Friday, July 09, 2004

And How Do French Intellectuals Think? Deeply or Clearly?

Today is the birthday of Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), the electrical engineer and inventor who said that
The scientists from Franklin to Morse were clear thinkers and did not produce erroneous theories. The scientists of today think deeply instead of clearly. One must be sane to think clearly, but one can think deeply and be quite insane.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

It is Easy to March into the Streets, Burn Flags, and Throw Rocks in Protest When Your Country is Protected by the Strongest Military in the World

It is easy to march into the streets, burn flags, and throw rocks in protest when your country is protected by the strongest military in the world
writes a South Korean from Seoul.

While one Korean responds from Texas to the rage of a South Korean pacifist regarding Seoul's decision to back the American military in Iraq, another pens a long and thoughtful letter in the International Herald Tribune.

Although the main purpose of this weblog is anti-Americanism in France, it is my contention that anti-Americanism amounts to the same self-serving prattle, no matter what region of the globe it occurs in. Read E S Moon's letter and decide for yourself.

Ha-yun Jung's commentary Fighting America's wars (Views, July 1) underscores a pervasive anti-American sentiment that has gripped South Korea in recent years. While similar sentiments are seemingly sweeping the globe, it is curious that Korea, of all places, would be home to such fierce anti-Americanism.

America has been South Korea's strongest ally for the last half-century. When the author conveniently refers to the Vietnam War, she fails to mention the most relevant past conflict in the U.S.-Korea relationship: the Korean War. Any historical assessment of the U.S.-Korean relationship begins there — lest we forget the 44,000 American lives lost in the defense of the country. Moreover, when Ha-yun speaks of the freedoms and the economic prosperity that South Korea enjoys, she also fails to mention that much of these successes were predicated upon a strong and unwavering U.S. military presence.

Arguably, no other country has enjoyed more benefits from an alliance with America, and more importantly, as North Korea continues its relentless pursuit of more nuclear weapons, perhaps no other country faces more dire consequences from a reduced U.S. commitment than South Korea.

As Ha-yun correctly points out, the U.S.-Korea relationship is an unbalanced one. However, contrary to what she and many other Koreans argue, this imbalance is decidedly in Korea's favor, not America's. The fact is Korea has become a free rider. It is easy to march into the streets, burn flags and throw rocks in protest when your country is protected by the strongest military in the world.

The author ends her article by stating that “for once” Koreans should act upon their own “national interests.” One could not have stated a clearer policy objective from the American perspective. An assumption of unwavering American commitment to Korea has always been implicit in domestic discussions of Korean “national interests.” However, times are changing.

The United States needs reliable allies now more than ever — and, in particular, allies who reciprocate the kind of unwavering commitment that America has shown them. More to the point, the United States has never been more serious about acting firmly to secure its own “national interests” above all else. South Koreans should beware of what they wish for — they just might get it.

George Bush's Birthday is July 11
(He Will Be 1 Year Old)

This nation is peaceful, but
fierce when stirred to anger
George W Bush
Five days from now, George Bush will be celebrating his birthday. Some will protest and say, that's not true, the president's birthday is today, July 6. But we're not talking about the same person, apparently. And the George Bush I have in mind will hardly be doing much bona fide celebrating, actually, in view of the fact that next Sunday he turns 1 year old.
The George Bush I have in mind is not the one whose full name is George Walker Bush, nor the one whose full name is George Herbert Walker Bush, but the one whose full name is George Bush Abdul Kader Faris Abed El-Hussein (no relation to Saddam). And this George Bush was born in Baghdad on July 11, 2003.

As far as can be ascertained, George Bush’s parents named him in honor of some Western leader one of whose recent feats they found to be not only impressive and admirable, obviously, but worthy enough to name their new-born son after. They must have been plenty impressed, in view of the fact that they gave their child the name of someone not of their faith, with linguistic roots not of their culture. (Sort of like a Westerner — say, someone from the Bush clan — giving a newborn son a name such as Mohammed Ahmed Yusuf Bush.)

Now, here is what I suggest. I suggest that the West should send a number of representatives to Baghdad. The type of people that David Brooks calls “the members of the sneering brigade”, “the think-tank johnnies and the rest of the commentariate” in “their usual sky-is-falling mode” — people like José Bové, François Hollande, Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schröder, José Luis Zapatero, Jean-Marie Colombani, Plantu, Willem (to name only the Europeans), etc… They should choose a couple of high-visibility VIPs, “arm” them with all the usual arguments, and send them to Baghdad.

And there, they should seek out the parents of George Bush. Once the couple has been found, they should patiently explain the “truth” to them and seek thereby to install some common sense in them. That would include telling them…
• that the war was unnecessary and a sham, conducted for bogus reasons;
• that Iraq, and the world, were far better off before the conflict;
• that the presence of foreign soldiers is “humiliating” for George Bush and his fellow countrymen;
• that they must resent America (or at least, the Bush administration) for the current situation in which thousands have been killed over a period of more than a year (almost as many months as George Bush has been alive) and hark back to the previous situation in which the secret police killed several thousands per month with total impunity;
• that, in contrast to the administration of George Bush’s namesake, they, the holier-than-thou members of the peace camp, had (and have) nothing but the best interests of his parents in mind;
• oh, and, of course, that George Bush’s namesake is nothing but a nincompoop and a despicable liar.

Once the parents of George Bush have been converted to the sky-is-falling truth, the “the members of the sneering brigade” could go to work convincing more of Iraq’s population.
The members of “the commentariate” could start with Mohammed, Ali, and Omar, the brothers from Iraq the Model and expand outwards, to include the Iraqis who lost hands and tongues to Saddam’s thugs, had their faced scarred by acid, had their sisters, mothers, and daughters raped, and had their parents, brothers, and children shot down and their bodies thrown into unnamed graves. With luck, “the think-tank johnnies” would eventually reach that vast majority of people who in polls believe life has never been better since the war toppled Saddam and who say they feel more optimistic than they ever had in the past.

Let us join together and wish them “good luck and godspeed with your sacred mission”.

Oh, and by the way, Georgie: Happy birthday!

Zeropean menace La menace zéropéenne
Zeropa bends over for Iran. The overt obstructionist policies of France, the collaborationist pacifism of Continental Europe (which started with Spain), and the sclerosis of Zeropean non-institutions all mean that the United States has to avoid Europe like the plague. Message to Americans: not only are you all hated here, but if nothing is done soon this continent will be the death of you, literally.
La Zéropa se met à quatre pattes pour l'Iran. La politique d'obstructian systématique de la Fwance, le pacifisme collaborateur des autres pays sur le Vieux Continent (qui a débuté avec les espingouins), et le blocage des non-institutions zéropéennes font que les Etats-unis doivent se méfier de l'Europe comme de la peste. Message aux américains: non seulement vous êtes tous détestés ici, mais si rien n'est fait bientôt, ce continent sera à l'origine de votre mort collectif.

The French are playa-haters Les franchouilles détestent ceux qui en ont
Bush's recent NATO meeting. A win for George Bush. Chiraq's proposition is poppycock.
La récente réunion à l'OTAN avec George Bush. George Bush gagne la partie. La proposition de Chirak n'est qu'un ensemble de balivernes.

Dud firecracker Pétard mouillé
France threatens little brown people. Little brown people laugh back. French Defence Surrender Minister is brandishing some kind of pre-emptive nuclear threat. Sounds like exactly the same thing that the French hate Americans so much for.
France menace les petits basanés de ce monde. Les petits basanés de ce monde lui rient au nez. Ministresse Fwançaise de la Défense Capitulation agite une espèce de menace nucléaire préventive. Les franchouilles détestent les américains pour ce genre de comportement.

Monday, July 05, 2004

The late Marlon Brando Feu Marlon Brando
Le Monde Al Jazeera on the Seine explains how France's Internal Intelligence services have just realized that French suburbs are powder keg shitholes ready-to-blow. Tarik Ramadan to Chiraq: 'the butter halal chop meat is in the refrigerator'.
Le Monde Al Jazira sur Seine nous explique que les RG viennent de se rendre compte que les banlieues franchouilles sont des trous à merde prêts à exploser. Tarik Ramadan à Chirak: 'Passe-moi le beurre la viande halal'.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Some Thoughts on American Patriotism…

In France and around the world, July Fourth is a day like any other, i.e., one to complain, worry, moan, wail, and lament, not least over Uncle Sam’s misdeeds as well as the distressing state of patriotism among Americans. A good example of this was visible in a film review over two years ago. When Black Hawk Down opened in France, Le Monde's Samuel Blumenfeld let off a broadside, and, for good measure, fired a couple of shots at Behind Enemy Lines as well. Why? because the movies were badly filmed? No. Because the actors did a lousy job? No. Because the filmmakers took liberties with the truth? Hardly, since both were based on actual events (one showed a battle on the background of the Somalia famine and the other described the Serbs' mass graves in the former Yugoslavia).

No, the films were lambasted because they presented a “questionable ideology” and had “propaganda designs”. Of what type? You better sit down and hold on to your seat when you hear this: to give “a valorous image of the patriotism and the endurance of American soldiers”. Ohlala! Isn’t that shocking?!

The film reviewer went on to bemoan the fact that warlord Aideed's soldiers are shown as “sadistic, cheating, vicious […] the alter egos of the savage Germanic tribes […] in Gladiator, by the same Ridley Scott.” A director whom the critic castigates for leaving something out. Oh, what is that, pray tell? For not showing… “the ordinary racism of certain American soldiers or questioning the African policies of President Clinton”.

(Visibly, Blumenfeld has not been informed that part of the reason for the movie's existence was to criticize the Clinton administration’s policies in the 90s and that a notice explaining this at the end of the film was removed only because of the shock of September 11. Incidentally, it has never seemed to inconvenience the film critic much that films criticizing Paris's African policies, or Jacques Chirac in the manner of Fahrenheit 9/11, do not exactly abound in France. As to the hypothesis (which I happen to share, I don’t know why) that the two Hollywood movies present “a valorous image of the patriotism and the endurance of American soldiers” simply because… that happens to be the truth, let’s not get into that, shall we, I don’t think Blumenfeld would understand…)

In other words, American patriotism, in today's world, is so ridiculous, and so insidious, that even among the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II and even among the mass killings of a famished population, it is that treacherous danger which the world must fear and fight and denounce by any means available. The danger is so terrible that it eclipses the war crimes of Somali warlords and of Yugoslav butchers. Yes, you heard that right: That the militias in fact did machine gun the Somali crowds, what importance compared to the fact that a G.I. or two may have uttered racist words! At least the people shot dead by their own people did not suffer from any type of racism. What a relief!

Who cares about the Bosnia mass graves! Who cares about the Mogadishu massacres! Compared with the simple fact that Hollywood distributes films that might be called patriotic, and the terrible danger their content (along with that of McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, etc) represents, those atrocities evaporate into nothingness.

To leave the film world behind for the international stage per se, Le Monde once asked if one shouldn't "fear the implementation of a Pax Americana" in Yugoslavia. I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming when I read that! The reason I find this accusation extremely offensive is that, for four years, Yugoslavia was beset by war, with murders, killings, and rape, with hideous crimes, mass graves, and genocide. Finally, the international community put an end to it. But because the Americans were the ones who were paramount in this undertaking, the French abstain from calling the end of the tragedy a positive event. The Serbs are the worst criminals to stage a war in Europe since 1945, and for now, at least, their killing is over. But what danger do some Europeans fret about? That peace came under the orders of Uncle Sam…

Yankee Doodle Dandy

Ironic comments, tch-tching, scorn, and horselaughter are inevitably the reactions when discussing American patriotism in many parts of the world. After all, they claim, isn't Washington the source of the main troubles of the world for the past 60 years? If that is correct, then it can be only true that U.S. patriotism is little more than a dangerous trap or some kind of disease or superstition, from people who believe — how ridiculous they are! — in something not unrelated to witches and fairy tales.

As everyone here in Europe knows: any society which does not offer the type of guarantees, equality, and social protection that the European models do is not worth living in, or believing in, and any government that does not try to implement same is not worth keeping in power. And anybody, in turn, who might believe differently can only be under the spell of a smoke screen, which deserves only to be deplored, scorned, and mocked. So, America, with its “itch to fight” and its “excess of testosterone” which has “inflamed the country” (the French verb, enfiévrer [to make feverish], suggests a disease) can only be of an object of ridicule and scorn, as well as a danger without precedent.

Following 911, I expected French friends and acquaintances of mine who came back from visits to the U.S. to return with some sense of respect or admiration. Don’t kid yourselves! Many shared the same tone of exasperation and disbelief in their voices: How can one be so patriotic (that is, so superstitious)?

It was a rhetorical question, and some were surprised that I answered it. My answer was that I didn't know what they are talking about. What happens when one goes to the United States? One sees a lot of flags and… That's about it. Ain't that right? One does not see hysterical demonstrations walking down the avenues. One does not see signs reading “Down with the Taliban” or “Death to Iraq”. One does not hear the “cowboys” shout “Vive la guerre!” I have not seen many Americans set fire to Iraqi or Afghan (or Vietnamese) flags. I don't remember seeing any throw tomatoes or molotov cocktails on the Soviet or Chinese embassies.

When one points out that George W Bush has made a speech in an American mosque, or that he observed Ramadan, or that he spoke of a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan, the reaction is only horse laughter or scorn, because of course — of course! — it can only be a sham. (As it happens, it is not in America that mosques [or synagogues] are burnt down at alarming rates.)

In January 2002, the Council of American-Islamic Relations put the responsibility of eight murders on reactions to the events of September 11. The authorities could only confirm one of those, at the most two, as motivated by anti-Arab hatred. In any case, one is far from that fear (expressed in America as well as elsewhere) that Americans, as a people, would lump Muslims in general together with the terrorists (faire l’amalgame) and unleash a wave of terror against the Muslim population of their country. (Once more, the Europeans hold that without their precious advice, unthinking Americans could only act irresponsibly — how modest of them.)

We have seen many a time on this weblog that by simply doing a little digging, it appears that so-called humanistic activists (whether in the shape of intellectuals, groups, national leaders, or countries) are not as neutral, idealistic, and lucid as they seem to believe themselves, but present many an inconsistency, often more than the Americans they criticize. Thus it is with patriotism as well. In contrast to the irony expressed when dealing with American patriotism (and that of other Western countries), they seem often to lose all their marbles when confronted with the national pride of developing countries. They can only marvel when third-world countries (or, rather, their unelected leaders) evoke "national aspirations" and the construction and the future of their nations.

In the aftermath of 911, then, Americans unfurled the Stars and Stripes, voiced their support for the acting president, and pulled up their sleeves to go to work. Insofar as this character trait is supposed to provoke ridicule, I find it rather solemn and low key. And there is nothing new about this. In fact, the journalist Arthur Higbee, a Pacific War veteran, wrote in the International Herald Tribune that after Pearl Harbour, America's attitude was even more low key. “Very few people hung out flags, and nobody wore a flag lapelpin. No flag-waving was needed. The tone of the nation was one of grim determination. Recruiting offices were overflowing.”

“Grim determination” : there is a better description of patriotic America, today and in the past, than Dana Burde’s pacifist caricature which was praised by Le Monde (“the loud cries demanding war and vengeance, combined with media censorship, have almost drowned out the few voices of the left” [the only voices filled with reason and understanding, of course, you realize]) — a caricature which has been eagerly repeated day in and day out in the French media, in the European media, and in the Arab media for years.

But it is not only in wartime that American patriotism is low-key. While many countries favor solemn military parades on their national holidays, or at least a predominant role of the military, the Fourth of July is, above all things, a party. Oh, of course there is the flag ceremony, with a handful of military people present from each service — army, navy, air force, marines — but it’s above all a party, with barbecuing (hotdogs, burgers, spare ribs, etc), games, and fireworks.

And if the military — and veterans — have a special place at the festivities, whether on July Fourth or other holidays, they are only a piece of the puzzle which also includes bands, pompon girls, floats, ethnic pride groups, cowboys, Indians, and clowns — I’ve seen a parade where the marching soldiers were preceded, followed, and surrounded by dozens of clowns. (Try that on the Champs-Élysées, in Red Square, on at Tien An Men!)

As I write this — 4 juillet oblige — I am listening to the Jingle Cats sing The Star-Spangled Banner and Yankee Doodle Dandy. For some reason, I have trouble imagining a lucid Frenchman, a down-to-earth Russian, or a wise Chinese person setting their national anthems to cats’ meows. Non, their wailing takes other, less enjoyable, directions.

Wailing Europeans and other Uncle Sam detractors ought to make sure they keep their droning continuous and never-ending. Because, if instead of endlessly lamenting the distressing state of Americans’ patriotism, they were to shut up and try and study it a little more closely and a little more rationally, they might come to believe that Yankee patriotism is not so mystical, or frightening, or perilous, as is commonly believed. Then they would have less to wail about. Can you imagine that!? Wouldn't that be awful?!

As for me, for some reason, I prefer the laughter and the joy of the American spirit.

Happy Fourth of July, everybody!

(Lady Liberty Fireworks: Thanks to Bob Gurfield)

Lire la version francaise

How dare he!?

I lost a friend once because we disagreed about Gerhard Richter's paintings. I saw the 40 years of painting exhibit at MOMA and I thought it was a snooze fest. Apparently, it was simply not allowed to find the Great Richter's work dull, contrived, hollow, etc. I suffered the consequences — she and I haven't spoken for years.

I felt a mix of revulsion and vindication to-day when reading an interview with Richter that was reprinted in the Times. Richter's latest series of works ("War Cut") are about the Iraq war and — like his Baader-Meinhof tribute to post-war Germany's gang of miniature Hitlers, with paintings based on projected Photographs — his latest works involve a collage or, if I understand correctly, some kind of reproduction of newspaper articles on the canvas. Richter chose articles from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung dated March 20-21, the first two days of the Iraq war, which is supposed to be the subject of "War Cut" (neat title, no?) though you'd be forgiven for not understanding this from the images themselves. Richter says he chose this date because it's like another momentous date in modern history. Can you guess which one?
THORN-PRIKKER Why did you use The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung?

RICHTER Because I have been reading it for 40 years.

THORN-PRIKKER Why March 20 and 21, 2003?

RICHTER The outbreak of war is the date that people remember. Just like the start of Hitler's war on Sept. 1, 1939. On the other hand, it seems to me that March 20-21 didn't have an impact comparable to, say, Sept. 11, 2001.
I was disgusted by Richter's comparison but felt vindicated in having seen his work for what it is.

Oh, and Happy 4th of July everybody.