When I was a child, my mother clothed me in ugly powder-blue coats, sad-sack, off-brand shoes, and bargain-basement pants. In my childhood photos, I look like my name was Patches. She never took into account my various nonbinding resolutions: to watch more TV and to eat more Trix.
I could list many more crimes: the horrible chicken dinners, the refusal to buy a dog, the mocking and derisive behavior toward hamsters Harriet I, II, and III.
These days, When Patches leaves his shiny office tower filled with the floor-clacking, Jimmy Choo-wearing fashion minions, he sometimes calls Mom. Because she’s a Southern lady of the old school, Mom’s accent rounds out the jagged edges of New York. Eventually, IT comes up: THE SUBJECT.
THE SUBJECT began this week with a swipe at the French. We’d saved the French in the First and Second World Wars. We cleaned up after them in Vietnam. For that, they should be grateful. Eternally. Grateful. Forever.
The Republicans are selling a past that never was and the Democrats are selling a future that will never be.
But the French dared to disagree with W. on the Iraq war. How dare them? Long live Freedom Fries. Get rid of French doors. Eradicate Mr. French from A Family Affair.
Pointing out that the United States owes a huge debt to the French is pointless, but true: the French funded the American Revolution. They bought all of our gunpowder and nearly bankrupted themselves to do it. Also pointing out that Chirac is right about the war doesn’t matter.
Iraq is a fiasco, but we won’t admit it. We don’t lose wars. We saved the world in the last century, twice.
But America has been, to borrow a phrase from the Germans after they’d lost the First World War, Stabbed in the Back by the French. [click here for a fascinating history of rationalizations for our “Stabbed in the Back” loss in Vietnam, and so on ]
We went into Iraq, diseased by WWII (we never lose a war, we never lose a war). We thought we’d get paraded and serenaded. Free hosiery and chocolate bars for everyone.
Americans feel WWII has given the U.S. carte blanche (a French phrase Republicans believe in). When our leaders said that there would be cheering in the streets after we’d liberated Iraq—they were diseased with WWII.
Reporters were, too—journalists thought they were Edward R. Murrow. This is Bagdad. They loved standing from a high vantage point during the night while missiles zeroed-in on a few hapless janitors in some slipshod building.
The Second World War is our disease and it must be lanced. We must stop calling our enemies “Hilter,” our friends, “allies.” The Second World War ended years and years ago. Then Greatest Generation went headlong into Vietnam.
The Republicans are selling a past that never was and the Democrats are selling a future that will never be. But why not go into the future? It’s more optimistic. It’s reaching up. It’s also leaving the illusory (and killing) past far behind.
“I don’t fuck much with the past, but I fuck plenty with the future”—Patti Smith
Bio: Meakin Armstrong is Guernica’s fiction editor. You can follow him on Twitter at @meakinarmstrong.