Thursday, June 24, 2010

An American in Paris

George Gershwin’s An American in Paris haunts the recent scandal about General Stanley McChrystal’s on-the-record remarks about the Obama administration’s efforts in Afghanistan. The biting criticism leveled at the American operation, in particular the derisive remarks made about Vice President Biden, is linked to the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which stranded McChrystal and his staff in Paris, where the initial interviews with Rolling Stone journalist Michael Hastings took place. Did McChrystal succumb to the selfsame rapture that inspired Gershwin’s iconic tune? Paris can have this kind of effect on even the most hardened military leaders, and it’s no surprise that McChrystal opened his heart in the City of Light. The whole episode, with Europe brought to a standstill by volcanic ash, has the quality of A Midsummer Night’s Dream—Paris functioning as the Forest of Arden, where Puck (now a left-wing journalist) turns Bottom (our erstwhile General) into a donkey. The fallout in Washington is the reality to which the pageant is finally reduced. Hemingway famously drank champagne at the Ritz as the Allies liberated Paris, so our hapless General was on hallowed ground as far as the romance between America and France is concerned. Let’s face it: however compelling Marja and Kandahar may be as theaters of war, they can’t hold a candle to the specter of General Courtney Hodges leading the First Army down the Champs Elysées in ‘45. 

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