As President Obama is bluntly finding out, it can be lonely out on a limb when the rest of the world fails to respond to a call for help. Despite the yeoman efforts of his administration, only a few other nations are even paying lip service to the President’s call for military help in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons, which killed more than 1,400 Syrians, including hundreds of children, when it was unleashed in a Damascus suburb on August 21. Even our once staunchest alley, Great Britain, has been sidelined by its parliament who voted overwhelming to stay out of any military action. Only one other major power has agreed to stand side by side with the President and his call for military intervention if all else fails. France.
France? Are you kidding? Wasn’t it the French, under then-President Jacques Chirac, who strongly opposed invading Iraq? And if you go back to the 1960s, those of us who are a little older will remember French President Charles De Gaulle’s strong opposition to America entering Vietnam. Since we have little to show for the billions spent and the lives lost in both invasions, maybe the French opposition wasn’t all that bad an idea.
However, the French have received little appreciation or even a few good words from American military leaders. Who can forget General Norman Schwarzkopf’s comment that, “Going to war without France is like going deer hunting without your accordion.” And then there was General George Patton in World War II who said, "I would rather have a German division in front of me than a French one behind me."
And boy, have we gotten mad at the lack of French support. In the congressional cafeteria at the nation’s capitol, they changed the menu from French fries to freedom fries. That really showed them. And for the record, I don’t remember reading of any politician advocating the probation of French kissing.
I remember a 1995 episode of The Simpsons, where groundskeeper, Willie, is directed to become a French teacher at the local elementary school. “The French?” he hollers, “They’re nothin’ but a bunch of cheese-eating surrender monkeys”
But that was then. Although we’ve had conflicts and disagreements with the French, if you take a history lesson in Franco-American relations, you will see that when it’s crunch time, we can generally count on them. France has come out strongly in support of America’s tenuous situation in the Middle East, and the U.S. seems eager to let bygones be bygones.
Without the support of the French, America could well have lost the Revolutionary War. Founding Father Thomas Jefferson contemplated joint democratic values while serving as US Ambassador to France living in Paris. Many regard Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” as the best book written on the unique and exceptional American new form of government, that was later adopted by the French.
Many of us were close to speaking French as our native language. Napoleon’s agreement with Thomas Jefferson and Robert Livingston allowed for the creation of 15 new states, doubling the size of the United States. To give thanks to the French dictator, my home state of Louisiana agreed to hide him at what is now called The Napoleon House in the center of the New Orleans French Quarter. Unfortunately, before he could get to the Crescent City, he was captured and sentenced to exile on the Isle of St. Helena in the Atlantic Ocean.
There is a little Yankee bad taste from Napoleon’s involvement in the Civil War. France was avowed to be neutral, but it was common knowledge that Napoleon III was pulling for South. Oh well!
And don’t come down here in South Louisiana and make any derogatory comments about France. Thanks to die hard Frenchmen, who immigrated first to Canada, and then migrated down the Mississippi as Acadians, the French tradition, language, culture and bon appétit is alive and well, and growing throughout Cajun country. In Abbeville, a small community just south of Lafayette, many of the signs outside retail stores are written in French. Several radio stations play only Cajun music with a daily rendition of the Cajun national anthem Jolie Blond, often played by my old friend, fiddler Doug Kershaw.
If the Good Lord told me I have one more trip to make to another country before I pass on, I would choose Paris, and a ramble through southern France for the food, the ambience, the architecture, the Shakespeare Bookstore, a walk along the Seine. And the pretty girls. Ah, to be 25 again, in 1963, when I spent months in Paris experiencing the special ambiance that is rarely found elsewhere. If you want to relive that Franco jolie vie, take a friend or loved one to see Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.”
Certainly the French have their own national interests at heart. But they have also made it clear that what America says matters. Over time, there are historical allies and there are strong allies. Right now, France and the U.S. can claim to have both -- a solid past, and a present relationship that would seem to be in the best interests of both countries. We in Louisiana certainly hope so. So pass the French bread. And for breakfast tomorrow, let’s have French toast and French roast coffee with French chicory, Louisiana style. And please, don’t shy away from an occasional French kiss.