Many have suggested that congressional efforts to rename “French” toast and “French” fries were somehow juvenile and disrespectful of their positions. I, like a couple of people who posted on the topic at plastic (via Kara), saw it as a more sinister reminder of WWI propaganda and hyper-patriotism:
Once the United States entered the war, a search for spies and saboteurs escalated into efforts to suppress German culture. Many German-language newspapers were closed down. Public schools stopped teaching German. Lutheran churches dropped German-language services. In the name of patriotism, musicians no longer played Bach and Beethoven. Americans renamed sauerkraut “liberty cabbage”; dachshunds, “liberty hounds”; and German measles, “liberty measles.” Cincinnati, with its large German-American population, even removed pretzels from the free lunch counters in saloons. More alarming, vigilante groups attacked anyone suspected of being unpatriotic. Workers who refused to buy war bonds often suffered harsh retribution, and attacks on labor protesters were nothing short of brutal. The legal system backed the suppression. Juries routinely released defendants accused of violence against individuals or groups critical of the war.
– Nativitism During World War I
This sort of comical reaction often covers up a more deep-seated xenophobia. A friend recently told me that his high-school aged son’s trip to France was in jeopardy because some of the parents feared letting their kids travel in France. Leaving aside the fact that the French faced a strong terrorist threat and controlled it, this suggests an utter lack of understanding of other places.
The real problem here is that our reach exceeds our grasp. We have no problem supporting our military when they go somewhere to shoot people, but seem to have a lack of understanding when it comes to the lived existence in these places, or the long-term effects of war. I think the Peace Corps should be mandatory, or at the very least, should include a 2-year, post high school option, that sends people overseas, just about anywhere outside of the US. It’s easy to see the red/blue map divide as one that is simply a cultural facet of American life, but closing the gap here — which I hope means “urbanizing” the rural, at least in terms of tolerance and acceptance of difference — is something that clearly affects the entire world, at least as long as we remain a military superpower.