24 August 2004

Trying Not to Be an American

If you speak three languages, you're trilingual. If you speak two languages, you're bilingual.

And if you speak only one language, you're an American.

I read foreign news sources in their language when I am capable of doing so. Today's Frankfurter Rundschau is a case in point: It contains some of the most incisive commentary yet on the whole attack-ad nonsense in US presidential campaigning.

Bush erklärte, nach seinem Dafürhalten habe sich sein Rivale im Vietnamkrieg vorbildlich verhalten und könne stolz darauf sein. Auch mehrere Offiziere, die damals gemeinsam mit Kerry dienten, stellten sich hinter dessen Darstellungen des Militäreinsatzes.

"Bush distanziert sich von Anti-Kerry-Spot [Bush distances himself from TV ad attacking Kerry]" (24 Aug 2004). This is difficult to translate, as a word-for-word translation does not bring in the sense of disdain and near-disgust for the process—as opposed to Bush and Kerry themselves—looming underneath. Keeping that in mind, the reporter said roughly:

Bush explained that he wants Kerry's rival officers from the Vietnam conflict to stop their ads and attacks, which he claims he did not request and does not control. Other officers who also served with/alongside Kerry attacked/claimed the ads are not consistent with/supported by a careful examination of the relevant military records.

This sounds fairly innocuous even after moving it away from a word-for-word equivalence; but "is/are not consistent with written records" implies "willful falsehood" or "ostrich" much more than stating it in English does. But it's only an implication, of the kind that one makes when one believes that someone is in fact lying but cannot prove it.

The next thing we know, people will be asking "Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of any organization that stands for something I oppose on ideological grounds?" before allowing any candidate for office to say anything. This may not entirely be a bad thing; but then, Justice Hugo Black had been a member of the KKK before he was elected to the US Senate. People do grow up and change. Or haven't you noticed the dearth of career military people in public office in this country? We've had exactly two presidents with that background since the Civil War: Grant and Eisenhower. On the whole, that's not a very positive collective experience! In any event, though, we haven't even had a field-grade officer (major/lieutenant commander or above) in the White House, other than those two gentlemen—let alone an NCO. Which, in the end, explains a lot about the minutiae that seem to dominate examinations of presidential candidates' military records, in a very uncomplimentary way.