For a brief period in the 80s there were 2743 Benetton stores per block in most big cities; then they all went away. Before the tide receded I bought one jacket with big pointy 80s shoulders - very Jetsonesque. It was the only item they ever sold I liked. I didn’t miss them when they went away. Few did. Whatever ache their departure created was filled by the Gap, which provided plain simple American clothes more suited to our national temperment - jeans, white shirts, sturdy sweaters. Benetton’s “controversial” ads came later, and for most of us in flyoverland they seemed like tourism brochures from a country that didn’t exist anymore.

The other day I saw some Benetton ads featuring liberated Afghanis - one showed a young woman who, according to the copy, could now go to school. I was curious if Benetton had put out ads protesting the Afghan war, and was now piggybacking on the fall of the Taliban to sell some sweaters. I didn’t find anything, but Google spat up a profile in the Grauniad about Berlusconi. It made me grin:

Oliviero Toscani, former creative director of Benetton, first met the new prime minister in the 1960s, when Berlusconi was starting in the construction business. "The key to him is that he's a guy of the 1950s," Toscani says. "The 1960s went over his head. Tony Blair and even George Bush are hippies compared with him. His big dream is Frank Sinatra in Pal Joey: the lover, the yachts, the songs, the white silk scarf, the hat tilted back, the jokes. He is very charismatic, but that kind of person can be dangerous for a democracy.”

Yeah, whatever. Democracies are ever in peril from guys who like jokes, songs and Sinatra, because that’s just the sort of thing that leads to death camps and suspension of elections. Start gassin’ the Jews / I’m leader today / I’ll make a brand new Reich of it / in old New York. The key lines are: “he’s a guy of the 1950s. The 1960s went over his head.”

Over his head. The complex, subtle nature of ‘68, with its riots and tear gas and sit-ins and rain of paving stones escaped him. Unlike the rest of the European leaders who came of age in that spasm of adolescent pique, he takes his cues from the post-war / pre-68 idea of manhood: boozy charm and finger-snapping cool, coat draped over the shoulder. Hey, pally.

Of course he sides with America.

Caveats: I don’t like Sinatra much; I think he’s overrated. I like his earlier material, when he was Frankie, not Frank. (I really don’t have much time for Liza, but her version of “New York New York” taken from Scorcese’s movie of the same name, is the version of the song, period, end of discussion; Sinatra just walks through it.) The Rat Pack holds no particular charm for me either - they were smirky overgrown boys, selfish, drunken, casually cruel. That’s what we know now, anyway. But at the time they summed up the post-war, post-Ike, pre-hippie male Id - they were cynical but romantic (meaning, they knew how to get dames like Angie Dickinson into the hay), they were loose and playful without being silly and ridiculous. They looked as sharp as sharks and drank like fishes. They had steak for breakfast and lobster for supper, and when the dessert came it was on a silver cart, brother, and it had better be on fire. If you couldn’t light your Winston from your peaches flambé, well, what was the point of being an American, anyway?

If this is your model, of course the 60s will go “over your head.” The appeal of sitting around in a garrett printing up Che posters and listening to the Byrds will not be immediately apparent.

It reminds you that there are several concepts of America to which people respond - the classical Founding-Father model, with the sour-faced guys in white stockings proclaiming universal rights; the unapologetic post-war era of boozy alpha-male swank; and the modern youth & consumerism model that appalls the anti-globos and transfixes those who live under punitive regimes. We’re all these things at once. We’re the Axis of Elvis.

I didn’t write anything about the weekend rallies because - well - what is there to say, really? There are people out there who think the US is equivalent to Nazi Germany, and have the placards to prove it. What a shock. I did write something about a sad photo that showed a young kid with a placard reminding us that “Israel has weapons of mass destruction too” but the fact that some people twist their kids to believe this swinish drivel isn’t a surprise, either. More to the point - If Israel did not have nukes, and the Arab states were building up armies right now and threatening a war, you wouldn’t see millions in the street protesting; many of those people capering about for “peace” would feel a red trill of glee in their hearts if Syrian forces crashed into Tel Aviv.

No surprise: there are lots of people out there whose viewpoint I find contemptible. The West is the problem, they insist. The US is the locus of perfidy. A mad cabal of oilmen and Jews jerk the string of a jug-eared dullard so they can kill Iraqi babies. And so forth. I know, I know, not everyone in the rally believes this, perhaps not even most. Just because the Spartacists march in your rally and hold up signs supporting North Korea doesn’t mean anyone else believes in their twisted cause. But mass movements have a way of being hijacked by the ardent few, the ones who are damned dead serious about overturning the established order and oiling up the guillotine to deal with the undecided. Their work is made easier by comfortable dilettantes who think it’s funny to call Bush a Nazi - or who march without comment beside someone who does.

The Spartacists won’t prevail; I’m not suggesting that we saw Western liberal democracies dissolving before our eyes. There are millions in Europe who hate the US - oh, stop the presses. There are millions of people who believe that tyrants should always be handled with the delicate tongs of democracy - well, blow me down. “It is time to think about human rights, not money” I heard one French protester say on the news. “War is not the answer to war.” If it weren’t for the autonomous nervous system, some of these people would die because they’re too stupid to remember to breathe. War is always the answer to war if war is brought down upon you. Evil requires resistance. If a man in a crowd grabs your child from your arms, you do not wonder what brought him to this moment, or petition the city council for a resolution requiring him to hand over the skeletons of his previous victims. You stab him in the eyeball with your car keys.

No, no, no, NO; I’m not saying all antiwar voices are vile or imbecilic. As I keep saying over and over and over again there are sensible arguments against the war, and while I don’t agree with them I understand how smart, reasonable people believe that war is not the proper course. To be honest, though: lately I say this more out of habit than conviction. It’s become something I feel obligated to say, because I do want to make a distinction between the sensible dissenters and the moral cripples who superimpose Bush’s face on bin Laden’s head and proclaim the president the real terrorist. But the dissenters’ arguments grow thinner every day. No amount of Iraqi intransigence will dissuade the antiwar crowd from their belief that inspections will find everything eventually. They seem to think the US will apply the requisite military pressure for however many years it takes to disarm Iraq. Even if we find all the bugs, all the poison juice and nuke fuel, their best-case scenario still leaves Saddam and his sons in power. Yes, I’ve heard the argument that lifting the sanctions will lead to a prosperous society that will rise up and overthrow Saddam. Someday.

It'll be on page A8 of your paper: Iraqi unrest underscores Uday's difficulty in asserting his authority. Six years later in the New Yorker we'll read an account of the uprising, complete with smuggled photos of a chemical attack on a rebellious Shiite city.

There was an editorial in the Strib last Saturday that summed it up for me - it stated with perfect clarity the mindset I cannot share. It concerned Powell’s impassioned remarks at the UN, and concluded with these words:

In effect, Powell should challenge the Security Council to call Saddam’s bluff. If unity can’t be achieved around such an approach, the United States and its coalition partners might have no choice but to strike at Iraq.

So far so good. No argument from me. But now comes the stunner:

But the dangers of doing so without UN approval are so grave and real that they approach in seriousness the possibility that Saddam is still in possession of weapons of mass destruction.

This. Makes. No. Sense. It’s not even apples and oranges; it’s apples and grenades. Do any of us doubt that Saddam has weapons capable of making thousands of human beings double over, geyser blood from their mouths and die in asphyxiated agony? No? Well, consider this: deposing this dead-eyed sociopath and his thuggish clan of rape-happy killers might be right, but doing so without a grudging thumbs-up from his European trading partners approaches in seriousness the possibility that Saddam is still in possession of WMD.

If you believe this, you see two visions of the future: in one, Saddam is defeated, his weapons destroyed, his people freed. In the other, you see the UN reduced to irrelevance.

And you can’t quite decide which one is worse.


Yesterday's update to the undying Gallery of Regrettable Food was hosed; it stopped after two pages. It's fixed now. Apologies.

Amazon Honor SystemClick Here to PayLearn More