Saturday, May 20, 2006

French Fries

Because I have some unpleasant critiques about French life these days, I need to make clear that none of my criticism comes from the idiotic Freedom Fries perspective.

The Freedom Fries criticisms of France run, basically that France did something terrible to "our troops", and that the French hate America , or even Americans as individuals. Jay Leno said the French were spitting on Americans.

It never happens. Americans are in fact welcomed and well-treated - as much as this culture treats anyone well. Whatever differences in the foreign policy of their governments, the French, like people in most of the world, always have enough sense and maturity to see that it's not the fault of, and shouldn't be taken out on, individuals.

That's in contrast to the disgracefully immature behavior of so many Americans, who have blamed ordinary individuals of French nationality, including even teenage girls that they refused to host or had deported for babysitting. The French are able to understand a high-level political spat doesn't extend to teenage girls. And in this spat, it's the US leaders that are in the wrong.

The barrage of lies and distortions continued, including statements that France was getting most of Iraq's oil (France was getting 8%, the US, 50%). And when the Oil-for-Food scandal implicated French companies, the American media went bananas over it, neglecting to mention much about the American companies involved (and then failing to make much of the mind boggling 8 billion dollars of reconstruction aid that went missing, half of which was stolen from the people of Iraq, the other half from the people of the United States).

Bill O'Reilly yabbers about a boycott. What boycott? Actually, the US is buying more goods and services from the French than it was when Bill and his ilk started calling for their boycott. (The only people it's really hurt have been small businesses in the US. Nice going.)

Even the Daily Show, generally progressive, has repeatedly played this up with stupid anti-France jokes. Good for a quick chuckle from the ignorant.


OK, so... It is true that the French populace didn't want to go to war in Iraq.

Along with the entire rest of the world.

No government in this so-called coalition had much support. I was in Italy around that time - huge protests, brightly colored gay pride flags everywhere. I thought that at least 90% of the populace had suddenly come out of closet. The flags were on every balcony, hanging even from convent windows.

Turns out they use the rainbow flag for peace, and the people of Italy were overwhelmingly against this fraudulent war.

As was, basically, the entire world.

Rumsefield, Wolfowitz et al. threw a hissy fit when the Turkish government refused to override the overwhelming desire of that country's populace to stay out of the war. Dammit, don't these people know where trying to bring democracy to the area? How are we gonna do that if governments insist on doing irresponsible things like... behaving democratically?

(Speaking of which, over 80% of Iraqis now want the US to leave. Should we let them vote on that? I mean, isn't the idea to bring democracy? Well, same as when bringing democracy to Vietnam meant cancelling the promised vote on reunification because... the election might not go our way. You're free to have a democracy, as long as you vote the way we tell you to. OK? If not, we bomb. Until you understand democracy.)

Even the United States government got the populace to support it only by lying: most Americans thought Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. They didn't dream that one up all by themselves. Then Bush administration made up the WMDs, told us we'd be attacked and thousands of innocent people would die. As with 9/11, somebody'd have to explain why mommy or daddy wasn't ever coming home again.

So, we attacked. And thousands of innocent people died. And somebody has to explain why mommy or daddy won't ever be coming home again.

However, and this is an important however, the French government was, in fact, very willing to support, and to actually join, the American action against Iraq. So was the German government, and the rest of NATO and beyond.

So what happened?

French troops were already fighting in Afghanistan - praised by American commanders for their skill and bravery - as part of the reaction the 9/11 attacks.

Those attacks weren't against France, but French President Jacques Chirac was the first foreign leader to visit New York after 9/11 (he got there so fast he almost beat Bush); "We are all Americans now," declared by the national French newspaper, Le Monde; and the French rushed troops to support the invasion of Afghanistan to avenge the attacks on their friends, the Americans.

Chirac, the supposedly anti-American French president had in fact lived in the United States. He'd worked at Howard Johnson's, and as a forklift driver at the Anheuser-Busch brewery in St. Louis, and as a writer for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans. He's often said how much he likes America, even the food, which he says he likes too much (how 'bout that, a Frenchman even complimenting American cuisine?).

So, again, what happened?

Well, they held a high-level NATO meeting to prepare for this big military operation against Iraq because the Iraqi government was developing weapons of mass destruction. And somewhere in that meeting, they said, almost as just a formality, OK, let's go over that evidence on Iraq developing these weapons.

And this is where everything stopped. Not only did Donald Rumsfeld fail to provide any, he got snotty with them.

They were stunned - You're actually asking us to go to war based on...? Do you really understand what you're asking? What war is? What it means?

So Rumsfeld, ever the diplomat, said, "The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence," and felt terribly clever.

Our allies were bewildered: OK, yes, very witty line, but we don't go to war based on your wordplay.

Now, France could have agreed to join the so-called coalition the way other countries have - just send a few support personnel and leave it at that. That's the route the Australian government took: Yeah, the war might be bullshit, but if the Aussies are ever overrun by Indonesia or get into hot water with China, they'll need help in a hurry, and let's not bother to take a stand here and piss off Bush and country music stations, resulting in a boycott of Fosters (which isn't Australian anymore, just saying).

They sent a few air-traffic controllers, and Australia got to be considered part of the coalition (though they'd already sent troops to Afghanistan, but that seemed not to matter beside the all-important Iraq).

But the French, well, maybe they took a more honest stance. And then there followed the semi-farce of decorated combat veterans in the French government being lectured on fighting war, and on bravery under fire, by notorious chickenhawks in the US government.

It was funny how this Freedom Fries nonsense was picked up. It was basically orchestrated by certain members of the Republican Party. Those French, they're cowards. They hate America.

Ahem... A Little History

The "cowardice" claim is based on something that happened almost seventy years ago now, when a colossal blunder resulted in France being overrun - that blunder being dependence on the Maginot line.

The line actually worked just fine, it was just that German mechanized units managed to come around it.

But consider that by that point the rest of Western Europe had fallen to the Germans - Austria, Czeckoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Luxembourg and, crucially, Belgium. Any country that took a stand against the Nazis was steamrolled.

Why? The Blitzkrieg brought in new mechanized tactics that were practically unstoppable.

Of course, Hitler couldn't have done it without considerable help and investment from his American supporters, notably Sosothenes Bethe of ITT and, most importantly, the crucial, even critical, support of Henry Ford.

Thanks to Bethe, ITT supplied the communications systems between tanks that went a long way towards making Blitzkrieg possible. But Bethe wasn't done: ITT then used the profits to... invest in Fockker-Wolfe, which supplied the aircraft that so aided Franco (and devasted cities like Guernica) and went on to be invaluable in the Hitler's conquest of Europe.

(In the invasion, French forces had to rely on telephone lines - easily cut - and messengers. The Germans, thanks to ITT and Bethe, had excellent radio communications. (Compounding that was a heirarchical mentality - one that plagues France to this day - that had the field units waiting for commands from above - a disaster in times of communication difficulties - while the German units were able to act more autonomously.))

(ITT has never been a company to shy away from a little blood if it means more profits, hence another September 11th, this one September 11, 1971, when Chilean President Salvador Allende had decided the resources of Chile should be for the people of Chile, and the Nixon administration set up a bloody and vicious coup, complete with a genuine concentration camp designed by a genuine Nazi, Walter Rauff, who found welcome under the new US-backed dictatorship. And that's why Henry Kissinger can't travel anymore, because if he leaves the US, there's a good chance he'll be arrested for crimes against humanity and sent to the Hague. But that's another story.)

The only thing missing for Hitler was a way to move ground troops in rapidly, and for that we turn to Ford.

Who's the only foriegner mentioned in Hitler's Mien Kampf? Henry Ford. Mr. Ford also received the Grand Order of the German Eagle, the Nazi's highest award for a foreigner, the same one given to Mussolini.

But then that soft-headed sentimentalist Franklin Roosevelt went and embargoed Ford's beloved Nazis.

No worries, Ford helped them get around that, continuing to supply vehicles to the extent that by 1942, fully of third of the Wermarcht's vehicles where, you guessed it, made by Ford.

(I was stunned to see Bill Ford narrating these commercials about his wonderful grandfather and "whoever the President was". Why not talk about how important his grandfather's support was to the rise of "whoever the Fuhrer was"?)

So when the Nazis swept Europe, France was actually the last opposition country on the mainland to be overrun, and it fell along with about 200,000 British expeditionary troops. In fact, but for a blunder by Hitler, the war was pretty much over right there.

It's true that the arrogant French military command failed, yet again. (In a system where communication from the top command was absolutely critical, the commanding general set up his headquarters in a castle that... wait for it... had no telephone communications.)

However, once the command strategies had failed utterly, the completely outmatched French soldiers in the path of the Blitzkrieg demonstrated outstanding courage, slowing the German advance on the trapped British, and ultimately saving the whole thing. The defense of Dunkirk, carried out by French forces, is among the greatest acts of military gallantry in history.

That said, let's not forget that... the whole thing happened over sixty years ago. Or that twenty years before that, at the end of WWI, the French had pleaded for a buffer zone to provide them some security against another attack by their larger neighbor.

Instead, they go the assurance that the US and Britain would provide for their military security.

Still, we can't let it go without noting that French military command has been an inept mess for the last century and half, during which France has been defeated in every major conflict, and the high command seems rigidly incapable of adapting or even learning anything from their mistakes. (What mistakes?)

They even spectacularly botched the sinking of a sailboat (a terrorist bombing of an unarmed sailboat in the undefended harbor of an ally, which the French blew up because they disagreed with the politics of Greenpeace... oh, but terrorism is wrong... and this in New Zealand, which twice sent soldiers to fight and die to bail out the French). The arrogance in French culture is all too often astounding.

But that doesn't mean individuals haven't been incredibly gallant and courageous. They have been.

OK, let's dial the time machine back to the present:

During the preparations for the 200th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase, Louisiana governor Mark Foster said it was difficult to invite Jaques Chirac after "what he did to our troops".

("Our troops" is what certain elected officials declare undying loyalty and admiration for... at least until it comes to diverting a little money from their tax breaks and crony-spending for a little armor for vehicles and bodies.)

So, what exactly did Chirac do to "our troops"?

A decorated and wounded combat veteran himself, he tried to keep them out of a senseless, unnecessary war, to keep them from maiming and killing, and from getting maimed and killed themselves.

For that we're supposed to hate him.

For how long?

Did Chirac say the US can go to hell? No. What he actually said was, Let's make sure those WMDs, the reason we're going to war, are actually there. He just said, Let's at least give the inspectors time to finish their work.

He, along with the rest of Europe and, well, the world, was shocked that Bush administration seemed so determined to go to war.

Mostly, like everyone sane, he wanted to exhaust all other avenues. France, he said, is not a pacifist country, but, "force should be the last resort."

It should be the last resort no matter how much you want to act tough, impress daddy, prance on aircraft carriers in a flight suit, etc.

Also, very importantly, French officials including Chirac said the French military would join the US immediately if those WMDs showed up. In fact, they started readying the equipment to go fight under those conditions.

It was Bush and Co. that threw the tantrums and were uncooperative. It wasn't France.

Most governments, most of the world, were stunned by the Bush administrations childish stubbornness and petulant determination to have a war, not to mention their benighted prediction that American forces would immediately be welcomed as liberators, and that oil would immediately flow without problems so profusely that it would actually pay off the costs of the war and occupation. The war would pay for itself!

Chirac was amongst those who candidly, without needing to read from a teleprompter, discussed the dangers and repercussions of the invasion.

His predictions turned out to be accurate; BushCo's turned out to be very wrong. So who do we blame?

(Most of the world was stunned, as well, that the US military planners did so much to assure the security of the oil facilities, but nothing about the WMD facilities that they were supposedly so concerned about, resulting in those those facilities being looted. We now have no idea where the materials, including the nuclear ones, disappeared to, significantly increasing the dangers of terrorism for everyone.)

So here's the confusing part to me: Everyone now knows that Bush et. al. were lying, that they've killed all these people, American and Other, for their politics and their greed (and continue to do so).

Everyone knows this now, but they're STILL mad at... *the French*. They're not mad at Bush.

And they're not just mad at Jacques Chirac, or even at the French government. They're mad at the French. All of them. Every man, woman and even child. They're mad for "what they did to our troops." That would be... trying to keep them out of a meaningless, pointless war that would dangerously destabilize the region and make the entire world view America with a sort of horror not seen since... since... since the US invaded and occupied another country halfway around the world 40 years ago.

I'm very much a critic of the French government, and the mortifying and moribund state of French society and culture (which seems as inflexible and as resistant to reassessment as the country's military culture), but not on this on this one. On this one, they got it right.

So, yes, I would like fries with that. French fries.

We'll leave the last word to Mr. Chirac:

"I think that the relationship between the French and the Americans, the human relationship, is a relationship of friendship. Of love even, I would say. But if I see my friend or somebody I dearly love going down the wrong path, then I owe it to him to warn him be careful…"


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