Our oldest ally is France, the nation that proved vital in our War for Independence. I sometimes share the annoyance felt by many Americans towards France.
My attitude in regard to France is often similar to that of President Johnson, after French President Charles de Gaulle ordered all American troops out of France in 1964:
In 1964 French President Charles de Gaulle withdrew France from NATO’s military structure. He ordered all American military personnel out of France. American President Lyndon Johnson directed Secretary of State Dean Rusk to visit de Gaulle personally and ask de Gaulle a single question.
“You tell de Gaulle that this question is from the mouth of the President of the United States of America,” he told Rusk. Rusk balked when Johnson told him the question, saying, “I cannot say that to the president of France.” Johnson replied, “You tell him exactly what I said.”
In Paris de Gaulle, standing behind his desk, restated his order to Rusk for American troops to be withdrawn. Rusk told him, “I am directed by President Johnson to ask you this question. It is from the mouth of the President of the United States: ‘Does your order include the bodies of American soldiers in France’s cemeteries?’”
Rusk later related that the question hit de Gaulle so hard that he collapsed into his chair and did not respond for a full minute.
At times I even emotionally agree with the characterization of groundskeeper Willie in the Simpsons of the French being “cheese eating surrender monkeys”, even though I know intellectually that the French have usually fought with great valor in their wars.
However then something like this comes along and I repent of my anti-French prejudice.
France serving as our ally in the American Revolution not only helped us win our freedom but also began to dispel the anti-Catholic prejudice held by most Americans prior to the Revolution. After the alliance the British attempted to use anti-Catholicism to convince Americans to abandon the fight. Here is a portion of a proclamation by the American traitor Benedict Arnold after he had turned his coat:
“What is America now but a land of widows, orphans, and beggars?–and should the parent nation cease her exertions to deliver you, what security remains to you even for the enjoyment of the consolations of that religion for which your fathers braved the ocean, the heathen, and the wilderness? Do you know that the eye which guides this pen lately saw your mean and profligate Congress at mass for the soul of a Roman Catholic in Purgatory, and participating in the rites of a Church, against whose antichristian corruptions your pious ancestors would have witnessed with their blood.”
The effort proved futile. Except for the Tory minority, Americans saw that the French were fighting to assist them and not to impose either French rule or the Catholic church upon them. On July 4, 1779, at the invitation of the French minister Gerard, members of the Continental Congress attended Mass at St. Mary’s in Philadelphia for a Te Deum for American independence.
Om March 15, 1790 George Washington replied to a letter from Catholic well wishers with this letter which stated in part: “And I presume that your fellow-citizens will not forget the patriotic part which you took in the accomplishment of their Revolution, and the establishment of their government; or the important assistance which they received from a nation in which the Roman Catholic faith is professed. “
Americans in general, and Catholic Americans in particular, have a reason for being fond of France.