Lately there is a controversy about the disagreement between France and the American Government over Iraq. This has stirred up some old complaints about Franco-American relationship. Once again we hear the old complaint that France is ungrateful for our rescuing them from Hitler, that the blood of many American boys watered their soil so they could snub us repeatedly. Well, what is the truth?
THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION- The most important fact to recall when analyzing the Franco-American relation is that without France there would be no United States of America. Washington’s ragged minutemen were given French aid, weapons, clothes and support, about $77 million francs worth. Almost all our gunpowder was imported from France. Without the French navy at Virginia Capes
the decisive Battle of Yorktown would not have been won. Admiral Bailly de Suffren’s naval victories in the Indian Ocean were more decisive to final American victory than that of John Paul Jones.
Halfway through the American Revolution the British correctly realized that instead of crushing the rebellion all they had to do was wait it out. In 1780 George Washington admitted this strategy was working. The US Congress was bankrupt, the soldiers starving and mass mutinies had broken out. If Holland, Spain and especially France had not challenged Britain and expanded the war to a global conflict the United States would have lost.
America would have remained part of the British Empire and Britain would probably have taken Louisiana from France in 1800 anyway. That’s why France was so casual about selling it. These North American colonies would have been given self-government and consolidation with the Canadian provinces as an Imperial Commonwealth in 1867. Texas, California and the Southwest would have stayed part of Mexico, Northern California part of Russia. But as a world power America would not have happened. Thomas Jefferson said " Every American’s second home should be France." Americans celebrated the Fall of the Bastille and the French Revolution and France went into state mourning when the news of the death of George Washington arrived.
THE NINETEETH CENTURY- America was pressed by both Britain and France to take a side in the Napoleonic Wars. We almost went to war with France in 1804 but went to war with Britain instead in 1812. Napoleon schemed to ask the US Navy to ferry his troops across the English Channel. America became the home in exile for the Bonaparte family and many other refugees of French politics. Frenchmen in New Orleans and Baltimore used to wave the banned tricolor flag
of the republic at Royalist ships entering the harbor.
In 1860 Napoleon III came close to recognizing the Confederate States and offered to mediate an international peace conference to end the Civil War. At the same time the French Empire ignored the Monroe Doctrine and took over Mexico until driven out by Juarez in 1867. But remember at the same time Britain also was sympathetic to the Confederacy and threatened us from Canada.
We went to the French side in the World Wars, 1917-1918 and 1941-45. When American General John Pershing arrived in France in 1917 one of his first actions was to visit the grave of the Marquis de Lafayette to symbolize America’s repaying our debt to France for our Revolution. Pro-Fascist Vichy French troops fired on American forces in Algiers and Syria.
AFTER 1945- Of course not only did we liberate France from the Nazi tyranny but our Marshal Plan rebuilt the French economy and allowed France to reclaim their Indochinese colonies in 1945 even though Ho Chi Minh seemed the logical local leader. America strong-armed France and Britain when they wanted to seize the Suez Canal from Egypt in 1956. America took up the Vietnam situation when France pulled out in 1954 and Charles deGaulle infuriated Washington when he pulled France out of NATO in 1961. DeGaulle began the process to create a non-aligned Europe and current President Jacques Chirac is a political descendant of DeGaullist policies.
France refused to let the US bomb Libya by flying over France in 1986 but joined us in battle during the Gulf War in 1991. When Yugoslavia collapsed into civil war and mass genocide we expected the European Union to take a more aggressive stance, but they wound up asking America to intervene.
So here we are. America and France have made each other nuts over the years but it is a disagreement of brothers, not strangers. Despite our occasional arguments, we could not have made it without each other. So let us agree to disagree without all these silly ideas of hanging the name of French Vanilla ice cream or boycotting Bordeaux.
Oh, and for the record: French Fries are named not for France but for an East Coast chef named French. And one of the biggest loudmouth congressmen complaining about France is a Republican from Ohio named Bob Ney, an American descendant of one of Napoleon’s generals Marshal Ney.