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As I Sit and Look Out: War does not obstruct freedom of expression

Boycotts (Part II)

Liberty fries are not a new idea.

When the United States entered World War I, sauerkraut became Liberty cabbage, the hamburger became the Liberty sandwich for many people and the frankfurter took on its proper American name of hot dog.

The British were not immune. The House of Hanover became the House of Windsor and the Battenbergs became the Mountbattens. (I have not heard that Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie, is planning to change her name but then the Brits eat chips, not fries.)

In World War II, the Metropolitan Opera decided it would not stage German operas. It also decided that Giacomo Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” would not be sung for the duration. Please note that the original story was written by an American and the play was by an American. When Puccini saw the play in English in England he knew little or no English, but he was so moved by what he saw he decided to write what became a powerful and beautiful opera.

As far as I know, the Met did not outlaw other works by Puccini. (Note that this past season, despite the Iraqi conflict, the Met continued to produce “Faust,” a French opera based on a German opus. Times do change — sometimes.)

Now, let’s change from the global ruminations to the local angle:

Newtown High School is one of the most diverse schools in our country and it was so (but not nearly as much) in the early 1940s. Many students were refugees from Hitler’s barbarism. In the fall of 1941, the choir and the band were planning a joint performance for January 1942, with the choir to present a concert version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado” and the band to play, among other things, “Finlandia” by Jean Sibelius.

After the horror of Pearl Harbor, the band leader canceled “Finlandia” (Finland was fighting on Germany’s side against the Soviet Union). But the choir director, Miss Behrens (there was no Ms. in those days), insisted that the choir would sing “Mr. Gilbert’s words as he wrote them. And, you will enunciate them clearly!”

The opening chorus of “The Mikado” begins: “If you want to know who we are/We are gentlemen of Japan.”

The choir sang the words and sang them clearly. The auditorium was full. The world did not come to an end. Our republic survived.

Remember what President George Bush said about the freedom to express opinions?

Now, how about some brie and champagne? But please, hold the Liberty fries.

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