Harvard Square Observer  -  Bush: The View from Europe

Ernest Cassara

Ye Olde Observer and his Better Half are taking advantage of the wondrous cultural life of London.  He, however, ever caring for his readers, dug into the archives before he flew off and left the following selection.

As Ye Olde Editor sat down at a table in the café in the crypt of the Parish Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square, to gain some sustenance before ascending to a concert upstairs, a lady approached the table and asked if she and her husband could share the table with me.  I assured her that that would be perfectly fine, that my Better Half was bringing the food over from the cafeteria line.  She responded that her Better Half was doing the same.

He made it to the table before my wife.  They informed me that they were from the Netherlands, were in London for a total of one week, and, after a bite, would be crossing over to the National Gallery.  Hearing me identify myself as from the United States, the lady immediately wanted to talk about “Bush.”  I declined, informing her and her husband that I preferred not to talk about Bush while eating - they smiling, as they realized that I wanted to avoid an upset stomach.

Both in the United Kingdom and on the Continent, it became very clear to us that Bush is most unpopular.  And, in Britain, there is constant griping about Prime Minister Blair’s subservience to him.  Even newspapers that support the Labour Party constantly refer to him, and picture him in cartoons as a lapdog to Bush.  Indeed, the representations by Steve Bell, the cartoonist for The Guardian, are savage.  See examples at http://www.guardian.co.uk/cartoons/archive/stevebell/0,7371,337764,00.html.

Politically, Munich is fairly conservative.  So, it tells us something when the leading newspaper, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, during the uproar over the human rights abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, published a cartoon that pictured Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, tears streaming down his cheeks, standing in front of President Bush’s desk, with a large placard hanging from his neck, with the words, in English: “I am so sorry!” He says to the president: “Möglicherweise haben wir doch die Genfer Konventionen verlezt, Mr.  President.”  (“Possibly, we have indeed violated the Geneva Conventions, Mr.  President.”) Bush, with one book on his desk, the cover of which reads “The Holy Bible,” and several VHS tapes, the case of one which reads “Top Secret,” responds, “Was sind die Genfer Konventionen?”  (“What are the Geneva Conventions?”)

The conservative London Daily Telegraph, which supported the invasion of Iraq, published an illuminating comment by a British officer that Americans “don’t see the Iraqi people the way we see them.  They view them as untermenschen - subhuman, a term applied by the Nazis to Jew and Gypsies.  They are not concerned about the Iraqi loss of life the way we are.  Their attitude toward the Iraqis is tragic, it’s awful. . . . As far as they are concerned Iraq is bandit country and everybody is out to kill them.”

Of course, any thinking American understands that the attitudes of the American forces, and the abominable actions in Abu Ghraib prison, stem from the very top echelon of the Bush administration.

It tells us much about European opinions of Bush and company, when Gene Kerrigan, a commentator in the Irish Sunday Independent, in writing on a purely Irish matter, put it this way: “Politicians are changing their story on the race referendum more often than Bush changed his excuses for invading Iraq.”

Having resided for a year in Cambridge, England, during John F.  Kennedy’s little time in office, I often recall how the BBC broadcast the take off of JFK and Jackie in the White House by an American comedian, whose name I do not recall.  It was done with loving delight. 

The following year, we spent at Albert Schweitzer College in Switzerland.  It was on the occasion of our visit to the home of one of the college’s professors in Berne that, one morning, while preparing for breakfast, we heard a light tap on the door.  The professor’s wife had come to tell us the terrible news that Kennedy had been assassinated.  When, stunned, we made our way to the center of the city, we could not help but notice the somber looks on the faces of the pedestrians.  When we stopped in a café for coffee, we were again stunned to see that the front pages of all of the newspapers in the rack carried a black border.

In the past, Americans abroad were used to kind attitudes and words about the president of the time, but no more.  Mr. Bush has demeaned himself and us.

No doubt, we will return to this theme in future issues.  But, for now, time pressure to release this issue of the Harvard Square Commentary, forces us to cease and desist.

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Harvard Square Commentary, November 27, 2006