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This was in East Hampton 10 days ago and I was driving back from Dreesen's grocery with the papers and on the car radio they said President Clinton had just landed in China at Xian which was a town I knew nothing about. An historical moment, we were told. A grand opportunity for Clinton to set those people straight about human rights. Or was it a total American cave-in to the butchers of Tiananmen Square? Or yet another diversionary tactic to take the focus off Linda Tripp and that mess? The Republicans had one theory; admin loyalists had quite another. You know the spin doctors. As for me, I guess I wished Bill Clinton well in going off to visit vast China. After all, we have one president at a time and on important matters you give him the benefit of doubt.

The date here in America was June 25. I don't know if it was still June 25 in Xian. Or maybe June 26. The International Dateline co-exists uneasily. But by the time I got back to the house, the date had kicked in.

June 25. If you are my age or close to it and have any memory at all, you remember.

Here was the president setting down for the first time in China on the anniversary of the outbreak of the only war we ever fought against those bastards!

June 25, 1950, precisely 48 years ago, the North Koreans invaded South Korea and we went to war, a war which within four months would have us fighting the Chinese army up in the Taktong mountains of North Korea. The Chinese intervention, as it was called, would kill thousands of Americans, set a stamp on Truman's presidency, smash the career of Douglas MacArthur, encourage a demagogue named Joe McCarthy, pretty much insure Dwight Eisenhower's election and make way for Nixon.

And it had to be the date Bill Clinton arrived in the People's Republic? A trip that had been in preparation for half a year and nobody noticed the significance of June 25? The mind boggles.

By the time I had the second cup of coffee that morning, I was steaming as well. Striding up and down talking to myself. What the hell was going on here? Does no one in the Clinton bunch have any sense of historical perspective? A thousand people in his entourage and all those brainy presidential assistants and Cabinet members and archivists and gofers? Sandy Berger? Holbrooke? Bill Richardson? What of Madame Albright? The secretary of state signed off on a Clinton arrival on the anniversary of the start of our one and only war with China? What was she thinking about? Are any of these people even marginally competent?

They recalled every painful detail of the massacre at Tiananmen Square and forgot a war that killed 54,000 Americans?

So I called Imus.

If we have an ombudsman in this country to whom one can turn in the hour of need, it would seem to me to be Don Imus. He is on the air live for four and a half hours a day, five days a week, raging over injustices and calling to account the famous and powerful, puncturing pomposity and nailing sophistry. He reads everything and has an opinion on most things, is heard coast to coast, and his producer, Bernard McGuirk, is a canny fellow who understands a good call when he hears one and can sort out the wheat from the chaff. The "wheat" on this occasion being my indignation over China; the "chaff" being any other caller that morning.

So I told Bernie about June 25 and why it mattered and he put me through.

Imus prefers his callers to, as he puts it, "bring something to the table," to offer original notions and, if possible, snappy repartee. On occasion I have done so to his satisfaction. Not this time, not on June 25. Instead, I ranted and raved for a bit, stuttering and spluttering, repeating myself, demanding to know if anyone in Washington possessed any sense of history. Were there no archives? No government historians? Had Korea really been, for all its dash and drama, its losses and its horrors, "a forgotten war?"

Don listened to my plaint with that serenity for which he is famed, and he said, with a degree of resignation, something along the lines of, "You know, I don't think any of them know. I don't think it ever occurred to them."

He thanked me for the call and I hung up and turned on the kitchen-counter radio. He and Charles McCord, both of them uncharacteristically subdued, said a few gracious words about me and the point I'd tried clumsily to make, and went on to other matters. While I groused and stalked about, irritable as old men are, recalling how it was 48 years ago.

We were young then and fought great China in a terrible war in appalling weather in their own backyard, six American divisions against 40 divisions of Chinese regulars, and we beat the bastards back and ground them to a halt, saving as we did a small country far away. Mr. Clinton, in all the speeches of the past 10 days, might have reminded the Chinese about that, might have said something. Nothing highfalutin, just a few words.

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