Paris — Even on the day Baghdad fell, Parisians I met badmouthed the U.S. war. America had committed a grave sin against international diplomacy and law, they said. The liberation of long-suffering Iraqis leaves them cold. So what? seemed to be the attitude.
I’ve heard a lot of whining about “all the new problems this war has caused.” Suddenly the political and humanitarian condition of Iraq concerns French leaders. How is it that they now know what is best for the country they didn’t want liberated? Jacques Chirac is speaking loudly about “reconstructing” Iraq. Okay. Why don’t you forgive Iraq all those loans you gave Saddam Hussein?
Isn’t it a great humanitarian victory that millions of Iraqis no longer live under the thumb of a tyrant and terrorist? No, somehow this is a defeat for humanity, according to the French. The nonsensical argument — fighting terrorism produces terrorism — appeals to them greatly. If you ask them — How does leaving terrorists on the streets safeguard peace? — you won’t get much of a response. One Parisian frankly told me that “French leaders have to advocate diplomacy because that’s all we have got. We have no military power.”
Not even Americans in Paris are cheering America’s toppling of a tyrant. On Saturday I picked up on the streets a copy of “parisvoice,” a “magazine for English-speaking Parisians.” It didn’t take long to find its asinine commentary about the war.
The war violates the “belief in a positive future,” its writer David Applefield said. “Many Americans in France actively or passively resist being identified with the decisions and attitudes of their government. We come from Minnesota and Massachusetts, Texas, Tennessee and Colorado, Florida and Connecticut, but our minds and hearts belong to our own personal lands of distinction.”
Own “your own mind,” urged Applefield. But it is clear he has lost his. Independence of thought can’t rank too high with him if he worries that Bush’s unilateral “mentality doesn’t float on the Seine.” America is guilty of “thuggery,” the “real weapons of mass destruction just may be the terms used to annihilate our common sense, our notions of right and wrong…” He worries about the “reputation and credibility of France, a country whose sole crime has been the audacity to oppose the omnipotence of the world’s only superpower.”
Fortunately the war isn’t disrupting Epicurean Parisian life, he says. “We go on buying our baguettes, walking our dogs,” he writes. “Just look around Paris and you’ll quickly be able to breathe comfortably again. The French are reading our greatest authors, attending our latest films, sharing the research of our most accomplished thinkers.”
Come on. The most prominent American cultural product I have seen advertised on the streets of Paris is the movie Autofocus, a film about a sexual deviant. Signs for it are ubiquitous.
The French embrace some of the worst elements of American life and reject the best. They could justly criticize America for having a ludicrous popular culture. But they don’t. They kind of like it. America’s virtues, on the other hand, dismay them. A culture drowning in decadence just won’t stand for American “piety.” That’s America’s real sin, the French think.
No wonder their magnificent churches remain empty. You won’t even find kneelers in them. They are basically just museums. A country built by sword and cross has neither now, and is very proud of it.
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