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Living History by Hillary Rodham Clinton


Rating: (Mildly Recommended)


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Some people have bought Hilary Rodham Clinton’s memoir, Living History, as a sign of support for her. Doing that may be less painful for some that reading all 534 pages. Senator Clinton writes as if she’s glanced at her appointment calendar, describes what she recalls about the event, and then launches into a policy essay. Despite some early family stories that are engaging, most of the book comes across as distant and lifeless. Here’s an excerpt (pp. 388-91) that captures what I mean:


On our first visit to the Philippines in 1994, Bill and I had toured Corregidor, the American base that had fallen to the Japanese during World War II. There General Douglas MacArthur was forced to abandon the islands, though promising, "I shall return." Filipino soldiers had fought valiantly alongside Americans, paving the way for MacArthur's eventual return in 1944. The Philippines had undergone wrenching political changes in the decades since World War II and people were still recovering from the effects of twenty-one years of autocratic rule under Ferdinand Marcos. Corazon Aquino, whose husband was assassinated as a result of his opposition to Marcos, had led the way in restoring democracy in her country. "Cory" Aquino ran against Marcos for President in 1986. Marcos was declared the winner, but his victory was attributed to suspected fraud and intimidation. Popular protests drove Marcos out of office and Aquino became President, another woman thrust into politics as a result of personal loss.

President Aquino was succeeded by Fidel Ramos, a former general educated at West Point, who brought a quick smile and sense of humor to his daunting responsibilities. He and his wife, Amelita, were our hosts for both of the trips we made to Manila. At the state lunch in 19941 he insisted that Bill play a saxophone, and when Bill demurred, he arranged for the band to call Bill up to play, accompanied on the piano by Mrs. Ramos. She also gleefully showed me one of the many closets in the former presidential residence still filled with lmelda Marcos's shoes.

After speaking at a conference attended by thousands of women from all over the Philippines, I left Manila for the hill country of northern Thailand and was to meet Bill in Bangkok for a state visit hosted by King Bhumibol Adulyade and Queen Sirikit that coincided with the King's fiftieth anniversary on the throne.

Flying into the town of Chiang Rai, near the Laotian and Burmese frontier, I savored the spectacular view of green rice paddies and meandering rivers spread out below me. I was greeted on the tarmac by musicians beating drums and cymbals and playing the sab, a stringed instrument with a melancholy, piercing sound. Girls in traditional hill country tribal garb danced, while miraculously balancing the array of flowers and candles attached to their wrists. My arrival coincided with the Loy Krathong Festival, when the streets are filled with celebrants on their way to the Mae Ping River to launch floating clusters of flowers and candles into the water. The ancient custom, I was told, symbolizes the end of the troubles of one year and the hopes for the next.

The hopefulness of this ritual stood in stark contrast with the dire lives of the young girls I later visited in a rehabilitation center for former prostitutes. This region of northern Thailand was part of the "Golden Triangle," an epicenter of trafficking of all kinds: drugs, contraband and women. I was told that 10 percent or more of the girls in the area were coerced into the sex industry. Many were sold into prostitution before they reached puberty, because clients preferred young girls, wrongly convinced that they did not carry AIDS, endemic among prostitutes. At the New Life Center in Chiang Mai, American missionaries gave former prostitutes a safe haven and a chance to learn vocational skills they needed to support themselves. I met one girl at the Center who had been sold by her opium-addicted father when she was eight years old. After a few years, she escaped and returned home—only to be sold again to a whorehouse. Now only twelve, she was dying of AIDS at the Center. Her skin hung off her bones, and I watched helplessly as she summoned all her strength to draw her tiny hands together in the traditional Thai greeting when I approached her. I knelt next to her chair and tried to speak to her through a translator. She did not have the strength to talk. All I could do was hold her hand. She died shortly after my visit.

On a tour of a local village, I witnessed disturbing evidence of local supply-and-demand economics that brought this girl to her death. My guides explained that every house with a TV antenna sticking out of its thatched roof represented a wealthier family—and that almost always meant one that had sold a daughter into the sex trade. Families in the poorer mud huts without televisions either refused or had no daughters to sell. This visit reinforced my resolve to bridge the disconnect between global politics and local lives. In a meeting with representatives of the Thai government and women's groups, I discussed the government's plan to crack down on the trafficking of women, particularly young girls, into Bangkok's sex trade by toughening the enforcement of its anti-prostitution laws and imposing serious jail terms for brothel owners, clients and families that sell their children into prostitution. Trafficking in women is a human rights violation that enslaves girls and women and distorts and destabilizes economies of whole regions, just as drug smuggling does. Thailand was not unique. Over the course of my travels, I began to understand how vast the industry of trafficking human beings—particularly women—had become. Today, the State Department estimates that as many as four million people, often living in extreme poverty, are trafficked each year. I began speaking out about this horrific violation of human rights and pushing the Administration to assume global leadership in combating it. In Istanbul, Turkey, at the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) meeting in 1999 I participated on a panel to urge international action. I worked with the State Department and members of Congress already concerned with the issue. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act, passed in 2000, is now the law of the land, helping women trafficked to the United States and providing assistance and aid to governments and NGOs combating traffic abroad.


We flew back to Washington in time for Thanksgiving and headed off for a family gathering at Camp David. Our guests included Harry and Linda, and Harry's brother, Danny Thomason, who'd known Bill since 1968, when Danny taught school in Hot Springs. Best of all, we now had two nephews, Tony's son, Zachary, and Roger's son, Tyler. The men played golf despite the freezing weather, competing for what they called the Camp David trophy. We ate our meals and spent our time in Laurel, where I had a big-screen television brought in so that every play in every football game could be seen from every corner of the room. At dinner we voted on which movie to watch that night in the camp's theater, and in the event of a tie, or strong dissent, we sometimes ran a

double feature.

The Republicans had lost nine seats in the House and two in the Senate, but they still were in control of both chambers of Congress, and they gave more leadership positions to ideologues rather than to moderates or pragmatists. The new Chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, Rep. Dan Burton from Indiana, was the Hill's leading conspiracy theorist. He had achieved minor celebrity for firing a .38-caliber pistol at a watermelon in his backyard as part of a bizarre attempt to prove that Vince Foster was murdered.                                             

Several key Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, had already vowed that it was their "responsibility" to continue investigating the Clinton Administration. But the Whitewater inquiry seemed to be losing momentum. Senator D'Amato had suspended his hearings in June. Despite prolonged questioning, Kenneth Starr had failed to wrest any damning tidbit from Webb Hubbell, who was serving eighteen months in federal prison for defrauding his clients and partners.

The first hundred pages take readers from Hillary’s birth to Bill Clinton running for President. The second term begins on page 378. Much of Living History, is a recent memoir.  If you want to jump ahead and read about Bill and Monica, turn to pages 440-41, where you won’t find out much. I awarded two stars to Living History because it’s something of a curiosity and will be of interest to political junkies.

Steve Hopkins, July 25, 2003


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The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the August 2003 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: History.htm


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