[FOUNTAIN]Don’t ignore U.S. mockery

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[FOUNTAIN]Don’t ignore U.S. mockery

“America bashing” used to be a traditional sport of French politicians. Whenever the United States upset France, the French derided Americans instead of shrieking in despair. The harder American unilateralism got, the more pungent French criticism became. The first one to adopt this sport was former French President Charles de Gaulle. During a visit to the United States, he was asked what he would like to take to France from there. He completely insulted America, which had helped liberate France, by responding, “Nothing but Madame Jacqueline Kennedy.”
The positions of the two countries reversed, however, after the September 11 terrorist attacks. As France refused to take part in a war against Iraq, French politicians found themselves tongue-tied. Instead, Americans began to make fun of the French. They renamed French fries “freedom fries” and laughed at a commercial featuring a chicken dressed as Napoleon.
The changed situation does not only mean a reversed direction of derision. The impact of mockery is completely different depending on whether it comes from the powerful or the weak. Leo Tolstoy illustrated these dynamics in one of his allegorical short stories. There were hawks and chickens. When the master called, the hawk would fly to him and perch on his wrist but the chickens would run away whenever he approached. The hawk mocked, “You, chickens, are such an ungrateful lot. You never approach the master unless hungry. We are different. We are fast and strong, but never forget our master.” The rooster responded, “You don’t avoid men because you’ve never seen a cooked hawk. But we see a cooked chicken from time to time.”
French enlightenment thinker Baron de Montesquieu summarized the same dynamics in his “Spirit of the Laws.” He wrote, “A monarch has to strongly refrain from deriding others... because his mockery will be fatal.”
The French were much more hurt than Americans from the insults exchanged across the Atlantic. French President Jacques Chirac was finally relieved when U.S. President George W. Bush, a son of his friend, patted him on the shoulder as a gesture of generosity at the G8 summit meeting two years ago.
I am not discussing the dynamics of mockery out of concern for France. Today, the Americans’ ridicule is crossing the Pacific. Some Americans sarcastically call Korea the “welfare queen” of U.S. aid and “the most ungrateful of the weak.” We hear such comments more and more. We don’t have to be overly sensitive, but we shouldn’t overlook them. We desperately need to establish a wise and pragmatic Korea-U.S. relationship.


by Lee Hoon-beom

The writer is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo’s weekend news team.
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