Readers, Andy Rooney, and Me

I criticized the 60 Minutes star for his take on France's seeming ingratitude to the U.S. and now find myself both praised and pilloried

By Thane Peterson

What is it about France that gets so many Americans' goat? I got 65 e-mail messages -- more than I've gotten about any other article -- on my column about France and World War II (see BW Online, 2/24/03, "Stop Frying the French"). Many of those who wrote were grateful French people, and many of the Americans who wrote were highly critical. In general, though -- for once -- the mail seemed to be slightly in my favor.

Pro and con, I got so many eloquent notes that I decided to devote this week's column to readers' comments. With apologies in advance to the many fine missives that can't be included, here's a sampling of what readers had to say about the current state of French-U.S. relations. Note: Some letters have been edited for length, and all are being used with the permission of the writers, some of whom preferred not to be identified.

As a French reader of your article, I just have two words for you: Thank you! Despite this disagreement between our two nations, I trust in the eternal friendship that will remain between Americans and French of heart.

P.S. All Parisians just hate Parisian waiters -- we still have to deal with them on a daily basis.

-- Thibault Lesénécal, Paris

I lost two uncles in the invasion of Normandy, and a third lost a leg after stepping on a German landmine near Aachen in 1944. I spent 26 months in Germany in 1959 through 1962 during the DeGaulle flap and did my best as an American GI trying to get along with these supremely arrogant people but obviously failed. Somehow I thought my time in an armored cavalry regiment along the East-West border was protecting these people. Again, I must have been wrong.

Frankly, both German and French people can go to hell, and I hope we never, ever have to support them again.

-- Morris Foutch, Vancouver, Wash.

Thank you very much for your kind words about our people and nation. Whatever our position on a potential war in Iraq might be, I do believe that our two nations, and their mutual friendship, deserve better than the appalling caricature that they seem to be so keen at throwing at each other's face recently.

P.S. Thanks also and above all for your highly appreciated effort aimed at reestablishing the truth about this French/Jerry Lewis thing. I must say that I have always been puzzled by this.

-- R.D. (a Frenchman living in Boston)

The French will NEVER be able to repay their debt to the U.S. [for] pulling their asses out of Nazi occupation. Yes, Russia was an important ally that lost many lives, but the fact remains that had the U.S. not entered the war, we would be now working with some heir of Hitler as he rules Europe.

You're just another Neville Chamberlain who helped kill thousands through his efforts to appease Hitler. Had we disposed of that little "paper hanger" in 1939 or 1940, how many lives do you think we would have saved?

-- Sam Stringer, Chicago, who served 24 years in the U.S Army, including stints in Vietnam, Desert Storm, Grenada, and Panama

I feel the need to challenge one point: "Arguably, the war in Europe would have lasted far longer and been far bloodier (or even, perhaps, unwinnable) were it not for the extreme losses and privations the Russians suffered keeping Hitler occupied on the Eastern front."

Arguably? I would have expected a more realistic evaluation to read "Without a doubt." Soviet Russia was the force that broke the back of the German army, with even Stalin-hating Churchill admitting "the Russians tore the guts out of the German fighting machine" (or words to that effect). For every Wermacht division deployed to the West, another three went to the Russian front. Without the Ruskie effort and sacrifices, Hitler's Germany may well have been unassailable.

-- Gary Sellars, Yangon, Union of Myanmar (formerly Rangoon, Burma)

I feel that Andy Rooney's editorial cheapens the sacrifice of everyone involved. As an avid history buff, I have read many veterans' memoirs and journals from the period, and I don't recall that anyone was fighting for "political favors in the future."

Maybe my belief is naive, but I choose to believe that our soldiers underwent hardships and sacrificed their lives for bigger and better reasons than gratitude. I believe they did it because it was the right thing to do. I feel that their sacrifice is a gift, and if you expect something in return, it is not really a gift.

-- Luke Chiao, Livermore, Calif.

Don't forget that France helped save our butts from the English back in the Revolutionary War.... Come to think of it, they seem to be doing the same thing again today, though many [Americans] are still too dumb to realize it.

-- Mark Christopherson, Seattle By Thane Peterson The fact remains that more American and British soldiers gave their lives on behalf of the French than any other nations combined. I ask you -- how many Frenchmen have given their lives (with the exception of a handful in our own Revolutionary War) to preserve the freedom of Americans?

As an average American, I view the French as not giving one whit about American national security. I think you're smart enough to realize that France's opposition to war with Iraq is not grounded on moral principal, but rather political expediency....

One thing remains clear: No amount of liberal slander and punditry will dissuade our President from doing what he thinks is right [or] erode the overwhelming support he has from us, the American people.

-- Walter Collins, Redlands, Calif.

I know the French are no angels. My grandfather and a whole family of cousins -- from 2 to 16 years old -- were deported by the French and gassed in Auschwitz. Then again, I'm here today, and so are a few other Jews, because there were some French people who risked their lives to save other members of my family. In the meantime, neither the U.S. nor any other "civilized" country were taking us in during that war. And my father, who managed to immigrate well before the war, changed his last name because of rampant anti-Semitism in the U.S. Army during World War II.

What is silly is the kind of generalization and denigration of entire cultures that is going on right now by some in the U.S. and some in France.

-- L.B. (an American woman living near Nice)

I just wanted to react to your article by saying "merci." I'm very shocked by what I've heard these last weeks about Americans' opinion of France. I spent one year [living] in the U.S. and love [your] country. As you say in your article, I feel gratitude for what American, Canadian, and British soldiers did during World War II. I'm also proud of my grandfather, who was in the French Resistance (but not a communist) and who died in Germany for his beliefs. But, in our case, this is not the point.

It's so easy to make melodramatic (and false) judgments, to use propaganda to mask the real reasons of this war-to-happen.... But it's a shame for your government, for your democracy. I took part in the [antiwar demonstration] in Paris on Feb 15. to say NO to the war. And as a free citizen (like the citizens of Australia, Italy, Spain, England, etc.), I have the right to say and think that this war is a big mistake, despite Mr. Rooney and all the [pro-war] speeches being made.

P.S. I am not a Parisian waiter!

-- C.E. (a French woman from La Réole in Southwestern France)

You ask how France should display gratitude if she disagrees with us? How about trying a bit of dignity? Just say "no," and say it's a matter of conscience and nothing more.

But La Belle France fancies herself a counterweight to America, and thus she must actively oppose us. Telling EU supplicants that they missed a great opportunity to shut up because they had the temerity to disagree with France strikes me as the height of hubris. Vetoing the efforts of NATO planners to prepare Turkey in case of war was downright despicable.

With friends like France, who needs enemies?

-- Donald J. Madden, Orlando, Fla.

Don't get French people wrong. If Saddam Hussein has gone nuts or [becomes truly] dangerous, we will help "stop" him. If there is proven evidence of funding, supporting, and training of al Qaeda members in Iraq, we will help the USA to retaliate for September 11. We were deeply and truly touched by September 11. We even observed the worldwide period of silence for the victims, [something that] was not done for the victims of Islamic terrorism in Paris in the 1980s and in 1995. The Star Spangled Banner rang out in Elysée Palace.

[But] as long as people are bitching against France, Germany, and other countries that want a more diplomatic solution to this crisis, they're not reflecting about the true reasons of this war. [They need to gain] some distance [from] the myths the U.S. government is flooding them with through the media.

-- François Grauvogel (a European citizen from France)

Thank you so much for your column "Stop Frying the French." I don't cry easily, but reading your words gave me such an intense feeling of relief that my eyes became a little wet....

You chose to back your opinion with facts and nothing but facts. Far from responding to passionate anger with more passionate anger (like we needed more of that), you just recalled the historical truth. Doing so you are giving the wisest answer to all those trying to contaminate the world with stupid and dangerous ideas like:

• The history of humanity can boil down to a few catchy sentences and not much can be learned from it

• American and French policies in the Middle East aren't about oil

• It's O.K. to bite back when one has been bitten

• A government that often quotes the Bible and refers to God can't be wrong, and

• I saved your butt once -- now that I want to set the world on fire, it is your duty to say I'm right and to give me your matches.

-- Gwenaël Le Dortz, Villemoisson-sur-Orge, France

The simple fact is this: President Bush wants to get this war over with before the next election. Otherwise, he may not get reelected.... It has been said that "now the grownups are in charge" and that "President Bush will do what he thinks is right no matter what!" Yet our foreign policy is amateurish, childish, and foolish. Maybe, President Bush doesn't know what's right.

-- Michael Frassetto, Canton, Mich.

It's always the U.S. that in terms of lives lost and money bears the brunt of any modern war or battle. Just remember Mr. Peterson, it was us Americans who gave you the right to live [in France] for five years. I suggest you go back.

-- Arron Gue, Phoenix, Ariz.

Peterson is a contributing editor at BusinessWeek Online. Follow his weekly Moveable Feast column, only on BusinessWeek Online

Edited by Patricia O'Connell

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