Thursday, February 20, 2003

Just What Kind of Champignons Have You Eaten, Molly?

I'm a Francophile from way back, and I have a soft spot for Molly Ivins, too. But her latest column, defending French policy on Iraq, is so devoid of logic, and so littered with factual inaccuracy, that I must give it the blogger once-over. Molly writes:

George Will saw fit to include in his latest Newsweek column this joke: "How many Frenchmen does it take to defend Paris? No one knows, it's never been tried." That was certainly amusing. One million, four hundred thousand French soldiers were killed during World War I. As a result, there weren't many Frenchmen left to fight in World War II. Nevertheless, 100,000 French soldiers lost their lives trying to stop Adolf Hitler . . . Relying on the Maginot Line was one of the great military follies of modern history, but it does not reflect on the courage of those who died for France in 1940. For 18 months after that execrable defeat, the United States of America continued to have cordial diplomatic relations with Nazi Germany.

Fair enough on French tenacity and sacrifice in WWI. But sorry, Molly. To say that we had cordial relations with Nazi Germany between June 1940 and December 1941 -- and to imply that we had no particular beef with the Germans -- is simply untrue. Roosevelt was busy arming the UK through the lend-lease program, helping that truly brave nation survive the aerial assault on London and keep its shipping lanes open. Roosevelt knew that war was coming. This is what he said:

The Nazi masters of Germany have made it clear that they intend not only to dominate all life and thought in their own country, but also to enslave the whole of Europe, and then to use the resources of Europe to dominate the rest of the world. It was only three weeks ago that their leader stated this: "There are two worlds that stand opposed to each other." And then in defiant reply to his opponents he said this: "Others are correct when they say: 'With this world we cannot ever reconcile ourselves.' . . . I can beat any other power in the world." So said the leader of the Nazis. . . . In view of the nature of this undeniable threat, it can be asserted, properly and categorically, that the United States has no right or reason to encourage talk of peace until the day shall come when there is a clear intention on the part of the aggressor nations to abandon all thought of dominating or conquering the world.We must be the great arsenal of democracy. For us this is an emergency as serious as war itself. We must apply ourselves to our task with the same resolution, the same sense of urgency, the same spirit of patriotism and sacrifice as we would show were we at war.

Not too f*ing cordial, if you ask me, Molly. If you'd like to brush up on your history, I can recommend a few good tutors.

She continues:

One of the great what-ifs of history is: What would have happened if Franklin Roosevelt had lived to the end of his last term? How many wars have been lost in the peace? For those of you who have not read Paris 1919, I recommend it highly. Roosevelt was anti-colonialist. That system was a great evil, a greater horror even than Nazism or Stalinism.

Colonialism was a greater evil than Stalinism or Nazism. Ok, I'll admit that would make a lovely topic for a high school or college debating society meet. But it is a breathtaking hypothesis. Stalin killed twenty million of his own people. Hitler killed at least 11 million innocent Europeans. That doesn't give him credit for all the military and civilian deaths from the prosecution of a world war he started. The 11 million are just the wanton murders. Now frankly, I haven't read widely on the deaths suffered under colonial rule around the globe. With the exception of Belgium's handiwork in the Congo (someday, I'll have to write a post about the rich irony of Belgium's attempts to hold Israel accountable for human rights violations. In the meantime, see the response of the Israeli Minister for Justice), I know of no program of systematic murder and suppression of freedom under European colonial rule quite equal to the Nazis and Stalin. And I defy Molly Ivins (or anyone else) to show me a nation or people better off in the post colonial era than during colonial rule (except in the not inconsiderable sense that their current tyrants are locals) UPDATE: That challenge, as a friend has quite correctly pointed out, is an easy one to meet. But the point is not necessary to my argument, so read on.

Instead of insisting on freedom for the colonies of Europe, we let our allies carry on with the system, leaving the British in India and Africa, and the French in Vietnam and Algeria, to everyone's eventual regret.

Molly, let's not forget we left the Soviets with a few colonies too. Or do suffering Hungarians, Czechs, and Romanians not count? But what exactly has that to do with France's policy today?

Surrender monkeys? Try Dien Bien Phu. Yes, the French did surrender, didn't they? After 6,000 French died in a no-hope position. Ever heard of the Foreign Legion? Of the paratroopers, called "paras"? The trouble we could have saved ourselves if we had only paid attention to Dien Bien Phu.

Again, so what? This ain't Vietnam. And so the French were right to get out of Vietnam when the getting was good, and they lost 6,000 men before they did. Vive la France. But why ought their nobility then cloak their cowardice now?

Then came Algeria. As nasty a war as has ever been fought. . . . Charles de Gaulle came back into power in 1958, specifically elected to keep Algeria French. I consider de Gaulle's long, slow, delicate, elephantine withdrawal (de Gaulle even looked like an elephant) one of the single greatest acts of statesmanship in history. . . . Those were the years when France learned about terrorism. The plastiquers were all over Paris. The "plastic" bombs, the ones you can stick like Play-Do underneath the ledge of some building, were the popular weapon du jour. It made Israel today look tame. For France, terrorism is "Been there, done that."

Algerian terrorism in France makes what happens to the Israelis look tame? On what planet? The per capita losses of the Israeli people in the 56 years of unrelenting assault on their very right to exist is so staggeringly out of proportion to Algerian terrorism in France that one can only stand slack-jawed at Ivins’ callousness and ignorance in suggesting otherwise. And what, exactly, is she proposing? That we'll get used to terrorism after we've suffered enough of it? Sorry, Molly. We can't afford that kind of ennui. Or is she saying that because the French have "been there, done that" that they've some sort of expertise to which we should defer. That's just laughable. The French suffered Algerian terrorism for the reason that Molly herself identifies: They wouldn't let go, long after the Algerians made plain they wanted France gone. Americans and Israelis suffer Iraqi and Arab terrorism simply for being. So the cure isn't quite as simple in this case.

I was in Paris on Sept. 11, 2001. The reaction was so immediate, so generous, so overwhelming. Not just the government, but the people kept bringing flowers to the American embassy. They covered the American Cathedral, the American Church, anything they could find that was American. They didn't just leave flowers -- they wrote notes with them. I read more than 100 of them. Not only did they refer, again and again, to Normandy, to never forgetting, but there were even some in ancient, spidery handwriting referring to WWI: "Lafayette is still with you."

I suppose it's like shooting fish in a barrel, but it's still fun. Molly, hon? The Lafayette reference was to 1777, not 1917. You see, when Black Jack Pershing famously proclaimed "Lafayette, nous voici," he was talking about repaying a debt. The Frenchman's note, telling us that Lafayette was still with us, hearkened back not to Pershing's claim of repaying the debt, but to the original act of friendship. Maybe you should take me up on that list of history tutors.

Look, the French are not a touchy-feely people. They're more, like, logical. For them to approach total strangers in the streets who look American and hug them is seriously extraordinary. I got patted so much I felt like a Labrador retriever.

I don't doubt that the French themselves, so much like us in so many ways, feel a strong kinship to us; I think they always have, and always will. Some of my oldest and dearest friends in the world are French. But that doesn't excuse French policy or the shameful conduct of its President -- and that, and only that -- is what's being targeted in the latest round of France-bashing. Those are legitimate targets.

This is where I think the real difference is. We Americans are famously ahistorical. We can barely be bothered to remember what happened last week, or last month, much less last year.


The French are really stuck on history. (Some might claim this is because the French are better educated than we are. I won't go there.)

Ah, but you have gone there, Molly. You have.

Does it not occur to anyone that these are very old friends of ours, trying to tell us what they think they know about being hated by weak enemies in the Third World?

And has it occurred to you, dear, sweet, naive Molly, that the French, despite their vast experience in the world, have simply got it wrong this time; and that far from being a precocious child among nations, we are an equal, entitled to call bull-merde on our French friends?

UPDATE: With a target this rich, I'm not the only one shooting. Here's a strong critique. And here's Angie's, also a good read pointing out a few logical incosistencies I missed. Molly really deserves some sort of award for coming up with something this incredibly bad -- and getting paid for it, to boot. permalink