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9.19.03
Politics and Economy:
Bill Moyers on Old Friends and Comrades in Arms


We were in France last week. Seven old friends. One more reunion while there's time. We had a lot of catching up to do — grandkids and all that. On our last day we drove a couple of hours out of Paris to visit some places we had heard about long ago from World War I veterans who were still around when we were growing up.

View the Commentary
Bill Moyers
Bill Moyers
on Old Friends and Comrades in Arms

The Marne River, Chateau-Thierry. Belleau Woods — it was at these places, in the summer of 1918, that young Americans fresh from the United States were thrown into battle during the German army's last great drive of the war, aimed at Paris itself. So fierce was the fighting that it took American Marines a month, at the loss of over half their men, to capture a single square mile — the crucial strongpoint at Belleau Woods, defended by seasoned German troops who were astounded at how the Americans fought.

By summer's end the Kaiser's army had been thrown back, Paris was spared, and the war would soon be over. Of the 310,000 Americans who took part in the action that summer, 67,000 were casualties...including the poet Joyce Kilmer and Quentin Roosevelt, the son of a president. Nothing was ever found of one thousand sixty of the missing…their blood and bone mingled now in the fertile soil of the Marne Valley vineyards.

High above that valley, on a hill once marked by trenches and shell holes, stands a monument of 24 mighty columns and two heroic-size figures. Their hands are clasped — a tribute, the inscription tells us, to the French and American troops who fought here, and a lasting symbol of "the friendship and cooperation" between the two countries. A short drive away we stopped at the American Protestant Church and studied the stained glass window showing General Black Jack Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force in France, being greeted by General Lafayette.

It's only the artist's fancy, of course. Lafayette was from another era — the French nobleman who persuaded the French king to send 6,000 troops to the aid of George Washington and who then led the army that cornered the British at Yorktown, securing the American Revolution. Legend has it that when General Pershing set foot on French soil he had America's debt to France on his mind, and reputedly said: "Lafayette, we are here."

France and America have been allies for a long time now. The sentiment runs deep despite differences over Iraq today.

Our taxi driver in Paris was listening to American jazz when he stopped for us. The owner of the little restaurant in the old Bohemian district of Montmarte wore an American T-shirt and played American ballads while we had our lunch. A young Swedish woman, working in France, invited us to join with her French friends in a moment of silence on the anniversary of 9/11.

So the French were perplexed when this picture of President Bush appeared in newspapers last week. They didn't understand America's bellicosity, or why the president turns a deaf ear to others. They also think we're fighting the war against terrorism in the wrong way — alone — and in the wrong place — Iraq.

In his column this week the NEW YORK TIMES columnist Tom Friedman was tough on the French. He says France is becoming our enemy — trying to foil our policy in the Middle East. But the French aren't alone in thinking America has become the lone ranger of the world.

Last week even the FINANCIAL TIMES of London — pro-American, pro-business, conservative to the bone — threw up its hands in despair over Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice. This is, said the lead editorial, a team whose "instinctive and ideological tendency" from the start has been "to regard international consultation and cooperation as a burdensome bore or intolerable constraint." Don't they know, the paper asked, that "alone the U.S. Is far more vulnerable than it likes to believe, while in concert with free nations, it is far more powerful than even it can imagine."

This is something to think about on the battlefields of France. You think about the times we've helped each other, and how we still need each other to confront global terrorism. So you want to celebrate our ties, and nurture them. And that's what we did. We found an outdoor restaurant in a small village and ordered the speciality of the house. French fries. The real thing. French fries. As American as apple pie.

That's it for now. I'm Bill Moyers. Good night.

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