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Sarkozy Visits Congress

11/15/07 7:55AM By Mike Martin
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Mike Martin, commentator
(HOST) When Nicolas Sarkozy visited Congress last week he praised the U.S. at length. Commentator Mike Martin listened to the speech with his French students and has been thinking about all we have to live up to now.

(MARTIN) When French President Nicolas Sarkozy addressed the United States Congress last week, video of the speech was posted on the Internet only minutes later. So, thanks to technology, my French students and I were able to see and hear the event almost as it was happening. Sarkozy was here in the U.S. to improve Franco-American relations, which have suffered since the war in Iraq. His eloquent speech was so laudatory that one French newspaper called it an "Ode to America."

Indeed, the new French President heaped praise on the United States, and insisted he spoke on behalf of the entire French people. Sarkozy said that our democracy opened a "new era for humanity." He said, and I quote, "From the very beginning, the American dream meant proving to all mankind that freedom, justice, human rights and democracy were no utopia, but were rather the most realistic policy there is." And Sarkozy predicted that the U.S. will prevail in its struggle against terrorists because, he said, "democracies are not weak."

My students and I were touched when Sarkozy said Americans had saved Europe from "enslavement." He thanked us for World War I, for World War II, for the Marshall Plan, and for the Berlin Airlift. He said that generations of Frenchmen teach their children how Americans died, quote, "not to defend their own freedom, but the freedom of all others, not to defend their own families, their own homeland, but to defend humanity as a whole." So when the French President said he feels a deep personal loss every time an American soldier falls today, it was totally believable and moving.

Sarkozy also told Congress, the assembly that once renamed French fries freedom fries, that France remains committed to NATO, opposes a nuclear-armed Iran, and will stay in Afghanistan with the U.S. as long as it takes. Sarkozy did not mention Iraq or Guantanamo Bay, but he did say that we have a special responsibility precisely because of our greatness. He added that those who love America simply hope we will live up to our own values.

And Sarkozy really got me when he cited Martin Luther King as a universal model in his struggle for "love, dignity, and justice." He explained that America's greatest strength lies in its ability to change for the better, its ability to reinvent itself when it goes astray.

After listening to the speech, one of my students said she'd heard other countries hate us so many times that she was relieved to hear Sarkozy say nice things about us. And that reminded me that it will be up the next generation to fix the mistakes we make.

But, looking around the classroom at my students, and thinking about the young Americans I know, I felt confident that they'll be up to the challenge. I think they’ll show the rest of the world that we're still a great country.

Mike Martin writes about issues of culture and education and teaches French at Champlain Valley Union High School.
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