(3/13/2003) This supposedly true account first gained popularity in late 2002 as the United States' continued effort to drum up international support for an attack on Iraq was met coldly by French officials. The chain letter offers each of us an opportunity to do something we all secretly want to, but won't let ourselves: tell somebody off using every stereotype in the book - and look good for having done it.
SAMPLE CHAIN LETTER TEXT
A funny thing happened to me yesterday at Camp Bondsteel (Bosnia):
A French army officer walked up to me in the PX, and told me he thought we (Americans) were a bunch of cowboys and were going to provoke a war in Iraq. He said if such a thing happens, we wouldn't be able to count on the support of France.
I told him that it didn't surprise me. Since we had come to France's rescue in World War I, World War II, Vietnam, and the Cold War, their ingratitude and jealousy was due to surface [again] at some point in the near future anyway.
I also told him that is why France is a third-rate military power with a socialist economy and a bunch of pansies for soldiers. I additionally told him that America, being a nation of deeds and action, not words, would do whatever it had to do, and France's support, if it ever came, was only for show anyway. Going to war without the support of France is like going deer hunting without bringing an accordion.
Just like in ALL NATO exercises, the US would shoulder 85% of the burden, and provide 85% of the support, as evidenced by the fact that this French officer was shopping in the American PX, and not the other way around. He began to get belligerent at that point, and I told him if he would like to, I would meet him outside in front of the Burger King and whip his ass in front of the entire Multi-National Brigade East, thus demonstrating that even the smallest American had more fight in him than the average Frenchman.
He called me a barbarian cowboy and walked away in a huff. With friends like these, who needs enemies?
Dad, tell Mom I love her,
Your loving daughter,
Mary Beth Johnson
Lt. Col., USMC
END CHAIN LETTER TEXT
The most popular element of this story is the ironic twist at the end. The interchange was entertaining to begin with, but that a Frenchman could be put down so effectively by an American woman adds to the former's implied embarrassment. Unfortunately, the attribution is the one aspect of this one that we can easily categorize as false. The chain circulated for at least a month without any attribution before Lt. Col. Johnson's name was added.
There are several theories as to how she became associated with this letter, and even some question as to whether she exists at all. Most likely, this is another case of False Attribution Syndrome, in which she is real and received this story from a friend or colleague and forwarded to others, inadvertently adding her name and rank to it. The thought that the American soldier who stood up to the French infidel was actually a woman adds a welcome ironic twist to the message and leads many to openly accept it. The Snopes.com page referenced below proffers a few other theories as to how and why this letter has taken its present form, but I feel FAS is the most likely candidate.
So, even if our protagonist is just a normal, boring male soldier, is the story at least true? That's difficult to say and almost impossible to prove. Since such a meeting is unlikely to have been documented, there is probably no reliable account of it. Most likely, it's a complete fabrication that has been morphed into an account that we all hope is true. But, the plot just seems too contrived and the characters too two-dimensional: The arrogant, insolent Frenchmen versus a young, bold and confident American soldier... It just seems like something out of a Tom Cruise movie.
Like any e-mail chain letter, this one is subject to editing by anyone who forwards it (as is evidenced by the ex-post-facto attribution). Another very noticeable change in the version above is the addition of the line "Going to war without the support of France is like going deer hunting without bringing an accordion." This was not part of the original message and is actually a quote from Jed Babbin, a former advisor to the elder George Bush, which has been misattributed to a handful of more recognizable 'authorities.' Break this chain.