Curt Bouterse
Pensées I: Pardon my French
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This is not a blog.

I come from a long line of country preachers on both sides of the family. Reticence and brevity are not in my genes, nor are they part of my inclination or training. I believe in calling a spade a spade and letting the chips fall where they may, metaphorically speaking. Since I have no teacher's podium, preacher's pulpit, or writer's column to express my opinions, you will have to suffer the consequences of my unemployment. These thoughts may be dated, but only for reference. Most have been percolating for years; many have been poured out already; all are still hot.

November 1, 2004. I might as well take on this French Thing right off the top. I am not French to my knowledge, nor have I ever been known as a Francophile. As the largest city often speaks for the country, most people equate Paris with France. As a country boy I have an aversion to Parisians and New Yorkers in equal measure, though I've always had a sympathetic feeling for southern France--much more like Italy or Spain--and peasants in general. I've never liked the art of the French renaissance or baroque, except the music, and I can't listen to Edith Piaf. I don't drink wine, red or white, don't like my cheese bleu, and, as a Southern boy with a great cook for a mom, have never had much interest in a cuisine that wants to make a chicken look like a peacock.
As an historian I know as well as anyone the shortcomings of French politics, philosophy, and military leadership. But enough is enough. Arrogance knows no national boundaries: Americans need a history lesson and a reality check before criticizing the French, or any Europeans, in the post 9/11 world.
If the French hadn't invaded England most of us would still be speaking some Germanic language with verbs at the end of our sentences and not even missing two-thirds of our vocabulary.
It is probable that the United States would not exist were it not for the assistance of French soldiers, sailors, munitions, and money during the American Revolution. (So I can't hate everything about the Louis's.) Afterwards, if Napoleon hadn't sold us Louisiana, we might be stuck on the Atlantic seaboard, boxed in by France, Canada, or Mexico.
But much more importantly, France knows first hand what war does to a people and a country. The two greatest catastrophies of modern times played out on the soil of France. I grew up seeing pictures of the ruins of French cities after The Great War in my history books and photographs of the ruins of Europe after the Second World War in magazines. I saw some of these ruins with my own eyes in Italy still in the early 1950s. And anyone who watched the ceremonies commemorating the Normandy landings saw the genuine outpouring of affection and gratitude by everyday Frenchmen toward our Allied veterans. And we heard some of the stories they had to tell of their experiences during the Nazi occupation: the chances they took and the sacrifices they made on behalf of all of us, including the right-wing isolationists who had opposed our involvement. I will not criticize those who suffered oppression when they oppose war. When was the last time Americans heard the tread of occupying troops on our streets or saw our cities in rubble? And the South still hasn't gotten over it!

November 4, 2004. The next time I flip a coin and it comes up on one side or the other, I'll have to remember to declare I have a mandate. Sorry, I wasn't planning on being so political so soon.

November 10, 2004. My father used to reminisce about the days when he was the pastor of the Baptist church in Carlisle and parishioners would bring over vegetables, pies, and even country hams, continuing a tradition which undoubtedly dated from the days when that was the only income a country preacher could expect. I'm sure the church paid him something but I'm just as sure it wasn't much. Even after he was in the navy we never had a lot and anything extra went to buy a house every few years as we moved around. I never felt deprived but I always knew we weren't rich. Besides, Jesus loved the poor and we knew what happened to rich men in the Bible.
When I first began to study history and politics it was clear that money and power were concentrated in cities. I always associated myself with small towns and the country. I could see the constant struggle, even in the United States, between city folks and country folks, those who exercised power and those who felt powerless, those who claimed knowledge and those whom they despised as ignorant, the elite and the masses, the captains of industry and those who produced, the haves and the have nots. But I knew a larger truth, for I had grown up in the country. I saw the dichotomy in different terms, Dives and Lazarus, the Arkansas Traveller, the Greater and Lesser Traditions. While the city disdained the country folk, it needed them, and they each other. Most city dwellers originated in the country and much of their discomfort was of themselves and their roots. Somehow the self loathing of the poor has transformed itself into identifying with their oppressors. No one considers themself poor anymore. It's always those other people. We want everything for ourselves and our children and instead of despising those who exploit us and the country for their own gain, we want to be just like them. Traditional virtues like modesty, honesty, and thrift pale in comparison with self aggrandizement, conspicuous consumption, and profligacy. Greed is Good.
Well, I for one am proud to be poor. I know that the love of money truly is the root of all evil. And that it doesn't profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul. If we don't want to meet the enemy and find that he is us, we need to get off the mesmerizing, dizzying ride toward our destruction and try to establish once again the principles that frame the kind of world in which we want to live. Love, Honor, Tolerance, all those inconvenient ideas we have forgotten to take time for.

December 1, 2004. Speaking of lawyers: except for Clarence Darrow, Perry Mason, and especially, Atticus Finch, I don't have much sympathy for them. I might not go as far as Shakespeare but I always took it as an insult when I was growing up and adults would react to my mind and tongue by saying, "You should be a lawyer."
On the other hand, it strikes me as the height of hypocrisy when politicians (most of them lawyers) rail against lawyers. The recent rhetoric about "tort reform" is a case in point. No one really thinks billion-dollar judgements in court cases are in anyone's best interest. But the truth is, if tort reforms are passed only poor folks lose the ability to hold powerful interests accountable for their actions. There will still be plenty of lawyers working for the HMO's, automobile manufacturers, the insurance industry, toxic pollutors, government at all levels, and anyone else with power and money. But why should we be surprised? Once again, if rich folks get their way: rich folks win, poor folks lose.

December 15, 2004. One of my favorite stupid political slogans: "You can't solve the problem by throwing money at it." Have you ever noticed that the same people who say that (about some program they oppose) always come around looking for money to throw at a program they favor? "Well, that's different. We're investing in the future. We're solving problems. We're feathering OUR nests."
My other favorite stupid political slogan is like unto the first: "Tax and Spend (Democrats)." My reading of the duties of Congress, as specified in the Constitution, comes out pretty much: taxing and spending. Of course, they could always declare war. But that would involve more taxing and spending, with a capital "-ing."

December 31, 2004. God bless whistle blowers. Since when did "blowing the whistle" become a bad thing: who are we, the Mafia? Truth should always be told. We certainly abet our own repression when we don't speak up for those who try to do The Right Thing. When we remain silent or, worse, agree with the condemnation of Troublemakers, Malcontents, and Squealers, we dig our own pit. For evil to triumph, good men need only do nothing. Lincoln rolls in his grave and the Constitution frays a little more.
Whether it be grandmothers in the ghetto, honest cops on the beat, dedicated workers in industry, education, hospitals, unions, government, the military, the CIA, FBI: all who turn a blind eye to corruption are themselves corrupted.
Anyone who has ever worked in a bureaucracy (the military, university, welfare department: some of mine) could not have been surprised by the testimony about the colossal failures of intelligence before September 11. It is always the workers on the line, the grunts in the trenches, the teachers in the classroom, the agents in the field, who know what's going on. And it is also always the middle management supervisors, the professional bureaucrats, who are more concerned with their little bailiwick, job security, and performance evaluation, than with the mission. And woe betide anyone who steps out of line, goes outside the chain of command, or dares to speak the truth. What would Gandhi do? What would Dietrich Bonhoeffer do? What would Martin Luther (or King) do? And, yes, what do you think Jesus would do? Certainly not what Rush and the other right-wing hate mongers, in and out of government would have us do.
Thank God for one honest soldier who blew the whistle on Abu Ghraib. Any American who does not believe he should get a medal is no American and, certainly, no Christian. And pray God there will always be honest soldiers, cops, doctors, and workers in every field who will ask themselves, what should I do?

January 3, 2005. Robert Matsui's death was reported today. He was my age and a longtime Congressman from California. I never knew him but we shared many things, with one big difference. While I was with my mother in Cleveland, Tennessee, waiting word from my father in the South Pacific, Robert and his parents were evicted from their home and sent to live behind barbed wire. All because his ancestors came from Japan and not from Holland.
When we consider our injunction to love our neighbors, we always think it will be easy. After all, I know my neighbors: they're not bad folks. I'm sure many people knew the Matsui's too; I'm sure they weren't bad folks either. But in 1942, few spoke up for them, or any other "Japs" on the West Coast.
The late Charles Kuralt had an interview once with a woman in Northern California who, when all her Japanese neighbors were rounded up and sent away, did the Christian thing. She took the deeds to all their farms and took care of them until the war was over. Those families came back and could reclaim their lives. Most were not so lucky. Greedy neighbors, "Christian" neighbors, took what they had always wanted. You never know what you will do in times of crisis. I will always remember that woman and her example of loving her neighbor and hold that example against my time of trial.
When our family first moved to San Diego in 1948, I was in second grade. I went to Central School where many of the children were Japanese. I always thought the girls were the prettiest ones in school and I even somehow hoped I would grow up to be as handsome as the Nisei boys. I never knew, and they never mentioned, where they had all grown up. I read about it when I went to college in the early 1960's and was almost in denial. It didn't square with anything I knew or had experienced. I had seen segregation in the South and knew racism existed against Blacks, and hated it, but I had never suspected such a dark thing could have happened against another group of people I had known and loved, and lived with all my life. Even before the cancer of Vietnam ate away at American idealism I learned to be wary of Government claims of infallibility. I could not, and still cannot, bear to mention it to any of my Japanese friends. But I will not forget it and none of us should forget it either. Loving our neighbor is not a suggestion, it is an order. And I believe Robert Matsui knew that as well.

January 7, 2005. For most of my life, I haven't known whether to laugh or cry when I hear rich politicians (who get the best health care money can buy--for free) rail against Socialized Medicine. As the child of a career Naval Officer and, again, serving in the military myself, I have been the proud recipient of America's best socialized medicine. But I guess it's only hoi polloi who shouldn't have it. I suppose I shouldn't be such an ingrate about what the Rich are doing for us Po Folks. Besides, the President insists there is no war between the Rich and the Poor. And the Emperor really does wear a beautiful robe.

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