I have a sneaking suspicion that Americans still hate the French over the Iraq War. Yes that war that started 10 years ago and the French refused to be a part of. The war that was started on the wave of American jingoism and a swell of misinformation by a war hungry Bush administration. That Iraq War.
It always amazes me when people (or in a lot of cases, political action committees) use someone’s “frenchiness” (not a word) as a slander. It happened to John Kerry during the 2004 presidential election. And again with Mitt Romney who was accused of the crime of “speaking french”.
I’m not surprised that people are using xenophobic tinged slanders in general (you’ve already seen a lot about candidate’s ties to China and prepare to see a lot more) but the French slander is directionless. No one can quite say what specifically they should be ashamed of when they’re outed as being fluent in French, or getting a picture taken with French dignitaries. It must be hard to defend when you aren’t sure what you did wrong and neither is the accuser.
That was very different in the Summer of 2003 and Americans were itching to invade Iraq and France very publicly and in no uncertain terms told us to shove our unnecessary war and that they wanted no part of it. In 2003, around 72% of Americans (of all political flavors) were certain that Iraq was a good idea. The French were thumbing their noses at our moral certainty and giving voice to a war opposition that in this country was cowed by accusations of not being patriotic. How tough it must have been to meet a Frenchman and not be able to accuse him of being unamerican.
So the war effort turned from bunker busters to sound bites, labeling the French as cowards, or socialists (boy would that come up again), and even changing the name of our beloved French Fries to the way more embarrassing “Freedom Fries”
As an adult, all of this probably seemed like nonsense, recognizing the vitriol as nothing more than political rhetoric. As a child, you absorbed this new belief as fact. Therein lies the danger. As a media savvy adult we get wrapped up in a particular news story, say awful things full of hyperbole (because why not), and never really expect anyone to take it too seriously. The news eventually moves on, a new issue is brought forward to lose all perspective on and we forget the last one ever happened. Unfortunately, for better or for worse, children don’t have that ingrained cynicism. If they hear someone say something outrageous they can only assume the person meant it.
America has moved on and come to its senses about the Iraq War (support for the war has plummeted and over half of Americans now view it as the wrong decision).
Unfortunately, no one bothered to explain to the younger generation (the one in their 20s by now) that all the French bashing was because you see when a country wants to go to war real bad they say things that aren’t true to justify that decision and sometimes those things are about a country that turns out to be right but in the heat of the moment we hate them and that’s why Daddy and Mommy insisted on calling French Fries “Freedom Fries” for a year when you were little. It was because of adult stuff.
And so we are left with a lingering but nebulous disdain for the French that is not only silly (it was silly to begin with after all) but is now not even valid given that over 50% of us now agree with what the French were saying in 2003!
What’s been ignored here is that France, even during the Iraq War, has been America’s staunch ally. Our relationship with France is what relationships should look like. We disagree, we squabble, but we never disavow our commitment to one another because we have a trust that the other one is doing what they think is right. It’s called mutual respect and we might want to consider it more often (maybe even with China? Could we please?). France could be said to be our oldest ally. They were our allies before we existed so that has to count for something right?
This week France legalized gay marriage and while it’s another area that over 50% of this country can agree with them on, the response from this side of the ocean has been muted. Maybe it’s because, once again, the French find themselves on the right side of history several years before us. C’est la vie.