What Is It about the French?
by Donald Ray Burger
Attorney at Law

There is a lot of talk lately about the French. Their "go slow" attitude on war has raised the ire of the Bush Administration and most conservative commentators. Hardly a kind word can be heard about them in these pre-war times.

How one-sided is our view. We complain that the French are ungrateful for our rescues of their country in WWI and WWII. We conveniently forget that it was the French entry into our Revolutionary War that saved our bacon and broke England's will to continue the fight. The treaty the English signed formalizing our victory was called the Paris Peace Treaty of 1783, for goodness sake. I guess gratitude is a one-way street.

And how aggravated we get because the French have the gall to think their cultural values are better than ours. But surely we cannot think the French have no basis for their pride. After all, they have given the world Frederic Bastiat, Victor Hugo, Edmond Rostand, Paul Cezanne, Edgar Degas, Edward Manet, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Auguste Rodin, Marc Chagall, Erte, Henry de Toulouese-Lautrec, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Camille Saint-Saens, Marie Curie, Rene Descartes and Louis Pasteur. I could go on. The point is that France is not some backward country that has failed to contribute to the advance of civilization. Sure, it bothers me too when the French seem to think their cultural values are the only ones worth considering. But I also realize that most of the world thinks Americans suffer from that same affliction.

There is a long history of friendship between the French and the United States over our love of liberty. It started during the Revolutionary War and has continued through the years. It should give us pause to remember that the first thing most immigrants have seen of the United States is the Statute of Liberty--a gift from the people of France to us in celebration of the idea of liberty.

Many Americans are quick to label the French as cowards in war, although few remember that in WWII they lost 100,000 soldiers in six weeks of intense fighting during the Nazi blitzkrieg. And in WWI over 1.3 million French soldiers lost their lives in defense of France. Hardly the gutless warriors some would make them out to be.

In the end, we have branded the French as obstructionists because they refuse to get in line with the Bush Administration's war plans. For a nation that allegedly values free speech and dissent, it is strange how quickly we bring out the ad hominem nay, the ad cultural, attack on anyone who refuses to play along.

Sure, the French are not without their faults. What culture isn't? And it's not really proper to speak of the "French" as if they speak with one voice any more than "Americans" do. But perhaps it is time we developed a tolerance, if not an appreciation, for anyone who forces us to examine our headlong rush to a preemptive war. The French may not have it right, but they have a right to have their views.

March 2, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Donald Ray Burger. All Rights Reserved.

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