Monday, September 08, 2003

The Washington Post Magazine sent Gene Weingarten to France to pen "A mature and balanced examination of the French, with an eye toward defusing international tensions and dispelling regrettable stereotypes." He describes his mission:
We are now facing a time of chill, with repercussions both silly ("freedom fries") and substantial (tourism and commerce in both directions have taken a hit). There is a great deal of hand-wringing about it on both sides of the Atlantic. No one seems quite certain how to deal with it -- least of all the French, who thought it a swell idea to enlist Woody Allen to tell us, as a specialist in ethics, how we are being unfair to France.

As usual, it falls to a journalist to make things right. This has happened before.

Back in 1834, during the Jackson administration, the French-American rift was trivial, really -- largely a matter of bookkeeping: We sought reparations for damage done to American shipping during the Napoleonic wars, and France was stiffing us. The whole matter was easily resolvable, but President Jackson was given to gruff, obliquely threatening pronouncements -- "bring 'em on" kind of stuff -- and before you knew it, France had recalled its Washington ambassador, and invited ours to leave Paris. There was muffled talk of war.

At that precise moment, a young French writer named Alexis de Tocqueville published a book about the national character of America, gleaned from a nine-month visit here. Democracy in America proved an instant balm to global tensions, not because it was entirely complimentary -- it wasn't -- but because it was entirely honest. It confronted openly the differences between Americans and the French, and found much for the French to like and admire. War reparations were paid and cultural exchanges began again between the two countries, with young Tocqueville himself in the middle of it -- an ambassador without portfolio.

Tocqueville had nine months, but he probably dillydallied. You know the French.

I figured six days should do it.

Go read the rest right here.

No comments: