I was in Paris for all of September. After the 11th, at the American Church on the Left Bank and the American Cathedral on the Right, the steps were covered with the most beautiful flowers and the most touching messages. They ranged from "God Bless America" to "Nous Vous Aimons" to "Vive Les New Yorkers." Many of the messages mentioned '44, Normandy, or the liberation of Paris. One, in a shaky, spidery hand, referred to the famous American declaration of World War I: "Lafayette, we are here," and added the assurance that the French would be with America once more.
All this was even more remarkable in that the French consider George W Bush a hopeless fathead. The Europeans were much taken aback by W's language after the attack, but I must confess, I'm such a Texan I didn't even react. We'll "smoke 'em out and round 'em up"--sound plan. "Bring him in, dead or alive"--you bet your butt. I did, however, cringe at his use of the word "crusade."
In the first few days, the French papers featured great deluges of prose on the awfulness and the horror of the attack, backed by tender portraits of the survivors. But there was from the beginning a slightly less sentimental tone in the coverage than in the American press, an immediate practicality about the consequences, and a severe avoidance of the bathetic.
By the weekend of September 15, the French press was pointing out, in the most tactful fashion, that this Administration has notably preferred unilateralism to multilateralism but now the great need for fullest cooperation with the allies was revealed. The second point made by the French press was that G.W. Bush must now, surely, recognize the folly of the missile defense shield, it having just been so painfully demonstrated to be not at all what is needed. So when the news came from Washington that actually the missile defense shield was more likely to pass now since no one in Washington was in a mood to deny Bush anything he says he needs, the French press grew impatient.
In the French language, "one" is the preferred pronoun for the opinionated individual. The French avoid the egotistical "I" and the presumptuous "everybody." So when the illogical decision on missile defense came down, it forced one to throw up one's hands and shake one's head and sigh. One was not happy.
One was also gravely concerned by the call-up of 50,000 reservists and bellicose quotes from Bush and Cheney. The problem, one agreed with one along the quai, was the use of the word "war." For war, the military forces of one country must attack the military forces of another. Therefore, this was not a war. It was a crime of the most horrible variety. One must find the perpetrators. One must bring them to justice. One is inclined to think an international tribunal, such as for Slobodan Milosevic, would be a proper forum.
Back home in Texas, and the sign outside our neighborhood strip joint says, "Hot Babes, Cold Beer, Nuke 'Em, GW."
My worry is that Bush is painting himself into a corner with his rhetoric. This is not a war; it's a gigantic police operation in the face of a crime beyond all understanding.
Fear is at the root of most evil. As Boots Cooper, age eight, said after a close encounter with a chicken snake: "Some things'll scare you so bad, you'll hurt yourself." These dotty proposals to breach the Constitution fall into that category. We cannot make ourselves more secure by making ourselves less free. According to reporting in the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, the terrorists got in and stayed through loopholes in the visa system, not some fundamental constitutional flaw.
When I returned from Paris, I was hoping we'd start thinking outside the box. Now I'm hoping we'll just start thinking.
One more Texas sign, in front of a pharmacy: "Generic Prozac Now In, God Bless America."