06 Nov 2005 A Pro-France Revisionist View
I received a thoughtful letter today in response to a post I wrote after publication of John Miller and Mark Molesky’s book, “Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America’s Disastrous Relationship with France.”
My post was less than pro-France. This gentleman speaks up for France, thoughtfully, and his letter is worth reading:
Dear Ms. Ridenour,
I just wanted to comment on your post regarding France and the publication of Our Oldest Enemy in 2004. I was struck by the fact that the book, while purportedly a history, turned out to be nothing more than a list of often inaccurate facts thrown together to prove the point that France is the United States’ “oldest enemy.” Is it not true that France was America’s first ally? I was shocked and dismayed at yet another attempt to belittle France’s reputation and involvement in world affairs. For one, none of America’s faults, errors, or misdeeds are covered in the book; only France’s. A truly responsible historian would include all the facts so as not to mislead, as the authors have done.
Regarding noxious French policies during the French and Indian War, atrocities were committed by both sides. Members of my family in western Virginia and Pennsylvania were also victims of Indian attacks. However, this was not limited to French encouragement. Britain’s Indian allies were urged to do the same in New France, modern Canada, and later, almost the entire Acadian population was expelled from its homeland, something France never did in her conquered territories, and something the authors of Our Oldest Enemy fail to mention.
When it came to French persecution of Protestants, the same can be said for all of Europe prior to the Reformation, and many countries after. The French government never tended to slaughter innocents anymore than did those of Spain (the Reconquista,) England (under Mary I,) and Germany (the Thirty Years’ War,) to mention a few.
Finally, while it is true that France’s chief reason for aiding the united American colonies in the 1770s was to stymie British expansion and prosperity, there is no need to belittle its assistance during this crucial period in American history. All countries act in their self-interests; why should France be any different? Needless to say, French involvement played a significant role in the outcome of the War of Independence. Great risks were involved for France were it to join the conflict, such as another all out war with England. And yet it still joined, and as our ally. France was there from the beginning, a time when it seemed that our Revolution was little more than some provincial revolt that would easily be crushed; from 1775-1777, it has been estimated that 90% of guns and munitions used by America came from France. The formal Alliance of 1778 only solidifed the union between America and France. This treaty did not provide “precious little.” In fact, it allowed for soldiers, supplies, money, and much-needed international recognition of American independence. Seems like a lot for our supposed “oldest enemy.”
When it all boils down, the sacrifices France made for our independence are important, to say the least. Hundreds of French soldiers died in America in the fighting. Dozens are buried at Yorktown, considered the final showdown between Britain and the colonies. Ironically, French troops at Yorktown outnumbered their American allies, both on land and sea. France’s recognition of American independence was a momentous and uncertain move; there was no sign that other countries would agree, and it would only provoke further British hostility. France did it anyway. Finally, the money loaned by France to America, which amounted to millions of dollars, was never repaid. Some ally we were for France. That sum played the most important factor in the fiscal crisis which would soon in part spark the French Revolution in 1789. The United States, ironically, attempted to ignore France during that time, despite its major involvement in our revolution and, and argued that the loan was invalid (since the king had been executed). I think these facts are worth recognizing, and far more important than the “information” contained within the pages of Our Oldest Enemy.
Thank you very much,
Food for thought.
Addendum: Roger Simon posts an e-mail from France containing pro-American anecdotes. Some additional sentiment favorable to France can be found in this post on my blog commemorating the 60th anniversary of D-Day — another post in which I am indebted to a thoughtful and interesting e-mail correspondent.