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Our Oldest Enemy By: Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, October 18, 2004

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is John J. Miller, co-author of Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America's Disastrous Relationship with FrancePurchase Our Oldest Enemy for $24.95 from the FrontPage Magazine Bookstore. 

FP: Mr. Miller, welcome to Frontpage Interview. It is a pleasure to have you here.


Miller: Thank you. I’m an admirer of your website.


FP: What motivated you to write this book?


Miller: The most immediate influence was the recent unpleasantness with France over Iraq, but a deeper motivation was a desire to look at the pervasive myth of Franco-American friendship. If you listen to the commentary about relations between the United States and France, a lot of it assumes that France is America’s oldest friend--and that our two countries share a 200-year history of sweetness and light that began with Lafayette and somehow ended when our unrefined, cowboy president came into office and made a mess of things. This is nonsense. Franco-American history is a 300-year story of friction and hostility. From the French and Indian Wars to the Quasi War of the 1790s to the U.S. Civil War to Versailles to the Vichy regime to de Gaulle in the Cold War--when you study the historical record, it becomes clear that the jousting over Iraq is really nothing new. People always wonder about the period of the American Revolution, but it was an anomaly, and even then it’s poorly understood--the French entered the war for entirely self-interested reasons and behaved treacherously toward the Americans during the peace talks. There’s a lot more to it than Yorktown.


FP: In your book, you discuss how the French look down on American culture, and yet it remains highly debatable – and mysterious -- what it is exactly that is supposed to be so superior about French culture. Could you take a bit about this?


Miller: If you’re talking about art and literature, there’s plenty to admire about French culture. Yet claims about cultural superiority are always dicey, and the French certainly have no business asserting their own against Anglo-American civilization. This of course hasn’t stopped them. From the days of Thomas Jefferson, the French have looked down on America and its New World vulgarities. One of the ironies here is that so much of French culture is in deep debt to discerning Americans. “The Impressionists,” wrote Renoir, “perhaps owe it to the Americans that we did not die of hunger.” Today, the French regret that so many of their masterpieces survive in American homes and museums.


FP: French anti-Americanism is ultimately rooted in France's resentment of American power and of its own decline as a great power, right?


Miller: The French suffer from a very bad case of wounded national pride. Three hundred years ago, they ruled a globe-spanning empire. But ever since their defeat in the final French and Indian War--known in Europe as the Seven Years War--they’ve traveled on a downward trajectory. Napoleon provided a brief and bloody interruption to this relentless decline. At the same time, the French have watched the United States grow in power. Our gains mirror their losses. This has resulted in a tremendous sense of jealousy that embodies itself, nowadays, in a distinctly anti-American geopolitical outlook.


Many in France believe a one-superpower world is a dangerous world, even when the superpower is benign. So they talk of balancing American “hyperpower”--and for them “balancing” is a euphemism for “opposing.” This is what Francois Mitterand spoke about shortly before his death: “We are at war with America,” he said. “A permanent war ... a war without death. They are very hard, the Americans--they are voracious. They want undivided power over the world.” This hardcore anti-American outlook makes it possible for French leaders to say some pretty outrageous things. Just a couple of weeks ago, French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin announced, “The Iraqi insurgents are our best allies.” What kind of friend or ally talks like that?


FP: Let’s talk a little bit about the Islamization of France. We’ve got native French girls in certain communities, where Muslims are the majority, that now wear the veil because of the frequent occurrence of physical harassment, attack and rape. What’s going on here?


Miller: There are now about 5 million Muslims in France. They’re roughly 8 percent of the population. They’re a growing population, too. If current demographic trends hold, France could be a majority-Muslim country sometime this century. Unlike the United States, France does not have a proven tradition of assimilating large numbers of foreign-born people into its national traditions. As a result, we see the French struggling with how to integrate these newcomers. Their policies often badly misfire, as with the current attempt to ban headscarves from public schools--a senseless whack at religious expression that tends to generate resentment rather than promote French patriotism. No matter how the French address this matter, there’s no getting around the fact that France’s Muslims will have an increasingly large influence on French politics--and potentially provide Chirac and his crowd with a new electoral incentive to oppose American policies in the Middle East and elsewhere.


FP: It has always been a mystery to me why the French think they are superior about anything, especially when it comes to the fact that they have spawned or been affiliated with some of the greatest mass murderers in history. French universities educated many of the world’s most vicious and sadistic genocidal tyrants, including Pol Pot. And there’s a reason why the intellectual leaders of the Khmer Rouge have been called “Sartre’s children.” The French also have their hands drenched in blood in their relations with the fascist Baath regimes in both Iraq and Syria.


What’s the deal on the French? There appears to be something quite morbid and pathological here.


Miller: France, wrote Mark Twain, has “two chief traits--love of glory and massacre.” Much of it goes back to the French Revolution, which can only be understood as one of the most regretful events in world history. The word “terrorist” appears in the English language for the first time during this period, in the writings of Edmund Burke, who gazed with horror upon the French Revolution’s atrocities. (“Thousands of those Hell-hounds called terrorists,” he wrote, “are let loose on the people.”) In the 20th century, Ho Chi Minh and Pol Pot both learned about Communism when they were students in Paris. The founders of the Baathist Party that instituted secular police states in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Hafez al-Assad’s Syria also went to school in France. That’s where they learned about Marxism. Their education in fascism came by way of Vichy and the French-controlled territories of Lebanon and Syria. The one common denominator here may be a noxious idea exported from the French Revolution: the notion that societies might be transformed and improved if only the right people are put in charge and allowed to stay in power by whatever means they deem necessary.


FP: As you are pointing out, France fertilized the soil in which modern-day totalitarianism grew. And it is for this reason, deep down, that the French are in conflict with the country that best represents liberty and democracy, right?


Miller: That’s a big part of the reason why. Much of it really does go back to the differences between the American and French Revolutions and how these differences continue to influence the United States and France. There’s a funny story about an encounter between George Washington and a Pierre Adet, a diplomat sent over from one of France’s revolutionary governments. In 1796, Adet presented Washington with a French flag and the president described how excited he was whenever a nation unfurled “the banners of freedom.” He promptly stuffed the flag in a closet. The French ambassador, who had expected the flag to be put on display in Congress, was furious. “An American is the born enemy of all the peoples of Europe,” he wrote to his superiors in Paris. Two centuries later, we still hear this kind of rhetoric from the French. Even though the United States bailed France out of two world wars--of three world wars, if you count the Cold War--the French somehow imagine that America poses a serious threat to their wellbeing.


FP: What is the state of anti-Semitism in France?


Miller: It’s not good. Historically, France has suffered through the Dreyfus Affair and the Vichy regime. Today, there appears to be an upswing in French anti-Semitism. Segments of the Muslim population certainly aren’t helping. The chief rabbi in Paris has advised Jewish boys not to wear yarmulkes in public because of the harassment they may face. The French government has started compiling statistics to measure what’s going on. Through the first eight months of this year, it recorded nearly 300 acts of anti-Semitism--mostly property damage, but also physical attacks. (There are probably many additional, unreported incidents.) Last fall, after the firebombing of a Jewish school, President Chirac said, “When a Jew is attacked in France, it is an attack on the whole of France.” That’s welcome rhetoric. And as they say, the first step is admitting you have a problem.


FP: Let’s say Bush wins the election and needs some advice on France. He calls you and tells you he is sick and tired with how the French are blocking American attempts to win the War on Terror and to consolidate democracy in Iraq. He asks you what you think he should do with U.S.-French relations. What do you tell him?


Miller: I’d tell the president to keep on doing what he’s done, which is essentially to ignore the French, or at least to ignore them when it becomes clear that they aren’t interested in cooperating on important international projects. It’s occasionally worth asking for France’s help and support, but never worth pleading for it. The fundamental error that many people make in assessing American relations with France--the error Our Oldest Enemy tries to correct--is believing that France is some foul-weather friend that has always stood by the United States. John Kerry falls into this trap whenever he speaks about the importance of “grand alliances” and the like. What he really means are alliances that include France, as if those that don’t include France aren’t legitimate.


The notion that France has ever been a steadfast ally is a pernicious myth that serves French interests, not American ones. If France were America’s oldest ally, it wouldn’t have backstabbed the colonists at the end of the American Revolution, become the first military foe of the United States (following the ratification of the Constitution), sought to split our nation in two during the Civil War, accommodated the Soviet Union during the Cold War, quit NATO in the 1960s, or harassed the Bush administration over Iraq. I’m reminded of an old saying, which is actually an old French saying, and I’d be sure to mention to President Bush if he were to honor me with a phone call: The more things change, the more they remain the same.


FP: Words of wisdom, thanks for joining Frontpage Interview Mr. Miller.


Miller: Thank you and adieu!


Purchase Our Oldest Enemy for $24.95 from the FrontPage Magazine Bookstore. 




Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Russian, U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He is the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union and is the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. His new book is United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at jglazov@rogers.com.

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