To a Russian soldier the Austrians, as well as all non-Russian speakers, were all “Germans.” The word German (Немецкий – pron. nimietzki) in Russian means a “dumb man” — one who cannot speak so that we can understand him.
— translation note by Aylmer Maude in Tolstoy’s War and Peace
War and Peace takes place in Europe in 1805 through 1810. Much has changed in the years since then in Europe. But it makes me think of what so many Americans, xenophobic as we often are, think of foreigners that don’t speak “our language.” The bigotry of people who view those who speak other languages as “dumb” and inferior goes back through the centuries, the times when imperial Russia was a superpower during the Napoleonic wars, and of course far back into the distant reaches of history to the ancient Egyptians.
It reminds me of the quote often attributed to Miriam Ferguson, the first governor of Texas:
“If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it ought to be good enough for the children of Texas.”