Happy Bastille Day! I have to admit to being an ardent Francophile. I love French food, French wine, French philosophy, Paris, the Languedoc, and the French people. So I do not understand why folks dislike the French. France is the land of the American Revolutionary hero Lafayette and was the country to present us with a gift that has become an icon in the United States-The Statue of Liberty.
Let me be clear about my personal experience. The French like American people, they dislike and distrust the American government. Odd that we would resent the French for disliking our government when both the President and the Congress have appallingly low poll numbers among our own citizenry.
It seems rather bizarre to me that the French can seperate their dislike of our government from their affection for Americans but conservative Americans can’t. These Americans seem to say to the world- “If you disagree with our government we hate you.” It seems just a tad juvenile to me…. somewhat like a bully in a schoolyard fight.
After we invaded Iraq and President Bush did not get the support he expected to get from the French, I heard more vitriol from conservatives- or what I call the radical “wrong”- about the French than ever. The French were tarred in the New York Post, among others, as the leaders of the “Axis of Weasel.” National Review’s Jonah Goldberg made “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”—a Groundskeeper Willie line from an episode of The Simpsons—the rallying cry of Francophobes. It is interesting that after former Secretary of State Colin Powell made President Bush’s case to invade Iraq at the United Nations the French ambassador said that “military intervention in Iraq would be the worst possible solution.” It seems that he was spot on in his assessment!
It seems that the dislike of the French is related to World War II and the assumption that France just rolled over for the Nazis and hasn’t been genuflecting enough to the American government ever since the end of the war.
Let’s address the issue of France surrendering to the Nazis. It seems odd to me that Americans hate the French and like the Germans- after all weren’t the Germans the Nazis? It also seems odd to me that Poland is not accused of being a nation of weaklings. It took the Nazis about the same amount of time to take Poland as it took them to take France. Many Polish were as much if not more supportive of the Nazis as was the Vichy government in France. Both Poland and France had active resistance movements and there were French and Polish heroes for the struggle against the Nazis and the Fascists in Italy. Anti-Semitism was present in both Poland and France but it flourished in Poland making it a country that was complicit in the Holocaust.
Why do we not hate the Polish? Maybe it is because they owed their liberation to the Soviet Union and not the United States so Americans don’t see them as being beholden to us. But I don’t think that’s it. There are more Americans that are within a generation or two from Poland than from France which is why conservative Americans don’t saddle Poland with the same “surrender-monkey” moniker that they give to the French.
Quite frankly it is a little arrogant of the United States to take full credit for the liberation of France. Yes- Dwight D. Eisenhower was the Chief of Allied Forces- but those forces included not just Americans but British and Free French and were facilitated by the French Resistance.
What about the Treaty of Versailles after World War I? President Wilson brokered a peace that would have stabilized the world. Ultimately the United States Congress reneged on some of the key provisions of the Treaty and one might contend that because of this it was easier for Nazi Germany to gain power.
In 1939 the French were still reeling from a war that was mostly fought on their soil – World War I. When I was in the Languedoc a few years ago I was struck that every small village had a World War I memorial with the names of the native sons lost during that conflict. After seeing a few of these memorials it was clear that the toll that World War I had on the French was massive. After the horror of a war conculded only a little less than two decades earlier it is understandable why the French were unable and, in some cases, unwilling to engage in a bloody conflict so soon again.
After the United States reneged on various provisions of the Treaty of Versailles it would be understandable for France to assume that the United States “owed” them, but they didn’t. The French greeted the United States and the other allies as liberators. Didn’t the very conservatives that mock the French say that we were supposed to be greeted as liberators in Iraq? Ironic isn’t it.
No – there are really only three basic reasons that the American Conservatives dislike the French and they are pretty distasteful reasons in my book.
1. France is liberal. The dirty little secret is that this liberal country has a better quality of life for its people than the conservatives have provided in the United States. What an embarrassment to the conservatives in the U S of A!
2. The French have an adamantly secular government and conservative Americans seem to have an aversion to what Bill O’Reilly disdainfully refers to as “secular progressives”. Someone needs to tell me what the problem is with the concept of being a secular progressive- I rather like being one! Besides aren’t we told that the government of Iran is evil- a government that is decidely conservative and religious?
3. The French dislike war. American conservatives like to have a little swagger to their walk and have that “bring it on” attitude of President George W. Bush. Anyone that doesn’t share that macho spirit must be a wuss!
My final word on this is that conservative Americans need to realize the similarity between the tripartite motto “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and “liberté, égalité, fraternité”. Happy Bastille Day!