Foreign Affairs

The Ugly American

Listening to the American tourists traveling in France, it is apparent we are in the “age of Obama.” The Ugly American has morphed into the Apologetic American, the one who is sorry for everything. This American apologizes for breathing French air; for being colonists; for appearing arrogant.

It is hard to fathom how this new American can apologize to the insufferable French for arrogance or colonialism, but there you have it. American tourists merely ape their president. In this period, Americans are unequivocally sorry.

Now in order for these tourists to appear genuine, they must impose historical amnesia on themselves. Forget the role nineteen and twenty-year-old soldiers played in liberating France during World War II. Forget American blood that seeped into the sands at Normandy. Forget the Marshall Plan that rebuilt war-torn France. In fact, forget much of the twentieth century.

Rewrite history so that the French appear as sophisticates and Americans hopelessly “nouveau arriviste.” Not only must you rewrite this history, it must be rewritten by the Americans themselves. They will be their own revisionists.

From any point of view, this is sickening. The American apologist has nothing for which apology is necessary. If anyone should be bowing and offering thanks, it is the French. When a Frenchman recently upbraided Americans for only speaking English, he should have been reminded that, were it not for Americans, the French would only be speaking one language as well: German.

Admittedly, the French generally know more about wine than Americans, but when it comes to manners, what the French call “politesse,” Americans generally beat them at their own game.

Every time an American apologizes for Vietnam or “wrecking the Atlantic alliance” (to quote President Obama), I want to slap him into sensible thought. It was the French who left Vietnam with their tail between their legs and President Eisenhower and Kennedy who bailed them out.

It was De Gaulle who refused to join NATO and demanded a “force de frappe,” a toothless response to Soviet nuclear threats. And it is the United States that is responsible for putting teeth in the European fighting force. Although probably uncharitable, some have argued that the French gave the United States the Statue of Liberty because she has only one arm in the air.

Now that President Obama has become an instant hero in France, ala J.F.K., it is not uncommon for a Frenchman to say at last America has put race behind it and selected a black man. Whenever I hear this comment, I always ask when France will elect an Algerian. My comment is usually greeted with silence.

President Obama has given impetus to the contemporary French argument that the United States may not be so bad after all. But this is an America that refuses to flex its military muscle; an America that appears confused and without direction. If one can find a stance in the new administration, it is the accommodative spirit that cannot distinguish between an enemy and a friend. It is an America that says pleasantries about Iran and castigates Israel. It is an administration that wants to turn back the clock in its dealings with Muslim nations but refuses to mention the sacrifices Americans made for Muslims in the Balkans and Iraq among other places.

Although it is an unpopular position, I prefer the Ugly American to the Apologetic American: the one wearing the horribly garish Hawaiian shirt, the one who brags about American accomplishments, the person who knows America bailed out France and isn’t afraid to say so, the one who interred political correctness and the one who refuses to apologize for American actions. Americans sacrificed blood and treasure for Europeans. That is nothing to be ashamed of.

As I see it, we need a dose of Yankee-first patriotism. That surge of nationalistic fervor might do us some good and might even have a chastening effect on the French (notice I said might).

It is strange that I long for the Ugly American I once criticized, but whenever I hear the Apologetic American on the Champs Elysee, I only wish the past can be resurrected.  Give me the Ugly American any day of the week rather than his contemporary counterpart.


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