Freethought Almanac

Lighting a candle in toxic air.

No Apologies? When Were Apologies Offered?

A Message for Pearl Harbor Day
December 7, 2011
By Ronald Bruce Meyer

Occasionally, I’m treated to extended anecdotes via e-mail from my brother. He doesn’t write them, of course, but he agrees with them and passes them on, usually without looking any deeper into them (or even correcting the spelling and grammar). The following series of anecdotes is no exception.

I should point out that I love my country without being unreservedly proud of it. I go along with the Carl Schurz version of “America: Right or Wrong” when he adds, “If right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” I think a country as big and diverse as the United States can stand a little tough love without getting its knickers in a twist. Anyway...

Under the subject line “No Apologies Accepted,” are five stories that were making the rounds on the Internet years before Mr. Obama came to office (and after Mr. Clinton left office), but the blame is laid at the current president’s feet, nonetheless. And, always, the conservative and pro-American point of view wins by literally shutting up its detractors. Here goes ...

At a time when our president and other politicians tend to apologize for our country's prior actions, here's a refresher on how some of our former patriots handled negative comments about our country.

Story #1: JFK'S Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, was in France in the early 60's when DeGaule decided to pull out of NATO. DeGaule said he wanted all US military out of France as soon as possible.

Rusk responded "does that include those who are buried here?

DeGuale did not respond.

You could have heard a pin drop

I should point out that this version of the story was debunked at Snopes (the Urban Legends debunking website) in 2003. Here are the facts: “In the 1960s, France, under Charles DeGaulle [corrected spelling], bolted from the NATO Nuclear Planning Group and established their own nuclear deterrent, an act which strained French relations with the United States. In 1966, DeGaulle asked that all American soldiers be removed from France. ‘Does that include the dead Americans in military cemeteries as well?’ U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk reportedly asked.”

Well, apparently not, as Snopes continues: “The French burial grounds in which these soldiers are interred are administered and maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) in Arlington, Virginia, but the ABMC does not pay “millions of dollars on rent for these cemeteries,” as another popular rumor boldly asserts. The United States has been granted tax-free and rent-free use of all these cemetery sites, in perpetuity, by their host governments. The honored dead rest in peace.”

DeGaulle’s comment, if he made it, was an aberration. Most of the French, especially those old enough to remember the war, treasure Americans and treat us well. I know. I’ve been there.

Story #2: Colin Powell – Archbishop of Canterbury – Iraq

When in England, at a fairly large conference, [Secretary of State] Colin Powell was asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury if our plans for Iraq were just an example of empire building by George Bush.

He answered by saying, ‘Over the years, the United States has sent many of its fine young men and women into great peril to fight for freedom beyond our borders. The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return is enough to bury those that did not return.’

You could have heard a pin drop.

This was also debunked as early as 2003. Snopes points out that the context was ignored or simplified, saying, “Colin Powell’s quote was excerpted from a 1/26/2003 speech in which he responded to the former (not the current) Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, at the World Economic Forum. Carey’s question was quite a bit more involved than in the story:

“‘And would you not agree, as a very significant political figure in the United States, Colin, that America, at the present time, is in danger of relying too much upon the hard power and not enough upon building the trust from which the soft values, which of course all of our family life that actually at the bottom, when the bottom line is reached, is what makes human life valuable?’”

What I would point out is that the intention was clear from the beginning that the US wanted (a) access to Iraq’s oil and (b) a military outpost in the Mideast. The invasion of Iraq should have been called, in all honesty, Operation Iraqi Liberation! But the Iraq invasion never had anything to do with Mr. Bush’s “war on terror” – only Afghanistan has even a remote claim to being relevant to post-9/11 national security.

If he truly meant those words, Mr. Powell’s history is mistaken: In the Spanish-American War, for example, the U.S. gained Puerto Rico, Guam, and all the islands in the Philippines. There is also our favorite military base in Guantanamo, Cuba! And all one has to do is go back a half-century earlier to the Mexican-American War in which the US got a sizable chunk of land (all or parts of six of our largest states). And, going back still further, don't forget our various and sundry Indian Wars, most of which happened after the United States gained its independence.

By the way, Germany also voted against the Iraq invasion, yet the writer doesn’t bash Germany. I wonder why.

Story #3: There was a conference in France where a number of international engineers were taking part, including French and American. During a break, one of the French engineers came back into the room saying ‘Have you heard the latest dumb stunt Bush has done? He has sent an aircraft carrier to Indonesia to help the tsunami victims. What does he intended to do, bomb them?’

A Boeing engineer stood up and replied quietly : ‘Our carriers have three hospitals on board that can treat several hundred people; they are nuclear powered and can supply emergency electrical power to shore facilities; they have three cafeterias with the capacity to feed 3,000 people three meals a day, they can produce several thousand gallons of fresh water from sea water each day, and they carry half a dozen helicopters for use in transporting victims and injured to and from their flight deck. We have eleven such ships; how many does France have?’

You could have heard a pin drop.

We seem to be picking on the French again. The disaster began on Sunday, December 26, 2004. The story is mostly correct in its facts about the USS Abraham Lincoln (George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” carrier). “Abe” did provide tsunami relief in Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia, for about five weeks in early 2005 under Operation Unified Assistance. You can read details about the earthquake and tsunami at Wikipedia. This was a disaster that left 186,983 dead, 42,883 missing and over a million displaced – according to later UN estimates – including up to 9,000 mostly European foreign tourists. I’m guessing some of these were even French.

The World Food Programme, a UN program, provided food aid to more than 1.3 million people affected by the tsunami. Nations all over the world provided over US$7 billion in aid for damaged regions, but the biggest donor was the US. And not just for Indonesia, the hardest hit: Sri Lanka, India and Thailand lost tens of thousands of people.

During the Abraham Lincoln’s 33 days on station, she and her strike group delivered 5.7 million pounds of relief supplies. The 17 helicopters attached to group flew 1,747 relief missions along the western coast of Sumatra.* The carrier's departure coincided with the arrival of the hospital ship Mercy (a US Navy hospital ship, formerly an oil tanker), which finally arrived from San Diego.

In considering the Boeing engineer’s rhetorical question we tend to forget that France’s military budget is 1/13 that of the US military budget (it was $54 billion vs. $711 billion in 2008) and France doesn’t anymore go around invading countries like Iraq to steal their oil and set up military bases.

In addition, there was considerable opposition among US conservatives at the time of the tsunami to helping out an 86% Muslim nation. And American Christian conservatives very publicly announced that the tsunami was God’s punishment for not accepting Jesus Christ (it happened the day following Christmas, after all). Not a good record there, all told.

And the engineer story is most likely made up, what with lack of date, place, names, etc.

Story #4: A U.S. Navy Admiral was attending a naval conference that included Admirals from the U.S., English, Canadian, Australian and French Navies. At a cocktail reception, he found himself standing with a large group of Officers that included personnel from most of those countries.

Everyone was chatting away in English as they sipped their drinks but a French admiral suddenly complained that, whereas Europeans learn many languages, Americans learn only English. He then asked, ‘Why is it that we always have to speak English in these conferences rather than speaking French?’

Without hesitating, the American Admiral replied, ‘Maybe it’s because the Brit’s, Canadians, Aussie’s and Americans arranged it so you wouldn't have to speak German.’

You could have heard a pin drop.

If we watch only Fox News and failed our public school history classes, we might be impressed with this riposte. But we also might remember that it was the French who saved our asses from the Brits during the American Revolution. The fact is that the US was late coming into WWII and never had to live next door to Nazi Germany. And the US also “arranged” to force the native peoples of Canada, Australia and North America (the Indians) to speak English, too.

I like this coda to the story (which I found online):

“Then later on the British Admiral pulled the French Admiral aside and told him, 'It’s actually because we try not to upset the child. You know how whiny Americans become when someone points out their ignorance. So now just indulge them and think of it as a penance for the fact that you helped them win their freedom from us.'”


Robert Whiting, an elderly gentleman of 83, arrived in Paris by plane. At French Customs, he took a few minutes to locate his passport in his carry on.

“You have been to France before, monsieur?” the customs officer asked sarcastically.

Mr. Whiting admitted that he had been to France previously.

“Then you should know enough to have your passport ready.”

The American said, “The last time I was here, I didn't have to show it.”

“Impossible. Americans always have to show your passports on arrival in France!”

The American senior gave the Frenchman a long hard look. Then he quietly explained, '”Well, when I came ashore at Omaha Beach on D-Day in 1944 to help liberate this country, I couldn’t find a single Frenchmen to show a passport to.”

You could have heard a pin drop.

While it is possible that such an encounter took place in the way it has been described, it is impossible to verify. The story seems calculated to elicit an emotional response from the reader. It just looks to me like an example of the French-bashing that became so popular after France voted against invading Iraq. Turns out the French were right. Or maybe we should return the Statue of Liberty?

So, what has the US done for the world lately? Or does a war that ended 66 years ago excuse the US everything we do now? As a matter of fact, the USA was easily the biggest winner with the smallest costs from the Second World War: there was no damage to the US infrastructure or resources (unlike France), and we grew hugely as a result of the war, a lot of US corporations made fortunes (unlike France), the degree of mobilization was the least of all the major participants, the US gained entry to and control of the Japanese economy (unlike France) and the US put half of Europe into its debt (including France).

I’m troubled by the general title of these five stories, “No Apologies Accepted.” When were apologies ever offered?

I'm curious because most of the time we're hollering at the tops of our lungs about what great people we are and all the awesome things we did for them over half a century ago. The United States has done a lot of good in the past, but we have also committed a great many sins against others and even our own citizens. It is not a sign of weakness or immaturity to admit to one's mistakes.

I've seen petulant children and grotesquely immature adults who don't apologize when they are in the wrong and/or pretend bad things just didn't happen. I think we're big enough to admit to our mistakes.

The writer concludes...

If you are proud to be an American, pass this on! If not, delete it.

I am proud to be of this land, AMERICA

This is a most absurd thing I keep hearing. How can you be proud of something you did not choose and cannot change? That’s like saying “I’m proud to be white.” I’ve dissected this statement elsewhere on this blog.

Do we hear any pins dropping now?

*NB: According to “Abe’s” official website, “Abraham Lincoln boasts all the amenities found in any American city with a comparable population. These include a post office (with its own ZIP code), TV and radio stations, newspaper, fire department, library, hospital, general store, barbershops, and more. The ship has enough electrical generating power to supply electricity to 100,000 homes, food and supplies to operate for 90 days, and the capability of distilling more than 400,000 gallons of fresh water from the sea each day.” Furthermore, “Meals prepared daily: More than 20,000; Bread baked daily: 600-800 loaves; Sodas consumed daily: 13,000; Milk consumed daily: 600 gallons; Hamburgers consumed daily: 620 pounds; Eggs consumed daily: 180 dozen; Vegetables consumed daily: 800 pounds; Fruit consumed daily: 900 pounds; Laundry cleaned daily: 5,550 pounds; Haircuts given daily: 250.”

Ronald Bruce Meyer

Our Fearless Leader.

Daily Almanac

February 10: Charles Lamb

Lamb was a complete agnostic from 1801, and from 1829 he was no longer even a Unitarian.

Daily Almanac

Coming soon!

Follow me on twitter

@ 2020 Free Thought Almanac