Thursday, April 16, 2020

French hostility toward the Anglo-Saxons

From a review by R. W. Johnson of Power and Glory: France’s Secret Wars with Britain and America, 1945-2016 by R. T. Howard:

Johnson writes, “In De Gaulle’s view of history – a European history – England and France had struggled for supremacy for the best part of a thousand years.  For most of that time France had been the dominant power, but now its great empire wasn’t just overshadowed but outmatched by the even greater British Empire.  For De Gaulle France was not itself if it was not the leading power in Europe.  By 1941, however, the opponent was no longer Britain” it was ‘les Anglo-Saxons’.  Asked what was the most important international development of recent times, De Gaulle replied: ‘The fact that the Americans speak English.’”

I recall once French fellow in a forum years ago.  He owned a books store, can’t remember where, and can’t remember his name, but we used to argue about the relative merits of France and the U.S.  He knew English and was on an American forum, but he despised the U.S. and perhaps England as well, I don’t recall.  I had read an interesting article in Foreign Affairs and recommended it to him, implying that it would provide a more accurate view of the U.S. than he seemed to have.  He rejected the idea.  He had no wish to understand the U.S. more than he did.  He didn’t quite challenge me to learn more about France, but at some point he became disgusted with our forum and perhaps especially me and disappeared. 

The referenced review appears in the March 16, 2017 issue of the London Review of Books.  Johnson entitles his review, “Danger: English Lessons” and draws attention to De Gaulle’s and other’s interest in advancing French over English in the modern world.  “Howard quotes Gerard Prunier, an adviser to the French Government, who claimed that ‘the Anglo-Saxons want our death – that is, our cultural death.  They threaten our language and our way of life, and they plan our ultimate Anglo-Saxonisation.”

“When De Gaulle ordered US bases out of France, Lyndon Johnson angrily demanded to know if that meant digging up the graves of American soldiers who had died in the liberation.”  My impression is that many of the French at the time wouldn’t mind digging up the graves and sending the bones back to us.  Many French saw the second front that Stalin had been pleading for, Operation Overlord, as merely the occupation of France by a new set of oppressors.

In reading of these events, we perhaps don’t want to spend much time dwelling upon Churchill’s sadness over the loss of the British Empire, but De Gaulle was even more committed to reacquiring the French Empire.  I read histories of France’s pitiful efforts at Dien Bien Phu and in Algeria.  Many Americans, probably, would lose all sympathy for the French upon learning that Algeria after WWII would have been delighted to be considered part of France as equal citizens, but the Colons would not hear of it and so there was a war.  The Colons were driven out and Algeria eventually became independent. 

Perhaps here the French book seller would take offense at Americans who blithely assumed that democracy and equality ought to prevail throughout the world and that Britain and France ought to willingly give up their former colonies.  What right did the U.S. have to insist upon such a thing, especially when Eisenhower took up in Indo-China where the French left off not to preserve it as a colony, but to “prevent its becoming a Communist puppet.”  “As if,” the French scoffed and saw only hypocrisy. 

There is plenty of room to build a variety of arguments to support a variety of opinions.  After reading the above article in the LRB, I checked back through the recent editions of Foreign Affairs to see if there were any recent Gaullist-type efforts to advance French supremacy in Europe, but couldn’t find any.  And yet, I suspect, many of the French, even today are hostile toward Britain and the U.S. for reasons much like De Gaulle’s.  They don’t see the Vichy period in the same way we do.  De Gaulle, who spent the bulk of the War in Britain wanted to get past the Vichy period as quickly as possible.  Most Frenchmen, it seemed to be implied, were really in the resistance. . . but not so much anymore, becoming with Germany the “big two” in the EU – the EU whose capital is in French-speaking Belgium. 

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