Liberte? Egalite? Fraternite? Or just plain gall?
In this provocative and brilliantly researched history of how the French have dealt with the United States, John J. Miller and Mark Molesky demonstrate that the cherished idea of French friendship has little basis in reality. Despite the myth of the "sister republics," the French have always been our rivals, and have harmed and obstructed our interests more often than not.
This history of French hostility goes back to 1704, when a group of French and Indians massacred American settlers in Deerfield, Massachusetts. The authors also debunk the myth of French aid during the Revolution: contrary to popular notions, the French did not enter the war until very late and were mainly interested in hurting their rivals, the British. After the war, the French continued to see themselves as major players in the Western hemisphere and shaped their policies to limit the growth and power of the new nation. The notorious XYZ affair, involving French efforts to undermine the government of George Washington, led to an undeclared naval war with France in 1798. During the Civil War, the French supported the Confederacy and installed a puppet emperor in Mexico.
In the twentieth century, Americans clashed with the French repreatedly. The French victory over President Wilson at Versailles imposed a short-sighted and punitive settlement on Germany that paved the way for the rise of fascism in the 1930s. During World War II, Vichy French troops killed hundreds of American soldiers in North Africa, and diehard French fascist units fought against the Allies in the rubble of Berlin. During the Cold War, Charles DeGaulle yanked France out of NATO and obstructed our efforts to roll back Soviet expansion.
The legacy of French imperial power has been no less disastrous. The French left Haiti in a shambles, got us into Vietnam, and educated many of the world's worst tyrants at their elite universities, including Pol Pot, the genocidal Cambodian dictator. The fascist Baath regimes in Iraq and Syria are another legacy of failed French colonialism.
Americans have been particularly irritated by French cultural arrogance--their crusades against American movies, McDonalds, Disney, and the exclusion of American words from their language have always rubbed us the wrong way. This irritation has now blossomed into outrage. Our Oldest Enemy shows why that outrage is justified.
National Review reporter Miller (The Unmaking of Americans) and Harvard lecturer Molesky focus quite single-mindedly on destroying what they say is the "myth" of the historical friendship between the United States and France. In doing so, they give short shrift to a few vital facts: for instance, while focusing on the French and Indian massacre of British colonists at Deerfield, Mass., in 1704, they overlook the importance of the French fleet in George Washington's great victory at Yorktown. Miller and Molesky also dismiss French policy as having a cynical underside of national self-interest, willfully overlooking the fact that all governments act out of self-interest. Thus, they call French trade barriers during the Cold War ingratitude for American aid in WWII. They accuse the French, who dare to look down on American culture, of their own "sordid cultural exports," such as the avant-garde, with its strain of nihilism. And, as the authors see it, the French, with the debacle at Dien Bien Phu, are responsible for America's quagmire in Vietnam. As one might guess, driving this revisionism is France's refusal to support the United States in its late invasion of Iraq The authors' ire, and their carefully selected and unnuanced slices of history, will convince only the already converted.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
October 10, 2005
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Our Oldest Enemy by John J. Miller
OLD FRANCE IN THE NEW WORLD
Who can tell what sorrows pierced our souls?
-Reverend John Williams (1)
The people of Deerfield, Massachusetts, didn't know what danger lurked just outside their little village before dawn on February 29, 1704. Yet dozens of them had only hours to live. For most of the rest, it would be the worst day they would ever witness.
They certainly weren't blind to the risks of residing in the wilderness of western Massachusetts. At the start of the eighteenth century, Deerfield sat precariously on the edge of the American frontier. Many of its residents lived within the walls of a small fort, and even more crowded in each night. Patrols checked the surrounding countryside. A night watchman kept vigil. There was a good reason for these precautions: The previous summer, French and Indian raiders had destroyed the village of Wells, Maine, as well as a few smaller outposts. In October, Indians allied with the French had captured a pair of men from Deerfield itself. (2)
Winter was supposed to be a season of relative calm, with the bitter cold and three feet of snow providing a blanket of security found at no other time of year. The people of Deerfield probably had gone to bed the night before thinking they would wake up to a chilly morning like any other, except for the trivial fact that it would be a leap-year day. Yet somewhere in the darkness, between two hundred and three hundred French and Indian marauders were descending upon the town. Led by Sieur Hertel de Rouville, they had braved the severe conditions, trudging 300 miles south from Canada on snowshoes, to spread terror among the American colonists and capture hostages who might be exchanged for French prisoners.
As the sun disappeared on February 28, the French and Indian expedition halted a mile or two north of Deerfield and began to probe the little town. Throughout the night, scouts crossed the frozen Connecticut River and observed their unsuspecting target. A little after midnight, one of them returned to the camp and informed his companions that a watchman was making his rounds. A few hours later, however, a second reconnaissance found no trace of him. The man apparently had nodded off. At about four o'clock, the attackers approached the sleeping hamlet.
The harsh weather that had hampered their progress from New France now became a friend to the French and Indians. Drifts of snow pressing against the walls of the fort created ramps that allowed a few to clamber over the twelve-foot-tall barriers. Once inside, they opened the main doors of the fort for their comrades. The killing was about to begin.
As bloodcurdling war whoops echoed through the cold air, attackers burst into the home of the Reverend John Williams, the village's most prominent citizen. He had been marked for capture, not death. Two of his young children, however, were not as fortunate: John junior, age six, and Jerusha, a six-week-old baby who could not even hold up his head, were murdered before his eyes. The children's nursemaid, a black servant named Parthena, was also slaughtered.
Outside, a massacre raged. In all, seventeen homes were put to the torch. One family of five suffocated in their cellar as a fire burned above them. The inhabitants of another dwelling, the brick home of Benobi Stebbins and his family, put up a fierce resistance. For several hours, French and Indians laid siege to it, but their numbers dwindled as members of their party quit the fort to lead captives away. At about nine in the morning, reinforcements from the nearby towns of Hadley and Hatfield managed to push the attackers beyond the walls of Deerfield only to break off their pursuit when they clashed with a larger French and Indian force that already had left the village.
When the men returned to the smoldering town, they surveyed the magnitude of the disaster. Nearly 300people had gone to sleep in the village the night before, but only 133remained. Forty-four residents had been killed, including ten men, nine women, and twenty-five children. Five soldiers garrisoned at the fort lost their lives, as well as seven men from Hadley and Hatfield, for a total of fifty-six fatalities. Another 109people had been herded off as captives. (3)
The French and Indians had displayed enormous cruelty in deciding whom to kill and whom to capture. Children age two and under were slain at an exceptionally high rate and those between three and twelve at a somewhat lower one, while all of the older children survived. (4) It seems the French and Indians were making judgments about which villagers would be able endure a forced march through the wintertime wilderness to Canada and which might slow them down. They had designated the weakest and most vulnerable members of the Deerfield community for death-and they did not think twice about slaughtering infants. Leaving the little ones behind for others to rescue does not seem to have entered their thinking.