|Professor's op-ed appears in Courier-Journal
RELEASED: Sept. 11, 2003
DANVILLE, KYThe following opinion piece by Centre's Milton Reigelman appeared in the Sept. 6 edition of the Louisville Courier-Journal. Reigelman is the J. Rice Cowan Professor of English and director of international programs at Centre.
A different 9/11 celebration
This particularly upset Hasan Doyduk, the French language assistant who had been on campus since September. His decision to return to his native France early was caused, in part, by this small but symbolic action.
That there was any anti-French sentiment at all on the Centre campus was surprising, even given French President Jacques Chirac's leading role in opposing the American intervention in Iraq.
The French settled parts of central Kentucky, and nearby Fayette County is named for the man who designed the French flag after making the crucial difference in our own Revolutionary War.
Three-fourths of last spring's Centre graduates had studied abroad, with by far the largest number having studied in France. Each year about fifty students at this small college spend a semester in our Strasbourg program studying French language, history, government and culture
So, as the second anniversary of 9/11 approaches, what's a college to do?
It's one thing to tell students that the outpouring of American support following 9/11 was perhaps greater and more sustained in France than in any other country. Or that France is the only major European country with whom we have never fought a war. Or that, as Adam Gopnik wrote in the Sept. 1 New Yorker, the top-selling book in France for a month last fall was "a defense of the American nation so enthusiastic that it would embarrass George Washington's mom."
But it's another thing to mark the second anniversary of 9/11 by giving students an experience that will, in my judgment, overpower any residual anti-French feeling some might still have.
Rather than taking our students studying in Strasbourg this fall to Paris for a few days, as we have done in the past, the current Centre Directors there, French Professor Patrice Mothion and his wife, Spanish Professor Julie James, have planned an excursion of a different sort.
Paris is the place most Americans go. But Paris is no more the nation of France than is New York City the United States. The 227-year French-American connection is surely better understood in the towns and villages outside the City of Light's glare.
This year, on the anniversary of 9/11, we're taking our Strasbourg students into an historic part of the French countryside where support for America is legendary: Normandy. Prof. Mothion grew up there; his parents and neighbors, who lived through the Nazi occupation, still vividly remember the liberation of their small town by the Allies.
Few Americans can visit Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery nearby without tears coming into their eyes. Along with the tears comes the realization that the D-Day landings that began the Allied assault on Nazi Germany are as central to our American story as Yorktown and Gettysburg.
At Caen, a city that has experienced war first-hand many times, the students will visit the Memorial Pour la Paix. Immediately following 9/11, the Memorial dedicated a garden to the United States as an act of solidarity. As the Centre students enter this garden, they will witness some sacred remains of the World Trade Center that Mayor Rudolph Giulianni sent in appreciation for this extraordinary French gesture of support.
They will then visit the nearby grave of William the Conqueror, the Norman king who transformed England in the years following his successful invasion in 1066. And where is the best depiction of this watershed event in English history? In nearby Bayeux, where the group will study the incomparable Bayeux tapestry with a Centre art historian.
In Rouen, where Joan of Arc was burned, the students will have time to practice their French with native speakers, who have enough savoir faire not to remind them that President Bush, on his one brief visit to Paris, made fun of NBC correspondent David Gregory for using French when addressing the French President. (Ironically enough, correspondent Gregory had studied French at American University under Centre Director Mothion.)
Finally, the group will spend a day in Paris becoming comfortable with the Metro, ending their visit on the Champs-Elysees, where the heroic Texan Lance Armstrong recently won his fifth Tour de France. (In Strasbourg, as throughout France, one now sees many French cyclists sporting U.S. Postal Service jerseys.)
The disagreement between our current leaders is but a small eddy in the oceanic story of mutual admiration the Americans and French have felt for one another since Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson began the unparalleled, historic relationship more than two centuries ago.
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