Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Yes, the American is our friend, by André Glucksmann

LE MONDE | 05.06.04 | 13h47  •  UPDATED 07.06.04 | 08h53

For better of for worse, the United States remains a democracy. The most exemplary of democracies, even.

Ten years ago, I regretted the German chancellor's absence at the Normandy ceremonies. I won't now deny my own pleasure, as much personal as philosophical.

Thank you to the soldiers who landed on June 6 1944, while the Resistance network in which my mother and my elder sisters worked was falling into Klaus Barbie's claws. Detention, torture, broken bodies sent we knew where never to return.

Thank you to the Americans, British, Canadians and Australians who saved the rest of my family. Thanks to those who allowed the French of to-day not to be forced to think Nazi or Stalinist. Thank you to those who broke the Atlantic wall and who helped us until the fall of Berlin.

Without D-Day, there would be no new Europe of six, 15, 25 or more. I have still within in me — a privilege of age — the cosmic, ecstatic joy that irrupted in my child's head when grown-ups uttered the word "liberation."

It wasn't until the middle 1970s that a president of the Federal Republic clearly and distinctly recognized that Germany, at the end of the Second World War, was not "invaded" but "liberated." It was so that the decisive difference between the two words could be apparent that strangers and members of my family died in Lyon, Omaha Beach, Stalingrad.

These days, we speak erroneously of "international legitimacy." The only real such international legitimacy was inaugurated on the beaches of Normandy. If the UN, despite its slovenly aspects, does not entirely resemble the unhappy League of Nations, this is because its creators in San Francisco swore that Japan and Germany would neither be conquered nor colonized but simply and purely liberated from fascism. Whence come two principles that, while tacitly supporting the United Nations Charter, determine its inevitable ambiguities and contradictions.

1. The right of peoples to be liberated;

2. The self-limitation of the rights of the victor, who is both forbidden from conquest and the introducer of democracy.

The right of peoples to be freed from extreme despotism — the right to D-Day — takes precedence over the secular principle of sovereignty. In light of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the experience of totalitarianism, the right of peoples to determine their own fates must neither guarantee nor imply the right of governments to determine the fate of their peoples.

The Normandy landings are at the basis of the recent interventions in Kosovo, Afghanistan and in Iraq, even without the Security Council's backing. This is for a decisive reason: the inaugural legitimacy that presided over the formation of the United Nations outranks the commonplace jurisprudence of the institutions that emerged from this founding legitimacy. Insofar as, on the occasion of tenth anniversary of the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda, the memory of ghastly fiascos in UN management can escape no one — and certainly not Kofi Annan, who vainly preaches the urgent need for a radical reform of international institutions and legislation.

Can the United States still claim the right of intervention, itself baptized in the blood spilled to liberate Europe? Yes. Despite the recent outrages committed in the Iraqi prisons, themselves morally insufferable, politically counter-productive and strategically absurd and for which they bear full responsibility? Yes.

For better of for worse, the United States remains a democracy. The most exemplary of democracies, even. The only one to my knowledge that has not censored during war time the publication of the crimes committed by its soldiers. The only one in which the press and television revealed in the space of a few weeks the scale of the brutality and freely examined the ins and outs of the accomplished disaster. The only one in which the parliamentary fact-finding bodies require the testimony of a president, ministers, generals, heads of intelligence agencies, questioning them without exceptions or restrictions.

I recall that France, so generous in giving lessons, has never in forty years indicted, tried or sentenced a single soldier who practiced torture during the war of Algeria.

It was in the year 2000 that the so-called "events" (1954-1961) were officially designated a "war" by parliament.

It was fifty years after the fires were extinguished that the French president recognized what the Republic was responsible for between 1940 and 1945.

And it is to-day, ten years after the fact, that, unlike Belgium, the UN and Washington, our country, both right and left, refuses to issue any apology to the Tutsis, victims of genocide.

Here are such things that elevate us French to moral heights inaccessible to the roughneck Yankees beset with an insolent press, a questioning Senate and leaders required to open their files and to explain themselves in the present.

Elsewhere, listen to the difference. Omertà rules. April 2004. The first video tape: systematic torture, eyes gouged out, limbs torn off suspected combatants, a pyramid of bodies. Second video tape: the cold-blooded execution of a mother and her five children (from 12 months to seven years old) in the outskirts of Shatoy (Chechnya). Two accounts filmed by Russian soldiers disgusted by the high deeds of their brothers in arms. A single Moscow newspaper, Novaya Gazeta publishes the photos. No waves. Radio silence. TV silence. Prosecutorial silence. Not a word from the military and political hierarchies. Global silence. Bush is greeted under protest. Putin as a brother.

Still, alone to this day, the American citizen dares to face, try and genuinely punish the infamies committed in his name. America is not peopled by angels but she remains the prime land of human rights because, more than the others, she has acquired the means to shed light on, and therefore to halt, such violations. Human rights measure our ability to resist the inhuman, the evil that faces us like a devil and that each of us carries within him.

André Glucksmann is a philosopher.



StinKerr said...

Woohoo, finally someone in France who "gets it". Let's hope that this is read and seriously considered by everyone.

I will refrain from adding any other truths which could be considered France bashing. He hits the high points.

Douglas said...

See some of Glucksmann's other essays, most translated by me, I believe:

here, here, here, here, here and here.

Anonymous said...

Mouais c'est pas faux.
La France donne beaucoup de lecon et n'est pas capable d'appliquer ses pincipes sur son territoire. Preuve en est les remarques faites a l'autriche , et 4mois apres les elections presidentielles FR decrédibilisaient la France.

La fin d'article est un peu simpliste quand meme

sgvn said...

Un article excellent et courageux dans une France antiaméricaniste . Putine faisait partie du " camp de la paix " contre la guerre d'Irak ,si l'on croit aux medias français .

Anonymous said...

It is important that articles like this get translated and made available to an American audience. Otherwise it would seem to us as if the French intellectual class universally despised the US (and by extension Americans).

Douglas said...

Well, welcome to our blogs, anonymous.