9:11:07 AM # your two cents 
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France and Germany: I am really saddened by the pathetically childish comments some Americans are making about "The French" and "The Germans" (as if the tens of millions of people in these two extremely diverse nations are somehow two undifferentiated lumps). I gave some examples of the kinds of things that I have been hearing to a dear German friend who came to stay with me for the weekend (including the accusation that the French have made no contribution to civilisation except wine and perfume and pastries. Good grief, the FRENCH -- no contribution?! This, as I read the biography of American patriot John Adams and his no-nonsense wife Abigail, two solid New Englanders who were struck and entranced by the intellectual life of France back in the late 18th century -- the talk, the theatre, the literature, the philosophers, the food, the granting of an intellectual life to women).
My friend was silent for a moment. Then he said, shocked, "Americans really say these things? But they are incredible, the kinds of things the Nazis said about the Jews. Do they believe this?" I didn't dare add some of the things being said about the Germans, though for some reason, the comments I get tend to be almost obsessively about the French.
When did a nation I love and in which I was raised, the US, turn into this place of low bigotry -- especially about places many of the loudest critics have undoubtedly enjoyed visiting, the people they have enjoyed meeting? Conversely, I have yet to meet a European of any nationality who hates Americans, as opposed to some American policies (not that the Yank-haters aren't out there -- but they're pretty damn hard to find. See the French opinion survey I posted below, for a counter to the silly [and incredibly self-centered] US assumption that any disagreement with policy is "anti-Americanism").
To assume that dissidence is unacceptable, that disagreement on political action or principle means hatred, that the only opinions voiced in the media should support one's own point of view -- those are the marks of totalitarian societies.
To make petty and cutting remarks about a whole people based on their disagreement with you -- why, that is to sink to the level of kindergarten playground battles, the stance of the bully.
Sometimes now I despair that the country that is supposed to stand most for the pure ideas of freedom and democracy, whose nationhood is built upon the most extraordinary documents, the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, has forgotten that freedom includes the right to disagree, and democracy means that the diverse voices of the people can be heard, have the right to be heard, not just the voices of those who determine national policy. How many Americans recall that their own country was founded by those willing to shed their blood to create a place in which church was firmly separate from state, that allowed for open debate, that thought freedom of speech was so important that it was positioned prominently in a Bill of Rights, that ensured that citizens could not be imprisoned without charge and without proper legal defense.
The fight against terrorism now seems to require that we forget the most basic principles, rights and freedoms upon which the nation was founded. And that we sling mud at anyone who criticises us for doing so.
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Copyright 2003 Karlin Lillington
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