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Public Theology: Grow Up, Get Real, Go to France
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Grow Up, Get Real, Go to France
Is it our patriotic duty to boycott France? Fox News and some congresspeople are telling us to do so. Here's another view.

By Ed Knudson

My wife and I plan to vacation in France this May. We are being told by some to cancel our plans. The nice folks at the Fox News Network are leading a chorus of hostility to France these days. They say it is our patriotic duty to stay away from France and boycott its products. French political leaders have refused to support George W. Bush’s attack on Iraq. So they have become the bad guys, along with Germany, Russia, China, and a lot of other countries who think George Bush is wrong.

What do you think? At the end of this article you are invited to tell us what to do. And let us know if what you read below has changed your mind or supports what you already believed. (Responses are at end of article.)

The United States is a young country, only some over 200 years old. European countries such as Germany and France have a lot more experience with war, lots more history, and so we in this country should first and foremost take an attitude that we can learn something by listening to our elders. George Bush has not wanted to listen; he is acting like a rebellious teenager whose body has grown strong but whose mind has not matured. The European elders have told George Bush that he shouldn’t go to war and he has done it anyway. In fact, his advisors have told him that America must flex its muscle in the world, let everyone know that we are a big, bad country and we will do just what we want.

Well, I say to George Bush, and all those who want to boycott French products, “grow up.” My wife and I are going to France. Those congressional leaders who can’t stand to say “French Fries” are exhibiting teenage tantrums.

Think about this. Iraq has had more direct economic relations with European countries than the United States. The oil in Iraq is vital to Europe. Russia has had particular interest in Iraq. Iraq is more in the backyard of Europe than the United States. Imagine, then, if France had decided, for whatever reasons, to attack Mexico, a country in our own backyard. How would we feel in this country? Now that would be something about which to get mad at France. But the United States is attacking Iraq, right in Europe’s backyard, even though two major nations of Europe have repeatedly told us that we should not do it.

Furthermore, this means that this country will control what happens to Iraq. It will determine how the resources of Iraq are to be utilized in the future. In fact, this may be one of the hidden reasons Bush’s people pushed him to make Iraq a priority at this time. Control over Iraq gives the United States much more influence in relation to Europe. Now, some in this country may agree that is a good thing, but remember that what has kept the world safe for decades is something known as the “balance of power”. George Bush and his advisors no longer want to live within a concept of balance of power; they want the United States to exercise its power (what they call leadership) throughout the world within an ideology that makes universal claims about what is necessary and best for all other nations. George Bush is telling Europe, “we know what’s best for you.”

This is extreme arrogance and it is going to severely hurt the United States in the long run. France and Germany have been our friends. But we are not treating them as friends. They have been telling us for many months not to attack Iraq, this has not just come up recently. The Bush administration has tried to talk with them but has ignored what they have been saying; it has intentionally taken an action that our friends didn’t want. That is not the way to preserve friendships of mutual support over time which can benefit everyone. The interests of the United States are not going to be served by playing a bully in the schoolyard. Even Henry Kissinger in an interview on Fox News said that a tremendous mistake has been made diplomatically and when the war is over it will be necessary for the administration to seriously sit down and ask what was done wrong and what will have to be done to repair the damage.

This is not a small thing. It is a very big deal. I believe that every effort should be made by American citizens to stop talking against the French and Germans, to moderate what we think are our patriotic duties as if we are teenagers hollering at a football game. We need to grow up. We need to become more mature and realize that we are not the only country in the world, that determinations of what is good and bad to do, what is right and wrong, are not always perfectly clear but are always morally ambiguous and that judgments must be made taking into account the interests of all the people affected by an action.

This is what teenagers mean when they say, “Get real!” Now that’s some language we older ones should affirm. Things are not always so cut and dried as when George Bush says that Saddam is an evil man, we are the good guys and they are the bad guys.

But many times teenagers are idealists, they want to save the world rather than live in it as it is. It is idealism which characterizes the rationale for this war (though the real reasons for the war are probably something else entirely). With the end of the Soviet Union there is a tendency in this country to believe that our way of life, our beliefs, and our particular way of creating institutions on the basis of those beliefs, is the only right and good way for everyone and all nations in the world. That seems to be the high moral purpose of those to whom George Bush is listening these days. If the Iraqi people view us as liberators that will justify us in carrying out this moral crusade for liberty for all. Well, to this idealism we must say again, “Get Real!” Liberty is, indeed, a treasured value in our culture, but even in our own experience as a nation we have learned how difficult it is to maintain within the actual patterns and conditions of community life. We should not use our most treasured beliefs to justify actions that are harmful to others and ourselves, for by so doing we cause cynicism about the belief in the first place. The Iraq war will cause great cynicism around the world and we can only hope that in two years the American people will elect a new and different leader as president who may be able to be real and restore faith in what this country stands for.

That is especially important for United States because we have such a massive military advantage in the world today. We are a big, strong teenager. So we are tempted to use our military in inappropriate ways. History suggests this temptation is always true of nations and empires who have grown strong. At the end of his book on The Structure of Nations and Empires, the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr writes in 1959: “It would be tragic, as well as ironic, if the tolerance and modesty we learned or had forced upon us in the peculiar conditions of western life should become the basis of fanaticism and immodesty in our international relations.”

My wife and I are going to France. We will thank them for questioning an unwise and ill-conceived war. We will do our part to try to apologize for the actions of our country in the hope that on some level, at least, Americans and the French can remain friends.

Let us know what you think.

Note: I notified some of my friends and family about this article and have received some responses printed below.


From my friend Jarmo Tarkki: WAR OR PEACE?

Or, Ed should go to France and thank them for good food, only

George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein both spoke soon after the first strikes. Remarkably, or ironically, both of them feel that God is on their side. The battle seems to be on one level a battle between Yahweh and Allah. Perhaps it is tragically fitting that the battle of the gods is fought in the ancient region of Mesopotamia, the land between the rivers of Tigris and Euphrates. Abraham’s hometown, Ur of the Chaldea, Jonah’s Nineveh and ancient Babylonia are there as well.

The Iraqi people have suffered under Saddam’s dictatorship since 1968 when he effectively began to rule Iraq. Many Iraqis are poor and uneducated. Now these already victimized people are suffering under the heavy military attack led by the US.

But how am I, with limited access to already filtered information, supposed to decide whether this war is justified or not? Why do people, who I expect to have all possible information available to them, come to diametrically opposite conclusions?

Senator Robert Byrd stated that this war is not one of necessity but one of choice, a choice that is a very poor one. Another senator, representing the same political party, Joe Lieberman said: the military campaign against Iraq “is a task of high justice, necessity, and idealism in the best tradition of American principles and patriotism.”

When the experts disagree, how are the rest of us supposed to decide?

Furthermore, there is considerable international disagreement between essentially similar nations about the war campaign. Denmark is for the violent disarmament, the other Scandinavian countries are not.

France is against the war. But is France first and foremost for peace or for France? Let us look at some facts and see, if Ed should thank the French for their love of peace.

The early contractors of the Iraqi oil were American and British corporations. When Saddam nationalized Iraq’s oil business in 1972, the new beneficiaries were the Russians and the French. Now a French-Belgian gargantuan oil company, TotalFinaElf has the rights to one quarter of the Iraqi oil fields. (Since last fall the Russians and the Chinese have also signed major oil drilling rights to Iraqi oil. Lo and behold, these two countries are also for peace! Coincidentally, or perhaps not, France, Russia and China happen to posses veto rights in the UN Security Council.)

In addition, the French have sold military equipment to Saddam. In case Saddam is deposed the French are in danger of losing major business opportunities. France may be for peace but for reasons that are financial and political, not moral.

History teaches us that there seems to be a small Napoleon inside of French leaders. The French would love to rule the world. They are now making major efforts to “napoleonize” the European Union.

The “culturally advanced” French tribes do not allow the public use of some English words since it would pollute their language. But they do detonate massive nuclear weapons in Mururoa (one of the two atolls in French Polynesia that the French use for nuclear tests). Do you recall when the French bombed Greenpeace protest ship Rainbow Warrior and killed Fernando Perreira, a Portuguese photographer on board?

The French have been a major colonial power in Africa. There they are known for their brutal rule. Some of these actions have led to massive disasters, like in Rwanda where Hutu militias killed an estimated 200,000–500,000 civilians, most of them Tutsi in 1994 (Keith B. Richburg wrote a great book about this and other African disasters titled Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa).

I love France, the food is, hmm, phenomenal. The history is magnificent. Paris is just gorgeous, French philosophers, artists, composers…all great. But the French are also arrogant, self-centered and highly anti-American.

We all should go to France, but we should not thank them for questioning the wisdom of the war. If we do, we will perpetuate the image of ignorant and gullible Americans. And then the French would be right!

Clearly the matter of war or peace in Iraq is highly complex. There are no five second answers. The US has, as Ed stated, obviously failed miserably in international diplomacy. The world is now more divided than it has been for decades. Right after 9/11 America had a great deal of sympathy, now global anti-Americanism has reached new historical highs which in turn provides a yeasty environment for new terrorist activities, which in turn is going to inspire the US to take even stronger actions against the terrorists, which in turn... What happened during the past 18 months?

I just wonder, what would have happened if the US had suggested to Iraq that all economic sanctions would be lifted and financial aid would be arranged in exchange for dismantling of weapons of mass destruction? Was that ever even tried?

Ultimately we are faced with an authentic moral dilemma: there seems to be equally weighty arguments on either side.

I do not know what God’s opinion is about the war, but this I do know: the plausibility of suffering of the innocent seems outrageous. And yet it is conceivable that a brief war may be the only way for long term peace.

Bon Voyage!

Jarmo Tarkki
Solvang, CA

“The world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy, the Swiss hold the America's Cup, France is accusing the US of arrogance, and Germany doesn't want to go to war.”

Ed's Reply: I certainly didn't want to leave the impression that I thought the French were against the war for reasons of high moral ideals. In fact, they have been hiding behind U.S. power in the region. They have a real interest in the oil in Iraq, a critically important interest, indeed, and that is the point. President Bush is not taking into account the interest of our "friends". I don't think it's true that the "experts disagree" and thus the rest of us have no basis for making a decision for or against this war. The fact is that this administration is committed to world domination through control of oil(see article by Robert Dreyfuss) and is willing to undermine the United Nations to do so, and that is issue the American people should debate. I believe that the security of the United States is better served by viewing itself as one nation among many, a "balance of power" type approach, working through the United Nations rather than trying to become the one, dominate, world empire. In talking to the French I will try not to be too gullible, however! Thanks, Jarmo!


From my friend Tom Tjepkema, with whom we are traveling to France

Subject: Travel to France

Message: Karleen and I have independently come to the same conclusion as Ed and Linda. We have never traveled to Europe because of family and work commitments, and have been disappointed and a little angry that this whole thing should have come about just at the time we had spent the last six months planning this "trip of a life-time," modest as it may be. But, frankly, we haven't spent a lot of time brooding about it. We did not even discuss the possibility of canceling or rescheduling the trip until yesterday, and then only briefly. We think that this will at best be an opportunity for us to be good will ambassadors and at worst an opportunity to observe and experience first hand the perspective on this situation of people outside of our own circles and media.

It would be easy for us to fall victim to fear of what we might encounter. I heard a woman from South Africa call in to a talk show who related that this what happened there - the government made the whites fearful of the blacks, and then were able to control the country. During this season of Lent we have been contemplating a definition of sin as "separateness," that which separates us from one another, and the source of being. We think that the fear of terrorism is being used for the purpose of furthering the international policy of this administration. We do not think that military intervention is an effective strategy against terrorism. This has been proven in Israel and Northern Ireland. And all of the rhetoric we hear only serves to create separation in what is truly one world.

At any rate, trying to separate myself from the emotional involvement of the moment, I see evidence of an evolving democratization of the world. More than ever before people have access to alternative opinions and are in a position to draw and communicate their own conclusions. On Wednesday we were in Central Minnesota, rural, typically VFW and American Legion country. The local AM station was reporting the peace effort and the Senate's defeat of Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge drilling in a positive manner. I spent Friday and Saturday working with a cabinetmaker in Herbster, who reads newspapers from around the globe on the Internet every evening. This morning the first robins appeared in our yard. They reminded me that the most striking image of the first pictures of the bombing of Baghdad was birds flying unhurriedly back and forth in front of the camera, going about their normal business.

Sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better. Our vision of the future is that the excesses of this current campaign will discredit military intervention as a viable strategy for achieving world peace.

Tom Tjepkema

Ed's Reply: I too see more democracy in the world, and do believe that the United States has an important role in promoting democracy, peace, and justice. But the Iraq war is not the way to do it, in fact, as you say, it is adding to the separation of peoples and nations. Thanks for your comments!


From my grandnephew Anders Aakhus-Witt: (a student at the Colorado School of Mines)

Subject: Bon Voyage!

Message: Hello Ed - I must inform you that your jue d'esprit is very nearly in exact accordance with my own, that your vociferous efforts are universally laudable, that you will doubtless enjoy your trip, and that I wish I were going along with you.

I am not as patient as yourself, and instead I prefer to write in much more convoluted ways; I here would like to offer you an example:

I love Saddam Hussein. In personal cogency and poise he exceeds all men; he is fabulous. I used to believe that Osama Bin Laden was my only savior (before I learned of Osama Bin Laden, Jesus Christ was my only savior), but I no longer believe in Osama,- Saddam Hussein is now my only savior.

Please consider the difficulties of controlling lots of oil, and of resisting the Bushies with their myriad Christian followers. Now please consider Saddam Hussein's stalwart control of lots of oil, and his valorous resistances to the villainous Bushies. You must also admire Saddam Hussein since you have considered his superior controllership and Bushy resistances; do not omit that he who is the most assured of success will make the fewest appeals to favor, and where nothing is claimed that is undue, nothing that is due will be withheld: make love but do not make war, dude!

I find that whimsy such as this is more effective than the seriousness such as your piece about your trip to France.

Anders Aakhus-Witt

Ed's reply: I am still working to understand some of what you said. As you probably know, I do not share the views of the Christian right wing that worked to elect George Bush. In fact, I believe that without them he would not have been elected. Thanks for your comments, Andy.


From my nephew, Jim Aakhus

Given this forum, I will take advantage of the opportunity to share my points of view. This doesn't mean I'm trying to convince anyone else to agree with me nor will I be able to be persuaded to change my mindset. I'm all for Ed and Linda travelling to France & the other European countries they have planned to visit. I was at most of those places in 9/01 having left Rome on 9/16/01. I don't think this war should interfere with plans to travel unless one plans to go to Iraq or its surrounding countries.

I saw & heard an interview on 3/24/03 of a US soldier who's in Iraq. He said something like "I'll die to liberate Iraq. That's more than what their army soldiers are willing to give up." My paternal grandfather fought in WW II in Normandy, France & other places. My father served during the end of the Korean War and the Vietnam war. In Vietnam, the helicopter he was in was shot down. Most all aboard were killed. My pa was injured and was awarded a Purple Heart medal. My brother served 14 yrs in the Army whereby a significant # of yrs was in Germany. I served our country for 4 yrs in the Air Force from 1975-79. I had former coworkers in the USAF who fought in Vietnam. We became friends as well. At my church's men's breakfast last wk, a retired USAF 2 star general gave a talk. He's the local tv and radio station's war consultant. He gave us detailed info about Saddam Hussien & how Hussien has had 11-12 yrs to follow the agreements he agreed to since he surrendered back then, but he hasn't and won't. It seems to me that a lot of folks in the USA who are not supportive of what our country is doing now, didn't serve in the military nor did many of their ancestors. It seems to me that given we're going to bat for the rest of the world, rather than those folks here who are protesting, they seem to be more interested in their own agenda rather than our country's. It seems atrocious to me to see the war protestors who are utilizing up police and other resources, are only placing the rest of us to some degree of risk by taking those resources away from what they should be doing...protecting us in the homelands from any possible threats that could occur. That general said there are about 100 or so terrorist folks in the Twin Cities area. He gave 3 examples of recent incidents that happened here in the Minneapolis/St Paul area. One is 2 middle Eastern men with AZ license plates attempted to enter a local hospital saying they were summoned to make some repairs on some equipment. The security folks stopped them, but since the 2 men hadn't done anything wrong yet, they let them go! Needless to say, those 2 men should've been detained for further investigation by qualified law enforcement authorities.

French fries have nothing to do with France. They were invented by a man with the surname of "French." I'm not in support of boycotting French made products because even tho France may not be on the bandwagon (likely due to their own agenda), we don't need to add fuel to any fires. I'm a believer in the way of thinking..."either you are on Saddam Hussein's side or on our government's side." I don't trust Hussein. I do trust Bush because he hasn't given us a reason not to trust him. Whether our most recent President was a democrat or a republican, he demonstrated plenty of reasons not to trust him. It seems to me that many of the critics of Bush are just that, critics of him and/or his policies. I wonder what the current critics would be saying if Al Gore was doing the same thing (or is the argument then, Gore wouldn't be doing it). We'll never know 'cause Gore nor any other democrat President isn't in office. It's easy to 2nd guess. In previous wars and assitance our great country has intervened & provided, we didn't go in to overtake the country for our own personal gains. We went in, liberated the countries, then backed out to let the new regime handle it. The only country I can think of that we finally backed out of is Haiti. We were there for yrs, but there was too much crap going on within the various governments, that we backed out, withdrew our troops and $ support. The $ support we gave wasn't getting to the people who needed it most 'cause the higher ups were hiding it or whatever.

Having been in the military, there are military secrets that the rest of the world doesn't have a need to know. If our govt revealed everything they know about the Iraq govt, we'd be giving up some of our strategies, etc. Faith is what I have in our government whether we have a democrat or a republican in office. John F. Kennedy took control of a potentially volatile situation in 1962 with the Bay of Pigs incident. I am not a history expert, but pre-emptive strikes and drawing the line in the sand are what's necessary some times in order to preserve life, etc for the future. One can not deal rationally with a leader who is not a rational person. How is it rational for Hussein & his brothers to not step down when last week was given the opportunity? Had they done so, no one would've died this past wk. We all know what the outcome will be, but Hussein is not dealing with reality. He seems to be placing his own needs 1st, not the innocent people of his country. He has built bunkers (with German influence and construction) over schools & clinics & religious agencies. That is a proven fact. The aforementioned general (who altho is retired, is actively involved with the Pentagon and is privy to a lot of current info) said last wk at our breakfast that we have CIA & other folks in Bahgdad who are in disguise and who are providing us with important info. For exple, it was one of those men who learned about the meeting last wk of the Iraqi higher ups were with Hussein. Bush was contacted and gave the ok to start the bombing one day sooner than originally planned because of that 2 hr window of opportunity. Obviously, our govt can't allow CNN, etc to be aware of everything our govt knows. When one is playing chess, one doesn't tell his/her opponent what his strategy is. I believe those who say we're not at war with the Muslims. It's with people like Hussein as well as terrorist type thinkers. I believe God (I am a believer in the Christian God) is with our govt whether we have a democrat or a republican President. I have faith that He will guide. We don't always understand what God's plan is, but we can trust in Him. He knows we're not out to conquer the world, but only to preserve, protect, and have peace for all. For those who don't believe in God, you likely have faith in something (whatever it is) unless you believe fate and/or circumstance governs everything. Our country is a humanitarian. I concur with those who believe Hussein is similar to Hitler. Do we wait to be attacked again like on 9/11? I don't believe the people behind that attack are rational. Their way of thinking is that our way of life is wrong. What does it take for us to take a strong position to ensure that terrorists and leaders like Hussein who possess weapons of mass destruction (or were trying to manufacture and/or obtain them) don't get another opportunity to use them. Our country has nuclear weapons as a way to keep peace. We don't have them with plans to go on the offensive. They're like a fire extinguisher... it's important to have one in case it's needed, but we hope we never have a fire to put out.

My pastor said when he was in Germany last summer, he visited a small town that was still rebuilding from 50 yrs ago. He said people there said they never want to go thru another war like b/4. He said that may be another reason Germany isn't supportive of us... they know what they may have to lose if they get involved. The following is something I received via e-mail on 3/24/03. I don't know that the #s are accurate, but the point is the same. "SEVERE EARTHQUAKE IN FRANCE. March 12, 2003. Today it was reported that severe earthquakes have occurred in 10 different locations in France. The severity was measured in excess of 10 on the Richter Scale. The cause was the 56,681 dead American soldiers buried in French soil rolling over in their graves. According to the American Battle Monuments Commission there are 26,255 Yankee dead from World War I buried in 4 cemeteries in France. There are 30,426 American dead from World War II buried in 6 cemeteries in France. These 56,681 brave American heroes died in their youth to liberate a country which is guilty of shameful unspeakable behavior in the 21st century. May the United States of America never forget their sacrifice as we find ways to forcefully deal with the Godforsaken, unappreciative, forgetful country of France! PASS THIS AROUND! Maybe it will get to someone in France!!!" (end of quote). In closing, I am a believer with once a decision is made (whether I agree with it or not), it's best to not continue to combat it and rebel against it. It's best to be supportive and move on. Bob Hope and the other entertainers may not have agreed with why we were in Vietnam, but they spent their own time, $, and efforts to support the troops. I think of the parents I've read about or heard interviewed who are not in agreement with our country's intervention, yet they have children in the military & those parents are supportive of those children. To me, rebellion when it's futile is not the best use of time, energy nor effort. We're at war and it's out of my control. Protesting it won't change what our govt thinks is best for us and the world. I like Ed's analogy about "exhibiting teenage tantrums." The only thing is, it works both ways. Typically, those tantrums are a sign of immaturity and not enough wisdom about the situation, but the teenager doing it believes he/she is correct and will persist. It's the mature & wise person who accepts reality of the situation, then makes the most of it & moves on. We've all experienced situations at work, home, church, school, in sports, etc whereby we didn't like the boss', the teacher's, the coach's, the spouse's, the friend's, the referee's, the child's (minor or adult), etc., decision. Sure, it's fine to argue one's point of view to try to get that person who has the "power" to make the decision or to see our side, but once the referee (or whoever) makes the call, it's time to move on and play the game. Dwelling on the past isn't fruitful. Sometimes that decision-maker makes an error. With a govt and world input, that's less likely.

Enjoy the trip! Bring lots of film. When I was in the Air Force, fellow GIs told me when they were stationed in Europe then, the French didn't like American GIs. When I was in France almost 2 yrs ago, they were very friendly (but then I wasn't in uniform).

Respectfully submitted,

Jim Aakhus

Ed's reply: Jim, I apreciate your views and thank you for offering them here. I know many members of my family probably share your perspective. It's important to say that nothing you have said detracts from my admiration for you and my good feeling about you.

I would like to say that there is a kind of military cultural experience that is shared among those who have been in the military and who have fought in wars. I appreciate that and know that in your own mind you have done so for laudable and honorable reasons. However, that should not be a primary reason to support or not support a particular war. I think that now that the United States commands such great power over other countries that we should be especially hesitant about fighting wars. And, often, wars can be fought by countries for some very bad reasons.

I went to the movie "Platoon" with a Vietnam veteran who was a member of my church at the time. That was quite an experience. We talked many hours afterward. The war wounded the man to the heart of his soul. It was good to be with him in the midst of that pain. And I know to question a war where men and women are offering up their lives seems to be a terrible thing. As I said in another article, however, it is the president of this country who has been willing to send our troops despite the fact that the country and the world is divided over this war.

Thanks again, Jim, for taking the time to offer your views.


Please Comment - See More Articles in this Section - Submitted By: 5520

Date Added: 3/23/2003 Date Revised: 3/26/2003 12:28:59 PM

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