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Thursday, January 06, 2005

Genghis Bush

In 1776, the Americans decided that they were fed up with English tax policy, a situation that the English found quite revolting, literally. Having fought the French recently for possession of the continent, the thought was that the Americans would do no worse than the French, and that the rebellion would be over soon.

Bad move.

In 1798, the Sultan of Algiers took American seamen hostages, and thought that they would be ransomed by the Americans, following the traditions of the French.

The Americans responded by burning Algiers.

And so it went, from one sanguinary conflict to another, from 1812, 1845, 1860, 1914, 1941, 1950, 1991, and on and on. Other nations, for some reason, kept thinking that Americans acted like the French. Even in the Civil War, both the north and south thought that the other side were pushovers who would sue for peace after the first skirmish, demonstrating that Americans could think that even their compatriots can act, well, like the French.

It’s either a flaw in our character or a strength, take your choice. But it does explain a lot about the American psychology. Coming from a nomadic stock, roaming and settling the open plains, and surviving in a wild continent with no indoor plumbing has a way of shaping your character. For Americans, it all helped to develop a code of honor, a sense of superiority bred by our survivability, and a penchant not to take insults lightly. Character traits not exactly like the insular French, but more like another people who tamed a continent, the Mongols.

The Mongols, like the Americans, were a nomadic breed less inclined to pursue cultural niceties than to conquer a continent, in this case literally. And they did not brook insults well, and certainly did not like to be misjudged to act like other peoples, like the French. So, you did not insult them or get in their way, otherwise your whole society might end up building a pyramid, with your skulls.

Genghis Khan: Don't Call Him French Posted by Hello

Today, Americans are much more culturally tactful and politically correct than the Mongols, but that doesn’t mean they’re becoming French. Take this whole war on terror thing. The Mongols would have understood. After all, when they were insulted by the Caliph of Baghdad, they too occupied the country, and left the city not with elections and $100 billion in aid, but a pile of skulls, rising to the sky, a solution that perhaps many Americans secretly ponder.

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