, and that the first uranium atom split in America occurred there.
So I guess the Columbia brain trust thought it only fitting to have the next madman waiting to take center stage in world atrocities visit the birthplace of the nuclear power he so desperately wants to acquire.
The sense of irony just overwhelms, doesn't it? There was Imuh Dinnuh Jacket, wanting nukes, visiting the birthplace of nuclear fission. That'd be the same Imuh Dinnuh Jacket who, while denying that the Holocaust ever happened, states as his goal for acquiring nuclear power the ability to erase Israel and her Jews from the face of the earth.
The Iranian was supposed to entertain questions from the student body, but abbreviated that part of the session quickly. When asked pointed questions, he responded by asking questions of his own, rife with ideological rhetoric. In other words, he came only to spew venom and to give no straight answers.
Hey, come to think of it, if Iran doesn't work out for him, spewing venom and avoiding straight answers might make Imuh Dinnuh Jacket a viable candidate for public elected office right here in America. And yet the guy hates the good old USA?
Alas, I digress.
When he departed, Imuh Dinnuh Jacket made a beeline for home, right? Wrong. He visited Venezuela's dictator, Hugo Chavez, an avowed critic of American foreign policy and the first world leader to visit Iraq's subsequently deposed and executed Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War. Does anyone think this was just a reunion between two guys who met as college roomies?
No, it's more along the lines of the unquestionable adage that birds of a feather flock together. So it's my hope that no American will underestimate Imuh Dinnuh Jacket's desire to join that small but deadly world club of Really Bad People.
There was more irony from that visit to New York City last week. Columbia is also the name of the American space shuttle orbiter which broke up upon re-entry February 1, 2003. Among the seven crew members lost was the first Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon. Ramon had previously served in Israel's air force and had participated in a controversial 1983 attack which obliterated Iraq's Osiraq nuclear reactor plant. The raid was allegedly made possible with intelligence furnished by the United States.
When orbiter Columbia broke up, therefore, the folks in the Middle East could not contain their joy at the news of the Israeli's death. Articles praising Allah for Ramon's death ran in Lebanon's daily newspaper Al-Safir, as well as in the Jordanian daily Al-Dustour, and many others. Middle East Muslim radicals praised the tragedy as proof of Allah's retribution against Israel, and America's historical, if not actual, support of Israel in the 1983 raid. Columbia's wreckage, you see, had settled to earth near the little Texas town of... Palestine.
Oddly, none of those articles mentioned that Ramon's mother and grandmother were survivors of the most notorious of Nazi death camps: Auschwitz.
But then, of course, Auschwitz is only the name of what was once a small bucolic town. The Holocaust never happened, did it?
Just ask Imuh Dinnuh Jacket.
Nat Harwell is a Newton County resident whose column appears Sundays in The Covington News.