An outward cynicism, but at his core he is a square

Bret Stephens, remembering and quoting Michael Kelly on why he hated Frank Sinatra:

Take his view of Frank Sinatra. Everyone loved Old Blue Eyes and mourned him when he died in 1998. Everyone except Michael Kelly.

Kelly hated Frank because Frank had invented Cool, and Cool had replaced Smart. What was Smart? It was Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca: “He possesses an outward cynicism, but at his core he is a square. . . . He is willing to die for his beliefs, and his beliefs are, although he takes pains to hide it, old-fashioned. He believes in truth, justice, the American way, and love. . . . When there is a war, he goes to it. . . . He may be world weary, but he is not ironic.”

Cool was something else. “Cool said the old values were for suckers. . . . Cool didn’t go to war; Saps went to war, and anyway, cool had no beliefs he was willing to die for. Cool never, ever, got in a fight it might lose; cool had friends who could take care of that sort of thing.”

It never, ever would have occurred to me to make the distinction until I read Kelly’s column. And then I understood Sinatra. And then I understood Kelly, too.

Kelly, who was killed 10 years ago as an embedded journalist just outside of Baghdad, was Smart. When the war came, he, too, went to it. Few columnists in America had argued as passionately, and none as cogently, for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

“To march against the war is not to give peace a chance,” he wrote six weeks before his death. “It is to give tyranny a chance.” In another column, filed from Kuwait, he recalled George Orwell’s line about tyranny being “a jackboot forever stomping on the human face.”

“I understand why some dislike the idea, and fear the ramifications of, America as a liberator. But I do not understand why they do not see that anything is better than life with your face under the boot.” In all the arguments about the war, both before and after Kelly’s death, I have never seen this basic moral point convincingly refuted by anyone.

After Kelly died, a selection of his magazine articles and newspaper columns was collected in a single volume titled “Things Worth Fighting For.” The book closes with emails Kelly wrote to his editors, his parents, his wife and his young sons.

I imagine those boys must be teenagers now. They should know their father is not at all forgotten, and very much missed.

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