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WEBRANT: Freedom Leave



FREEDOM LEAVE Samuel Johnson opined that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. If he were here to witness the overblown oratory about France and Germany emanating from some of our leaders, he might have to rework his phrase to make it the first. I'm speaking, of course, of the "Freedom Fries" flap and the Dixie Chicks debacle. Both of these contretemps would be laughable if they did not so clearly demonstrate why other nations have reason to criticize our propensity to distill very complicated issues of foreign policy into a Manichean essence. Would that foreign policy were a simple matter of distinguishing the good guys by their white chapeaux. While it cannot be disputed that at least some of our former allies' criticism finds its origins in economic self-interest, this revelation should not consign those who question our moral authority to being guys in black hats. It is perfectly legitimate to be skeptical of the foreign policy of a nation that finds itself propping up the Shah of Iran in one generation, arming Iraq against Iran a decade later, and then making nice with Iran again by the next generation. Could geopolitics be a bit more complicated than requiring our allies to have their lips surgically attached to our derrieres? Is this really no more complex than demanding that another country be either with us or agin' us? And if French food items should be renamed so as to be more patriotic, what's next? Install software in newspaper editing rooms so that the The Memphis Flyer can purify itself of phrases appropriated from the French? Cleanse its op-ed pages of the term laissez-faire and any food articles of soup du jour (and this essay of debacle, contretemps, chapeaux and derrieres)? Allowing that our own language is an amalgam of many linguistic traditions, maybe we should just expunge from our dictionaries the words of any nation that does not support us in toto. Does our national future hold new career opportunities for underemployed liberal arts majors who could render service to our country as "patriot lexicographers?" Where is Germany in all this? One of Memphis' exclusive eastern suburbs changed its name to Neshoba during war time--can frankfurters, weinerschnitzel and apple strudel be far behind? And a bonus is that if we do this lexicon-purification thing right, school principals might not even need to cheat because our students will have far fewer words to recognize on standardized tests, thereby increasing their scores. Why stop at renaming foods when we could move on to wiping America's maps clean of the likes of Paris, Tennessee and Stuttgart, Arkansas? Just because there are towns with the grave misfortune of having had founding fathers from France or Germany is no reason to excuse them from their patriotic duty. Speaking of Germany, what about our Mercedes-Benz driving friends? Shouldn't their support of our President include abandoning their luxury sedans at the nearest Chevrolet dealership? If I were an ad agency representing an American automaker, I'd be busy whipping up some clever storyboards showing a BMW being crushed by an angry mob of flag-waving, anthem-singing, Stetson-wearing, gun-toting "true" Americans. Nazi Germany's propaganda ministers couldn't have done it better themselves. Scoundrel: from the Latin condere, meaning "to hide;" also from the Old French and Anglo-French: I'm getting my resume ready.

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