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Americans to the Rescue

I am sure you already heard the big news — that three American servicemen and one British man managed to come to the rescue when a radical Islamist opened fire on a Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris last week. The three young guys didn’t think for a second before responding with “Let’s get him,” and then they did just that — got him.

The Americans were Anthony Sadler, a student studying physical therapy at Sacramento State University, Air Force serviceman Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos, a National Guardsman. Skarlatos just returned from service in Afghanistan in July. The assailant was carrying a “Kalashnikov” automatic rifle. Stone’s hand was slashed by the assailant with a box cutter and then didn’t stop to help a passenger who had been stabbed in the throat. Another dual French-American national was shot and wounded by the gunman. The British national, Chris Norman, helped tie the gunman up once the three young Americans had him under control.

See the video below:


The heroism impressed the French so much that President François Hollande is going to bestow France’s highest honor (the Légion d’Honneur medal) on the four of them in a ceremony at the Elysée Palace today with attendance by Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and the U.S. Ambassador to Paris Jane Hartley. The news is all about this amazing event and how these three brave young Americans came to the rescue.

We all take the trains openly without thinking for a moment about terrorist activity. One reason we DO take trains openly is because of the LACK of security controls that have made traveling by air so time consuming and unpleasant. I personally would be loathe to entertain security controls of the same caliber, but this dialog has already begun by authorities questioning the free movement within the Schengen Area (26 European countries) “that have abolished passport and any other type of border control at their common borders.” (

What fascinates me in this case is why was it that Americans reacted so quickly and easily to the situation when there was a train full of able-bodied European men? I can’t help but think about the cultural differences that enable Americans to be so defensive or reactive without thinking of themselves first.

Once I heard a story about the pocket of an Israeli man being picked on the Métro who reacted so quickly that the pickpocketer didn’t have a chance in hell. All Israelis must serve in the army in their youth — three years for men and two years for women, so they learn at an early age how to defend themselves and anyone else. Guess the thief learned fast that he had picked the wrong pocket! The radical Islamist terrorist opened fire in the wrong train car, too. He had no idea what hit him!

The French have always had a reputation of pacifism and they come by it honestly. The word “pacifism” was coined by the French peace campaigner Émile Arnaud (1864–1921) and adopted by other peace activists at the tenth Universal Peace Congress in Glasgow in 1901. As a country of Catholics, they follow Jesus Christ’s injunction to “love your enemies” and asking for forgiveness for his crucifiers “for they know not what they do” — interpreted as pacifism.

By contrast, in France (as in many other countries) there is a legal requirement for citizens to assist people in distress (unless it would put themselves or others in danger). When Princess Di had her fatal car collision, the photographers at the scene were investigated for violation of “non-assistance à personne en danger” (article 223–6 of the Criminal Code)  which can be punished by up to five years imprisonment and a fine of up to $100,000.

From personal experience, I’ve witnessed that the French are basically pacifist in nature, even if it’s not their moral philosophy. More than once in certain situations it was ME who spoke up on behalf of the French who did nothing. Speaking up is easy, though — we Americans are taught to speak up at an early age in our classrooms, while French students are taught to keep quiet and take notes. And while they may generally be pacifists, their repressed aggression can manifest itself in strange ways.

Once many years ago in the course of a homeowner’s association meeting here in Paris, the father of the volunteer “syndic” (association manager), who also lived in the building, and who was present to defend his son from the accusations of absconding with 10,000€ of the association’s money, actually THRUST his long French nose into the nose space of another owner and whacked it back and forth as if it was an epee! I swear, this is true.

Meanwhile, it’s not right of me to ‘call the kettle black.’ I’m the biggest pacifist of all. Once in Los Angeles I was physically attacked by an outraged woman in a parking lot who thought I had dented her bumper. All I could do was scream like a fool rather than punch her back, leaving me bruised and cut and off to the emergency room.

Hats off to the three Americans for their bravery and thanks to them the opinion by the French of Americans has been raised a notch or two. What do you think?

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

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