Saturday, June 05, 2004

no brotherhood, please - we're american

So I've never been very comfortable with the prejudices my country has provided me. This, I suppose, makes me a liberal tree-hugging commie in some eyes, but then again I've never been very comfortable with using such simple words to describe such complex ideas, and I tend to view such usage as indicative of a certain lack of rigor in the mind of the speaker. One thing that has bothered me since I was a child was America's behavior towards France... it seemed ungenerous then, and has become outright hostile in recent years.

I strongly suspect that many Americans who cast derision upon the French ('surrender-monkeys'?) do so to distance themselves from the historical truth, in which light our behavior is seen to be less than honorable. We are quick to recall D-Day, but quicker to forget Yorktown.

From James Breck Perkins' France in the Revolution, written at the turn of the last century:

Among certain statesmen, as among many officers, the desire for reprisals was a potent factor, and the rebellion of the colonies was welcomed, chiefly because they rebelled against England. Among the French people at large it was quite otherwise: the rebellious colonies were popular, not especially because they wanted to throw off an English yoke, but because they wanted to throw off a yoke.

Article II of the treaty provided that "the essential and direct end of the present defensive alliance is to maintain effectually the liberty, sovereignty and independence absolute and unlimited of the said United States." By other articles France pledged herself not to lay down her arms until this independence had been achieved, and, whatever be the delay, cost, or losses, to neither claim nor accept anything for the help thus provided. She even specifically consented that the harshest of the conditions of the 1763 treaty of peace with England be maintained: if conquests were made " in the northern part of America," the conquered land would be annexed to the United States, and not to the country which had settled Canada and possessed it until that peace.

Would France keep her word, and, if success was attained, reserve for herself nothing on a continent two thirds of which had been hers?

She would, and did, keep her word.

This from Bill Moyers, on the history our nations share:

September 19, 2003: We were in France last week. Seven old friends. One more reunion while there's time.

High above the [Marne] valley, on a hill once marked by trenches and shell holes, stands a monument of 24 mighty columns and two heroic-size figures. Their hands are clasped -- a tribute, the inscription tells us, to the French and American troops who fought here, and a lasting symbol of "the friendship and cooperation" between the two countries.

France and America have been allies for a long time now. The sentiment runs deep, despite differences over Iraq today.

In his column this week, The New York Times columnist Tom Friedman was tough on the French. He says France is becoming our enemy - trying to foil our policy in the Middle East. But the French aren't alone in thinking America has become the lone ranger of the world.

Last week, even the Financial Times of London - pro-American, pro-business, conservative to the bone - threw up its hands in despair at Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice. This is, said the lead editorial, a team whose "instinctive and ideological tendency" from the start has been "to regard international consultation and cooperation as a burdensome bore or intolerable constraint." Don't they know, the paper asked, that "alone the U.S. is far more vulnerable than it likes to believe, while in concert with free nations, it is far more powerful than even it can imagine."

This is something to think about on the battlefields of France. You think about the times we've helped each other, and how we still need each other to confront global terrorism. So you want to celebrate our ties, and nurture them. And that's what we did. We found an outdoor restaurant in a small village .and ordered the specialty of the house. French fries. The real thing. French fries. As American as apple pie.

I don't think our current position with France honors the price paid by their country or ours in the quest for liberty. Then again, I'm not so sure America really gives a fuck about liberty anymore... things are getting a little Kafkaesque at the hands of the same people who repeatedly said that "if 9/11 changes our way of life, the terrorists have already won", then turned around and started shredding the constitution. Perhaps someday when we reclaim our own heritage we will remember those who helped us create it in the first place.