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2005/03/21

"I Don't Like Americans":
Letters to the Editor of Le Monde

"I don't like Americans" reads one letter to Le Monde; "Naturally I am against America", reads another; "I am proud of my hatreds" reads a third, with a fourth extolling the writer's scorn; while a fifth reader wishes he could join the Iraqi resistance.

And why shouldn't the French feel that way? All the proof of America's sins (or her leaders') are around them, the élite and leaders endlessly repeat them, the mainstream media endlessly rehashes them, the citizens debate endlessly what they see in the media, the leaders respond to what the citizens fear, the media reports what the leaders say and the people fear, etc, etc, etc. This is the vicious circle I have mentioned so often before — an endlessly self-feeding cycle of cynicism, fear, and scorn…

And so today we take a look at Le Monde's letters to the editor section.

The 60th Anniversary Celebration of Le Monde

(Note: because the letters to the editor in a given issue are all published on the same (web) page (give or take a couple of exceptions), hyperlinks may often link to extracts of other letters, on subjects that have nothing to do with the subject involved, and the letters quoted here will in many cases be fully visible only when and if the reader pays to see the entire article.)
Not a day passes in which the United States do not present the world with a motive for defiance or bitterness
writes a Strasbourg man in a missive whose contents summarizes the basic message of French letter-writers.
Their ethics never cease to shock us at all times … One can no longer grant the United States the least bit of trust or the least bit of credit, each day that passes shows us an economy of cheaters, or an ultraviolent foreign policy, or an infamous and arrogant lack of respect for all international treaties, topped by scorn for human rights, a deficient cultural level, and visions that are Manichean and simplistic.

Today it is absolutely vital that we uncouple Europe from that country or risk being pulled downward and into a cowboy mentality dangerous for the entire planet.…

"Conceived by the Americans as the final solution for peace," agrees a man from the Ardennes, "free trade is destroying everything here at home in France" (chez nous). "We must refuse that process, even if it means leaving this pseudo-union" (the EU). Meanwhile, a woman from Le Havre writes in to say that the huge pedophilia scandal rocking France can be attributed to the ravages of… capitalism.

Another Strasbourg resident, meanwhile, thanked the newspaper of reference for the "abundant information on the 'fundamentalist' Protestants", which "is very a good thing". Displaying a "[far from] deficient cultural level, and visions that are [far from] Manichean and simplistic", Marie-Thérèse Benoit says that what shocks her is that if they call themselves "evangelicals", the French should not ape them.

Those fanatics claim to adhere to certain Biblical texts, but certainly not to the Gospels. The teachings of Jesus, the scenes and the parables that accompany them, the Beatitudes that sum them up, are not only foreign to their proclamations but totally opposed thereto.
(As you can see, the information Europeans derive on America from their periodicals and TV sets are exceedingly informative.) Meanwhile, a man from Côte d'Or reminds the independent newspaper's readers how
France has always been at the forefront of the fight against obscurantism
and how her citizens — contrary to those of the United States —
have long stopped believing that the moon is made of green cheese … [how] they do not need the crutches of a god … to stand up and [how] they spit out all the scorn that they have for those sectarians and those who want to dictate other men's behaviour.
(Their scorn, and the pride they have in that scorn. Keep that in mind, we will see more of this in the coming paragraphs.)

A man from Loir-et-Cher notes how "anybody" can note "the intensification of all types of integrism", a French euphemism for drawing a moral equivalence between "the Americans"and the Islamist extremists with which the US is presently at war.

Regarding history and "the forefront of the fight against obscurantism", a writer from La Réunion states that

Exactly 215 years ago, the revolution was on the march, making France a model for all the oppressed peoples on Earth, who love freedom.
The "peoples": I have often said that when you hear the word "people" in the mouths of individuals, politicians, or organizations (in the sense of defined communities or ethnic groups, i.e., rather than a plurality of individual-minded persons), it is a sign that the message they are going to deliver will be exceedingly self-serving — for the simple reason that when you discuss peoples, rather than people (individuals), you can shape them basically into anything you want. (Please keep the self-serving aspect of this term in mind as we keep reading…)

A writer from Lille waxes eloquently on the 400th annniversary of Acadia, reminding everybody that it is

400 years of history, 400 years of French presence in North America, 400 years of successes for the Acadian community: so many reasons to celebrate the patrimony and the heritage. Never have our country and the French language been so present on the North American continent, and notably on the Atlantic coast of Canada.
Frédéric Marchand then goes on to say that
A people without memory is a people with no future, it is customary to say; it would really be a shame if, 400 years later, we wouldn't didn't pay a vibrant homage to our cousins who share many a thing with us, and what undoubtedly is the most essential: our language.
Reassuring to know that, in the minds of French people (and French government officials? and French media?), all French descendents (like Russians and the near abroad?) are still one people, whereever they live,
whatever the intervening events, and whatever the type of government they live under. (In that perspective, a Parisian reader wrote in about the French Huguenot colony in Florida.)

So far, as you can see, it is not just about Bush and his administration and the Iraq crisis, although the latter have naturally been the main subject of letters in the recent past. Apart from a token letter now and then (like this example, or this one, although note it is from Eastern Europeans!), they are invariably negative.

"Simple slogans comfort those who are afraid"

In June 2004, a French American living in Birmingham, Alabama, wrote to complain that
Although there subsists, on the other side of the Atlantic [i.e., in America], an élite of irreducible francophiles and numerous brave souls conscious of the disaster to which they are being pushed, under the pretext of antiterrorism, by a terrifying desire for planetary hegemony, the general tone of the American media and the Republican administration remains profoundly hostile to France
Hubert de Germiny adds that he wished to advise Jacques Chirac that when George W Bush came to France, the French president should adopt "a formal reserve as dignified as it is icy."

Of course, when Bush won the election, Frenchmen could be counted on to (apart from a couple of token letters) blast everything from Dubya to the electoral process. Even people living in America chimed in: From New Haven, Sophie Fichini invokes "the day following an apocalypse" (I thought the Red-staters were to supposed to be the religious nuts — n'est-ce pas, Marie-Thérèse Benoit?) as she implores:

do not forget the millions of Americans who do not recognize themselves in the policies he represents
before going on to find proof thereof in the fact that the overwhelming number of students in her university were devastated by those countrymen who seem to come from another planet than theirs.
Today [the day after election day] is a very sad day for … those … who look to Europe with envy.
A Maine reader also writes in, explaining how
simple slogans comfort those who are afraid
(Funny how I visited Texas, Arizona, and Utah on two occasions last year, and never once met anyone who seemed the least bit afraid of anything… Maybe the above sentence applies even more to the type of people who say that sort of thing than to the type of person that they are saying it about.) Alison Murray Levine adds that
Georges [sic] W. Bush has managed to convince that particular half of America [that he is] a fighter in the trenches with the average American in a common national battle against the Other, the extremist Muslim or the perfidious European.
With regards to Iraq, a scandalized reader from Nantes sputters that it is absurd that France should entertain the thought that it forsake the debts it is owed by Baghdad, when the (French) authorities
do not have enough money for the social budgets and when we are told that the state deficit must be reduced.
Ah yes, France's beloved social system might be threatened, that is what Gilbert Enaud gets out of the Iraq crisis following 30 years of shenanigans with a psychopathic mass murderer. The man has a sense of perspective, as you can see. But, as it turns out, also a sense of justice and fairness. Read on:
It is up to the Americans, responsible for Iraq's disastrous situation and the current war, to take total responsibilty for the debt.
No wonder Jean-Marie Le Brun (letter # 1) wants Europeans to be separated from Americans and their "scorn for human rights, a deficient cultural level, and visions that are Manichean and simplistic". Fellow Frenchmen like Gilbert Enaud show far more (self-)knowledge, culture, and sophisticatation.

In December 2004, a letter from Morocco complained that we get "not a word on the civilian populations [in Iraq]; how do they survive?" Lucile Daumas goes on to bemoan that

'the' catastrophe that the populations of Baghdad, Falluja, and Mossul are going through deserve not a single word, not a single image, not a single slice of interest — I do not even mention compassion.
She ends with a question: "Is the massacre [in Iraq] so advanced that already, one can no longer speak of a civilian population?" Lucile, if "not a word" about the civilian populations in Iraq is reported in the West's mainstream media, it is not because, as you think, they have been forgotten. It is because they have not displayed evidence of dissatisfaction, they have not displayed evidence of despair, they have not displayed evidence of anti-Americanism or anti-Bushness. If you are getting no words or images of the civilian population in those Iraqi cities, it is because (or it is when) everything is going well. There is nothing negative to report, and thus you get no "news".

Lucile even manages to find unfairness in the fact that while they "have nothing", European disaster victims are invariably assisted by state-paid psychological support cells…

Unfairness and inequality: the French love to find that everywhere…

In that perspective a man from Neuilly-sur-Seine waxes about the profound injustice that Chirac kissed the hand of Condoleezza Rice, while Palestine's (female) delegate general only gets her cheeks pecked by the président de la République

"I don't like Americans, and
even less what they stand for"


Saying that war is never clean, a Garenne-Colombes woman says that the images of Abu Ghraib are those "of the kind that destroy you".
The degree of degradation, of debasement to which they reduce mankind […] proves that war uses degenerate individuals, rejects of humanity, to carry out its macabre and pornographic deeds in a systematic fashion, thought out in advance and not by accident.
You can just about guess what this gal thinks about America and Americans and American democracy, n'est-ce pas? (Isabelle Macor-Filarska certainly never seems to get especially fired up or to have made any comments of any kind when Russian troops went into Chechnya or when Sudanese soldiers machine-gunned civilians or — like Lucile Daumas— when… Saddam Hussein tortured, amputated, and killed thousands upon thousands of Iraqis in his jails — including Abu Ghraib.)

A woman writing from Villejuif, as disgusted as all Frenchmen regarding money, states a common view as she says the use of mercenaries in Iraq is proof that the "the survival of democracies" is at stake, since the

democracies, the states founded on law are abandoning their kingly rights. [No, I don't understand that one either.] It is time for public opinion to wake up
With such an outlook, shared throughout the culture and fanned by the media, it is hardly unusual, then, that it is with pride that a Frenchman from Haute-Garonne writing four days later states haughtily:
I don't like Americans, and even less what they stand for [ce qui va avec], power, arrogance, smugness, authoritarianism, contempt for others, the war in Iraq […] with, as their main results, their victims' development of hatred and the desire for vengeance, and the growing hostility towards Westerners.
(The ellipsis […] was not mine but was added by Le Monde's own editors, who presumably did not have the space to list all of the sins that René Maffone accuses Uncle Sam of.)

That letter is nested between one from Toulon accusing "the American leaders" of sweeping aside "the objections founded on the best-established principles of international law" (it, too, is filled with expressions such as "contempt", "cynically scorned", and "disaster") and one from the Var, incidentally, which decries the fact that the Soviet flag and hymn are absent from all the 60th anniversary of the commemorations of World War II.

Three days later, a Parisian vilifies the "cruel forms" under which the American government sends its

disgraceful soldiers to the slaughterhouse. [The] public exposure [of the "perverted" trooper held responsible for the Abu Ghraib abuse], as that of Saddam Hussein after his capture, belong to the same immoral foolishness [immoralle sottise].
(Pierre Gautier has clearly never lived in a dictatorship under a feared autocrat who was a symbol of terror for 30 years…)

"Immoral foolishness", "cynical", "contempt", "disaster", "disastrous situation", do you see where we are heading? (Hint: the emblem is a swastika and the first name is Adolf.)

A letter from Longjumeau as late as January 2005 compares (after the usual hedging and disclaiming) the Iraqi torture to the Nazi concentration camps (yup, they were still at keeping the story alive, eight months later), while a Parisian back in May tch-tch'd about

a war of conquest [,] 'ordinary fascism' [and] concrete conditions of domination and agressive war (even in the name of "democracy") [permitting] "extreme" behaviour … a large democracy is generating … behaviour typical of sadism (even sanctioned) reminding one, notably, of that of the Nazis
(Of course, when the French aren't comparing Bush to Hitler, they are comparing members of the Bush administration to Brezhnev…)

But regarding the fascists and Nazis, surely the French can be counted on — as they always like to point out themselves — to display gratitude for the GIs' deeds during the Second World War. Non?

World War II:
An enemy who distributes chewing gum and chocolate
and who must still… be forgiven by the French


On June 19, while one person from Mayenne complained about the D-Day commmorations going overboard (due to the "immense suffering" brought about by the landings), a woman who had moved to Normandy earlier in life wrote to whine about how Normans had suffered during the battle, because of… the Allies (!), and how, even today, they are humiliated, have to swallow their pride, and obey the rules of unwritten censorship. Listen to Anne Potier describe how the Normans suffered because of "the destruction"…
In Normandy, one speaks of the [allied] bombings as if they had taken place yesterday. One dares not live. We have still not started to breathe again. Saint-Lô, Caen, destroyed like Dresden and for nothing, the Germans having already left the cities
cries Anne Potier, (her letter reminds me of the "correct" Germans), before informing us how treacherous those Yanks really are. "Let us think! Let us resist!"
But, in order to write, one needs to revolt and, as the Normans tell me, it isn't easy to revolt against an enemy who distributes chewing gum and chocolate and whom all the girls are kissing … Let us think of the veterans, British, Canadian, American, whose bombs still need to be forgiven by the French…
In February 2005, a Parisian devotes a letter to "that apocalyptic tragedy": Maurice Alberque is speaking about the "open city" of Dresden (a city "without the least strategic industry, and not a single military installation", he claims), upon which "Englishmen and Americans decide to undertake the largest bombing of the war". Let us not go into Maurice's knowledge of military matters (or lack thereof); just remember what we said earlier about peoples and notice that, unlike what we are told constantly about Bush, it is not "all about" FDR and Churchill: non, it is the Anglo-Saxon people(s), in their entirety, that are guilty of war crimes of the most "apocalyptic variety".

In July 2004, a Frenchman in Vienna disputed Le Monde's description of France and Germany as hereditary enemies. Using two columns to describe all the wars France has had with England throughout the centuries, Paul Combaux reminded everybody who France's real enemy was/is.

A couple of days before the D-Day commemorations, a man from Lille whose father stormed ashore on June 6, 1944, and whose mother is American, wrote to "thank the statesmen of Germany [hommes politiques allemands, not politiciens allemands] for having made it impossible for me to hate the German people as my father may have hated it between the two wars." Nice beginning, huh, full of love and brotherhood. And he continues:

I love my roots, I love America.
Still full of brotherly love, hein? Well not quite. Prior to the previous sentence, Michael de Montlaur wrote
At this moment I have hatred for the Bush administration, the black veil often covers my eyes, and I would tend to support the resistence against its unjust war.
It is obvious that, like for so many other individuals and governments throughout the world who speak of love and brotherhood, when Michael feels negative emotions, it is for good, rational, reasonable reasons:
I am proud of my hatreds and my friendships. Hatred of greed, of lies, of violence against peoples.
It's not the American people he has anything against, it is only Bush. Now, whether the American people might find it a friendly act to support Iraq's terrorists against the GIs is not anything he goes further into (although one might imagine answering that statement with a sorrowful "the Americans deserved it")…

The Ombudsman at Le Monde


I will conclude this post with the Ombudsman at France's newspaper of reference, an editor (or mediator) who is (supposed to be) neutral and objective and who, once a week, writes about matters that have sparked controversy among readers.

In January 2005, Robert Solé printed Manuel Decaudaveine's letter mentioning the "100,000 civilian deaths in Iraq, victims of the horrors of politics", thereby using The Lancet's controversial (and discredited) statistics, without correcting them, to lend credence to the theory of the bottomless tragedy visited upon Iraq (and the world in general) by Dubya and friends…

Another week, Solé answered a couple of readers who complained about an unflattering portrait of the head of France's socialist party. Patrick Swirc's is "a very caricatural photo, in which one can absolutely not recognize" François Hollande, writes one Parisian who wonders if Le Monde needs to sensationalize in order attract readers. (Check out Swirc's photos of Clint and Arnie to see what he is capable of…)

Another Paris reader puts it this way:

A photograph cannot be neutral, but in this case the will to harm has reached a pinnacle. To the point of making an elected representative of the Republic, who is known for his smiling and debonair nature, as a dangerous thug! … everything has been united in order to dirty the subject and betray his personality.
Those who are interested in the answer can read the rest of Robert Solé's column (in which he also takes up some 15 readers' criticism of a Plantu cartoon — no criticism relating to his caricatures of Uncle Sam, though). I will just use this subject matter to point out the usual double standards at work here:

"Caricatural" photos are not to be used, expecially when they represent elected "representatives", we are told. Except, of course, the criticisms only concern elected representatives of the French Republic, which is only normal, because when images of that type represent elected representatives of the French Republic, they are dissing, horreur des horreurs, la patrie des droits humains, the land of humanism, the land of sophistication, the land of rational thought, the land of understanding and tolerance, the land of the visionary seekers for world peace, etc, etc, etc.

When such photos (and cartoons) represent representatives of, say, the American Republic (George W Bush or Reagan, for instance), then it's a different story… Then we don't read so many complaints, either in the letters section or in the the mediator's column, which — again — is only normal since the American Republic (as you will remember) represents

an economy of cheaters, and an ultraviolent foreign policy, and an infamous and arrogant lack of respect for all international treaties, topped by scorn for human rights, a deficient cultural level, and visions that are Manichean and simplistic.
One will note, however, in what way anti-Americanness becomes a given and provides water to the mill of an evil circle. When negative news items (or events labelled as such) are reported, they are advanced as indications of American duplicity, treachery, greed, stupidity, or lust for blood. When events (positive or other) are not reported, their absence is also seen as an indication of a catastrophe under way due to the treachery, greed, or stupidity of Uncle Sam. And thus the mill turns…

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