I am breaking off my love affair with France. It was always tenuous. There were some occasions that were unhappy, even unpleasant. Like the time I was charged $22 for a brandy in a glass the size of a thimble, or the haughty waiter in the fancy restaurant who refused to acknowledge that the meat he had served us was spoiled. Once, an attendant in the Louvre poked me in the ribs because I touched a table, and we got into a shouting match.
The worst experience may have been the time I tried to check out of my hotel on a bank holiday and was told that the hotel would not accept credit cards but would exchange traveler’s checks at 60 percent of the current exchange rate. I wound up taking a taxi to the Gar du Nord, exchanging my traveler’s checks for fair value at the 24-hour currency exchange and returning to the hotel to pay the very smug clerk in cash. And just last fall, a man tried to pick my pocket in the Paris Metro.
But there were good times, too. Times to cherish. Evenings at a sidewalk cafe in Montmartre, sipping cafe au lait and watching the people parade. The Rhone River on an autumn morning, with a light mist falling. Cheerful ladies in white aprons serving exquisite desserts and steaming cups of hot chocolate. And the art! The Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre are two of the greatest art destinations in the world. And how can one surpass sitting in the gardens at Giverny, where Claude Monet created his famous “Waterlilies”?
During the ’70s, I visited the American military cemetery near Omaha Beach, and while I was there, I lost a piece of correspondence that I intended to mail. Some kind French person found it and mailed it on, with a note that said, “Thank you for the soldiers who came to save France. We will never forget.” It was simply signed “M.”
“M” is not, unfortunately, the president of France. That office is now occupied by Jacques Chirac, and he has, indeed, forgotten.
It would have been tolerable, if disappointing, if France had simply told us that they did not agree with us about the war with Iraq. But they went far beyond that and led a strenuous diplomatic effort – sometimes overtly, sometimes behind the scenes – to undermine our international support and to jeopardize the success of our military mission. They were the key to the stalemate that occurred in the U.N., which has seriously affected the credibility of that body.
But for France, Saddam Hussein may well have realized that he should abandon power rather than risk war. But for France, Turkey may well have decided to permit American forces to travel across its territory in order to open a northern front in Iraq. But for France, a U.N. resolution in support of the war would almost certainly have passed, with attendant support from additional nations. American casualties in Iraq have been mercifully light, but they could have been fewer, perhaps avoided totally – were it not for France.
It is possible for a lover to forgive mere unfaithfulness. The burning of American flags in street protests, for instance, or even the calls, in some Paris newspapers, for America to suffer defeat.
But how does one forgive official behavior that was deliberately intended to harm us and humiliate us? How do we get past the fact that Messr. Chirac and his government were eager, even expended political and financial capital in a prolonged campaign that threatened American lives?
So I say to France, “Mon amour, je regrette. And don’t call me – it will only make things worse.”
Adjunct Fellow Howard L. Chapman is an attorney in Fort Wayne, IN.