French- American History (#2)
 De Gaulle and Gaullism   Major Franco-US squabbles

 Many Americans have the idea of Charles de Gaulle as a man whose only goal in life was to annoy the USA (read about it). The truth is different : here are a few facts :

  • After WW1 Charles de Gaulle understood that the next war would be a mechanical one but nobody listened to him. In June 1940 he was under-secretary of Defence and, refusing the armistice with Germany, he went to London and called for continuing the war with the UK against Germany (Americans must remember that at this time the USA were NOT at war : the war was declared only after Pearl Harbor in December 1941, more than two years after its beginning for France in September 1939).

  • De Gaulle thought that France could not be independent unless she had her own full military capacity, i.e. nuclear weapons. In spite of the US refusing to cooperate (by providing computer equipment), France succeeded in 1963. Then in 1966 she withdrew not from NATO but from NATO's military organization.

  • De Gaulle was always totally loyal to the USA in major international crises (for instance in the Cuba crisis in 1962 or the Berlin crisis)

  • De Gaulle had a vision of the world that was clearly against the Soviet Union but he did not want the rest of the world to be one block against the other : he thought that the world should be multi-lateral, with several poles, Europe being of course a major one and France enabling Europe and the world benefit from her special relations with her former French-speaking colonies. It is a fact that this policy often opposed the US policy but is also a fact that it was never driven by the (childish) desire to just provoke Americans (like many of them believe !)

  • Gaullism is not something new in French history and it relates to "Bonapartisme" : an authentic democracy with a strong state and a very active foreign policy in the name of universal ideas.

  • More about de Gaulle. Among the many books about de Gaulle (including his owns), read an excellent book about de Gaulle "off the record" by Peyrefitte.

 

 As seen by Americans....

  • 1860s : France openly supports the Confederates in the Civil War
  • 1920s : the insistance of France to receive from Germany the heavy financial compensations resulting from the Treaty of Versailles (the USA pushed to lighten them) (but at the same time, the USA demanded France to repay the war loans) ; several major Franco - American crisis revolved around debt payment!
  • 1940-1945 : very difficult relations between Franklin Roosevelt and de Gaulle
  • 1950s : the French left-wing (Jean Paul Sartre etc...) and the powerful French Communist Party oppose the USA and support USSR
  • 1960s and de Gaulle : France withdraws from the military command of NATO (but not from NATO, as many Americans believe) (1966), Phnom-Penh speech by de Gaulle against the war in Viet Nam, (1967), de Gaulle supports the autonomist movement in Québec "Vive le Québec Libre" (1968)
  • 1981 : François Mitterrand appoints four Communist ministers to his cabinet
  • 1993 : in the Uruguay Round (GATT), France succeeds, against US negociators : cultural products are excluded from the negotiation (see "exception culturelle")
  • 2003 : Jacques Chirac opposes the US decision to attack Iraq 
  • Read about anti-Americanism
  • etc....

As seen by the French.. (read about the image of America in French history)

  • 1792 : the French new-born Republic, attacked by all the European kings, seeked help from the USA that France had helped so much a few years before, in vain (the USA had a secret agreement with England)
  • 1831 : the USA demand (and obtain) a compensation of Francs 25 m for the economic consequences of the European blocade by Napoleon
  • 1898 : the war with Spain in Cuba
DID YOU KNOW THAT.....? Up to 1942, that is to say almost two years after de Gaulle called upon occupied France to join the Allies against Germany on June 18, 1940, the US government still maintained diplomatic relations with Berlin, an ambassador in Vichy (Admiral Leahy) and relatively good relations with Vichy. During this very long period, the relations between de Gaulle and the US government were minimal, It is interesting to recall (few Americans know it) that on December 24, 1941, the small French archipelago of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon (off Newfoundland) voted to join de Gaulle's Free France and fight in the Free French Forces : in an ultimatum, Secretary of State Cordell Hull demanded the return of the Vichy Governor. Roosevelt kept supporting de Gaulle's opponents within the Free French organization and he survived politically only thanks to the faithful support he got from Churchill. It is fair to say that de Gaulle was not easy to live with (this is an understatement...) ; Churchill 's envoy to France, Major-General Edward Spears.said "Of all the crosses I have had to bear during this war, the heaviest has been the Croix de Lorraine." (it is the symbol of de Gaulle's Free French Army).  
  • 1927 : the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti
  • 1940-1942 : the USA maintained an embassy in Vichy with the French collaborationist government
  • 1944 : after the Allied landing in Normandy, the US had planned a US military government in France (AMGOT) and de Gaulle had to struggle to install immediately a French civil one
  • 1953 : the trial of the Rosenbergs
  • 1956 : The USA (and USSR) demand France (as well as Israel and UK) to withdraw from Egypt, ending the (stupid) Suez campaign
  • 1954-1962 : USA openly supports the anti-French revolt for the independence of Algeria (read how Noam Chomsky talks about it...)
  • 1960s : the US refuses to help France to build her atomic weapons
  • 1960s and the American Challenge : the flow of US investment to Europe threatens European firms
  • 1967-1968 : US campaign of boycott of French products to retaliate against De Gaulle's policy
  • 2003 : a violent hate campaign of US govenment and press against France after her refusal to support the Iraq war
  • Read about French-bashing
  • etc....

DID YOU KNOW THAT.....? In France nobody has ever heard of "The French and Indian War" (1756-1763) : it is called "La Guerre de Sept Ans" ("The Seven Year War") and the major battles took place in Europe between England and Prussia on one side and France, Austria and Russia (and a few others on either side). When the peace was signed, France abandoned most of her American and Indian colonies. Nobody in France thought it was very important since France kept the richest (at that time) : her Caribbean Islands. A very bad deal.....

 

 Photo : US Ambassador Admiral Leahy saying good-bye to Marshall Pétain, April 27, 1942 (the US government maintained diplomats in Vichy until November 1942! : for France, it was the third year of the war...)

(credit)

Best-known French people for Americans

Americans like the most (and consider some of them American) : Jean Jacques Audubon, Jean Calvin, Pierre Simon du Pont de Nemours, Gilbert Motier de La Fayette, Alexis de Tocqueville, Jules Verne.

  • Jean Jacques (John James) Audubon (Haïti 1785, New York 1851), emigrated from France to the USA in 1803 and became an illustrious American naturalist and painter.
  • Jean Calvin (Picardie 1509, Geneva 1564) French theologian and religious reformer emigrated to Switzerland in 1534.
  • Gilbert Motier de Lafayette (Auvergne 1757, Paris1834) commanded American troops in the Revolutionary War. His grave in Paris is a landmark for Americans.
  • Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours (Paris 1739, Eleutherian Mills (USA) 1817), entrepreneur and economist. His son Eleuthere founded the Du Pont de Nemours and Co.
  • Alexis de Toqueville (Paris 1805, Cannes 1859) ; Americans know him for what he wrote about America but he also wrote one of the best analyses of the French Revolution.
  • Jules Verne (Nantes 1828, Amiens 1905) author of science-fiction romances.
  • Conrad Schlumberger (Alsace 1878, Stockholm 1936) founded, with his brother, the famous geophysics and petrol company
  • More to come

MOVIES : Hollywood has made many great movies about certain moments of French history. As is normal, they see French history with American eyes and American values : admiration for religious heroes (Joan of Arc), no particular admiration for conquerors (Napoleon), always trying to show who is right and who is wrong in wars, etc (see a list of some of the best American movies on French history)

DID YOU KNOW THAT .... ? In 1944, the US government had a plan called AMGOT (Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories) to administrate France after D-Day. The country would  
be ruled by US military governors, AMGOT had printed tons of a new currency (see above), etc.... De Gaulle discovered it on D-Day (which incidentally had not been disclosed to the Free French Government by its allies) and rushed to appoint the first " prefets " of delivered territories and restore democracy immediately with a legal government rapidly confirmed by free elections. With a little help from Churchill, AMGOT was dropped in France and never came in effect, but it was a serious wound to Franco-American relations.
 

Franco-American relations in history : a short bibliography

BOOKS

  • Charles G. COGAN, Oldest allies, guarded friends : the United States and France since 1940, Praeger, 1995
  • Jean-Marie COLOMBANI & Walter WELLS, Dangerous De-liaisons - What's Really Behind the War Between France and the U.S., Melville House, 2004
  • Franck COSTIGLIOLA, France and the United States - The Cold Alliance Since World War II, Twayne's/MacMillan, New York, 1992
  • Eric DIOR, Un couple infernal - 200 ans de francophobie et d'antiaméricanisme, Perrin, 2003
  • Denis LACORNE & al. L'Amérique dans les têtes - un siècle de fascinations et d'aversions, Hachette, 1986
  • Philippe ROGER, L'ennemi Américain - Généalogie de l'anti-américanisme, Seuil 2002 (the best French book on the subject, translated into English in 2005)
  • Nos amis les Français - Guide pratique à l'usage des GI's en France 1944-1945, Le Cherche Midi, 2003 (the translation of an US Army document for the GI's : see the 112 questions)
  • Harlow Giles UNGER, The French War Against America, Wiley, 2005 (ridiculously anti-French but sometimes interesting)

SPECIALISTS : the best-know French academics on the USA and Franco-American relations are :

  • Nicole BACHARAN (Institut d'Etudes Politiques)
  • André KASPI (Sorbonne)
  • Denis LACORNE (Institut d'Etudes Politiques)
  • Philippe ROGER (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales)
  • Julien VAÏSSE, a History professor à Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris, has a site on his courses and publications about America
  • More to come

DID YOU KNOW THAT.....? Among the major European countries, France is the only one which has never been at war with the USA, as opposed to UK (1776 & 1812), Germany (1917 & 1941), Spain (1898), Italy (1942) and Russia (cold War).

MORE INFORMATION

 What the French do not understand about America...    

What the French do not understand at all in America and with Americans is often linked with the American view of morality in social life. Here are a few examples:

  • Inequality : the French are shocked by the level of economic inequality between Americans, as compared to Europe (see figures)

  • A society very hard on people : the most recent example being the subprime crisis with million of people losing their house : unthinkable in France ; see my column "sub-prime, stupidity and selfisfness"

  • The Prohibition : a moralizing constraint on everybody's life (which of course did not work... as anybody cynical would have predicted)

  • Native-Americans : excellent lecturers about colonialism or anti - semitism in other countries, Americans generally refuse to discuss this issue.

  • Environment : the USA not signing the Kyoto protocol, when they are among the largest polluters (3 times more CO2 per inhabitant than the French : see detailed figures and page environment)

  • A certain form of naivety, like for instance believing the story of massive destruction weapons in Iraq...

  • Violence and the number of firearms owned by Americans (see my column).

 

 

DID YOU KNOW THAT...? About ungratefulness : who started it? After the Revolutionary War and the Treaty of Alliance between the young American Republic and the old French kingdom, the French expected to develop fruitful commercial relations with America and they were shocked to see that the USA wanted to maintain their links with England. Later, when the new French republic was attacked by all the European kingdoms, they expected that America would help them to express its gratefulness, but George Washington had signed a secret treaty with England and did not help at all. For decades (in fact, the 19th century : see Roger), the image of the USA for the the French was that it was a scandalously ungrateful country. They were wrong. Emotions and feelings which make sense between indivuals do not make much sense between countries and this transposition could be seen as rather naive.

USEFUL TIPS ..... When an American says " That's history ", it means " it's over, it's the past, it's meaningless now, etc ". For a French, it means something totally different : " it's been existing for a long time : it is part of our identity", or "it is grounded on ancient roots : therefore, it is solid, do not under-estimate it, etc.... " . In foreign policy, for instance, many French options connot be understood if they are not seen as grounded in history.

  • American Puritanism like in the Monica Lewinsky / Bill Clinton saga: how to make a big deal out of something which is just puerile and ridiculous...

  • McCarthysm and the concept of un-American activities, witch-hunt and black-lists, etc...

  • Political correctness, often considered sheer hypocrisy... especially when the French discover the racist anti-French jokes in the USA (see French-bashing)

  • ....and US flags everywhere, seen in France as sheer chauvinism

  • The omni-presence of religion : the concept of "intelligent design", etc...

  • Health policy : the French do not understand an advanced country where you can die because you cannot afford a health insurance and this sentence does not translate in French : "I am 55 years old and out of work, which means that I have no health insurance ..." (letter to AARP, July 2006) : see why and read an American point of view about the French system

  • More to come.

Read a column :"You can't go home again - or can you?" and read my tongue-in-cheek column "You guys are fantastic!" about extraterritoriality

.

  A quote about the nature of Franco-American relations :  "The relations between France and the United States have been, are, and will always be conflictive and excellent. It is the nature of things ... The US find France unbearably pretentious. And we find the US unbearably hegemonic. There will always be sparks, but not fire." (Jacques Chirac, then President of France, quoted by R.Kuisel)
 DID YOU KNOW THAT....? The statue of Liberty ("la Liberté éclairant le Monde") was a gift from the French people to the American people for the centenial of the American Revolution, after a national citizen fund raising. The sculptor was Auguste Bartholdi and he built it in his yard 25 rue de Chazelles in the 16th arrondissement.  
The internal structure was designed by Gustave Eiffel (who built the Eiffel Tower). The 46-meter high statue was dismounted and transported to New York in 1884. A smaller copy (11m50) was erected in 1885 on an island on the Seine, and it gives a great picture with the Eiffel Tower in the background.
To related pages : History 101 (#1), more French history (#3), the Gallic background (#4) and French revolutions (#5), American firms in France, 112 questions by US GIs, etc.

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Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books :

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001

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