Crisis, what crisis? You weren't there, it didn't happen

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The Independent Online
ONCE, a long time ago, President Carter sent in lots of helicopters to rescue American hostages from Iran. Most of them crashed and none of the hostages were rescued.

That is the story as I understand it. I have only the haziest picture of the story, because I wasn't there when it happened. I was in South America for a few months, and it was only after I got back that I even learnt there had been a crisis. Therefore, for me, there had been no crisis. Kington's First Law of Journalism: 'News stories which break in your absence did not really happen.'

(Similarly, there must have been people who were sailing single-handedly to America at the time when President Kennedy was shot, and who didn't hear about it for weeks, and who now, whenever people say you can always remember where you were when you heard about Kennedy's death, fall silent because all they can really remember was coming home three weeks later and finding people talking about somebody called President Johnson.)

Anyway, I have just come back from a month's absence during which I have seen no TV and hardly a headline, and here at home I have a fearsome pile of newspapers to catch up on. To show you how long I have been away, I can tell you that when I left home, Kim Il Jong was Public Enemy No 1 and Gerry Adams was Public Enemy No 2. Now, a mere month later, North Korea is not mentioned in any headline, and Gerry Adams has become an elder statesman.

Just before I left, they were actually threatening to deal with the North Korea situation by sending in Jimmy Carter. This must have worked. Kim Il Jong was so aghast at the thought of making small talk with Jimmy Carter, or perhaps at the thought of lots of American helicopters crashing all over the place, that he gave way and agreed to keep out of the headlines for a while. What happened to Gerry Adams I am not so sure, but all over the papers are photographs of Albert Reynolds shaking hands with Gerry Adams, so clearly something is on the mend.

There do not seem to be any photos of John Major shaking hands with Mr Adams, though. Perhaps Mr Major will only shake hands with an actor who is playing the part of Mr Adams. Perhaps Gerry Adams refuses to shake hands with the character who is playing the part of the Prime Minister of Britain. Perhaps they will have to send in Jimmy Carter to shake hands with John Major if nobody else will do it.

Though this seems unlikely, because I gather that Mr Carter is now being sent to talk to the Haitian leaders with the dual intention of a) boring them to death, b) threatening to send in lots of American helicopters to crash all over their already crowded island, which means he will be too busy to come to shake hands with John Major . . .

This Haiti thing being a new development, I have to cast around a bit for some enlightenment, and here on the back of the International Herald Tribune I find a piece by Russell Baker which starts: 'The news was so thin over the weekend that Haiti made the front pages in several newspapers. You can tell an editor has been looking into a bare pantry when he comes back with a Caribbean story. When Haiti is the juiciest Caribbean story going, it feels as if the end of history may be more than a book by Francis Fukuyama.

'As James Reston once observed, 'Americans will do anything for Latin America except read about it'. One of the things we will do for Latin America is rid it of governments that irritate ours and equip it with sensible governments that don't. Since 1961 we have been yearning to do this favour for Cuba, but haven't managed it yet. Haiti, too, has been passed over recently when Yankee-friendly governments were being distributed to Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua . . .'

Just as I am getting into my stride with this bang-up-to-the- minute discussion of whether or not to invade Haiti, I notice the date on the paper. It is 3 July 1993. 1993] This paper has been lying around since my summer holiday last year] And yet it is still bang up-to-date and topical]

Does history repeat itself endlessly? Does the end of history repeat itself endlessly? Is John Major the reincarnation of Jimmy Carter? Is it pronounced Highty or Hayty? All this and more in tomorrow's column.