To America | The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
To America
by

Attention must be paid:

To Wlady Pleszczynski, whose dear mother Irena passed away last month in beautiful Santa Barbara in her 90s. Growing up in terror in Poland, she came to America and found peace and the glory of this blessed land in more than sixty years of Santa Barbara life.

I only met her once, at the service for Wlady’s father many years ago. She was the spitting image, the exact double of my mother, who had entered immortality in 1997. What a fine woman she was to have lived with the same man (an immense war hero) for her whole life and to have raised Wlady and his sister. I am sorry I don’t know the sister. I only know that Wlady can be counted on in any crisis to do what’s right, and to write like an angel.

What a spectacular mother she must have been. No, that implies a question, and there’s no question.

As Wlady says, it closed a circle. Wlady came to my parents’ funerals in Virginia. Mother, then his father, then my father, and now his mother. Shall the circle be unbroken? By and by, Lord, by and by.

To Charlie Runnels, former Chancellor of Pepperdine. Dear friend. Mentor. Stood next to my father as my Pop turned the first spadeful of earth at the Malibu campus of Pepperdine on land bought by Mrs. Seaver, one of the great spirits of Christian education. Charlie was my pal at Pepperdine as I taught about libel law and about securities law and economics there for over a decade. Always genial. Always encouraging. Always a gentleman. The kind of man America cannot do without. Pepperdine is in mourning, and rightly so.

To Bob Long, the most intelligent and electrifying member of my high school class of 1962 at Montgomery Blair High School. He was a jokester and a kidder and he ran against Ace Warren for head of the student council in the end of our junior year. Ace was the master politician and no one gave Bob a chance. But Bob tore up his speech in front of us and spoke from his heart about what Blair needed. What was that? Who knows now? Maybe just a change from the expected. Bob won in a landslide. Donald Trump paid attention.

He and I stayed friends for decades. He went to Yale but dropped out to become a Marine and serve in Vietnam. His stories about combat were graphic, terrifying, and hilarious. When he was still in high school, he wangled an interview with a visiting Fidel Castro. He went on to work as news director at many major stations in DC and Los Angeles. Always generous with his time. Always with a ready quip. He gave me my first regular news commenting job at a station in Los Angeles. Did anyone watch? I don’t know, but Bob and I laughed our heads off after the show, long before I got sober.

He loved the Orient and moved to Turkey some years ago to teach. I lost touch with him and then I got an email that he had died. It broke my heart. I never knew him to say an unkind word or do a mean thing, and his wit was stupendous even as a teenager.

Blair Blazers never quit and if heaven is high school with money, Gay Patlen, and a red ’62 Corvette, Bob will have to be the head of the student council.

Ace did well, too. He is now a highly respected expert law professor on tax at Harvard Law School. He married a girl I used to play miniature golf with in high school, Judy Blatt, and they have super successful offspring. Blair was quite a place.

Attention and more must be paid to Oxford, Mississippi and Ole Miss. Wifey and I went there recently for the Auburn game. Professor Vitter, the Chancellor, and his lovely bride treated us like kings. We watched the game from the Chancellor’s box. Tom Becherer was my genial host. A man in a nearby box gave me a glass display case of antique bullets and musket balls from the Vicksburg campaign. I wish I knew that man’s name.

When my father-in-law’s father, Daddy Denman, was asked by my father-in-law why they didn’t set off fireworks on July 4, Daddy Denman said, “Why, Dale, I’m surprised at you. That’s the day Vicksburg fell.” And when Alex’s father, Col. Denman, told the story, he sobbed.

Oxford is famous for the riots there when James Meredith integrated the school in 1962 and three people died “…’neath the Mississippi moon,” as Bob Dylan sang it. Now Oxford is integrated and about 22 percent of the student body is nonwhite. Everyone gets along great. Attention must be paid to such progress in human dignity. Attention must be paid to the greatness of this country every day and night.

Attention must be paid to my brilliant brother-in-law, Mel, who has always said Casablanca is the greatest movie ever. I have started watching it every single night. It’s an inspiration in human creativity. I want to be like Bogart in that movie. I believe my wife already looks like Ingrid Bergman. The main goal of all of the non-Nazis in the movie is to get to America. At one point, two refugees from the Reich, and a friend, also a refugee named “Cuddles,” raise a glass of brandy and say simply, “To America.” Thank you, Melvin, for insisting that Casablanca is the best film ever. It has brought me much joy. I watch it at 2 in the morning and I feel peace, the greatest blessing. “To America.” My wife and the dogs are asleep and Bogart saves the day and kills the Nazi. Attention must be paid.

Light of the world. Light of all mankind’s existence.

This glorious land with its freedom and its air conditioning and its Corvettes and my wife and my parents and hot water and Wlady and finally a President who, although decidedly odd, loves this country and has no conflict about that. I spoke recently at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, Indiana. If there are any finer people than the faculty, students and friends there, I want to meet them and show them Casablanca.

“To America.” If the students at Hampshire College are too stupid and sick to get it, pity them. Attention must be paid.

Ben Stein
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Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes “Ben Stein’s Diary” for every issue of The American Spectator.
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