[The following was an email The Pirate King sent to Bill Whittle of Eject! Eject! Eject! in response to his recurring theme of Europeans despising Americans. I felt it was worthy of a wider audience, since I love my honey. Besides, there is a sublime irony in pirating stuff from The Pirate King. -- Captain Midnight]
The French–and several other European nations–like to accuse us of simplisme. It’s a nice vague term which seems to accuse us of being simple as well as making things overly simple, and its unstated obverse is that intelligent, sophisticated folk recognize and accept a life filled with nuance, neither simple nor easy.
Once upon a time, this disdainful attitude rubbed me the wrong way. I was astounded at the hubris of Germany, France and Russia when they refused to join us in waging war against a common enemy, believing that the entire effort would come to naught without their token assistance. I was annoyed by Jacques Chirac, who in a petulant fit snubbed our Commander-in-Chief by refusing to call and congratulate him on his re-election for a full week after the event. M. Chirac further grated on me by showing his historical ignorance and deep ingratitude by pointing out to Prime Minister Blair that England had “gained nothing” by its loyalty to the United States in this war. (How soon, simple Monsieur le President, we have forgotten the Ardenne Forest and the beaches of Normandy. I do hope your nuanced view of the world accepts of such concepts as “debt of gratitude.”)
But I have come to a point where I no longer rankle at Europe’s high-minded tendency to treat our nation as an ill-behaved, headstrong child. The thing that caused me to change my mind was, oddly enough, the recent death of my grandfather. At his funeral I had some time to think about the particulars of his life, and it turned out to be quite illuminating.
Grandpa was born in Sweden in 1922. He was an unwanted child, passed from relative to relative until his teen years, when he became apprenticed to a butcher and delicatessen owner. There he learned the fine art of food preparation and became a talented cook. But he did not stay in Sweden to ply his trade; the butcher warned his teenage apprentice that the National Socialists were rising to power in Germany–and that Scandinavia likely would not lift a finger to stop them. So, on the wise advice of his boss, he went to America.
It didn’t take Grandpa long after he got here to sign up for military service. As a champion skier who held several ski jumping records in his home province, he was placed with the ski troops. He came home alive, but missing a leg and riddled with cancer. Doctors gave him six months to live; miraculously, the cancer went into full remission and those six months turned into some 60 years. Rarely did he speak of the war, preferring to focus on work, family and sailing. It wasn’t until some 40 years after his service that his military files were declassified and he was free to talk about precisely what he had done in World War II. But he always recognized that his service, however horrific, was necessary to keep America and the rest of the world safe and free.
Europeans would probably have called my grandfather simplisme. They would regard him, an unwanted child from a backwater province of an unimportant country, as “the wretched refuse of [their] teeming shore.” But Grandpa had some special qualities within him, even as a teenager: intelligence, ability, a drive to succeed, and the willingness to relocate to a land that would foster his success.
A generation ago, there were still people like this in Europe. In America, we usually call them “immigrants.”
I maintain that much of Europe despises America not because of our simplisme, but because of our strength as a people. And to be honest, we have them to thank for it. Certainly in these days, more immigrants come to the U.S. from outside Europe than from within it–but in previous generations, the overwhelming majority of new Americans came from the Old World. Any European who displayed a trace of gumption, drive, or desire to succeed packed up, moved and became an American. The immigrants’ determination and zest for life enriched our national can-do spirit, and their love for their adopted country boosted our natural patriotism. Modern Europeans, on the other hand, are the direct descendants of those individuals with little or no natural drive–those who stayed behind. Their anemic bloodlines show in their indolent unwillingness to act in their own best interests, like an old purebred dog covered with bloodsucking ticks who is too lazy even to scratch at them. (By contrast, we are a mongrel nation, but a strong and healthy one.)
My grandfather always kept his love for Sweden. He had a Swedish flag, cooked Swedish food, and on occasions when he returned to visit Sweden, the tears would well up in his eyes. Sweden was, after all, the nation of his birth. But America was the nation of his choice. This was the country that harnessed his desire to fight evil in the world, supported his desire to make something of his life, and provided him with safety and peace in his old age. This unwanted child of Europe became something worthwhile in America–and his story was not at all unusual. His immigrant experience was solidly typical of the experience of millions who left their own countries to seek something better–and found it in America.
And if you don’t think the Europeans are jealous of that, then you really are simple.