Saturday, February 4, 2012

"Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys"

Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys

By Jim Leutze 

I recently was required to go to France. Well, maybe “required” isn’t the right word, but we had to go since we had exchanged our house at Bald Head for a 400-year-old French farmhouse. Since there has been so much talk about socialism in general since the election, and so much talk about socialist France in particular, we really were on the edge about being swept into some kind of collectivist vortex.

We had already been subjected to European “socialized” medicine during a previous visit. My wife began to evince flu-like symptoms, and the lady on the floor above suggested we go to the doctor around the corner. Expecting the worst — crowds, surly nurses, etc. — we were surprised to find a pleasant waiting room with virtually no one in it. The next surprise was that the doctor herself came out to usher the patient into her office. The doctor performed a thorough exam, asking questions in perfect English, wrote out a prescription, and said there was no charge. Then came the nasty surprise — the pharmacist charged us $7.50 for the antibiotics!

But since many US politicians say, as part of their anti-healthcare position, “We don’t want to be like France,” I decided to check a little further. Turns out our experience was pretty typical. You can have whoever you want as your doctor; drugs generally are free (and unadvertised). For routine surgery, you may pay 10 percent of the cost; for serious surgery, you pay nothing. Although this sounds like a pretty lock-step, onerous system, they must be doing something right since their life expectancy for men is 77 versus 75 in the US and 84 for women versus 81 in the US — and ditto for infant mortality, which is 7.5 per 100,000 in the US versus 5 in France. Maybe it’s because they don’t work as hard as we do, although they do have the fourth or fifth largest economy in the world. They don’t work as hard because the government has forced them to accept a 35-hour work week with at least seven weeks of paid vacation.

You would think that this kind of oppressive system would make people dislike their government. But ironically the French like their government a lot more than we do. They have been cowed into believing that government is there to help them and provide services. When there are strikes, the strikers appeal to the government to help them against unfair employers. The public may dislike this or that politician, but by and large they trust civil servants who have an elevated status in French society. It is rather depressing to see how lethargic the body politic has become since they emulated the philosophical rationale of our revolution.

They, of course, know this history because they have a 99 percent literacy rate as a result of their public education system. It is hard to believe that this system is any good since it is virtually free! Elite universities do charge tuition — about $1300 per year, but the students, conditioned to expect government handouts, are outraged by this. They feel that education is in the public interest and consequently should be available without cost. In other words, they naively believe that an educated populace is better able to make choices, both in terms of who they elect and how to conduct their foreign policy.

One thing they have chosen is not to get involved in pre-emptive wars. This choice is what proved to us that they are “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” when they failed to support the US in the Iraq war. It could be that they learned a hard lesson during World War I when they lost 1.7 million men or 4.29 percent of their population; we lost 113,000. In World War II, counting military and civilian dead, they lost 567,000 dead to our 417,000 military dead. Then they fought for nine years in Vietnam and lost 75,000 French dead; we fought for nine years and lost 58,159 dead. The French, by the way lost more men in one battle in World War I, Verdun, than our total losses in Vietnam. These pacifists lost 2,340,000 people in the 20th century. They are slow learners, but at least they learn.

The surprising thing is that they seem happy — apparently socialism is the opiate of the people. They like their roads without billboards, their streets lined with trees, their 200 mile per hour trains that crisscross the country, the open markets where they mingle and act happy to see each other. (I saw early indications of gay marriage — people of the same sex kissing). These markets are literally packed with beautiful looking food: vegetables of all kinds, fresh fruits, seafood, spices, flowers, preserved meats and cheese, cheese, cheese. Apparently the government thinks if they eat well, they’ll forget their oppression.

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