‘It’s not how old you are’

Helen Thomas hoped in vain that her 80th birthday on August 4 — a date she shares with the British Queen Mother and Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader — would pass unnoticed. “I don’t want anyone to know,” she said. “I don’t see why people have to be stamped by their age — that’s prejudice.”

But nothing made her angrier than the “congratulations” she received on her “retirement”, when she announced in May that she was leaving her front-row seat in the White House press room, where she had reported on eight presidents for United Press International (UPI) over four decades. She was simply changing jobs, and is now a columnist for Hearst Newspapers, the US chain that owns dozens of publications, including the Houston Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner…

Fighting talk from a reluctant civilian

General Wesley Clark led NATO’s forces to victory in the alliance’s first combat in history — the 1999 air campaign against Serbia over Kosovo — but back home in the US he was treated like a defeated warrior and dismissed from his post of supreme allied commander in Europe.

He paid a price for bitterly clashing with the Pentagon over its unwillingness to consider sending ground troops against Serb forces. But, more significantly, Clark had opposed the entire post-cold war philosophy of the US military, which was reluctant to get involved in foreign conflicts and, if it did, it took a long-distance, low-risk approach.

Indeed, the Kosovo war was conducted from altitudes of 15,000ft and without the loss of a single NATO soldier. While Clark was proud of the victory, he saw and publicly exposed a huge gap between the pretended “combat readiness” of the most powerful military in the world and its refusal to accept the realities of war…