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March 18, 2007

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I don't have the brainpower right now to formulate an argument, but I think there's a massive distinction between patriotism and nationalism that Cella is overlooking; or at least emotions similar to that of patriotism (tribal allegiance, racial allegiance, certain kinds of cultural allegiance) in the absence of a nation-state. It's not the ancient Greeks or Romans lacked for patriotism, for example -- and while Rome was an empire, it wasn't a nation-state in the modern sense of the term -- or any of the various Asian kingdoms, American Indian tribes etc. It's more debatable whether democracy can exist absent a nation-state since it's very much a product of that era; but I suspect very strongly that one could have a democracy without nationalism in the modern sense, although I'm not entirely sure how it would be constituted.

[If one were to look for modern examples, I think the tribal organization of Afghanistan or parts of not-particularly-colonialized Africa could serve as models, as too the American Indians before the European invasions.]

That is why it's troubling to blithely (and blindly) suggest*** that the English language needs soldiers to defend it. It doesn't, and it never has.

I agree with that. In fact, the “culture creep” that other countries complain of is in part due to the fact that they have to use English words to discuss certain technologies etc. We don’t have to defend English – other countries have to defend their language against English.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

My wife's second language is English, a language she knew before she came to this country.

I was in Italy on vacation earlier in the month and virtually every sign in Italy was repeated in English. Anybody who worked in the tourism business spoke some English

Every time I go to Brazil, the flight announcements are in Portuguese and English (often with the voice of Iris Lettieri, arguably the sexiest voice in the history of the human race). Signs all over the airports are in both languages.

OCSteve nails it. I don't often agree with you Von, but there's a lot to agree with here.

von: I agree completely.

The immigration debate often seems to me to wind up with people taking positions that are only comprehensible on a symbolic level, and even then only if you assume that our country is somehow under siege. Example: a while back I heard about some town that was purging its library of Spanish-language books. (Why spend money on them? Hah!)

I thought: do we as a country have so very many people who are multilingual that we can afford to stop encouraging them? No. Do the people who want this, who object to spending money on books IN SPANISH!!! really think it would be better if the people who read these books were somewhere other than a library? Probably not. In fact, given the views of immigrants voiced by a lot of the supporters of the measure quoted in the radio story I heard this on, you'd think that the thought of luring them into the public library, and away from crime/drugs/having infinitely many children/being Evil and Threatening/etc., would have seemed like a good thing. But nooo....

We are not so weak that we need to jump at shadows.

Apt title. Well done harvesting crust from Reynold's eyes.

Hilzoy:a while back I heard about some town that was purging its library of Spanish-language books.

Now I personally had a lot of trouble with Spanish – so I’m torn here. ;)

Personal anecdote: The stereotype of the “Ugly American” in Europe is unfortunately very true – I have seen it many times.

People value their language. If you make no attempt to identify with the local’s language you are pretty much insulting them. Expecting them to understand English, and just repeating yourself louder when they do not is most simply damned insulting.

In Germany, Italy, and other places, I found that even my feeblest attempts to speak the language were met by great encouragement and even friendship. Gentle and good humored corrections on grammar would usually result – but there was usually a bonding and usually we would part feeling better about the other.

Of course there has to be an exception, and that is France. My attempts there were without exception met with ridicule, scorn, and insults. At which point I reverted to ugly American mode and said something along the lines of “Get me someone who can translate the damned menu if you want my money…”

Of course there has to be an exception, and that is France. My attempts there were without exception met with ridicule, scorn, and insults.

I've had this experience in Paris -- even when I traveled with my mom when I was in school, who has a Masters in French and was quite fluent at the time. And, although many say that the provinces are better, I have to admit that I have had the same experience there as well. Not as frequently, but still.

On the other hand, I've forgotten most of my German and have been treated famously well for misspeaking only a few phrases; I know virtually no Spanish -- something I'm trying (and failing) to remedy with CDs in the car -- and have been treated great in Mexico and Spain; etc. And I lived in the UK for the time and somehow managed to survive the RoI despite being Scotch-Irish. So I doubt that I'm too ugly an American.

All of this is to say: the French can out-ugly the Americans any day of the week and twice on Tuesday.

I've had this experience in Paris -- even when I traveled with my mom when I was in school, who has a Masters in French and was quite fluent at the time. And, although many say that the provinces are better, I have to admit that I have had the same experience there as well. Not as frequently, but still.

Paris was bad but IMO my wife and I had the worst time in Verdun. We went way out of our way to visit there (I was into visiting WWI/WWII battlefields and monuments at the time). Everyone in town from the B&B we stayed at to every restaurant and battlefield in the place was a total pain. We started out making our best attempts, but after a while the derision that earned us just made us say to hell with it.

OCSteve: ditto. Especially in Greece: my feeblest attempts to address people in Greek produced levels of friendliness and gratitude that had to be seen to be believed. (Possibly relevant: I do not look the least bit Greek.) And yeah, the French can be a pain about their language.

But the ugly American thing goes further, I think. Back when I used to backpack all over everywhere, I was just amazed at some of the things people would do. I remember one time when I was taking a bus with some other Americans and a Turkish guy who had hitched a ride back to his village -- older, poor. He fell asleep, and the other Americans decided it would be really funny to sprinkle peanut shells all over his head while he slept.

I am not normally an angry person, but I absolutely blew up at them.

My irritation with the bumper sticker comes precisely from the fact that it's an answer to the one about the teachers, as if to say "Oh, you smart people think you're such a big deal? Well, we've got guns."

What a great non slam at Reynolds - better than some slams I've heard. Great point about language too, containing other points about geography and the impacts it has and doesn't have on us.

Hilzoy: He fell asleep, and the other Americans decided it would be really funny to sprinkle peanut shells all over his head while he slept.

Alcohol involved? Most of the “stupid American tricks” I know of involved a fair amount. Europeans start drinking it much younger and get used to handling it (IMO). It is a taboo to underage Americans and they tend to overdo it when they are young but legal or almost so. When Americans are overseas they can usually get it younger due to local laws, or if in the military they can get it in base. Anyway – teh booze… Related?

Hmm. Turkey? Likely not. Wait – backpacking across Turkey? You seem to have a most interesting life ;)

Isn't the point though not that we were ever at risk, but that we were not at risk because we had a strong enough military to deter? Are you claiming that if we had no defenses, no country in the past 200 years would have tried to take some easy pickings?

My experience at Normandy was that the French there loved Americans, and I had no problems at all. Even in Paris, I found the French to be very nice and friendly, and I speak no French at all. Maybe I was just expecting them to be worse than they were, so it was a positive experience, but I really had no complaints (I had expected to hate paris, but I really love it). Any where else I go, I try and speak some, but I am always answered in english, so it makes it hard to develop any language skills.

I will agree on the merits of making an attempt to speak the local language, although one can get into trouble if one speaks too well.

A number of years ago, I went on a trip to Hungary and the Czech Republic with a friend of mine who emigrated from Ukraine when he was 10. Given that Czech and Russian overlap greatly, he focused on Czech, while I learned a smidgeon of Magyar to get by.

When we spoke to the Czech locals, they could detect his Russian accent, and we got some nasty looks.

On the other hand, patriotism is an overrated virtue IMHO, as it can cause people to accept poor results because that is how things are always done here, rather than looking to how them durn foreigners do it. My favorite definition of patriotism is Shaw's: Patriotism is the belief that one country is better than any other because one was born there.

Alcohol involved? Most of the “stupid American tricks” I know of involved a fair amount. Europeans start drinking it much younger and get used to handling it (IMO).

"Results 1-10 of about 1,030,000 for binge+drinking+UK." It is my understanding that British twenty-somethings, on a weekend, can engage in drunken revelries that would make our college campuses look like convents.

Germans, too, I know from personal experience, can pack away some liquor and get quite rowdy.

I've visted France a few times, and my halting high-school Berlitz-phrasebook French never seems to have caused me a problem. Perhaps -- and, I know, perish the thought re: a pair of American conservatives, right? -- but there's an underlying dislike of the French that comes through no matter what language you're speaking.

Hilzoy,

Regarding ugly Americans, my Dad was a Department of the Army civilian employee and we lived in Germany a couple of times not far from France. When France was still part of the military arm of NATO and had US troops stationed there, a number of soldiers in Orleans used to paint with gold paint the testicles on the statue of the horse with Joan of Arc astride the horse.

In Kaiserslautern where I lived, Americans loved to put soap in the fountain downtown when it was shut off at night in order to see the six feet worth of sides that would spring up the next morning.

On the other hand, I'll never forget the time I was in Vitória, Brazil and was buying shoes, when the teenagers working at the shoe store were positively captivated by the fact that I was a gringo speaking Portuguese with them. Then there's this:

In August 1999 I was visiting Brazil by myself and staying with my sister-in-law in Belo Horizonte and my brother-in-law in Vitória. I was at the bus station in Vitória getting my ticket back to Belo Horizonte when I had the following intriguing chat with the ticket agent while my ticket was being printed:

Agent: "So, are you American or British?

Me: "I'm American."

Agent: "What state?"

Me: "New York"

Agent: "New York City?"

Me: "Yes."

Agent: "So, do you think that Hillary is going to run for Senate?"

Me (alternately impressed and taken aback): "It looks that way."

Agent (as my ticket spits out of the printer): "Well, she's going to have a tough time with Giuliani. Have a nice trip!"

Sorry for the lengthy post . . .

A double split infinitive, with parenthetical. What do I win?

A nasty talking-to by an English teacher---and that's if you're lucky. Cripes, in a post about the beauty and centrality of the English language to American identity?


(Somebody's got to swing at the low-hanging fruit, right?)

Anyway, I think the reluctantly accepted stylistic rule is now something like "if you absolutely must split an infinitive, do it gently."

I once had the delightful experience, in Eastern Turkey, of hearing some guys wondering (in Kurdish) whether I was male or female (I had shortish hair at the time), and turning around and saying: I'm a woman (in Kurdish.)

They nearly fainted.

Nice post, von.

I used to lecture regularly on nationalism and what it meant, but would prefer to avoid rehashing it here. Instead, I introduce you to (or remind you of) the wisdom of Lin Yutang:

What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?

+++++++++++++

And one more small data point on the French and languages. I suffered from (enjoyed?) mild Francophobia before a visit there about 15 years ago with wife and teen-aged son. All of us spoke some French. Son was just studying it then, and probably did the best of any of us, but he was still learning. Wife is a musician with an excellent ear, and had been a French major in college (many decades before), so her accent was nearly perfect. Unfortunately, this led to people thinking she could also understand spoken French at normal speed, which turned out to be far from the case.

When desperate to communicate, therefore, they sent me in. My French had never been very good, and was as creaky as my wife's; my accent is - well, "American" would put it kindly. Almost invariably, after a sentence or two of mine, they would switch to English. Problem solved.

I wasn't aware of any real nastiness directed at any of us on account of language during these weeks, however. There was no doubt a certain amount of shaking of the head and merriment at our ineptitude, but it never became personal, perhaps because we never pretended our French was any better than it was. We did have one very bad restaurant experience (and a number of very good ones), but I put that down to the staff there just being a**holes. Every country has them. My Francophobia dwindled away to nothing but the odd rhetorical jest . . . and my heart isn't even in that any more.

JM, do you think "That is why it's troubling to suggest blithely and blindly that the English language needs soldiers to defend it" is really a better sounding sentence?

Von, that was an excellent post.

I couldn't agree more re 9/11, as well as re the English language. It's even more profound than you mentioned: Al-Quieda's only possible path to winning the war on terror - at any level of victory depends exactly upon our over-militarized and overnativist response. Militaries and military advantage passes. War is inefficient. Open (efficient) systems survive.

“do we as a country have so very many people who are multilingual that we can afford to stop encouraging them?”

We certainly don’t have to encourage more people to speak Spanish in the U.S. since it’s already fluently spoken here by more than 50 million people; it would be good to have more Americans who speak Arabic, and Chinese, and Japanese, and Russian, and many of the other languages of the world we need reliably translated for political and economic purposes – but more Spanish speakers? That’s like sending more Lake-effect snow across Lake Ontario to Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo.

"Only two nations have posed a threat of actually seizing some portion of the United States and taking over: the English and the Confederate States of America."

This is not correct. Japan succeeded in conquering part of the US. Granted, a very small part, not a state at the time, but it's worth remembering.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aleutian_Islands#World_War_II

I agree with your point, though.

Okay, w/d: they both sound funky.

I never know how to respond to Americans who complain that French people, or Parisians in particular, were rude to them even when they tried to speak French; it's completely, 180 degrees opposite from my experience. I did a semester abroad in France my junior year of collee, and everywhere I travelled within France people complimented me on my French. (I went to the Palace of the Popes in the off-season, when the only tours available were in French. I was skeptical about going on one, but the woman selling the tickets assured me that I'd have no problems understanding.) I certainly had unpleasant interactions with French people (there's a train conductor I still remember 12 years later), but as dr ngo says, there are unpleasant people everywhere.

Especially in Greece: my feeblest attempts to address people in Greek produced levels of friendliness and gratitude that had to be seen to be believed. (Possibly relevant: I do not look the least bit Greek.)

I had a similar experience when I was in Greece last year. I do look like I could be Greek, so even when all I would say was "ya sas" ("hello"), people would immediately start speaking to me in Greek. I finally asked someone why this kept happening; he said that it was a) the fact that I looked Greek and b) the fact that although he said hello in English, I responded with "ya sas".

As to the complaint about Parisians being rude: it could be recalled that Paris is about 8 kilometers in diameter, jampacked full of residents, and visited by some 6 million tourists a year.

But tourists being what they are, I'm sure we're all talking about the same 6-square-block area.

I hate to be a picker of nits, but your statement "Only two nations have posed a threat of actually seizing some portion of the United States and taking over: the English and the Confederate States of America. Both spoke English (the former rather famously). Every other war has been distant and posed no direct threat to the U.S. homeland:" overlooks the fact that the last time I checked, the Aleutian Islands have been part of the United States since 1867. So the Japanese occupation of Attu and Kiska during WW2 would seem to refute your statement. Of course it may be that you do not consider Alaska part of the United States, but most people do. I could also point out that the Japanese launched attacks along the west coast of the forty-eight contiguous states, which were notable for their lack of success, but which makes odd your statement of distant wars. After all, Oregon and California are pretty close to the United States. And yes, there is a fair amount of snark in my comment, but when you start to make statements about history it would help if you had at least a little knowledge of what you are talking about. For a quick overview you can read about the battle over the Aleutians in Wikipedia. You might also be interested in learning that the Japanese had plans for the invasion of the United States, specifically starting with California and Washington, along with Alaska, so don't try to tell me that it was a distant war and posed no threat. And by the way, Hawaii is also part of the United States, so an attack on Hawaii might be considered threatening even though the attack on Pearl Harbor wasn’t an occupation. The Germans also mounted several attacks against the east coast, much like the Japanese did along the west coast. Do you really expect me to believe that, had things gone differently, Germany and Japan would not have occupied the United States?

Hm, I may have understated the numbers. It really does feel like an invasion once the season gets going.

Fritz: If you're going to pick nits, you might note that US territories - which both Alaska and Hawaii were in 1941 - are not automatically considered "part of the United States." Today, of course, they are states, but that's different. Cf. attacks or potential attacks on the Philippines (prior to 1946), American Samoa, or the Panama Canal Zone - nasty business, perhaps, but not seen by most people as "some portion of the United States" in the sense that von clearly meant it.

And Japan, AFAIK, had no plans whatsoever to "occupy the United States." Their war aims in the Pacific seem to have been to force the US to sue for peace and then give Japan a free hand in the western Pacific, including China (primarily), Indochina, and the Philippines.

A lot of Americans would accept the British colonial period as part of our nationalist identity. If you do, the French and Indian War becomes a case where soldiers protected our right to speak English. I think the main point of the post holds up anyway.

Bilingualism is good, it trains the brain and even offers some protection against dementia ;)

The French and the Spanish expression for 'you don't speak my language' translates to 'you speak nothing' which says something about their attitude imho. My french is pretty basic though, and I hardly ever have a problem with the population whilst my mother, whose vocabulairy was much bigger than mine, always had trouble being understood. Maybe some accents are tougher than others?

It might amuse you that the French who ask directions in the Netherlands usually start out in English ;)

In the Netherlands speaking languages is seen as a sign of being smart and educated, but some languages have more standing than others. French used to be the language for the 'upper-class', German used to be the language for science, English is currently the most favored language (we even have lots of highschools teaching everything in English these days). Some people feel a need to protect our own language, but most are quite pragmatic and see language as a means, not an end.

Phil: Perhaps -- and, I know, perish the thought re: a pair of American conservatives, right? -- but there's an underlying dislike of the French that comes through no matter what language you're speaking.

Wow – that’s quite a leap there. Our innate dislike of the French due to our being conservatives was so obvious that it’s only natural people would respond to us rudely. If I had known that we could have pretended to be liberals for the week and been treated like royalty…

More like a couple of kids with pretty much no political identity trying to see France on the cheap – who naively thought (due to positive experiences in other countries) that attempting to speak the local language rather than assuming locals would speak English was the way to go.

Threaten the English language and you threaten us at a very basic level. Indeed, perhaps the most basic.

I generally agree with your post here, but I'm having a hard time getting my head around the above two statements.

By "us" I assume you mean Americans. Our political history derives from England, most or all of the founders were native English speakers, so we speak English. That's an accident of history. That's great, English is a great language, but, there's nothing in our political institutions, traditions, or beliefs that is inextricably bound to English.

Every significant wave of immigrants raises, once again, the spectre of some kind of dilution of our American culture. That's been going on since 1794, when some German immigrants asked for US laws to be published in German. Each wave is eventually absorbed into American life and culture. The culture, in fact, changes as a result. We're better for it.

So far that hasn't resulted in English being replaced as the normal language of government and commerce. I say "normal" rather than "official" because we have never had an "official" language. If some language other than English ever emerged as a normal language for government or trade, however, I'm sure we would, somehow, soldier on and survive.

Maybe it's just me, but I've always believed that what makes American culture uniquely American is it's ability to welcome and absorb the cultures of the people who come here. That's what I learned in 7th grade in civics class, that's what I learned growing up and living in polyglot places like NYC, Philly, and now Boston, and it's one of the things I treasure most about being American. That's what we are, and it's been like that since day one. Not everyone who was here in 1776 was ethnically English, or was a native English speaker.

In any case, this is all hypothetical. English is, overwhelmingly, the standard language here and a lot of the rest of the world. There's no threat here to worry about.

Thanks -

"Pace" isn't pretentious -- there's no equally concise way to say the same thing.

JRudkis:

Isn't the point though not that we were ever at risk, but that we were not at risk because we had a strong enough military to deter? Are you claiming that if we had no defenses, no country in the past 200 years would have tried to take some easy pickings?

That's an argument that proves too much: if that's the point, then the bumper sticker should thank soldiers exclusively.

Now, it is true that a necessary (although not sufficient) requirement for our continued existence as a nation is a strong military -- the other necessary components include a strong economy, governmental system that can retain the confidence of generations of citizens, functioning judicial system, cultural ties, et al. But I don't think that's what the bumper sticker is driving at.

"Pace" isn't pretentious -- there's no equally concise way to say the same thing.

All Latin phrases and contractions are pretentious, e.g., i.e. and viz., et al. QED.

(But I grant Anderson's point that "pace" is shorter than the shortest English approximate: "Contrary to".)

Perhaps -- and, I know, perish the thought re: a pair of American conservatives, right? -- but there's an underlying dislike of the French that comes through no matter what language you're speaking.

FTR, (1) not being a Democrat or lefty is not the same as being "conservative" (a word that is basically meaningless) and (2) I refuse to dislike a people who cook so well.

My own experiences with "real French from France" is fairly limited, so I can only tell from ("first-hand") hearsay. I would consider French people as equal opportunity "rudists"*, i.e. it doesn't really matter from where the outsider actually comes or what its political leanings are (old people that lived through WW2 may be different). Native French speakers seem to be similarly disinclined to learn foreign languages as native English speakers but less for lack of need than a residual superiority complex (I predict that to disappear in the long run).
On the other hand France seems to be a rather unique case in that the language is legally protected to a degree that the use of anglicisms can be punished under certain circumstances.
Culturally France and Germany seem to ignore each other for quite some time now, if the nonavailability of modern tranlations (for both old and new authors) is an indicator.
From my extremly limited encounters with French people in Germany, I'd say that it is far more probable that that person would speak English than German but most likely neither.

Concerning alcohol consumption and young people it is becoming a real problem now, and Germany is now barely behind Britain in that department. But I would still consider it a rather new phenomenon at least where I live (West-Berlin). The trend is clearly from moderate beer consumption to excessive high octane liquors, especially as mixed sweet drinks that "hide" the alcohol flavor.

*my French teacher at school used to say that it is a talent of French people to insult with outwardly polite words.

Native French speakers seem to be similarly disinclined to learn foreign languages as native English speakers but less for lack of need than a residual superiority complex

I always assumed that the residual superiority complex fueled the perceived lack of need in many cases. Sort of how managers of old were proud that they couldn't type ;)

If you want to thank someone for the English language, how about the Anglo-Saxon's? I normally have heard it described as a bastard hybrid language to let the soldiers communicate with the local prostitutes.

So, "If you want to thank someone that you are reading this in English, thank a soldier AND a prostitute."

I guess my experiences in France are atypical; on both of my trips there, I met with no linguistic rudeness. On the first trip, my high school French was fresh enough that I spoke exclusively in that language; on the second, it had rusted enough that, often as not, I had to fall back on English. I had no difficulties in either case. (I did, however, run into a couple of rude Italians in Italy and an obstinately monolingual Flamand in Belgium.)

About Brits and alcohol: once upon a time I worked on a kibbutz, and most of the volunteers were Europeans who just wanted to work rather than being on the dole. A number were Brits. The general level of alcohol consumption was fairly alarming, and there were a number of unfortunatenesses. Easily the worst, however, was when one of them, in the middle of an argument with a kibbutznik, went off on a tirade about how Hitler was bloody right.

In a kibbutz bar. In Israel.

Unfortunately some people can do that without the "mitigating circumstances" of being drunk :-( (an I mean in similar locations, not "safe at home")

I have been to France 6 or 7 times over the course of 20 years, including a month in Normandy for work this year. I always spoke French with people, and NOT ONCE have I ever gotten a rude response from a French person. In fact, I am now in Germany and speak French with our French admin all the time. There may be two factors at work here - 1) if you are perceived to be condescending, i.e. "look at me, I'm doing you a favor by speaking French!", people will pick up on that. 2) my personal theory - French people are horrible lookists. If you are well dressed and attractive, or at least stylish, French people will treat you with courtesy and respect no matter what language you speak, or how poorly you butcher la langue francaise. If you are unattractive, overweight, or simply dress like a slobby American tourist, most French will assume your not worth talking to even if your French is near perfect. I have noticed that most non-French speaking Americans who consistently have good experiences in France tend to be attractive (my wife for example) those who do complain about France, well, not so attractive (my sister-in-law).

But back on topic - the bumpersticker is perfectly accurate if you view it as aggressive, not defensive. That is if it were not for the US military most of California, new Mexico, Arizona and Texas would be Spanish speaking today.

As an addendum, if you are a German, Frenchman, Japanese, or Taiwanese (not to mention Iroquois, Lakota, Abenaki, Cherokee, etc. etc.) who can read that bumpersticker in English, then you too probably have an American soldier to thank (for spreading US culture by force of arms). To me the bumper sticker is making a statement in favor of American Imperialism, rather than a nativist one. At least, the former reading makes a lot more sense.

I did, however, run into a couple of rude Italians in Italy and an obstinately monolingual Flamand in Belgium.

More likely than not, you'd have to be obstinate to be a monolingual Flamand in Belgium.

Vanya6724 makes a point that bears thinking through; I'm not sure if it's attractiveness per se as the fact that Europe is still closer to early-60s America than America is. That is, Europeans outside of school do not have what Americans call "casual dress." That's changing, somewhat, but it remains true that the pretty much the only folks wearing shorts in Paris or Barcelona are tourists -- even in summer.

I would like to offer a big "WORD UP" for citing Fugazi.

And regarding split infinitives, where would Star Trek be without "to boldy go?" I read that the only reason split infinitives are considered incorrect is that the mavens who put forth the rules for standardized English back in the day modeled those rules after those of Latin, and in Latin infinitives are single words, thus never split. That seems to me like a very stupid reason to outlaw split infinitives in English.

I'm not sure if it's attractiveness per se as the fact that Europe is still closer to early-60s America than America is. That is, Europeans outside of school do not have what Americans call "casual dress."

Europe > Paris + Barcelona. For example, track suits are the Finnish national costume...

Europe > Paris + Barcelona. For example, track suits are the Finnish national costume...

A point well taken.

In the Netherlands track suits are also known as 'camping smoking' ;)

FTR, (1) not being a Democrat or lefty is not the same as being "conservative" (a word that is basically meaningless) and

1. So meaningless that you describe Paul Cella as one in your post above.

2. From where I sit, you're a "classical liberal" like Glenn Reynolds is, which is to say, not so much.

dr ngo; I find your comment somewhat puzzling. Are you implying that Von’s mind is stuck in the pre-1960’s? Even if that were true I am quite confident that you will not be able to show that the majority of Americans did not consider Alaska part of the United States at the time WW2 started. In fact I lived for five years in the Territory of Alaska when it was under the control of the United States as a territory, and such things as traffic tickets required being fingerprinted and those prints on file with the FBI. In other words, driving too fast was in fact a Federal Offense. Citizens of Alaska considered themselves Americans and when I moved south everyone I met looked upon Alaska as part of the United States and that its people were citizens of the United States even thought statehood was still almost ten years in the future.. So as I said, I find your response most puzzling, particularly in light of the fact that Von’s comments were written in 2007.
As for your lack of knowledge about invasion plans, perhaps you might do a little research before hiding behind the old, “As far as I know,” shield. You can start with the name Kinoaki Matsuot for some limited information about the Japanese plans, and then for German plans, their own Luftwaffe documents prove they had such plans. That those plans were never carried out does not mean that they did not exist, or, had the war gone differently, would not have been used. The German ones were dropped after the failure of Operation Barbarossa, along with the development of two long range bombers which would have been needed to support such an invasion.

Fritz: the puzzlement is mutual.

Did *I* imply von was stuck in the 1960s? Of course not. *You* referred to World War II, so I assumed (as a historian) that we were talking about the 1940s, not the world as it is today.

I would certainly not read Von as saying, "No one has ever attacked any territory which later became part of the United States" - or else we'd be dealing with the whole Spanish conquest of the Southwest, from Texas to California! The fact that Von is writing in 2007 is quite irrelevant, and I'm puzzled that you mention it.

So: was Alaska considered "part of the United States" in 1941? Your own experience, from the 1950s (?), counts for something, but I'm not convinced it's dispositive of conditions ten to twenty years earlier.

My expertise is on the Philippines, which were legally analogous to Alaska during the early part of the 20th century, and I think very few people would have argued that the Philippines was "part of the United States," or that an attack on the Philippines was the same as an attack on the USA then, much less in 1941.

I can't think of any clear way of resolving this question, which falls between legal status and the analysis of common perceptions and language use ca. 1940.

About Japan's plans for invading the USA, I'm interested in Kinoaki Matsuot, but note that the English-language book in which these claims were made - How Japan Plans to Win - is based on a supposed Japanese book "allegedly stolen" in 1940-41, and consequently may be of dubious validity.

There's also the question of whether Kinoaki, even if he wrote this, represented government policy, or simply was reflecting his own views or those of his faction (the Black Dragon Society). I have no doubt we have our own nuts right now planning the conquest of everything from Iran to Canada; I remain hopeful that they do not represent US policy.

If this book were known to be a valid expression of Tokyo's war aims, it would presumably have constituted evidence at the war crimes trials in Tokyo and elsewhere. Was it? I don't know.

The only excerpts I've been able to see quickly refer to attacking the Philippines and Hawai'i as part of a Pacific strategy, which of course no one doubts. Other references allude to further Japanese plans for attacking California and Washington, but it's not clear (from these passing references, anyway) whether an actual occupation was envisaged, as opposed to an attack followed by victory and withdrawal. So I remain agnostic on this point.

As for German plans, I said absolutely nothing about them, so I am puzzled once again that you mention them in a riposte purportedly aimed at me.

Jrudkis said
"Isn't the point though not that we were ever at risk, but that we were not at risk because we had a strong enough military to deter? Are you claiming that if we had no defenses, no country in the past 200 years would have tried to take some easy pickings?"


Err, for most of the 19th century, and well into the 20th, our military was basically a joke. Yes, we had build ups for major wars and by the end of the Civil War and WW I, we had a Great Power military. But we usually relaxed again. We beat the Spanish because they were even less readier then we were, and just before WW 2, the US Army was smaller than Belgiums IIRC.

For most of this period, the principle guarantor of our being left in peace was the Royal Navy. IMHO Monroe's success in putting forth his doctrine, and getting somebody else to enforce it is one of the more under-rated triumphs of diplomacy.

Donald Clarke

dr ngo; I’ll make a try at answering parts of it. Not being a student of the Nuremburg and Tokyo trials, I can’t say if there was any mention of plans by those tried being added to the charges or covered in the proceedings, so I’m not sure that even if the lack of such subjects being addressed would tell us anything, or that if addressed they would cover everything regarding both countries plans. Von also overlooked the attacks by Japan and Germany on the mainland, which did take place and are well documented, in saying that all other threats were distant. His statement was, “Only two nations have posed a threat of actually seizing some portion of the United States and taking over: the English and the Confederate States of America. Both spoke English (the former rather famously). Every other war has been distant and posed no direct threat to the U.S. homeland: for instance, as much as they threatened U.S. interests, neither the Japanese nor Germans actually threatened the U.S. homeland:” The way I read that he is saying that there was no threat of either Japan or Germany invading and occupying. Can you offer a reasonable argument that such a scenario might not have happened had the war gone differently? For example, had Germany quickly succeeded in Russia, is there any proof that they would not have continued with their original plans? Or that Japan would not have attacked the West Coast as part of a two-pronged attack?
The thing is that Von used the word “threat” and I would submit that WW2 was indeed a threat which very easily could have resulted in invasion and occupation had both Japan and Germany been more successful in the early stages of WW2.
I do not understand why you do not think the fact that Von is writing in 2007 relevant. He is looking back and flatly stating that Japan and Germany were not threats to the “homeland,” his word.
As for your argument that Alaska might not have been thought of as part of the United States, I disagree. The government even went so far as to downplay the occupation of the Aleutians so as not to inflame the population, something that would indicate to me that the country did think of Alaska as part of the United States. Certainly my own experiences enter into how I view things, but why would the government downplay such an occupation if they believed that the citizens did not look upon Alaska as part of the country; a part that was bought and paid for, something the other places you mention were not.
I realize that Kinoaki Matsuot is a controversial subject, but off the top of my head I don’t remember where I read some of the other articles which addressed the subject. I’m not a history professor and am merely curious, so I don’t keep files on where I read everything. I have seen a couple of other short articles on Japanese invasion plans, but his was that only name which I remembered, and I only remember him because of the controversy surrounding his claims. What I do remember is that the others differed only slightly in details, but not in general with Matsuot’s claims. As an aside, I will confess that it took me five tries on Goggle to come up with a spelling for his name. Perhaps I ought to take the time to read what is on the web about him, but haven’t done so. The subject of Japanese invasion was a subject that I got interested in twenty-five years or so ago and did a little research on and have not revisited since that time. That is not meant to say I don’t pay any attention to it, but so far I have not seen anything which refutes it and would require any further study on my part. If you happen to know of such information or studies I would be most interested in them. Back to the subject, I do believe that such plans were made and that had the war gone differently, might well have been implemented. Many plans change when wars are fought, but such changes do not prove that there were never such plans, or that such plans were not a threat.
No, you didn’t mention Germany. I would answer that I included it in my comment for two reasons. One, it was necessary to put things in context. By including Germany, such plans and threats from Japan become a greater probability. They were allies and had some common goals. Secondly, the post was also intended to supply some information which would enable others to understand my reason for disagreeing. I should have been clearer as to why I included it. I’m guilty of being very sloppy and apologize for it. In fact, that should have been in a separate post.
In the end, I don’t see that you have proved me wrong in disagreeing with Von’s comment regarding the lack of threat from Japan and Germany. He is the one who flatly stated that they were no threat which was what I commented on. That it did not come to pass proves nothing. If a man threatens to kill me and fails does not prove he wasn’t willing or didn’t try and was therefore a threat to me. And I do not think you have proved that Von believed that people did not think of Alaska as a part of the United States, something not claimed in his post. I also note that he has not attempted to defend his statement although he has commented several times in the comment thread, nor has he done so in his updates to the post. Perhaps I am not worth his time or he is perfectly happy with what he wrote. Anyhow, I’ve enjoyed your comments and the semi-debate. That said, I doubt that I bother to write anymore on it because I’ve said what I started out to say.

By including Germany, such plans and threats from Japan become a greater probability. They were allies and had some common goals.

So did the USSR and the USA at the time.

As far as my knowledge about German plans goes, Hitler did not plan a "real war" with America in his lifetime but expected that one of his successors would do it. That scenario was that the remaining 3 empires (Japan, Germany, the US) would somewhere in the future fight it out who would rule the whole world.
That imo means that at the time the (mainland) US was not directly threatened by Germany with invasion (though with a future option).
Concerning Japan. Yamamoto is quoted with a statement that Japan could only win against the US by marching into Washington and dictating peace. That statement was from context clearly meant as a "don't start a war because we can't win". My limited knowledge of Japanese policy would let me conclude that Japan wanted to secure its own Pacific empire but had no intention of a permanent invasion/occupation of mainland US territory (unlike e.g. the British Far East territories).

1. I've never experienced rudeness in France, and I'm not all that pretty.

2. Bumper stickers aren't supposed to be thought about for anything more than the time it takes to read them. People who've come to arguing with stranger on the internet about whether the sentiment of the sticker is valid by referring to Hitler's plans, Japanese balloon warfare in Oregon, or the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo probably need to find a new hobby. I include (and therefore ban) myself in this.

Von also overlooked the attacks by Japan and Germany on the mainland, which did take place and are well documented, in saying that all other threats were distant. His statement was, “Only two nations have posed a threat of actually seizing some portion of the United States and taking over: the English and the Confederate States of America. Both spoke English (the former rather famously). Every other war has been distant and posed no direct threat to the U.S. homeland: for instance, as much as they threatened U.S. interests, neither the Japanese nor Germans actually threatened the U.S. homeland:” The way I read that he is saying that there was no threat of either Japan or Germany invading and occupying.

That is exactly how I intended it.

Incidentally, I was aware of attacks by Japan on US territories (by balloon and, of course, at Pearl Harbor) and Germany's largely unsuccessful attempts to attack the East Coast by submarine. I also was aware that the Japanese had captured certain US Pacific territories. But neither posed a direct threat of occupying the US to the extent that they could replace English with Japanese or German. Not. Even. Remotely. Close.

I've never experienced rudeness in France, and I'm not all that pretty.

Yes, but I bet your clothes are fabulous. :)

Coming in late ... the first time I was in Paris (1969) everyone was horrible to me except the Algerian maids in the hotel. The last time (1998) people went out of their way to be helpful and friendly as soon as I started mangling their language, because at least I was trying -- even people in parts of town where there were hardly any other tourists. The change was amazing. And I noticed that a lot of people spoke at least a few words of English, too -- another change.

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Whatnot


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