In March 2003, as a less impressionable adult, I traveled through America's heartland with my band Melomane just as the United States plunged into war with Iraq. As anti-French sentiment reached soprano pitch, I realized that the "cowboys" whom I emulated two decades earlier were now running this country, only I was no longer one of them. I was an "In'jun." I was the enemy.
WRITER/SINGER PIERRE DE GAILLANDE
The events leading up to war in Iraq are familiar. President George W Bush and his team pushed their agenda in the face of massive opposition from the United Nations and the European Union. France spearheaded the opposition. In the United States, many interpreted France's anti-war stand as anti-American.
A backlash ensued and the rhetoric reached surreal proportions accented with almost infantile behavior. US-newspapers portrayed French politicians as weasels, some publications went so far as use Adobe(R)Photoshop(R) to superimpose a weasel's head on the body of President Jacques Chirac.
US-restaurants boycotted French wines. One patriotic restaurant owner invited the press to witness him pouring $100 bottles of champagne down the toilet. People substituted the adjective "French" with "freedom." Perhaps the idea was that French were the negation of freedom, and were trying to enslave all Americans by not lending their army to the pointless invasion in Iraq. I watched all of this with bemusement and growing unease. It was getting really weird.
If Tom Ridge's US Department of Homeland Security could detain suspected terrorists with little or no cause, would French people be next? I had never felt like a member of an oppressed minority. I emigrated from one culturally astute country to another. I am a white male. It is true that when I arrived in the USA, I had a heavy French accent. This set me apart from the other second graders in my school. Some of the bigger, dumber kids picked on me for being different, but I eventually lost all trace of my accent.
Even throughout my adolescence, being French seemed like a card I could play to my advantage with girls, not a political handicap. But by the time we were touring the country at the start of Iraq's invasion, the climate was starting to scare me. As we drove through the South, we caught clips of world events on television in dingy clubs. It became increasingly clear that George W Bush was going to have his war whether anyone liked it or not. Bush's staff probably didn't show him the footage of millions of protesters around the world denouncing his cause. Or maybe those videos strengthened his resolve and made him feel steadfast before God, against all odds; much like Saddam Hussein must have felt in his secret bunker before the shit-hit-the-fan....
We arrive in Nashville, TN, as the war begins. Driving through this glitz-lit, country music mecca, I see cowboys everywhere. They are good 'ole boys milling around in diners, gas stations, and boot shops. This is the United States afterall, love it or leave it, as the old saying goes.
My French passport suddenly beacons betrayal, I feel like it proves my association with the enemy. I was a weasel in a land of cowboys. If they knew my history, they would consider it their God-given duty to run my ass out of town on a rail, tarred and feathered, like in the Lucky Luke comics I read as a child. My anxiety grows --fueled by six hours in a van and large doses of caffeine-- contributing to my edge.
Right away I imagine the worst: He had been detained indefinitely by the Department of Homeland Security for activities which jeopardize domestic security. In other words, for being French. They had jailed him, tortured him to extract the whereabouts of his family, and they were coming for me next. We head for our gig at another club, and unload our equipment and set-up. I was preoccupied, and need to clear my head, be alone, and try to reach my father.
Walking along the main drag of Music City, I enter a quiet restaurant, pull up to the bar and ask for a glass of water. I dial my father. No answer. The woman behind the counter smiles at me. It was not a smile of suspicion. She doesn't yet realize that I am the enemy. I spy the selection of wines behind her and notice a dozen good French labels. I drain my glass in one gulp.
Embolden by charm, I ask her why the restaurant has not boycotted French products. She looks at me as if I have the head of a goat sprouting from my forehead.
"Boycott French products? I'm about to start boycotting America. This country is fucked," she says.
"I'm seriously considering moving to France and asking for political asylum. We are being oppressed by an evil, insane dictator. Boycott French products? Ha!," she says.
Later that night, Melomane plays a great show. I make many new friends in Nashville, and meet people who feel alike about Bush and his war. That girl from the restaurant shows up too, along with her friends.
We all hang-out together until the bar closes. At about 2:15 a.m., my father calls my cellphone. He says he is sorry for the short message earlier, his phone got disconnected and he misplaced my number. For the next twenty minutes, he raves about what a great job Bush is doing in Iraq, ousting that scumbag dictator, and liberating the Iraqi people.