From France, With Love and Pain | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

From France, With Love and Pain


Richard Coupe

A sharp elbow to my left kidney brought me fully awake. "Answer that," my wife said. I had recently changed the traditional chime on my iPad to the sound of a hunting horn that really annoys her. She wanted me to turn it off at night, but I demurred, saying, "What if the kids want to talk?" She rolled her eyes and said, "Let them call when the sun is up!"

Sleep has always been important to my wife.

Rolling over and peering onto the floor where the iPad was still lit up, I could see a screen full of messages. The first was a Facebook post stating that our friend, Quitterie Blanchard, was safe, followed by a cryptic message from my brother: "What the hell is going on over there?"

Communication from Europe to the U.S. has changed dramatically since my time as a solider in Germany some 40 years ago. Then, calling home required getting up early on Saturday morning, walking into town to the German post office, standing in a line and then paying a lot of money for five minutes' worth of conversation. You had to coordinate carefully with the folks back home with a six- to nine-hour time difference, and the unpredictability of the queue for the phone service meant long waits for a brief conversation.

To many of my fellow soldiers, this was the highlight of their week, and they couldn't wait for each Saturday to arrive. I couldn't be bothered.

Now, there is instant communication with everyone in the U.S. from a multitude of devices. I can call the U.S. with my plain old landline phone. I can walk to Germany, but I can't call toll-free; however, I can call any phone in the U.S. without a charge! The miracle of modern technology.

My geographically challenged and Fox News-watching family and friends tend to think of France as one big suburb of Paris, so when the news of the latest round of Paris attacks hit the U.S. news, they immediately became concerned for me and my family, although we're not in Paris. And the corollary of the miracle of modern communication is that people can communicate with you anywhere you are at any time from multiple paths.

I received emails from people I hadn't heard from in years, text messages with cryptic messages, "I'm praying for you and your family. L." Who was L? And as the size of the attack became clear, the concern of family and friends heightened until the sheer crush of communicating with all those concerned about us became tiresome, and I starting just cutting and pasting a generic message into the return emails.

Once again, Francois Hollande's French administration is faced with a carefully orchestrated attack that has killed many, terrorized Paris and horrified the world. The French want to hurt those responsible, and President Obama is being pressured to increase military action against ISIS. Many want him to commit Americans to the fight, boots on the ground.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is taking heavy criticism from members of her own party and others for standing up for the refugees from the Middle East and offering them asylum and a place to live, work and raise their children outside a war zone. Many European Nations are reconsidering their commitment to help the refugees and are turning a blind eye to their suffering. Our own GOP wants to do the same.

It seems to me that if we are not careful and give serious and rational thought to the situation, the terrorists have a good chance of succeeding in destabilizing the West, isolating the refugees from any chance of a decent life, and turning their camps into breeding grounds of discontent and misery. If we chose to live in fear and base our decisions on our own safety instead of the needs of others, the terrorists win.

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