The French Connection

A recent light-hearted article entitled “The French Reconnection” (The Journal News “Lifestyles” – Gannett papers - 6/7/2003) was a welcome invitation to re-examine the fallout of French bashing that still pervades our country. One struggles to get beyond the “freedom fries” silliness and ludicrous boycotts of all things French to comprehend the petty nastiness of such attitudes.

France and its people are accused of being ungrateful to their old friend for not supporting the preemptive war launched by this administration. Although “gratitude” (which happens to be a two-way street) is not the real issue here it deserves a comment.

Critics of France have very selective memories and forget the fact that France is “America’s oldest ally.”  As President Jacques Chirac reminded us recently, France’s friendship for America is “bicentennial.”

Historians tell us that, even before France formally signed the treaty of “amity and concord” with the Continental Congress in 1778 that brought the full weight of her forces to the American cause, many young idealistic Frenchmen, committed to the principles of freedom and justice, slipped out of France and came to America to support our efforts. The most famous, of course, was Lafayette. But there were many others such as the Baron de Montesquieu whose grandfather’s “Spirit of the Laws” became one of the inspirations and sources of our revolution. (Five of my own ancestors were engaged in this historic war for independence.)

As the war progressed the Continental Army suffered from chronic ill health, malnourishment and  exposure to the elements.  At this moment of crisis France formally entered the fray with her armies and fleet led by such legends as the Comte de Rochembeau and Admiral De Grasse to rescue us, as Patrick Henry stated, from the “dreadful precipice from which we have escaped by means of the generous French.” No country acts purely out of altruism, of course, and there are always national interests at play. But when France came to our aid at this low point in the war George Washington, one historian wrote, “near tears of relief and joy” celebrated this new alliance with a great parade praising “the Almighty Ruler of the Universe for raising up a powerful friend ….to establish our liberty and independence.”

Ignoring this, Francophobes bemoan France’s seeming “lack of gratitude” for our role in rescuing her in the two world wars. America also acts out of its own national interests.  But we did indeed help save France.  Anyone who has lived in France and speaks the language knows that France remembers and is grateful. I have traversed the battle fields of both wars from Chateau Thierry and Bellow Wood where my grandfather earned the Croix de Guerre to Normandy and can assert with certitude that the French both honor their own war veterans (perhaps better than we do our own) and continue to honor those Americans who died in France.  I can take you to a remote corner of Brittany where but a few years ago a monument was dedicated to the American mothers whose sons gave their lives for freedom. (see photo) I was in Paris for the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Paris, an event that was filled with pro-American spirit.

But “gratitude” is not really the issue here.  Just because I am grateful to my friend should I automatically support him in something that I consider illegal or immoral?  What kind of friendship is that?  Shouldn’t I instead admonish him and point out the error of his ways?  It may come as a surprise to French bashers to realize that France is a democracy too and, in the case of the war on Iraq, the overwhelming majority of the French population considered it wrong. Nor were they alone in this as we know from the strong condemnations of other Europeans, the pope and most world religious leaders who opposed the war as unprovoked, unnecessary and a violation of the UN Charter to which the United States was an original signatory. The position of the French president in supporting the UN Security Council reflected exactly the will of the French people. We may disagree; but this was democracy at work. Contrast this to the leaders of Italy and Spain who ignored the sentiments of their population by endorsing the war.

Given its long history Mr. Rumsfeld’s “Old Europe” is tired of war and fearful of imperial power.  France, imperialistic for centuries, is now a republic. America, founded as a republic, has now become an empire.  Alas.  Empires tend not to survive.

Monument to American Mothers in Memory of their Valliant Sons
Aux Mères Américaines en Memoire de leurs Vaillants Fils

Guernic – Saint Pierrre Quiberon
Morbihan (Britany) France


Richard Earl Cross

Historical, reference:

Page Smith.  A New Age Now Begins, Vol. 1 and 2. McGraw-Hill

Organization of Friendship between the French and American Armies

 GI embraces French Child after the Liberation