This is an excerpt from a column written last month by Denis Boyles for NRO. He's writing from France, and describing some of the controversy in Europe over Terri Schiavo. I use the word controversy, but perhaps that's the wrong word. What they were really doing, many of them, was laughing at us for how worked up we were all getting over such an unimportant issue. The whole column is very good, but I wanted to offer a lengthy excerpt which says so much, and I wish the people I was talking about in the previous post would take a moment to ponder what he's saying and ask if they're falling into the same trap.
The alternative to being passionately engaged with the terrible fate of Terri Schiavo is to mutter a few words about how "sad and tragic" it all is and just move on. That's certainly what the New York Times and most Europeans would like to see. However, in the grim arc of two lifetimes, we've seen very often what happens when you shrug off one death, let alone many, many more. In fact, we saw it in France, where all those enlightened rationalists live, less than two years ago when 15,000 weak and elderly men and women were left to die in a summer heat wave while government services shut down and their families all went on holiday.
By the end of August 2003, 15,000 French people had died of simple neglect. That's the equivalent of five 9/11s in four months. One such event is all it took to transform America. In France, massive death received a massive shrug. I've reported this before, of course, but I still can't get over it: As a result of what happened during those awful weeks, nothing changed. The French press ignored the story almost entirely as it unfolded and only began reporting it in detail well after the fact. Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, at his villa in the south of France, held a casual, poolside press conference as the bodies piled up — and denounced "partisan politics." Chirac remained on holiday through the disaster, but addressed the nation and promised sweeping changes. Meanwhile, jammed funeral homes began turning bodies away. Many of them went unclaimed. Chirac's grand plan? If you are old and infirm and at the edge of death and French, do not go to an understaffed, overheated hospital. Instead, go to the movies, where it's air conditioned. The last I read, more than a year and a half after the event there are still unidentified bodies of grandmothers and grandfathers stuffed into the morgues of Paris.
I didn't mean to produce a homily for the holiday, but it does seem to merit mentioning that Terri Schiavo's plight has been caricatured by the French and European press for a reason other than just to make droll. France despises America because we display, rather ostentatiously at times, all the marks of spiritual enthusiasm while they cling tightly to rational secularism. Much of what distinguishes the U.S. from France follows from that: Where we are optimistic, France is pessimistic. Where we have hope, they have cynicism. Where we are energetic, they are complacent. Where we are open and occasionally naive, they are secretive, deceitful and aloof. Where we succeed, they cannot.
Don't you all understand - this is where we're all headed unless we do something to change. I can't believe that you really want this kind of world, do you? Your cynical, snarky, ironic worldview, which really masks despair and aimlessness - there's more to life than that. You have to believe this.
Christ once told His critics, "If you don't believe in Me, at least believe in what I do." The same holds here. Whether you believe in God or not, whether you even believe in a force of good, does it really hurt to be nice to someone, to be civil, to try and help your fellow man? We're all in this together, whether we like it or not. Is it that hard to just try?
And yes, Ethan, I'm talking about you, too.