France: The American Challenge

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"Will you get rid of De Gaulle," asked President Kennedy in 1963, "or will De Gaulle get rid of you?" The question, addressed to young French Publisher Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber, was meant only partly as a joke. Even then, Servan-Schreiber was the most eloquent, most influential—and most consistent—critic that le vieux Charles had to endure. As a liberal who believed in the West, he abhorred De Gaulle's rejection of the U.S. and Britain as partners in the development of Europe. As publisher of the weekly newsmagazine L'Express, he has constantly attacked Gaullist protectionism as symbolic of "the old France and a petrified Europe." Last week all of France was arguing about a new Servan-Schreiber book that, despite its title, Le Défi Américain (The American Challenge), is far more anti-De Gaulle than anti-American.

In the four weeks since it was published, the book has sold 150,000 copies, a French record. It has been reviewed by every reputable French publication. It has been read by practically all the members of the National Assembly and cited by politicians of almost every stripe. De Gaulle himself has not deigned to comment publicly, but he reportedly told a friend that the book was "an irrefutable analysis—but the theory is trivial."

Third Power. The theory is anything but trivial. All of Western Europe, says Servan-Schreiber, 43, is being taken over by American industry, which is better organized, more computerized and far more imaginative than anything the Europeans, including France, can produce. Already, the Americans control 50% of European transistor production, 80% of computer production and large percentages of the Continent's heavy industry and oil. In France, U.S. firms produce 65% of agricultural products and telecommunication equipment, 45% of synthetic rubber. Unless Europe wakes up soon, says Servan-Schreiber, "the third industrial power in the world in 15 years, after the U.S. and Russia, could well be not Europe, but American industry in Europe."

Even more alarming to Servan-Schreiber is the fact that 90% of the capital needed to finance this "American invasion" was raised from Euro pean investors eager to take part in U.S. ventures. "What threatens us," he writes, "is not a torrent of riches. The war is being fought against us not with dollars, oil, tons of steel or even modern machines, but with creative imagination and a talent for organization." Last week Servan-Schreiber told TIME Correspondent James Wilde: "What America has done is to change the entire concept of culture, the values of civilization. The new American culture is not Chartres or Versailles, but the organization of talent. The Americans organize intelligence so that it creates. They have an industrial and scientific strategy. That's real culture."

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