Hatrack River - The Official Web Site of Orson Scott Card
    Print   |   Back

Thanksgiving, Paris, and Bad Words - Uncle Orson Reviews Everything

Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
November 19, 2015

First appeared in print in The Rhino Times, Greensboro, NC.

Thanksgiving, Paris, and Bad Words

I first heard about the Friday the 13th attacks in Paris as I was driving to attend a Thanksgiving choir concert at my church. My wife was one of the performers, and they were debuting composer Mark Mitchell's orchestra-and-choir arrangement of his setting of my best hymn, "All That the Earth Can Yield."

But for various reasons, I was driving the pickup instead of my own car, so instead of the Sirius-XM radio being set to the classical or Christmas station, it was on Fox News Radio (because we prefer honest reporting), and the urgent way the newscaster was speaking told me that something important was going on.

As I drove, they reported that there had been at least six coordinated attacks at various spots in Paris -- cafes, a concert hall -- and that automatic weapons and grenades were being used to kill as many French civilians as possible. The police launched an attack on the concert venue as I parked my car and went inside the church.

It is hard to explain why I care so much about France. As a lifelong anglophile, I should have picked up on traditional English resentment of the French, and it's not as if the French government has not behaved with truculence and disrespect toward America throughout my life.

But my wife lived in a pension in Paris for a semester before we were married, and when we had the chance to travel abroad, our first choice was always France: Paris first, and then, because my main French publisher is in Nantes, we visited Bretagne. We have also had occasion to visit other cities, including a wonderful summer in Cagnes-sur-Mer in Provence.

I read French incompetently and speak it worse -- though, for an American, my pronunciation is not awful.

When France has acted against American interests, I have been as resentful as anybody else, though I didn't convert to calling French fries "freedom fries" any more than I would call a German shepherd dog an "Alsatian."

I remember in 2003 reading of the time in 1966 when Charles de Gaulle demanded that all NATO's American soldiers be removed from France. U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk reportedly asked, "Does that include the dead Americans in military cemeteries as well?"

I also remembered that what our soldiers fought for in two world wars was liberty and democracy for citizens of other countries -- whose interests would not always coincide with our own. We know what it looks like when one country always falls in line with another's demands -- Vichy France in World War II, and the Soviet satellite states from the late 1940s to the late 1980s. Unlike the imperialist powers, like Germany under Hitler and Russia pretty much always, America brings self-government ... even when that local government is not cooperative with our needs.

Our resentment of past French noncooperation should disappear at a time like this, when an invasion of France by a foreign power is once again under way. This time it isn't tanks rolling through Belgium or the Ardennes. This time it's ISIS-enthusiast guerrillas hiding out in a civilian population of immigrants from Muslim nations.

French blood is again being shed by those who hate freedom and Western values, and most Americans still respect the great friendship that began with the French fleet standing with us during our Revolution and was affirmed on the bloody battlefields of Normandy and northeastern and southern France in two world wars.

According to Snopes.com, about 30,000 Americans who died fighting in World War I and another 73,000 Americans who died fighting in World War II are buried in cemeteries in Europe. The American Battle Monuments Commission based in Arlington, VA, administers and maintains them, but the local governments granted us tax-free and rent-free use of all these cemetery sites in perpetuity. Six of those cemeteries from WWI and five from WWII are in France.

But let us also remember that where a hundred thousand Americans lie as sacrifices to the cause of freedom, France buried more than fifteen times that number in the two wars.

And when, in preparation for the invasion of Normandy, American and British bombers pulverized German military and transportation sites in occupied France, thousands of French civilians were killed by our weapons, leaders of the French Resistance told us, We understand, and we accept these losses as part of the cost of our liberation.

American and French soldiers have fought together and died together for centuries. So I believe that I speak for most Americans, and hope that I speak for all, when I say that the French victims of the Friday the 13th assault count as victims of the same war that saw more than 2,750 American deaths on September 11th, 2001.

It is, in fact, the same war that first climaxed on French soil in October of 732 a.d., when the Umayyad army led by Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, governor-general of Arab-conquered lands in Spain and Portugal, was crushed by French leader Charles Martel ("Charles the Hammer") in the Battle of Tours, which was the highwater mark of the Arab Muslim invasions of the Christian West ... so far.

Whenever I hear ignorant Leftists sympathize with Muslim claims to be "victims" of Christian or Western Crusades, I must remind them that all Muslim lands in North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean were Christian for centuries before Arab and Turkish Muslims conquered them by relentless, bloody warfare.

What ISIS is doing today in Iraq and Syria -- and what Iranian-sponsored and Al-Qaeda terrorists do in Israel and throughout the world -- is, by their own eager proclamation, a continuation of the Muslim war of conquest against everybody.

Now, few ordinary Muslims have even the tiniest interest in overthrowing the West. But then, most European Christians did not take any part in the Crusades of the Middle Ages. Yet all Christians are held responsible, by Muslim leaders today, for centuries-old actions taken by only a tiny percentage of Europeans' ancestors.

And as ISIS cheered on the perpetrators of the Friday-the-13th Massacres, they threatened that what they did that day in Paris would soon come to America, because dead Americans are a much sweeter sight to fanatical Islamists than dead Frenchmen.

It is our war, too, not by our choice, but by the choice of our enemies. Our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were meant to overthrow state sponsors of terrorism, which both governments openly were. Bad decisions by later American governments withdrew our troops far too soon -- leading to thousands of Christian, Jewish, and Kurdish martyrs being slaughtered in the name of the Muslim faith.

Can we please put an end to official denial that these terrorists have anything to do with Islam? They believe they are the truest Muslims; they believe their murders please their bloodthirsty god; it is insane on our part to pretend that because most Muslims are peaceful, this worldwide invading army is not also Muslim.

After all, the American Left made sure that our draconian RICO statutes, designed for use against organized crime, were used against anti-abortion groups that had nothing to do with the few bombings of abortion clinics, in effect shutting down all anti-abortion activism -- because of the actions of a bare handful.

If that Leftist decision were now applied to all those who share ideology with the terrorists of 9/11 and Friday the 13th, the resulting persecution would be decried -- correctly -- as a gross violation of the Constitutional rights of citizens. That's because the actions against anti-abortionists were also a gross violation of the Constitutional rights of citizens. But when people get angry enough, the Constitution gets swept aside, and Japanese-Americans are interned and Christian anti-abortionists lose their right to assemble peaceably and ...

And where will it lead? As some Muslims continue to murder civilians in free countries, it is not irrational for those civilians to demand that special vigilance be undertaken in the Muslim community.

Let us remember, though, that Muslims are the first victims of Islamist violence, because the terrorists are quickest to act against Muslims who speak against them, just as anti-slavery voices were violently quelled in the American South for decades before the Civil War, so that only pro-slavery voices were heard in the region by the time agitation for secession began.

So it is not surprising that few Muslims are willing to repudiate the Islamists openly. To do so is to court death. Besides, the Quran still contains language that affirms the duty of Muslims to kill heathens and heretics.

It is difficult to see how a Muslim could openly repudiate any part of the Quran and still be, in any meaningful way, a Muslim. Internecine wars in Europe during and since the Protestant Reformation have broken many of the rough edges off of Christianity, allowing a system of partial religious tolerance to evolve. But the Shiite-Sunni conflict has had no such effect in the Muslim world, so that middle-eastern Muslims today often behave in ways reminiscent of Christian factions in the Thirty Years War (1618-1648).

In the four hundred years since then, Christians have pretty much stopped beheading unbelievers and burning heretics alive, though events in Bosnia and Kosovo in recent decades remind us that "civilized Christians" are sometimes not that different from Hutus attacking Tutsis in Rwanda.

Nevertheless, our civilization -- the one that has brought astonishing prosperity and benefit to all of humankind, even those who were oppressed by colonialism and Communism -- absolutely depends on curbing those murderous impulses, whether the religion invoked is some form of Christianity or activist atheism, like the various Communist sects.

When do we mark the fall of the European Civilization? Not yet, certainly. But it may be that 9/11 in New York and Washington, and Friday the 13th in Paris, and 7/7/2005 in London will be recorded and remembered the way that we now remember the sack of Rome by the Vandals in 455.

Much depends on our response. America can continue to be divided from our allies in Israel and Europe by the ambivalence and weakness of the Apologetic President, or we can set aside petty differences and recognize that even if we have not chosen each other as allies, our enemies have chosen us as targets, and we would be fools not to make open, cooperative war on the territories held by the enemies of civilization, instead of leaving it to the brutal imperialists of Russia.

Does anybody believe that if they had possessed nuclear weapons, the attackers in Paris, London, and New York would have refrained from their use? We face an enemy that recognizes no limits on the atrocities they are eager to perform; only fools would pretend that continued displays of weakness will fulfil the responsibility of government to protect the safety of our citizens against present and foreseeable threats.

On Friday evening I sat in a chapel of peace, listening to music that celebrated gratitude to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Meanwhile, in the name of the same God, hate-filled fanatics were murdering innocent civilians in Paris.

God gives his children the freedom to act against his will. In this life we demonstrate what we do with that freedom when the retribution of God is neither immediate nor visible. Yet even as some use that freedom to murder others, we are grateful for that freedom, because it can also lead to much good.

America is an exceptional nation. We flirted with colonialism, and few American Indians would rejoice at how kindly European civilization displaced Native American civilizations and cultures (though I don't think anyone misses the Aztecs).

But as we grew up, we Americans became the conquering superpower that brings freedom and then fights and pays to maintain it.

Yes, short-sighted leaders removed our troops prematurely from Iraq and Afghanistan, but let us not forget that while we were still strong in those places, free elections were held -- and the people voted courageously, in the face of death threats, to create and sustain democratic government.

If we had stayed -- as we did in Japan and Germany -- long enough for democratic institutions to take hold and put down roots, maybe ISIS would never have found a foothold. Or maybe the Shiite-Sunni-Kurdish rift inside Iraq would have led inevitably to the de facto three-nation division that now exists.

But giving thanks to God is even more important during wartime than in times of peace, for despite our national stupidity and self-destructiveness, the fundamentals of our Constitution still survive. If we and our fellow freedom-loving nations are wise, we can act with unity against the enemies of civilization -- without losing the attributes that have made Western Civilization the seedbed of freedom and accomplishment.

I think the test is this, and we will watch it unfold:

Can we act with unity to protect the people of the West from the barbarian invaders, while at the same time we treat the refugees fleeing from those barbarians with compassion and generosity?

Those middle-eastern refugees flooding Europe -- can we treat them humanely, as we should have done the economic refugees who came into our country from Latin America over the past six decades, and as we should have done the European Jews fleeing Nazi oppression in the 1930s? Or will we repeat past inhumane actions, and condemn them to the suffering that surely awaits them in their homeland?

God has blessed America and Europe with such astonishing and unprecedented prosperity that we can easily, if we act together, provide food, clothing, shelter, freedom, and safety to the tired, the poor ... the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Or we can slam the door, as so many unChristian Christians demand that we do.

Likewise, we can decide to use our great military and economic potential to break the power of those who bring murder to people everywhere, from Syria to Nigeria, from Kabul to Paris. ISIS has given us what Al-Qaeda never did -- a target that our military is well-suited to destroy. And Iran has given us a deadline, because the war that we might win quickly now will be a terrible thing if it comes after Iran has the ability to deploy and deliver nuclear weapons far from its own borders.

Was it not cause for thanksgiving that American economic and military power was able to help in the liberation of so many lands from fascist invaders in World War II?

Was it not cause for thanksgiving that American and allied determination and power held imperialist Communism largely in check during the years when it was waging its own kind of jihad against nations everywhere?

Let us become the kind of people that deserve the help of God in preserving the gifts of freedom for ourselves and others, by protecting the weak instead of punishing them, and by breaking the power of murderers to continue their killing.

For many of us, Thanksgiving only makes sense if we believe in the one whose gifts we are thankful for. But even if you believe in no god, or a different God, we can still be grateful to each other and to our forebears for the sacrifices that brought us to our present freedom and posterity.

The best way to give thanks to God and to good people is to preserve their gifts and pass them on to others, now and in the future.


There is no chance that I would ever have gone to see the movie Bad Words in the theater. An R-rated movie about a spelling bee sounds about as interesting as Bad Santa -- a must-miss experience.

And I'm happy to assure you that Bad Words would have earned its R rating on language alone. It lives up to its title.

But when you're flipping channels in the wee hours of the morning, you sometimes come to rest on a scene that is intriguing. In this case, it was a little Asian-Indian kid, Chaitanya Chopra, kneeling on his airplane seat to talk to the passenger behind him, Guy Trilby -- played by Jason Bateman -- who only wants to be left alone.

Nobody does I-want-you-to-die-but-I'm-still-determined-to-be-polite better than Jason Bateman.

In fact, there are a lot of things that Jason Bateman does really, really well. Even as a teen actor in Silver Spoons, he made himself unforgettable with only twenty episodes as Ricky Schroder's best friend. Sixty-eight episodes of Arrested Development surely must have locked him in forever as the consummate TV sitcom actor.

Except he also has a successful movie career, mostly in ensemble casts, as with the Horrible Bosses franchise. His best shtick is patient suffering -- and as the straight man, he's as responsible as Melissa McCarthy for the success of the comedy Identity Thief.

But the movie about a professional proofreader, for whom spelling accurately is a condition of employment, who forces his way into a children's spelling bee ... for some reason, it tanked a little.

I assumed that it would be one of those stupid movies where Adam Sandler the main character gets himself into a position that could never happen in the real world. Instead, Guy Trilby points out that the only contest rule designed to put an age limit on competition states that contestants must not have completed eighth grade.

And Guy Trilby, though he has an eidetic memory and is capable of genius-level academic work, dropped out of school without completing eighth grade.

People really do make stupid mistakes in drafting rules and contracts (I've made a few myself), and so I grant the movie its basic plausibility.

Clearly, Bad Words was a labor of love for Bateman, since he also produced and directed it; and now that I've watched the movie -- twice -- I can see why. If you can tolerate a lot of really, really bad words, many of them spoken by a cute child, and a lot of even cruder and crueller meanings of words, then Bad Words is funny and moving and really well-performed.

Let's start with Rohan Chand, who plays that precocious kid on the plane. If this is a buddy movie -- and it is -- Chand is Bateman's buddy, and he absolutely owns this movie. Is there a better child actor working today? I doubt it.

Then there's Kathryn Hahn as Jenny, the reporter whose obscure newspaper is paying all of Guy Trilby's expenses as he travels to compete in the spelling bee -- in exchange for exclusive interviews about why he's doing this insane, obnoxious thing. But Guy is not telling her anything useful -- though , despite an openly professed lack of mutual attraction, they can't stop sleeping together.

Allison Janney is wonderfully understated as Dr. Deagan, who is in charge of the competition and who cheats by making sure Guy Trilby gets "random" words like floccinaucinihilipilification (the estimation of something as valueless) and slubberdegullion. (Because he has a photographic memory, Guy handles all these extra-long and extra-rare words with ease.)

Rachael Harris gives a brilliantly over-the-top performance as a mother who gets in an insult match with Guy culminating in an on-air meltdown in the spelling bee's final round. And Steve Witting, as the spelling bee proctor who reads out the words, turns a minor role into a memorable one with his spot-on acting.

And, of course, there are the kids that Guy psychs out quite cruelly as he cuts a devastating swath through the spelling bee. The young actors' responses are natural, which only makes the scenes all the more appalling to anybody who likes children. Especially smart, insecure children.

Yet gradually we learn that Guy's actions, while malicious, have a point -- and it is not to hurt the kids who are competing. Jenny uses research to find out the key clue to Guy's motive.

No, the movie was never "heartwarming" -- not for an instant. But it's funny and sensible. It satirizes the kind of competition that adults take far too seriously, eliminating any possibility of their kids' getting any joy from it. And it allows Jason Bateman to create a perniciously lovable character.

Bateman seems to be one of those rare actors who give their best performances when they are directing themselves.

It's available on HBO Go and HBO On Demand for a while. I've watched it twice, and I would watch it again with pleasure. But many -- perhaps most -- people I know would be so appalled by the crudity of the language that they would get little pleasure from it.

Is that a recommendation? Yeah, I think it is. You just have to decide for yourself whether listening to somebody swear for money in a really funny movie is too much of an offense against the purity of your mind.


Copyright © Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.