Friday, September 02, 2005

L'Amitie Francaise

An email from a French relative of mine was written to his American cousins as follows:

Quelle catastrophe !!!
Dans une région que vous devez connaître pour y avoir vécu si mes souvenirs sont bons.
Que peut-on faire face à ce déferlement ? Rien à priori si ce n'est se sauver devant le pire. Et le pire fut KOLOSSAL !
Depuis 4 jours on ne parle plus que de cela dans les journaux tant télévisés que radiophoniques et la presse. Tous ces pauvres gens qui se retrouvent sans rien, même pas un vêtement, pas d'eau ni de nourriture, pas de médicaments non plus ni de lait pour les bébés, c'est terrible.
Mais au delà de l'événement en lui-même, c'est la mise en oeuvre de moyens que nous percevons comme dérisoires face à l'ampleur du phénomène. Comment la 1ère puissance économiqque du monde n'est-elle pas capable de venir au secours de ses populations avec des moyens dignes de ce nom ? Nous pensons que ce n'est pourtant pas ce qui doit manquer ches vous tant en hommes qu'en matériels.On aurait cru vivre un autre tsunami avec les mêmes conséquenses sauf que les U.S.A ne sont ni le Sri-Lanka ni l'Indonésie ou la Thailande.
La France (comme d'autres pays) a proposé son aide et nous en sommes bien heureux. Si cela peut aider (mais je pense que ça aidera) surtout dans une région ou la culture française doit être restée un peut présente.
Je pense que Mister Bush, au lieu d'envoyer l'armée pour tirer sur les pilleurs devrait plutôt l'utiliser pour apporter aide et réconfort à toute cette population gravement sinistrée. Et de continuer tranquillement ses vacances ça a choqué ici.
A un journaliste qui lui posait cette question :
"Alors Mr le président, vous ne croyez toujours pas au réchauffement climatique ?", il aurait répondu :
"Si nous parlions de la guerre en Irak"
L'avenir jugera peut-être.
Et chez vous, comment cela est-il perçu ?
Bisous à toutes et à tous des euro-alsaciens.


His list of remarks are mostly predictable canards echoed by the American left and any Bush dissenter worldwide. From suggestions that it was the president's fault and that the War in Iraq is responsible for the imperfect relief efforts, there is nothing shocking in all of this. However, his letter gives me an opportunity to refute each of his points.

To begin:

Mais au delà de l'événement en lui-même, c'est la mise en oeuvre de moyens que nous percevons comme dérisoires face à l'ampleur du phénomène.

"But beyond the event of the hurricane itself, what we in France find shocking is the inability of Americans to organize adequate resources fitting enough for the magnitude of the disaster."

Recalling the fifteen thousand elderly Frenchmen who died of heat a couple of years ago, they're in no credible position to even express shock. Even as their entire infrastructure was working, with no devastating natural disaster to disrupt the functioning of social and medical services, they were unable to properly hydrate people in their own homes, much less in their much vaunted hospitals. And although the French have an almost limitless nuclear power supply, they were too stingy to invest in air conditioning at their hospitals. And since we should compare what's going on in New Orleans as third world, the French have done wonders in their former colonies in maintaining order and ensuring their people are fed (I'm being sarcastic). Whether it's a simple operation to restore order in the Ivory Coast, Zaire, or Haiti, the fifth largest military force in the World can't even accomplish law and order and social relief to poverty stricken populations that a few thousand part time soldiers (national guard) can accomplish within 72 hours of being called to duty.

Comment la 1ère puissance économiqque du monde n'est-elle pas capable de venir au secours de ses populations avec des moyens dignes de ce nom ?

"How is it that the world's largest economic power is not capable of coming to rescue a population with the means to fit that description?"

Obviously, the writer has not been informed of the extent of the damage. When a powerful hurricane (something the French have never experienced) wipes out an entire major U.S. city, cutting off roads, power, and obliterating all of the basic infrastructure that makes modern civilization possible. No military force anywhere could take charge of a flooded city and ensure quick aid within a day. The chaos taking place in New Orleans was due to local institutional failure, from the mayor telling everyone to go to the superdome rather than ensuring the means to evacuate all of those who could not afford to, to the governor who waited until the levee broke a day after the storm to call up the national guard and waited to declare a mandatory evacuation only after constant requests by the president himself. Again, does the writer truly believe that French forces would have responded more quickly?

Another significant issue that ties with the "economic power" argument is the writer's complete omission of private efforts. The relief efforts have been massive, but the the amount of money Americans have already opened their wallets has been huge, amounts not even closely achievable by Europeans. In addition to cash donations, the logistical scale of helping displaced evacuees is beyond any European's imagination. From organizing shelters out of stadiums to taking in families into their own home, to offering jobs to the displaced as well as ensuring schooling for the children, the generosity of private American citizens far outstrip the capacities that any Frenchman can fathom, as they expect the government to do everything.

La France (comme d'autres pays) a proposé son aide et nous en sommes bien heureux. Si cela peut aider (mais je pense que ça aidera) surtout dans une région ou la culture française doit être restée un peut présente.

"France has proposed to help and we are happy to do so. It should help (and I think it will), especially in a region where the French culture most maintain its presence."

This is in keeping with the French tendency to lay claim to all of its former colonies, whether they lost them 200 years ago (Haiti, Louisiana) or 50 years ago (Vietnam). Having lived in Louisiana, the affinity between Cajuns and French nationals is like settin side by side West Texas cowboys with contemporary Czech citizens. I hate to break it to them, but nobody speaks French in New Orleans except for that catchy touristy slogan "Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler". Cajun French has evolved from its ancestral tongue to such a degree as being almost a completely different language. Most of the architecture in the "French Quarter" is actually Spanish, as it was Spain that controlled New Orleans after the French and Indian War and rebuilt the city at the turn of the nineteenth century. I can bet you that opinions of the French among New Orleanians are no different than the rest of the American mainstream.

And for the amount of aid, we Americans are grateful for any offer but France's contribution is just a drop in the bucket. A couple of planes and a few million dollars doesn't come close to a private fleet of leased helicopters, a cavalry of privately owned rescute boats and hundreds of buses. I have a feeling that some French are completely unaware at the massive resources at our command.

Je pense que Mister Bush, au lieu d'envoyer l'armée pour tirer sur les pilleurs devrait plutôt l'utiliser pour apporter aide et réconfort à toute cette population gravement sinistrée. Et de continuer tranquillement ses vacances ça a choqué ici.

"I think that Mister Bush should use the army to bring in aid at the devastated population instead of shooting at looters. And to continue quietly his vacations was shocking for us in France."

Am I to understand that the French perceive that the National Guard was brought in strictly to shoot at the looters and that they are not bringing aid? That it isn't the looters shooting back at the army or police but rather a case of the armed forces just targeting helpless victims just trying to survive? As I've seen it reported in every news outlet, the looters have taken up arms and have shot at innocent people taking care of the sick, or attempting daring rescues of the stranded. The police have been too gutless to ever spare a shot, and the armed forces have acted as phenomenally professional as possible given the conditions. I hope that I misunderstood the writer's assertion, but I find it scandalous and downright sickening that the notion that the president has sent in the military to prey on the innocent and to excuse the barbarous behavior of some of the looters has been spread by media outlets in France.

And the French find it shocking that Bush didn't quickly cut his vacation short to devote his time to hurricane victims. This is from the very same people who left 15,000 of their grandparents to die alone while the rest of the family were on their traditional month-long August vacation. Although it was evident that the President had coordinated relief efforts from a federal level before the storm even hit from his Texas ranch, the French would like to believe that he was just in his backyard sipping mint-julips getting a sun-tan. It's funny that they feel entitled to take an undisturbed vacation during the hottest month while jettisoning any responsibilities for the death elderly loved ones they left behind. Bush was just being a good Frenchman about his vacation, you would think the French could identify with this. Anyway, the president did cut his "vacation" short, surveying the damage from his plane two days after the storm and getting the scene of devastation two days after--quite impressive.

"Alors Mr le président, vous ne croyez toujours pas au réchauffement climatique ?", il aurait répondu : "Si nous parlions de la guerre en Irak"

"A journalists asks the president: So Mr. President, do you still not believe in global warming? He responded--I'd rather talk about the war in Iraq."

The writer added this brief exchange to make two weakly supported points: first that global warming had something to do with the hurricane and that the presidents focus on Iraq is misplaced when natural threats loom larger than military threats. From my research, there is no substantial evidence that global warming contributed to hurricane Katrina's intensity, and that the number of powerful Hurricanes in the last five years is not unusually high and no worse than what was experienced by the U.S. during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Implementing the Kyoto treaty would have had zero effect in preventing hurricane Katrina.

If the president responds to questions regarding global warming by urging to talk about the Iraq war, it's probably because that the latter is a more pressing issue that requires immediate attention and focus. Global warming is a long-term problem, whose effects are so slow so as to be mostly insignificant compared to real threats of terrorism and rogue nuclear powers, that the President was right to brush off such an silly question. If the journalist can't differentiate the importance of military action from an unobservable climate theory, than he is not worth the president's time.

Other web sites go into much greater detail in explaining my positions regarding the whole hurricane issue. But I wanted to highlight here the perceptions of a relatively well informed Frenchman, and how his country's media is dangerously myopic to the reality on the ground in the Gulf Coast. His criticisms of the president are nothing new, and have been articulated countless times by left-wing groups in the past week. This being a relative of mine, I am dissappointed that the writer has yet to write anything sincerely sympathetic, but chose to highlight the flaws of my country and its policies. And yet I am not the least bit surprised by these statements.