Some Random European (mostly French) Thoughts

September 5, 2004 | 53 comments
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Let me start by saying that in spite of the fact that I talk about politics in this post, it isn’t really a political post. It is just a set of observations with no particular conclusion intended.

A week and a few days ago, I returned from a trip to Europe, mostly in France. I was at a conference center in a chateau in Normandy, Cerisy-la-salle. The conference was good; its only drawback, for me, was that it was an interdisciplinary conference. I think my presentation and the discussion afterward went well, especially considering the fact that my French is, to put it mildly, barbarous. Contrary to popular mythology, people were not rude about the state of my French. They worked hard to understand me and gave me the benefit of the doubt. I was the only person there for whom English was the mother tongue.

I was in France during the 60th anniversaries of the D-Day landings and the liberation of Paris, and I was touched by how many American flags and other recognitions of the US that I saw, both in Paris and in Normandy. I think every village in Normandy was flying an American flag, not just those where one might expect tourists. Just outside the entrance to Cerisy-la-salle is a large monument to seven Allied airmen killed in a plane crash at the site. Not only were the national flags of each airman flying at it, there were fresh flowers each day. On my visit to Point du Hoc, where American rangers lost 160 of 250 men taking a German artillery site on D-Day in an exercise that was more-or-less futile because the guns had been removed before they arrived, most of the large number of visitors were Europeans, and most of the Europeans were French. They were there to honor the sacrifice of those Rangers, and I heard more than one parent explaining that sacrifice to children. The country road that goes near Cerisy is called “Voie de Liberté� because it is the route that Allied forces took as they came inland. Time explains why, but we don’t have the same remembrance for the great aid that the French were to us at the Revolution. Perhaps we ought to be more explicitly grateful for their help, even hundreds of years later.

In contrast, though no one was hostile to me personally as an American, I met no one in France, the Netherlands, or Belgium, who wasn’t hostile to current American policy and, in particular, to President Bush—even those who supported our incursion into Iraq, such as Dutch people who support keeping their troops there, are deeply angry about the way we have done things. And the anger wasn’t confined only to the intellectuals. I found it among shopkeepers as well. Because of those feelings, it was almost impossible to talk with Europeans about the issues. Though I’m not a Bush supporter, I frequently found myself defending him against sincerely held, but in my opinion outrageous charges, such as those implied by Michael Moore.

For a very interesting take on French foreign policy, see this article in the Jerusalem Post

Though I already think French food is fantastic, I was surprised by just how good the meats, sauces, cheeses, and desserts were at Cerisy. This was farm food, the French version of meat and potatoes, and the vegetables were slightly overcooked. The historical connection between the English and the Normans can be seen in those overcooked vegetables. Even with my expectations that the food would be good, I was amazed by how good everything else was. I wanted to take the sauce bowl and drink from it, and I spent time in the evenings plotting ways to smuggle Normandy cheeses into the US. (Never fear, I only plotted. I didn’t actually try. It was only a food-lover’s fantasizing.)

In the Netherlands and Belgium, fresh mussel season had just begun, so I “forced� myself to eat them several times. I don’t understand the general American antipathy to mussels, but I’ve never eaten them in the US. Perhaps American mussels are different than European ones. In any case, I loved them, whether with garlic sauce, wine sauce, or mustard sauce.

And I also forced myself to have a little chocolate now and then. That exercise in self-discipline meant buying several kilos of Valrhona chocolate in Paris (for cooking) and three boxes of handmade chocolates in Leuven, Belgium (for eating straight). By the way, and to come full circle, the chocolatier in Leuven was one of those for whom I found myself answering questions about US foreign policy. He was polite, politically conservative, and befuddled by us.

Finally, at the conference I saw several short films by an Israeli film-maker of German descent who now lives in Paris, Nurith Aviv. One, “Vaters Land — Perte,� was on the loss to German culture resulting from the annihilation of the Jews. The second, “Langue maternelle,� featured a number of Israelis, both Jews and Palestinians, and had them discussing what their mother tongue is and why. In spite of the boring way I’ve described it, it was a thoroughly engrossing film. The final one, “Circoncision,� I found less interesting: interviews with parents—Jews, Muslims, Christians, atheists—about why they decided to have or not to have their boys circumcised. If Aviv’s films should get to a theater where you can see them, I recommend them, especially the first two.

53 Responses to Some Random European (mostly French) Thoughts

  1. Karen on September 6, 2004 at 12:12 am

    Jim, thanks for your thoughts. You made me a bit homesick. I spent several months last year working for an international organization in the Hague, living and working with a wide variety of European, Canadians, and US citizens. I got much of the same reaction–the Europeans did a great job of distinguishing between American people and American government. They were always very gracious to me, but completely against and confused by the Bush administration. It was very interesting to listen to their opinions, and see where I agreed, and see where I felt the need to defend US foreign policy.

    Oh, and the food was divine! You have a fellow mussels fan here! ( I even accidentally ordered raw oysters in France and actually enjoyed them….but made it pretty clear how horrendous my French is…)

    Thanks for an enjoyable post!

  2. Jim F. on September 6, 2004 at 12:34 am

    Karen, everyone should try raw oysters at least once. If people can get past the texture, which initially is a little off-putting, I think most will find them very good. Some have a habit of drowning them in something such as hot sauce, I assume in order to mask the flavor. But the flavor doesn’t need any masking, or if it does, why bother. Just eat something else. Eat ‘em straight, folks!

  3. john fowles on September 6, 2004 at 12:57 am

    In contrast, though no one was hostile to me personally as an American, I met no one in France, the Netherlands, or Belgium, who wasn’t hostile to current American policy and, in particular, to President Bush—even those who supported our incursion into Iraq, such as Dutch people who support keeping their troops there, are deeply angry about the way we have done things.

    On this point of European resentment to American possession and use of power, I wonder if you have read Robert Kagan’s book Of Paradise and Power (2003), or even his series of articles in the Washington Post on the topic, and if so, what you think of it. He bases his analysis on a Hobbesian, Kantian dichotomy between American and European worldviews, as well as on the pragmatic fact that America has military power and Europe does not.

  4. Jim F. on September 6, 2004 at 1:09 am

    I haven’t read Kagan–too little time; too much philosophy to read–but I have heard about his claims and I’m not convinced (though, of course, I might be if I actually read him). Such explanations might explain some or a large part of intellectual antipathy to America, but I don’t think they explain the antipathy of more ordinary people, including people who would count as politically conservative in the U.S.

  5. john fowles on September 6, 2004 at 1:47 am

    I find Kagan’s theory to be really very good. Sure it paints with a broad brush, but at least it points out that Europe can only have the social market economies that it now so arrogantly parades in front of the US with the purpose of proving our own barbarity to us because of the fact that America spent 45 years buying bombers and tanks so that Europe could buy social systems instead.

    I would add that after the Cold War, far from being grateful at America’s long-sustained effort in preventing the Soviet Union from marching into Western Europe (which it very much wanted to do and most definitely would have done absent America’s intervention and interest in stopping the spread of a communist ideology antithetical to the most basic freedoms of human existence), ordinary people in Western Europe looked at the US military build up and said, “what in the world do they need such a large military for,” as if they insanely forgot in such a short time that the reason for our huge military was to protect their well-being. Then, after they noticed we had a large military but no real enemy (this was a fallacy because the reason there was no real enemy anymore was precisely because of our large military), they raised the anti-American, empire building rhetoric to a much higher notch, basically resentful that America has power and influence and they do not. I think that the ordinary, even conservative, citizens in Europe are just as prone to this short-sightedness as the intellectuals that you admitted might be affected by it.

  6. Clark Goble on September 6, 2004 at 2:25 am

    I can’t speak to whether Kagan is actually right, but it does seem to me that his model would end up with common people being if anything more antagonistic to the US than the leaders. After all the leaders are left with the pragmatic necessity of dealing with the US which the masses don’t really have to do that. Further the masses can become a tool by various leaders in which the US is made the target for their fears.

  7. John H on September 6, 2004 at 2:43 am

    Great post, Jim. Of course, now I’m hungry. I wonder if I can get some Freedom Fries…

    It’s a shame Europeans have been so demonized by some Americans lately. I’m grateful they still appreciate the sacrifices of Americans 60 years ago, without letting today’s differences of opinion taint their outlook. I’m always uncomfortable with jokes that portray Americans as saving France’s hide in WWII – it’s insulting to their very real sacrifices, as well as our own.

  8. Jim F. on September 6, 2004 at 2:52 am

    Far from being grateful at America’s long-sustained effort in preventing the Soviet Union from marching into Western Europe [. . .] ordinary people in Western Europe looked at the US military build up and said, “what in the world do they need such a large military for,� as if they insanely forgot in such a short time that the reason for our huge military was to protect their well-being.

    I’ve lived in Europe for five years and spent a good part of every summer there for almost twenty, and this seems false to me. As I noted in the post, my experience is that whatever their sentiments about current policies, very few ordinary western Europeans are ungrateful for what we did in World War II nor are they incognizant of the fact that American armies kept western Europe free during the Cold War.

    In addition, it seems short-sighted to say that our military remained in Europe to protect European well-being. It remained there so that if there were a war with the Soviet Union, the conventional part of that war would be fought in Europe rather than in the U.S. Of course we protected their well-being, but our doing so wasn’t merely an act of spontaneous generosity. It was part of the calculation of our own self-defense. That doesn’t make having a military presence in Europe wrong nor does it mean that Europeans shouldn’t be glad that we did. It just means that our motives weren’t as altruistic as you paint them.

  9. Jim F. on September 6, 2004 at 3:00 am

    John H: We often overlook the sacrifices made by the Europeans themselves. For example, we make light of the liberation of Paris, but 5,000 people, many of them civilians, died in the uprising that happened just before the liberation. And, of course, that does not count those who were the causalties of war, killed by armies on both sides. Even more often we overlook the contribution that the Red Army made to the defeat of Hitler. Without it, our war might have failed, and vice-versa.

  10. Nathan Tolman on September 6, 2004 at 3:23 am

    A question Jim:

    Quite a few Americans are worried about anti-Americanism in Europe. Are there any Europeans that you talked to, especially among the French, who are worried about anti- European or anti-French feelings in America?

    On oysters and mussels:

    Having tried many strange things on my mission, I lost any inhibitions about strange food quite a while ago. Raw oysters are great! I too do not understand the American apathy toward mussels since they are one of the most meaty shellfish in the shell to meat ratio, and are especially good prepared in the European way described above, or in various Asian preparations.

    On Europe:

    Just so I can get this out of my system, I might be strange, but I don’t see the draw of the content. I do not harbor any great desires to go there, but I can quickly name five or ten places in Asia where I would love to go. Perhaps this is no surprise. France definitely is low on my priority list because I have heard a first hand telling of a bad French experience for every good one people told me (like one of my Profs who’s French was probably as good as Jim’s but people refused to talk or respond to him, so he had to rely on his Palestinian wife speaking Arabic with the Algerians in Paris to get around). Although I have studied French history, I have little little feeling of similarity with them. Again, this perhaps is no surprise because I have never really had a French acquaintance, although I have had a few Danes and Germans who I have really enjoyed being around.

    This being said, I think one of the lest appreciated aspects of Bush’s foreign policy is a move away from a Euro-centric diplomatic strategy (not that it is entirely done for). Islamabad and Amman seem just as important, if not more so than Paris. Beijing, Seoul, and Tokyo get more attention (especially Tokyo) than Berlin. Part of this has to do with the nature of the threats to the US and part is the increased viability of non-European powers that was not as apparent twenty or even ten years ago. I wonder if the Europeans, or at least European leaders, feel stung by this turn of events.

    On differentiating the US government and people in Europe:

    I was in China for our last two incidents between our two countries, the bombing of their Yugoslav embassy and the Spy plane crash. I found their attitudes similar to what Jim described in Europe, except, cut off from just about everything except state run media, they were curious about the US, and perhaps listened more to my explanations, not spouting Michael Mooreish replies, even if they disagreed. In fact I have many funny stories about these experiences that I perhaps will post later, because this is getting too long.

  11. Marc D. on September 6, 2004 at 5:26 am

    As a Belgian guy I would like to say that most of the people over here are anti-Bush not anti-America. Everybody loved Clinton because he was a good communicator and was striving for peace. When Bush was elected we were just wondering when the war would start.
    I understand he wants to start nuclear testing again. I read a study which says that more Americans have been killed by the fallout of nuclear testing than any war they have participated in.
    I understand that the American media manipulates their people a lot. I remember that CNN showed celebrating Palestineans after 9/11. Those were images of the year before and had nothing to do with 9/11.
    Anyway, I have American friends but I never talk politics with them and if you visit Europe it’s probably better to enjoy the food and not bother about politics as long as Bush is in charge.

  12. Wilfried D. on September 6, 2004 at 9:08 am

    Here is another Belgian commenting. The feelings that permeate cross-cultural and international perceptions seem mainly due to the impact of the media. News and related comments shape our viewpoints. But one main difference between Europeans and Americans (in a broad view of the overall population, and I realize this is a generalization) seems to be the amount and depth of news and comments that the population gets. Living part of the year in Utah and part of the year in Belgium (where we have 25 TV channels with all main stations from various countries), I cannot but notice the difference in media-information: European channels will give hours and hours of reports, analysis, comments, discussions pro and contra. Images are not sanatized like in the U.S. Perhaps that explains the anti-Bush attitude of so many Europeans who overall seem more keenly aware of the horrors of war, of facts and figures, of the need for international negotiation and consensus, of respect for allies, of that combination of strength and wisdom… But, I agree, even here the bottom-line is polarization.

  13. obi-wan on September 6, 2004 at 10:07 am

    Jim — Before your next trip abroad, you may want to get one of these American traveler apology t-shirts to simplify your discussions about Bush policy (or the lack thereof).

  14. danithew on September 6, 2004 at 10:12 am

    Nice post Jim! I appreciated that link to the Jerusalem Post article, which was quite illuminating in its discussion of attitude vs. policy.

  15. john fowles on September 6, 2004 at 11:18 am

    Marc D., your comment was a perfect example of how your own media is distorting things for you. The list of conspiracy theories in your short comment was already long enough to discount altogether. With a typical French attitude, you side with the Palestinians, claiming that they did not celebrate on 9/11. Please back that up with some source.

    As for your anti-Bush arrogance–why? Is it because he is a religious man? (This seems to me to be one of the main reasons that many Europeans hate him passionately.) Why were you just wondering when the war would start as soon as he got elected? Don’t you realize that Clinton had drawn up plans to invade Iraq long before Bush was on the international political scene?

    What I read from your comment is that you are not only anti-Bush, but also anti-American. It might be true that you are not anti-individual-American, but your presumptions are definitely anti-American, even if you don’t realize it yourself. It is apparent that you think that America is a war-mongering country (see your comment on nuclear testing) and that you subscribe to conspiracy theories about the terrible US government and everything they do.

    Wifried D., your comment is much more objective and reflects less ingrained anti-Americanism (which surprises me, coming from a Belgian–from my estimation one of Europe’s most anti-American countries). You do overlook the bias of your own media, though. I actually prefer much of European media to US media, but America has numerous around-the-clock news networks, not just CNN, and we regard our media as quite open and not plugging for the government, as seems to be a latent assumption of both yours and Marc’s comments. Human decency (and the desires of a majority of Americans, I like to think) influences the network’s decision to “sanitize” (a very loaded word for you to choose, don’t you think?) images of mangled US soldiers from the war. Anyway, I read several European newspapers everyday, including FAZ and Le Monde, two papers that are not known principally for their anti-Americanism, but I am still shocked with some of the assumptions that underlie much of the reporting there and the almost sub-conscious anti-Americanism that permeates almost every article.

    I have also lived in Europe and spent much time there when not living there and one of the things that has impressed me while there is that the people genuinely look at the US as something more sinister than the Soviet Union. This is incomprehensible and stems from two things in my estimation: (1) the distortions of European media that seeks to demonize the US government at any opportunity (far from being objective); and (2) Europe’s generally accepted socialism which views America’s free market system as cutthroat and barbaric (Raubtier Kapitalismus).

    Jim: I don’t understand why the fact that America also had a great interest in protecting Western Europe from the USSR makes the US sacrifice any less generous or genuine or deserving of gratitude from every ordinary European who literally owes his or her current freedom to the US expenditures on military during the period. The result was that when the cold war ended, we had a huge military and became the sole super power. Now we are criticized for it. I guess your studies of philosophy are creeping into your observations on this point–in an almost Kantian way you seem to be saying that since the US had great interest or inclination to do this for Western Europe, it wasn’t truly moral.

    Nathan: I think you are correct in thinking that much European animosity stems from their growing irrelevance in US foreign policy in macro. It indeed aggravates France, for example, that Eastern European countries are becoming just as important or more to US strategic policy than Paris; in fact, you will remember that Chirac had an arrogant and imperialistic message for those Eastern European countries that sided with the US in the Iraq war, calling them poorly brought up and saying they should have kept their mouths shut if they want to be members of the EU. I think the term the arrogance of incompetency expresses this attitude nicely.

  16. Chris Grant on September 6, 2004 at 11:45 am

    Marc D. wrote: “I read a study which says that more Americans have been killed by the fallout of nuclear testing than any war they have participated in.”

    Number of American deaths the IEER attributes to fallout from nuclear testing: 17,000
    Number of American deaths in WWII: 407,316

    “I remember that CNN showed celebrating Palestineans after 9/11. Those were images of the year before and had nothing to do with 9/11.

    Snopes.com, a leading debunker of urban legends, disagrees.

  17. Chris Grant on September 6, 2004 at 11:52 am

    Obi-wan wrote: “Jim – Before your next trip abroad, you may want to get one of these American traveler apology t-shirts to simplify your discussions about Bush policy (or the lack thereof).”

    Perhaps “my president’s an idiot” could have a footnote to Matthew 5:22.

  18. Marc D. on September 6, 2004 at 11:57 am

    John,

    You wrote:

    Marc D., your comment was a perfect example of how your own media is distorting things for you. The list of conspiracy theories in your short comment was already long enough to discount altogether.

    Which theories are you talking about, John. I don’t see any in my comments?

    With a typical French attitude, you side with the Palestinians, claiming that they did not celebrate on 9/11. Please back that up with some source.
    Belgium is not part of France by the way and the source is CNN itself. They later apologized for the wrong information they gave.

    As for your anti-Bush arrogance–why? Is it because he is a religious man? (This seems to me to be one of the main reasons that many Europeans hate him passionately.) First, I don’t hate Bush, I just don’t like his foreign policy and since I’m a Mormon why would I be against a religious man?
    I mentioned the nuclear testing because fear is not a good advisor and Clinton had made a lot of progress in stopping the building of nuclear weapons in the world.
    Maybe you understand now why I said I did not like to discuss politics with my American friends and I don’t feel like continuing now either. I rest my case.

  19. obi-wan on September 6, 2004 at 12:16 pm

    Perhaps “my president’s an idiot� could have a footnote to Matthew 5:22.

    Perhaps Chris Grant’s comment could have a footnote to Alma 13:20.

  20. Chris Grant on September 6, 2004 at 12:22 pm

    Jim F. wrote: “very few ordinary western Europeans are ungrateful for what we did in World War II”

    Many of the western Europeans among whom I served my mission didn’t seem to appreciate having their population centers fire-bombed by the Allies. Or did West Germany not count as western Europe?

    “[The American military] remained [in Europe] so that if there were a war with the Soviet Union, the conventional part of that war would be fought in Europe rather than in the U.S.”

    Really? How did the presence of U.S. troops in Europe prevent the Soviets from launching a conventional assault on the United States?

    “we make light of the liberation of Paris, but 5,000 people, many of them civilians, died in the uprising that happened just before the liberation.”

    The BBC says 1,600.

  21. Chris Grant on September 6, 2004 at 12:25 pm

    Obi-wan wrote: “Perhaps Chris Grant’s comment could have a footnote to Alma 13:20.”

    Hmm. Does this mean that you don’t think Matthew 5:22 has anything to say about calling President Bush an idiot?

  22. Nathan Tolman on September 6, 2004 at 12:41 pm

    Mark D.

    Everybody loved Clinton because he was a good communicator and was striving for peace.

    Clinton strove for peace in Bosnia and Kosovo? For every shot of a dead Iraqi, I am sure the Serbs can give you one too. Perhaps these were wars that Europeans agreed with, and thus Clinton gets a pass. Indeed, the European, from what I understand, were overflowing with compassion for the Bosnian Muslims (understandably so), but yet felt no such compassion (and similar call to arms) for the Iraqi people who were victimized by the Saddam regime. Perhaps now you know why some Americans seem to disregard European concerns. Must we bow to Europe, with its self proclaimed superiority and “wisdom,” when we act in the world?

    Europeans hate Bush, just like Regan, because he is a republican. Also, he is from Texas and speaks with an accent. He is not part of an accepted Euro-centric elite like Kerry is.

    On the Palestinians celebrating: I saw footage not long after 9/11 of Palestinians carrying placards with Osama Bin Lauden’s and Arafat’s image. Were they faking that?

    Wilfried D.:

    Thank you for a thoughtful response. I think you have more channels in Europe because you are surrounded with many different countries, each with a few news channels, and that Europeans generally are polyglots and can understand foreign language news. As far as the Analysis goes, the major cable news stations in the US offer the kind of analysis you are talking about. I find myself watching CNN, Fox, and MSNBC.

    I think the European “need for international negotiation and consensus, of respect for allies, of that combination of strength and wisdom” comes more from the European experience than from the media. After WWII the Europeans have set up a system that resolves conflicts through the very means you describe, and would to God that the whole world would be like this, but they are not. Plus, I have seen the French and Germans have little, if any respect for US or the countries that have sided with us. Should not respect be a two way street, insinuating comments about “strength and wisdom” aside?

  23. Nathan Tolman on September 6, 2004 at 12:50 pm

    Many of the western Europeans among whom I served my mission didn’t seem to appreciate having their population centers fire-bombed by the Allies. Or did West Germany not count as western Europe?

    The Chinese never seem to mind we nuked Japan, but the Japanese have developed a whole victim historiography about the incident (which I understand, who would think they desrved to be nuked?). One of my friends wrote his thesis on it, and it was a good read.

  24. john fowles on September 6, 2004 at 1:57 pm

    Marc D. wrote, Which theories are you talking about, John. I don’t see any in my comments?

    Marc, that is my very point–you can’t see them, but they underlie every aspect of your analysis. Everything you said simply takes for granted that the US is engaging in empire building or is imperialist in design and nature. That is something that has been fed to you for decades by a European press bitter that American foreign policy matters in the world whereas the foreign policy agendas of individual European countries is negligible in the effect it has (hence the propriety of the EU and the attempts to create a unified foreign policy voice for that body).

    Belgium is not part of France by the way and the source is CNN itself. They later apologized for the wrong information they gave.

    (1) The fact that Belgium is not part of France is completely irrelevant to my pointing out that underlying your assumptions is a “French” attitude that the Israelis are oppressors, the Palestinians victims, and the suicide bombers justified. Once again, behind your comment was an arrogant assumption that I, as an American, do not know the difference between Belgium and France. I know more than would make you comfortable to know, but suffice it to say that I can at least recognize the anti-Americanism in both of them.

    (2) If CNN apologized for airing some faulty footage by mistake, that does not mean that the Palestinians did not demonstrate in support of the 9/11 tragedy in the US (in support of Osama, that is, and his ability to strike the US in the name of Islam). Your comment reveals the exact type of misunderstanding about the US that I assume you accuse Americans of in relation to Europe. In this case, it reveals that you somehow think that CNN is working together with the US government to arrange a cover-up or to mislead the American people in some way. This is inaccurate (a) because there is no such tie; in fact, CNN is known to be a liberal news outlet that is highly critical of Bush policy (despite its claims to objectivity); and (b) your basic assumption is that the US government is shadowy and is trying to cover things up and mislead people.

    Maybe you understand now why I said I did not like to discuss politics with my American friends and I don’t feel like continuing now either. I rest my case.

    I have many European friends and for those who are informed, discussing politics is not such a huge problem, even if we totally disagree on the substance. Anyway, I’m sorry, but this must be said: perhaps the reason you have difficulty discussing politics with Americans is that in some things you are simply wrong or misinformed and you refuse to consider that possibility, putting utmost faith in the picture of America that your media is feeding you. You will undoubtedly take offense that I suggest you might be wrong in some of your positions, but that does not change the objective fact that it is a possibility. (People tell me I am wrong all the time, but I still keep coming back to discuss things, and I have learned a lot from the give-and-take.)

  25. Chris Grant on September 6, 2004 at 2:04 pm

    Marc D. wrote: “the source is CNN itself. They later apologized for the wrong information they gave.”

    No, they didn’t. Follow this link.

  26. David on September 6, 2004 at 2:19 pm

    I voted for President Bush, and will not do so again, largely, but not entirely, for foreign policy reasons.

    I disagree with, and regret the anti-European (particularly anti-French) views expressed herein.

    Chris, you are right, using the word “idiot” may be too loaded a term for a T-shirt, although it is not on the list of proscribed words in Matthew 5:22. I assume that if Senator Kerry wins, you will not wear that T-shirt overseas.

    I hope posters will bear the sermon on the mount in mind in ascribing motivations and intellectual abilities to those who disagree with the President (like me) or those who agree with him (like most other U.S. Latter-day Saints).

  27. john fowles on September 6, 2004 at 2:27 pm

    Chris, maybe Marc D.’s own supposedly critical media somehow failed to report that follow-up clarification that the video was not falsified and that it was shot by a Reuters crew and sold, not only to CNN, but also to other news distributors around the world. Despite the patent falsity of the accusation that CNN aired decade-old footage of Palestinians rejoicing about the 9/11 attacks, Marc D. continues to believe it and to bring it up in conversations with Americans about politics. This is exactly what I am talking about when I say the fact that he is misinformed might be having a huge effect on the contentiousness of his political discussions with Americans.

  28. obi-wan on September 6, 2004 at 7:01 pm

    Hmm. Does this mean that you don’t think Matthew 5:22 has anything to say about calling President Bush an idiot?

    John Welch has discussed in some detail how this passage from the Sermon on the Mount/Sermon at the Temple references evil-speaking of the Lord’s anointed.

    Admittedly, George Bush frequently appears to think he is the Lord’s Anointed, but I don’t believe the rest of us are responsible for humoring those particular chemical imbalances.

  29. Chris Grant on September 6, 2004 at 10:19 pm

    Obi-wan wrote: “John Welch has discussed in some detail how this passage from the Sermon on the Mount/Sermon at the Temple references evil-speaking of the Lord’s anointed. Admittedly, George Bush frequently appears to think he is the Lord’s Anointed, but I don’t believe the rest of us are responsible for humoring those particular chemical imbalances.”

    What Welch actually says is: “In effect, [Matthew 5:22] prohibits all manner of evil or unholy speaking against any brother, and thus all the more so against the Lord’s anointed leaders.” Are you maintaing that President Bush doesn’t qualify as “any brother”?

  30. Chris Grant on September 6, 2004 at 10:37 pm

    In commenting on Matthew 5:22, Daniel H. Ludlow said: “The word Raca has several possible definitions, but all of them suggest derision or contempt. ‘Idiot’ would be a close equivalent. . . . the Savior is telling us not to call other people by such derogatory titles.”

  31. John H on September 6, 2004 at 11:41 pm

    Well, this was a really great thread that went to hell in a hurry. Nice try anyway, Jim :) Now if I could just work in something about Church leaders and Hitler…

  32. Jim F. on September 6, 2004 at 11:58 pm

    I’m heartily sorry for providing an opportunity for some of these rants. It seems to me that too many of us prefer the divisions of politics over the unity of the Gospel. With Marc D., I withdraw from this non-conversation.

  33. Kaimi on September 7, 2004 at 12:17 am

    Jim,

    Let’s open up a new thread of discussion here, getting to the really important stuff. You write:

    “Though I already think French food is fantastic, I was surprised by just how good the meats, sauces, cheeses, and desserts were at Cerisy.”

    I’m not a cheese expert, though I like to pretend that I know more than I actually do. Let’s give some details. Were you eating Roquefort? Camembert? Comte? (Too far north for Comte?) Brie?

    My cheese book mentions a Norman cheese called Livarot which is supposed to be quite good. Did you try it? (And did you like it?) What should I be looking for next time I hit Zabar’s?

    I think that we can all agree that details about a good camembert or roquefort are far more interesting than anything one might discuss about foreign policy.

  34. john fowles on September 7, 2004 at 12:30 am

    Jim F.: I sincerely apologize for hijacking your great thread. I actually am in favor of Gospel unity, and I am also in favor of taking responsibility for one’s actions, so I should be the one to withdraw, not you, since I brought the contention into this topic. I am sorry, and of course, I am humbled because it was not my intention to kill a thread. Additionally, I should just trust in your greater experience with Europe on this issue. Please do not withdraw because of my bitter rants.

  35. Jim F. on September 7, 2004 at 12:40 am

    Kaimi, I’m not sure I agree with your final claim, but I’m happy to change the subject.

    The fact is that I don’t know what cheeses I was eating. We ate “family style,” so I ate whatever cheeses came down the table. Once when I asked the person next to me what kinds of cheeses had been offered, he responded “Good cheeses.” That seemed like such a sane answer that I quit asking. In general, I think that Normandy cheeses tend to be soft, looking something like Bries or Camemberts, though the ones I ate weren’t as strong as I usually find Camembert in France. Several were hard cheeses that I didn’t recognize, but I don’t think they were cheeses from Normandy. I also don’t think that any were Livarot: no green paper strips around the outside and not very strong. In sum, the Normandy cheeses looked very similar and all were soft, buttery cheeses, but there were considerable differences in their tastes. I suspect that will be no help at all in Zabar’s.

  36. Jack on September 7, 2004 at 12:43 am

    “It seems to me that too many of us prefer the divisions of politics over the unity of the Gospel”

    And what is the Gospel?

  37. Jim F. on September 7, 2004 at 12:50 am

    John, I didn’t withdraw from that discussion only because of your posts. Yours were not the only posts to which I was referring. And I’m not sure which of us has the greater European experience, nor whether greater experience would mean greater wisdom.

    I withdrew from that particular discussion because it was going nowhere–quite literally–and, worse, contributing to bitterness and polarization between saints. I don’t want to be part of that, but I don’t think it would end just because one or the other of us withdrew. I say we put an end to that particular thread and move on.

    Obviously I don’t mind talking about French cheeses or other good food, French or otherwise, but I hope we can also have more substantial conversations without the anger that so often characterizes political discussions, even between saints. As good as French cheese and Belgian chocolate (or Korean kimchi, Nathan Tolman) are, surely there are also better things to talk about.

  38. Jim F. on September 7, 2004 at 12:59 am

    Jack H.: I believe Jesus was fairly explicit in answering that question: “This is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; [. . . ] the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me. And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God” (3 Nephi 11:32-33).

  39. Jack on September 7, 2004 at 2:11 am

    Jim F.: I was being a little snarky. Frankly, I was a little taken back by your comment. No doubt, the discussion was spiraling out of control – and while I have no doubt that your reaction was based on a genuin aversion to contention, it sure seemed to violate T&S’s prime directive. At any rate, the tide of contention has subsided as a result of your comment (though I felt badly – and I think you did too – that John Fowles was practically falling over himself to apologize to you).

  40. Chris Grant on September 7, 2004 at 9:44 am

    Jim F. wrote: “we overlook the contribution that the Red Army made to the defeat of Hitler. Without it, our war might have failed, and vice-versa.”

    I don’t know of anyone with even a moderate knowledge of WWII who denies the crucial role played by the Red Army. But honoring them for that crucial role, appears to be a separate issue. It would probably be easier for some to do so if Stalin hadn’t been Hitler’s quasi-ally for the first two years of the war and his peer when it came to the killing of innocents, and if the Red Army had scaled back the mass rape at the end of the war.

  41. Mark B on September 7, 2004 at 10:18 am

    The problem is that too many people have a less than moderate knowledge of WW2, and if their only source of information about it comes from television, they’re not likely to understand that the greater part of the damage inflicted on Hitler’s armies was borne by the Russians, and the greater part of the loss in blood and materiel and damage to cities and infrastructure was suffered by them. For three years, the Russians fought the Germans in one land battle after another, absorbing and, as time went by, inflicting enormous losses.

    In contrast, after the six weeks’ rout of the French and the English in the spring of 1940, the Western Allies, including the Johnny-come-lately Americans, did not engage major units of the German army until the invasion of France in 1944. (For all the mythologizing of Rommel and the Afrika Korps, it was a small force, ultimately poorly supplied, and finally defeated by combined English and US forces that were tiny compared to the Russian and German armies on the Eastern Front. Italy was a bloody campaign, but the German army there was relatively small, aided in its defense by the extremely difficult terrain.)

    The non-agression pact of August 1939, the slaughter of the Polish officer corps in the Katyn forest, the failure to intervene in Warsaw in the summer of 1944 during the ghetto uprising, and the widespread rape and looting that the Red Army engaged in after entering Germany are black marks on the Soviet state and on the army, but they are no reason not to recognize and honor the army for its heroism and sacrifice in the war against Hitler’s Germany.

  42. Chris Grant on September 7, 2004 at 10:36 am

    Mark B wrote: “The problem is that too many people have a less than moderate knowledge of WW2, and if their only source of information about it comes from television, they’re not likely to understand that the greater part of the damage inflicted on Hitler’s armies was borne by the Russians, and the greater part of the loss in blood and materiel and damage to cities and infrastructure was suffered by them.”

    Of what television programs are you thinking? I don’t think the WWII documentaries that run on PBS and the History Channel shortchange the Soviets. And when it comes to fiction, there are programs like “Enemy at the Gates” that seem to get rerun a lot.

    “The non-agression pact of August 1939, the slaughter of the Polish officer corps in the Katyn forest, the failure to intervene in Warsaw in the summer of 1944 during the ghetto uprising, and the widespread rape and looting that the Red Army engaged in after entering Germany are black marks on the Soviet state and on the army, but they are no reason not to recognize and honor the army for its heroism and sacrifice in the war against Hitler’s Germany.”

    By the same token, I suppose that it is reasonable to honor the heroism and sacrifice of elements of the German armed forces (their black marks notwithstanding). I can accept that. But just as I will probably not honor those Germans who committed atrocities, I probably will not honor those in the Red Army who were responsible for the rape of about 2 million German women (according to Antony Beevor, The Fall of Berlin, p. 410).

  43. David on September 7, 2004 at 1:04 pm

    I think many of us (including me) have a decidedly U.S.-centric view of the world and history, which, for better or worse, is not necessarily shared outside the U.S., even by our brothers and sisters in the Church. I was surprised, during my two years as a missionary in Mexico, how little I heard or cared about what was going on in the U.S. (other than seeing and hearing the influence of “disco” music as we would walk down the streets or past parties). My parents were equally surprised at how little people cared in southern Africa about current events in the U.S. (other than the OJ trial).

    Within the Church, I think there is an additional temptation to think U.S.-centrically and to subscribe to accelerated eschatological notions of U.S. triumphalism (or LDS spiritual trumphalism with a U.S. emphasis)–the teachings of the Book of Mormon that this is the promised land, and the doctrinal or quasi-doctrinal strain that God’s hand is present in the Constitution and history of the U.S. (at least when the party of our choice is in power).

    David Ignatius touches on this (without the LDS twist I have added above) in a fascinating column in today’s Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A1334-2004Sep6.html He uses an analogy to the Ptolomaic and Copernican views of the universe.

    I like his analysis and conclusions, and think they may apply whether or not one agrees with the present war:

    “The Ptolemaist in me wants to tell the rest of the world to go to hell. In economic, military and political terms, the United States is the center of the universe — and it does have a historic mission to spread its ideals of liberty and democracy….

    “…[But] [t]he task of leadership, especially in a time of war — is to gather support among other nations for U.S. policies. That’s a subtle process, but it begins with a recognition that however blessed America may be, it doesn’t have a God-given right to tell everyone else what to do. When America tries this approach … it tends to make enemies.

    “So in this political season, a little more Copernicus, please. Seeing America as a great nation in a system of nations, each spinning at its own speed, will help the United States navigate better in the long journey to create a stable world, where our terrorist enemies can be contained. ”

    Candidate Bush said something along the same lines in 2000, suggesting that the U.S. walk a little more humbly in the world. It was good advice then; it is good advice now.

  44. Nathan Tolman on September 7, 2004 at 1:17 pm

    It’s hard to walk humbly when the world turns to us to help whever somthing goes wrong. Help, and we get criticised, “it’s not enough. You are arrogant.” etc., don’t help, and we still get criticised. I could go on.

  45. Mark B on September 7, 2004 at 4:36 pm

    Chris, I was referring not the PBS or History channel documentaries, but to the comments in network newscasts (by Tom Brokaw and others) and probably also in the New York Times, which I suspect were heard by a much broader audience.

    There is one substantial difference between the Soviet Army and the German Army (most of whom weren’t Nazis)–the Soviets were our allies. Their fighting and bleeding and dying (and causing those other dumb sons of b_____s, to paraphrase General Patton, to bleed and die in even greater numbers) helped to win the war, and substantially reduced the loss of life among the western Allies. They deserve our thanks and honor for that sacrifice.

    I don’t think that means, nor would any civilized human being suggest, that soldiers in the Red Army should be honored for rape or other atrocities they committed.

  46. Chris Grant on September 8, 2004 at 12:16 am

    Mark:

    (1) Sure, the Soviets ended up as our allies, but would the war even have started if they hadn’t made the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact with Germany in the first place?

    (2) That Soviet efforts were crucial to Allied victory just doesn’t seem to be enough for me to feel any more gratitude to them than to honorable German soldiers (or to Bomber Harris for the firestorms he engineered or to whatever contributions to U.S. victories have been, are being, or will be made by torturers). I doubt that the 2 million rape victims (many, if not the majority, the victims of multiple rapes) were victimized by a handful of very busy rapists in the Red Army, so a huge number of soldiers appear to be implicated, and it’s, therefore, hard for me to work up much enthusiasm for that Army’s efforts.

    (3) I don’t think the Red Army came anywhere close to causing Germans to bleed and die in greater numbers than they themselves did.

  47. Mark B on September 8, 2004 at 10:10 am

    Chris:

    1) Yes, the war would have started without the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.

    2) Soviet soldiers were crucial to our victory, but not deserving of any more gratitude than honorable German soldiers?? Are you serious? The Germans were the enemies. They were trying to kill our fathers (or perhaps grandfathers). If it weren’t for the millions of Soviet soldiers who fought long and hard and at great sacrifice, there would have been hundreds of thousands or millions more American casualties. And yet you cannot feel any more gratitude to them than to the Germans?

    3) The relative numbers of German and Soviet losses is not the relevant issue. It’s the relative number of German losses in the East as compared to the West. There the “butcher’s bill” is overwhelmingly in favor of the Soviets–they inflicted by far the greater losses on the Germans.

    If more Soviet soldiers than German soldiers died, that’s all the more reason to honor their sacrifices.

  48. Chris Grant on September 8, 2004 at 10:37 am

    Mark B wrote:

    “the war would have started without the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.”

    Okay, if you say so. Perhaps the timing was merely coincidental. Would the course of the war have changed in any substantial way without it?

    “Soviet soldiers were crucial to our victory, but not deserving of any more gratitude than honorable German soldiers??”

    Yes, in my opinion.

    “Are you serious?”

    Yes.

    “The Germans were the enemies.”

    And the Soviets were the enemies for the succeeding 45 years, their power during that time having been substantially enhanced by the enslavement of Eastern Europe, brought to us courtesy of the Red Army.

    “They were trying to kill our fathers (or perhaps grandfathers).”

    My grandfather was only wounded by the Germans. I’m not sure that it would have been worse to have him killed by them than to have my grandmother gang raped by the Soviets. But then the Soviets, for the most part, only gang raped Germans, so I guess my grandmother was in no danger. Interestingly, the issue of The Atlantic that arrived yesterday shows that in the 2000 Census, German was the most frequently reported ancestry in 22 states (compared to English in 3 states), so I guess there were at least a lot of cousins of Americans that were victims of the Red Army.

    “The relative numbers of German and Soviet losses is not the relevant issue. It’s the relative number of German losses in the East as compared to the West.”

    Thanks for the clarification, but then the Patton paraphrase doesn’t seem terribly relevant, because he was talking about enemy casualties versus our own casualties, not enemy casualties on our front versus enemy casualties on some other front.

  49. Mark B on September 8, 2004 at 11:45 am

    Chris,

    Since we can’t “rewind” history and play it again with different conditions, who can tell when or whether the war would have started without the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact? Given Hitler’s record of aggression in the three years leading up to September 1939, I think that he would eventually have invaded Poland even without a pact with the Russians.

    He certainly didn’t need the Russians’ help to beat the Polish army.

    Who knows how much he feared Russian intervention on behalf of Poland in September 1939? Enough certainly to send Ribbentrop to Moscow–but was it enough to have stopped the invasion if Ribbentrop had come back empty handed? Again, nobody knows. We can only speculate.

    Your continued insistence that the soldiers of the Reichswehr or the Luftwaffe are as deserving of our gratitude as the Red Army “almost persuadest me” that you would have preferred a Grossdeutschland, stretching from the Volga to the Bay of Biscay, to the Europe that emerged from WW2. Well, ok.

    Finally, Patton’s comment is directly relevant–if winning the war meant killing Germans, and, frankly, that is what it meant, then every German killed by the Soviets was one fewer German that the Western Allies had to face.

    But, so long as you’re honoring the Reichswehr, I suspect you wouldn’t want to talk about killing them.

  50. Chris Grant on September 8, 2004 at 3:24 pm

    Mark B wrote: “Since we can’t ‘rewind’ history and play it again with different conditions, who can tell when or whether the war would have started without the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact?”

    Based on your preceding post, I thought you could.

    “Finally, Patton’s comment is directly relevant–if winning the war meant killing Germans, and, frankly, that is what it meant, then every German killed by the Soviets was one fewer German that the Western Allies had to face.”

    I would call it indirectly relevant, but mainly confusing. Patton was comparing A to B, and I still maintain that a comparison of A to B, rather than of B to C, is the most natural way of reading your original statement.

    “But, so long as you’re honoring the Reichswehr, I suspect you wouldn’t want to talk about killing them.”

    Sure, we can talk about killing them. Killing enemy combatants during times of war by the conventions of war is something I can accept. What’s harder for me to accept is deliberately running down columns of refugees with tanks or gang raping the wives and daughters of the Reichswehr officers, as did the Red Army. And after having my first missionary apartment located directly across the street from a monument to the 10,000 Darmstadt civilians burned to death by Allied bombers on the night of September 11(!), 1944, it’s hard for me to accept decimation of civilian populations by deliberately-engineered firestorms.

  51. Mark B on September 9, 2004 at 2:31 am

    If we want to limit our honors to those who were always moral, there will be none to honor. Not Churchill, nor Roosevelt, nor Truman, nor Eisenhower, nor Montgomery, nor the millions who carried out the orders for which they ultimately must bear the responsibility. To say nothing of the really bad guys.

    I hadn’t thought that I was defending the morality of all that the Red Army did. I certainly didn’t intend to. My point was a much narrower, and simpler one. For all their faults, they were our allies. (The Cold War came later, and those who had fought with us did in fact become our enemies.) But that doesn’t change the fact that the Russians had borne the brunt of the battle in WW2, or that their considerable sacrifices reduced the Germans’ ability to fight against the Allies who invaded France in June of 1944.

    Perhaps it is selfish of me to be grateful that the German Army my father faced in France in 1944 was substantially weaker, largely due to its losses in the East, than it had been four years earlier. But, selfish or no, I am grateful, and honor the Russians for their sacrifices.

  52. Chris Grant on September 9, 2004 at 9:55 am

    Mark B wrote: “If we want to limit our honors to those who were always moral, there will be none to honor.”

    I, of course, agree. I don’t want to limit my honors to those who were always moral but rather to those who did not commit acts of gross immorality. It appears that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of members of the Red Army committed such acts.

    “For all their faults, they were our allies.”

    That should probably mean more to me than it does. Let me draw this analogy which, for all its unparallels, may convey something of my perspective: If the Bloods and the Crips are having a gang war, and the Bloods also seek to do me bodily harm–perhaps I wore the wrong color shirt in the wrong place at the wrong time–and I end up being protected as a consequence of the Crips winning the war, I may feel fortunate, but I won’t necessarily feel like honoring the Crips. I don’t think the Red Army (soldiers or leaders) was motivated by a desire to strike a blow against totalitarianism or to protect your father or my grandfather.

  53. David on September 9, 2004 at 1:09 pm

    I am not sure I fully understand the disagreement.

    I am grateful to the Soviet peoples who helped stem the tide and win the war against Nazism and fascism.

    I am grateful to the Western European (including German) peoples who helped stem the tide and win the cold war against communism.

    I regret and condemn the atrocities of war perpetrated by either side in any war.

    Surely there are and were people on each side of the conflicts that deserve our respect, and people who deserve condemnation.

    In terms of, overall and over time, which peoples or nations deserve more “honor,” measuring their relative praiseworthy and nonpraiseworthy conduct, I leave that to God.

    Of course, that does not mean we cannot attempt the measurements on these boards. Carry on.

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