The Franco-American Relationship
“Emmanuel Macron suggests building its own army to protect Europe against the U.S., China and Russia. But it was Germany in World Wars One & Two - How did that work out for France? They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along.” – Donald Trump, President of the United States of America, 13th of November 2018, shortly after Armistice Day in France.
You may wonder why the President of the USA stooped so low as to mock France’s military endeavors of the world wars, let alone so soon after the ceremony of the Armistice in Paris. You may wonder why in general France-US relations seem to have faltered recently under the new President. The short answer is something along the lines of “he is Donald Trump, that’s what he does”. That would be a safe position to hold given that relations between the USA and many other countries such as Canada, Germany, and China have also taken a serious blow. However this is not an intellectually interesting position to hold, nor does it help us – the people of these countries – moving forward. In this post I would like to point out relevant historical events between our two countries to shed light on this international issue.
The reason a break in relations is so shocking is perhaps due to the fact that France stood alongside the United States before the latter was even a country. Not to dwell on the subject, it is common knowledge that the French Crown (at least they did something right) backed the rebellious English colonies in America. The Marquis de Lafayette himself played an important role in the American Revolution and incidentally became a symbol for cooperation between France and the US as well as of mutual recognition for each other. The Lafayette Flying Corps, with at its core the Lafayette Escadrille, was composed of well over two hundred American pilots who volunteered to fly for France in World War 1 while the US was still officially neutral. The Lafayette Escadrille fought alongside the French in Verdun, one of the most brutal moments in military history when an estimated 50 million shells were fired, causing many French as well as German casualties. Allegedly, when the US joined the war shortly thereafter, a US officer walking in Paris stated “Lafayette, nous sommes là!” – Lafayette, we are here! Moreover, US as well as Canadian, English, and many others’ forces made the ultimate sacrifice in the D-Day landings in coastal France. Our two countries were brothers in arms for years on end starting with the very conception of the United States of America. French and American soldiers stood side by side in the midst of fire and death. Surely this fact will resonate more strongly than futile words exchanged on Twitter no less.
Later, in the Cold War, there was a noteworthy moment of tensions in the 60s, when Charles De Gaulle, French President at the time, removed French forces from the NATO under the idea that Europe should be led by Europeans instead of Americans. This was ever more important in the context of the Cold War and a rising USSR in the east of Europe. France only fully joined back to NATO in 2009. Nevertheless, except for a relatively strong communist party, France fully sided with its American ally in the massive ideological conflict that is the Cold War. More recently, France has sided with the US in many international operations, and both countries remained strong economic and political allies up to Trump’s presidency. With all that in mind, I ask the following question: are the degrading relations between our two countries justified in light of this historical context, of this long and storied, shared history? As a global citizen and a French living and studying in the United States, I hold the position that the recent evolution of France – US relations is somewhat inconsistent with what it was just a few years ago, let alone with what it was for centuries.
Nevertheless, we are all global citizens. In light of this we can act in the knowledge of our common history. In the interests of our nations as well as of global peace, we can look beyond the tensions between world leaders and promote a common trust for each other and common goals, whether economic, military, political or even ecological.
To conclude, while it is a shame that the POTUS also makes ignorant jokes about French military history, all is far from lost if only because we the people are what truly matters in the end. Moreover, while relations may look grim, France and the United States of America still work closely in NATO today, as do other nations that are in the North Atlantic treaty Organization.