The French had great military victories. Let's find them.
February 7, 2009 12:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm tired of the conventional wisdom that the French don't know how to fight, or are cowardly, or always surrender. I'd like to put together (or find) a list of the great French military victories from ancient Gaul through WWII.

It particularly puzzles me that France is called out as the big cowardly loser in WWII, a war in which Hitler bulldozed through a dozen countries. Why doesn't anyone call the Polish "surrender monkeys"? They succumbed to the Nazis in only a few weeks. Why not the Czechs, who let England and Germany carve up their country without even putting up a fight?

Added to this is the fact that (warning: generalization) many deeply patriotic Americans from the South share this view of the French as bungling military idiots...yet would never say a word against the Confederate army, which surrendered all over the place -- Vicksburg, which cut the CSA in half, comes to mind.

Even when I try to search for bright spots in France's military history in Google, I get a joke response: "Did you mean 'great French military defeats?' What is going on here?

We all know about Napoleon and Lafayette's assistance during the Revolutionary War. Help me find (or create) a timeline of French military victories. I'll start -- The Battle of Tours in 732 AD, when a French army led by Charles Martel held off an Islamic invasion and saved Christian Europe. You don't hear anyone mention that in discussion of the "War on Terror", do you?

Anyone else want to help me save France's military reputation?
posted by Flying Saucer to Law & Government (44 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
This website seems to list every French conflict and whether it was a win, loss, or draw.
posted by ORthey at 12:13 PM on February 7, 2009


This should get you most of what you need.
posted by Lemurrhea at 12:13 PM on February 7, 2009


Gary Brecher's column War Nerd had a great column on the reputation of the French as cowards, and debunking of same, that was again prevalent in 2003 when Freedom Fries were all the vogue. It's not very academic, but it's worth reading at least for the basic data points.

Sadly, the Exile, the paper that publishes War Nerd, has a spotty record of reliability, but here's a cut and paste in someone's blog from 2006.
posted by fatbird at 12:13 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's a tough thing to measure. For instance, look at Napoleon. Does it matter that he had plenty of individual victories if he lost in the end?

Why doesn't anyone call the Polish "surrender monkeys"?

You're really holding out the Poles as a nation that is not mocked?
posted by smackfu at 12:22 PM on February 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


I would think that Asterix is proof enough.
posted by charlesv at 12:23 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


La potion magique! Et Obelix qui ne peut pas en boire parce qu'il est tombé dedans étant petit.
posted by ORthey at 12:27 PM on February 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


I wish I could remember where I came across it, but there was comment on something I watched or listened to in the last week or two stating that in fact, the French in the last two thousand years have fought in and won more battles than Britain or America.

It involved numbers, which is why it's most frustrating that I don't remember...
posted by opsin at 12:30 PM on February 7, 2009


My answer to the crowd you're planning on addressing when they said, "name one" was Yorktown.

In all honesty, this is one of those "never argue with madmen" kinds of things.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:33 PM on February 7, 2009


In regards to the Google thing, it's a googlebomb, not something done by the company.
posted by niles at 12:34 PM on February 7, 2009


Why doesn't anyone call the Polish "surrender monkeys"?

Before the war, Poland didn't have the military reputation that the French did. The French Army was larger, better trained, and better armed.

In the 19th and 20th century, the record is that French soldiers were brave and dedicated, but they had a long history of terrible leaders in times of war, both political and military.

For instance, one of the reasons the "Miracle at Dunkirk" was possible is because the pocket was defended by French soldiers, who didn't expect to be saved. (And weren't.) On the other hand, the reason the "Miracle at Dunkirk" was even necessary was because the earlier stages of the battle were badly mishandled by the French top military commanders.

The last time the French had good French leaders and a good army and did well on the battlefield was 1809.

You can look at the history of the last couple of centuries and find isolated cases where French troops did well, but the overall pattern is one of good troops, badly led, being wasted in foolish battle. (The Franco-Prussian war is the best single example of that.)

My comment about 1809 has one big exception: 1944. After the Normandy invasion, French troops were part of the allied force which reconquered France and then invaded Germany. But those French forces used American equipment, and were organized according to American doctrine, and fought using American tactics, under overall American command, supported by American logistics. (The French First Army fought as part of the 6th Army Group, under command of American General Devers.)

And those French soldiers did very well once freed from French doctrine, French equipment, and French strategic command.
posted by Class Goat at 12:37 PM on February 7, 2009 [6 favorites]


1066 comes to mind.
posted by jamjam at 12:40 PM on February 7, 2009


I mentioned the Franco-Prussian war as a good example, but Dien Bien Phu is perhaps an even better one. The French soldiers there fought extremely well. But in the end they were doomed, because their leaders were stupid and arrogant and underestimated the Viet Namese. Once the Viet Namese managed to get heavy artillery in place to shell the French positions, and AAA to prevent resupply, those brave French soldiers were doomed.
posted by Class Goat at 12:45 PM on February 7, 2009


Oh of course, it was episode 4 of the sixth series of QI, which focused on the French.

The numbers given were:
Of 125 major European wars since 1495, the French have fought in 50, more than Austria (47) and England (43).
Out of a total 168 battles since 387BC, they won 109, lost 49 and drawn 10.
posted by opsin at 12:46 PM on February 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


1066 has nothing really to do with the French, I don't understand why the site linked by ORthey mentions it at all. The Normans weren't French and were there precisely because the French kings lost.

As for their reputation, I don't think it is deserved, but they don't have the same 'big' wins that others had. Though some might disagree, I think that they lack the 'prestige' battles and wars. In the eyes of many Americans, the two big, real wars both saw France suffer greatly, also contributing to this perception of French military ineptitude.
posted by Carillon at 1:09 PM on February 7, 2009


As a clarification, what I mean by prestige wins is that people focus on Agincourt and Crecy, rather than the fact that the French were victorious in the hundred years war. Napoleon is the real exception to this rule, but he ended his reign on St. Helena. The effect of this is that the people who do wish to mock France can point to this and say it all came to nothing.
posted by Carillon at 1:14 PM on February 7, 2009


I am probably wrong here (East Asian History Degree), but technically wasnt Napoleon Italian by birth. Regardless he received his training with the French, and anyone would consider him to be French.

The Sun King's armies were feared throughout Europe.

Also Karl Martel (grandfather of Charlemagne) stopped the Muslim advance into Europe, and handed them their first real defeat outside of the Balkans.
posted by BobbyDigital at 1:34 PM on February 7, 2009


Responding to a couple of points in your post:

- The Poles certainly did not enjoy a good reputation after WWII; polish jokes used to be really common. It took Lech Walesa and John Paul II to fix that.

- According to this girl's Yankee education, it took the Union four years to defeat the vastly outnumbered, largely agricultural Confederacy. The Vicksburg surrender you cite was one out of thousands of battles. How many generals did Lincoln go through before he found one that could handle Lee? That said, most of the present-day Army's main posts are named after confederate generals (Ft. Bragg, Ft. Benning, Ft. Hood, etc.) which might have something to do with the reputation of the Confederate Army in the south today.

- The French reputation took a beating during WWII because a) what Class Goat said b) the Vichy regime which quickly surrendered to and then collaborated with the Germans and c) the French put a lot of faith in the Maginot Line, which the Germans just went around. The French have not had a significant military victory since the end of WWII, and that's why their reputation as a military power is not that good.

IANAHistorian.
posted by txvtchick at 1:42 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why not just say "Yorktown and STFU"
posted by JPD at 1:53 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


technically wasnt Napoleon Italian by birth.

Napoleon was from Corsica. Corsica has been considered part of France since 1770. It was purchased by France from Genoa in 1764.

Napoleon was born in 1769, so whether you consider him Italian or French is iffy. In his own time he considered himself French, and so did everyone else.
posted by Class Goat at 2:02 PM on February 7, 2009


And my husband, who did a couple of years in Special Forces, says, "...you forgot to add that their only decent army is made up of foreigners..."

Just letting you know what you're up against. Good luck!
posted by txvtchick at 2:31 PM on February 7, 2009


It particularly puzzles me that France is called out as the big cowardly loser in WWII,

This IMHO is due to the French being both major ideological and commercial competitors with the neocon/paleoconservative/corporatocratic establishment.

In the runup to war in 2002-2003 the French were fighting us tooth and nail to prevent us from going in -- the French and Russians had billions in pre-existing trade commitments (both loans to Saddam's regime and future trade agreements) at risk should the US & British remove Saddam and install an Anglo-aligned government, as we in fact attempted to do.

The French are also relatively socialist which of course threatens our friends on the right since socialism is an abomination that must be purged from the face of the Earth.

Now, as CG mentions above the French did not cover themselves in glory in 1939-1940. IIRC they were willing to go to war with the Germans over Czech sovereignty in 1938 but were demoralized by the British refusal to back this. By 1940 they were conflicted, confused, and not united in the war effort since it was unclear what the hell they could achieve in the fight, given that Germany had already finished off Poland before the French could (or would) act.

But (even at its immense cost) the Maginot Line was not necessarily a mistake, the main reason the Germans were able to "go around" it was that the French command was too eager to fight the Germans in a meeting engagement in Belgium and not Northern France, for obvious reasons if you've seen pictures of what 20th century combat did to Northern France in the first war.

So the French threw their best mobile divisions into Belgium, which the Germans pocketed by an incredibly bold -- the German High Command considered the full Manstein plan too risky if not foolish and the Panzer generals who carried it out were disobeying orders -- attack through Luxembourg to the channel at Abbeville, which cut across the French line of communications to their forces advancing in Belgium, instantly starving them of the supplies they needed to turn their spearheads around and battle the Germans sealing off their rear.

Simply put, the German decentralized unit operations got inside the French command's top-down decision cycle and were able to disrupt and demoralize large swaths of the French Army thereby.

The French equipment wasn't that bad -- they had better tanks and artillery -- but the organization and doctrine was all wrong and the French didn't have time or space to correct it on the battlefield.

Once the Germans had ejected the British mobile corps from France and wheeled toward the Seine the fall of Paris was inevitable since there was inadequate strongpoints or forces to defend it against the full brunt of the German army looking at wrapping up the entire war that month.

(The future Luftwaffe failure in England, the brutal Russian campaign, and the US entry and subsequent successful build-up and deployment were NOT in any shape understood to be in Germany's future at that point in June 1940).
posted by troy at 2:44 PM on February 7, 2009 [5 favorites]


The French US have not had a significant military victory since the end of WWII, and that's why their reputation as a military power is not that good.

Seriously - up until the Prussians leaped them technologically and tactically in the 1870's they were the team to beat in Europe when it came to land wars.
posted by JPD at 2:48 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


The French played a significant role in the "Hail Mary" offensive that brought the first Persian Gulf War to a close (aka Operation Desert Sabre). France's contribution to the ground war was the 6th Light Armored Brigade, which covered the extreme western flank of the operation (the French name for this was Opération Daguet). In many respects, the French forces went the deepest into Iraq proper, an operation that was not easy and could have gone seriously awry if the "Hail Mary" attack stalled in and around Kuwait.

It says something about the U.S. military's regard for the French forces that they'd put them on the flank like that. Schwarzkopf didn't think the French were just a bunch of cheese-eating surrender monkeys. He asked them to watch his back!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:57 PM on February 7, 2009 [7 favorites]


"And my husband, who did a couple of years in Special Forces, says, '...you forgot to add that their only decent army is made up of foreigners...'"

The FFL is at least 1/3 French by conservative standards, and many consider the numbers for the smaller neutral countries to be inflated by Frenchmen under assumed nationalities, bringing the French total to ~50% or so.
posted by jellywerker at 3:24 PM on February 7, 2009


Read Winston Churchill's The Gathering Storm, depicting the period after World War I leading up to World War II. It is clear that France was regarded as a major military power during those years.
posted by yclipse at 3:24 PM on February 7, 2009


Napoleon may have been Corsican, but he was trained at the great French military academies and many of his strategies were current French military theory at the time.

He was brilliant for executing them well, not necessarily for inventing all of them.

Verdun is an important one for the Great War.
posted by winna at 4:11 PM on February 7, 2009




"I would rather have a German division in front of me than a French one behind me." —General George S. Patton
posted by yoyo_nyc at 4:17 PM on February 7, 2009


Don't mean to pick on you, txvtchick, but I feel I have to respond to at least one post.

The Poles certainly did not enjoy a good reputation after WWII; polish jokes used to be really common.

In my experience, most Polish jokes have been about their ability to screw in light bulbs; I've never heard a joke about the Polish army, Polish soldiers, Polish generals, or Poland's military history.

The Vicksburg surrender you cite was one out of thousands of battles.

I believe this is a massive understatement. Pemberton surrendered 30,000 men, perhaps the largest Confederate army in the western theater. The loss gave the Union complete command of the Mississippi and separated Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana from the rest of the Confederacy. If anyone wants to debate the importance of that defeat, I am more than up to the challenge.

Some great responses, though.

most of the present-day Army's main posts are named after confederate generals...which might have something to do with the reputation of the Confederate Army in the south today.

That's exactly my point. Many Southerners were the first to criticize France with terms like "Freedom Fries" and to ridicule their military history, all while glorifying an army, and indeed a nation, that completely failed in its bid for sovereignty, its attempts at military victory, and its desire for the preservation of slavery. The CSA is 0-1 in wars.

The French reputation took a beating during WWII because... c) the French put a lot of faith in the Maginot Line, which the Germans just went around.

The Germans went through Belgium. The Maginot Line was so good that Hitler decided to avoid it. No army ever attacked it from the front.

On a larger note, I'd like to try to steer this post back to its original question: can people name specific military victories by France, or point to a list of them? fatbird and ORthey addressed this issue (and perhaps even resolved it), but it seems we've veered into, "Hey, France did okay in WWII" which isn't what I'm looking for.
posted by Flying Saucer at 6:00 PM on February 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


"The French are cowards!"
"Are not! Here's a list!"
"Whatever, you cheese-eating surrender-monkey."

Out of a total 168 battles since 387BC

I doubt anybody who believes that the French are cowards for stuff that happened 70 years ago is going to be impressed by something people who couldn't spell France did over two thousand years ago.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:41 PM on February 7, 2009


I was going to say what opsin said, so no need there, and QI mentioned that it got a bit more global after the Google results things.

But the British obviously has always had different opinions on the French. There is a great bit on Blackadder's millennium special that all French are "Girl's blouses".


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkauR0bbixs&feature=related

0:55s - 1:30s
posted by lundman at 7:04 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


In my experience, most Polish jokes have been about their ability to screw in light bulbs; I've never heard a joke about the Polish army, Polish soldiers, Polish generals, or Poland's military history.

Yeah, but their navy has screen doors on their submarines.

It particularly puzzles me that France is called out as the big cowardly loser in WWII,

During WWII a lot of scorn was heaped on the Vichy Regime, but the French resistance was greatly romanticized and continued to be for some time afterwards. You'll also note that none of the classic WWII movies portray the French as anything other than good fighters working with what they had behind enemy lines.

However, ten years after World War II the French got their asses handed to them at Dien Bien Phu, which led directly to the split of Vietnam into a North and South.

The French surrender in Vietnam (which in turn forced the U.S. to send its own troops a few years later) seems to be when the anti-French sentiment in the U.S. picked up. And, of course, from our current vantage suggesting that the French military sucks because they screwed up a war in Vietnam isn't very palatable -- so we focus on the WWII bit instead.

IANASPS (I am not a socio-political scholar)
posted by tkolar at 8:18 PM on February 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


The French US have not had a significant military victory since the end of WWII, and that's why their reputation as a military power is not that good.

Sorry, that's bullshit. Operation Desert Storm was a major American victory. And the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a classic. (Irrespective of what you may think of the occupation afterwards.)

For that matter, Tommy Franks' original operation in Afghanistan against the Taliban was astoundingly successful. (Again, irrespective of what you may think of what happened afterwards.)

Another example is the military operation in Panama.

This reflexive attitude of "Anything bad anyone has done, America must be worse" is an intellectual trap. Don't fall for it.
posted by Class Goat at 8:47 PM on February 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


It says something about the U.S. military's regard for the French forces that they'd put them on the flank like that. Schwarzkopf didn't think the French were just a bunch of cheese-eating surrender monkeys. He asked them to watch his back!

Well, that's what he said at the press briefing later. Schwarzkopf was no fool; he heaped praise on all the allies when he reviewed the battle.

But if you look at his force deployment, and how he used the non-American forces at his disposal, he backed up every non-American force with a reliable American force, which could pick up the load if the non-American force failed.

For example, the combined Arab force he divided into two parts, and put them on opposite sides of 1st Marine Division. If you look at the histories, the first force to enter Kuwait City was Arab -- but they only did so after 1st Marines had chased out all the Iraqi forces. The fact is that if the Arabs hadn't been there, the battle would have gone just about the same as it did, because 1st Marines would have done all the fighting, instead of just most of it.

The only exception to that was the British armoured division. Those he trusted and relied on.

In the case of the French, it's true that they were given the flank to guard. But that wasn't all that risky a position, because the entire Iraqi theater was under American air supremacy, and any attempt to move forces down from Baghdad would have fallen under withering air assault. And such an attempt wasn't really expected, because most of Saddam's best units were already in the theater.

There were two main highways that needed to be plugged, and behind the French he put the 82nd Airborne on one of those highways, and the 101st Airborne on the other.

Later in the battle, once it became clear that there was no risk at all of an attack developing out of Baghdad, the 82nd was used to further the assault against Iraqi forces in Kuwait, but before then if a significant force had come down from Baghdad and the French had broken, the 82nd and 101st were there to stop them.

So I'm afraid that the reality is that Schwarzkopf didn't trust the French at all. He needed to find a face-saving assignment for the French that kept them as far from gunfire as possible.
posted by Class Goat at 9:05 PM on February 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Seriously - up until the Prussians leaped them technologically and tactically in the 1870's they were the team to beat in Europe when it came to land wars.

Yes, that's true. Similarly, until Napoleon whipped them in 1805, the Prussians were considered the team to beat. They were living off the glory of Frederick the Great, but the reality didn't live up to that reputation.

Likewise, the French had their reputation because of the Napoleonic Wars, but the reality didn't live up to that reputation either.

On a larger note, I'd like to try to steer this post back to its original question: can people name specific military victories by France, or point to a list of them?

The problem is that what you're trying to find doesn't really exist. A lot of the reason why the French forces have a reputation for poor quality is that they have routinely performed poorly over the last couple of centuries. (Victories by Charlemagne or Louis XIV don't redeem that, either.)

We could probably list a few small, isolated operations where they did well, a few cases where battles were won but wars were lost, or a few cases where the FFL fought against aborigines and prevailed. But major victories? The only cases of that were when the French were backed up by the UK and the US.
posted by Class Goat at 9:21 PM on February 7, 2009


Here's a map that shows how Schwarzkopf deployed his ground forces, which shows the 82nd and 101st being placed behind the French, just in case.

And a small correction: the Arabs flanked both 1st Marine Division and 2nd Marine Division.
posted by Class Goat at 9:32 PM on February 7, 2009


On a larger note, I'd like to try to steer this post back to its original question: can people name specific military victories by France, or point to a list of them?

I'm going to be a bit more blunt here. What you're saying is "Help me prove that their reputation is undeserved." The problem is that the reputation really is deserved. It's perhaps a bit exaggerated, but it isn't really wrong.
posted by Class Goat at 9:34 PM on February 7, 2009


The problem is that the reputation really is deserved.

This is silly prejudice. If the reputation were truly deserved, France would neither have been an empire nor remain as a nation today. This prejudice barely existed when I was a child and was stoked by war nerds of the current decade solely because of resentment over certain UN negotiations.

Really, any explanation of a country's military prowess which a) necessarily omits discussion of the first great general of the modern era and b) the singularly rankling defeat our own forces suffered on the same field just isn't honest enough to engage.

Just twenty years ago the European country with the sorry military reputation was the actually well-deserved Italy, whose foreign disasters in the modern era are legion. Italy in fact barely has a fraction of anything like the French history of victory. (Unless one goes back all the way to Rome.) This is at least in part due to the late national coalescing of the country, but then Germany had a similarly late creation, and the Prussian reputation remained intact.

When I went to school the French were justly held up as friends of American independence and therefore American patriots. Not sure what happened there, but it sure is evidence of something.

The French surrender in Vietnam (which in turn forced the U.S. to send its own troops a few years later) seems to be when the anti-French sentiment in the U.S. picked up.

Of course, any scholar of the war knows that the war fought with French blood was paid for by the US. It suited our regional and European politics at the time.

That said, I don't think this is where resentment of the French "picked up". I don't think most Americans cared about this particular narrative enough at the time, for one thing, and for another the US right wing had not entirely created the Dolchstosslegende about Vietnam until our own defeat (sorry -- tie). Resentment only makes sense if we were touchy about our own role, and that just wasn't the case at the beginning.

I know that the UK-Continent thing has some currency in the US, but was generally overwhelmed by US-Europe as an overall cultural clash. The political basis probably comes down to later Gaullism, i.e. snooty independence, particularly de Gaulle taking France out of the NATO command structure. But again, this is something that only a sliver of Americans really cared about at the time.

I'm actually wondering now if the turning point was Mitterand. Up to then any nativist suspicion of France was along the John Birch lines, that they were too darn red to be trusted. After France proved itself a strong ally even under a Socialist President, a new narrative was needed. But it took a long time for this to emerge from wingnuttia.
posted by dhartung at 12:17 AM on February 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think it's all a Counter Intelligence Op by the Italians to shift blame away from themselves. I used to know a ton of Italian military jokes, but never heard an actual joke about the French (as opposed to just 'surrender monkeys', which isn't a joke, it's a slur). For example, how many speeds does an Italian tank have? Two, stop and reverse. Etc Etc.
posted by spicynuts at 8:27 AM on February 8, 2009


The French as cowards stereotype is relatively recent, I would like to see proof of this stereotype before WWII, I don't think it exists, or at least exists in the way we perceive it now. I'm surprised no one has recommended the incredible documentary The Sorrow and the Pity which explores the complexity of Franco-German relations during WWII. France is more like Austria and less like Britain during the early days of the war. I'm simplifying to a great extent, but I think the contrast between Britain's defense and France's quick collapse is where this stereotype comes from. That and the fact that post-war France wanted to stay independent of British/US influence, makes them look like they are trying to shy away from world problems when really they were trying to protect their own interests.
posted by geoff. at 10:56 AM on February 8, 2009


The website ORthey linked to (from militaryfactory.com) gives the French 108 victories, 53 defeats, and 10 ties -- very close to the numbers by QI that opsin quoted.

That's a winning percentage of 63%.

I take issue with a few of the decisions on that page, like 1066, but I think we can say with certainty that the French have won more than half the time, and don't deserve a reputation for poor fighting, cowardice, or a tendency towards surrender.
posted by Flying Saucer at 11:34 AM on February 8, 2009


The FFL is at least 1/3 French by conservative standards, and many consider the numbers for the smaller neutral countries to be inflated by Frenchmen under assumed nationalities, bringing the French total to ~50% or so.

I know, Jelly, and so does the Mister. He does not seriously dismiss French soldiers. (Also he has a friend from SF who later tried - and failed - to get into the Legion). There is a certain...je ne sais quoi going on about the French that I think is similar to US Marines talking about the delicate little girls in the US Army, or the Army trash-talking the Air Force, etc. That said, their recent history has been abysmal, and that's what people tend to remember.

The US have not had a significant military victory since the end of WWII, and that's why their reputation as a military power is not that good.


Whatever fits your worldview, JPD.

On a larger note, I'd like to try to steer this post back to its original question: can people name specific military victories by France, or point to a list of them?

Flying Saucer, this is not exactly what you asked for but may be of interest:

From Wikipedia:
"...the French Armed Forces constitutes the largest military in European Union and the 20th largest in the world by number of troops. The French Armed Forces however have the 2nd highest expenditure of any military in the world, as well as the 3rd largest nuclear force in the world, only behind the United States and Russia."

From the US State Dept:
"France is one of NATO's top five troop contributors. The French...are leading contributors to the NATO Response Force (NRF). France is keen to build European defense capabilities, including through the development of EU battle-group sized force packages and joint European military production initiatives...During his December 2007 visit to Kabul, the President underscored French commitment to complete NATO's mission in Afghanistan, where some 2,200 French troops serve."

No doubt, should they deem it in their interests, the French could inflict some damage.
posted by txvtchick at 11:54 AM on February 8, 2009


The US wouldn't exist without France's help. France started sending weapons to the American colonists in 1776. After the American victory at Saratoga in October 1777 showed that the Americans might be able to win, France entered the war. The French fleet's decisive victory in the Battle of the Chesapeake in September 1781 trapped British General Cornwallis at Yorktown, where he surrendered to American and French forces in October 1781.

General Lafayette was one of George Washington's closest advisors during the Revolution. When American troops entered Paris in World War I, Captain Charles E. Stanton said, "Lafayette, we are here" in acknowledgment of France's help.
I regret I cannot speak to the good people of France in the beautiful language of their own fair country.

The fact cannot be forgotten that your nation was our friend when America was struggling for existence, when a handful of brave and patriotic people were determined to uphold the rights their Creator gave them -- that France in the person of Lafayette came to our aid in words and deed.

It would be ingratitude not to remember this and America defaults no obligations...

Therefore it is with loving pride we drape the colors in tribute of respect to this citizen of your great Republic, and here and now in the shadow of the illustrious dead we pledge our hearts and our honor in carrying this war to successful issue.

LAFAYETTE -- WE ARE HERE !
posted by kirkaracha at 5:18 PM on February 8, 2009


It particularly puzzles me that France is called out as the big cowardly loser

Anglo-French relations is a very complex topic whole books have been written about it. The French helped the US win its Independence, sold it half the country at a firesale price without a fight, and gave it the intellectual framework for its Constitution - the anti-French American attitude is odd.

Something to keep in mind. France was *the* dominate world power from about 1649 to 1871 - sort of like the US was in the second half of the 20th century. France and Paris was the center of the world (except for economics which was London). France has not forgotten this and is somewhat pissy about it, in particular as its language and culture has become a museum piece. But it's true, European history (post 5th century) is largely French history, it's the axis on which everything turns.

Another odd thing about France is its lack of cohesion as a single country. There are (or were) dozens of languages and ethnicity's - sort of like China or Russia. It was only after the Third Empire, after the 1870s, that it really started to become a modern nation state and people really began to think of themselves as French foremost (outside of Paris). And this was after the Franco-Prussian War, the apogee of French influence and power in Europe. Ever since then its been in the shadow of Germany. France as a modern nation state has always been on the defensive.

I suspect the current American "surrender monkey" cliche has something to do with these historical trends, and something to do with present day politics. In particular, the right wing in American rests its legitimacy in part on the projection of force and power, and the US 'saving' France in WWII is a great claim of the right. So it plays into the right to remind how much the US is needed to save the French (WWI, WWII, Vietnam).

There is also the gender perspective. France has always had a somewhat female gender. After the Franco Prussian War, it was said "Europe has lost a mistress [France], and gained a Master [Germany]' - again, this plays into the masochism typical of the right, females surrender and need saving.
posted by stbalbach at 7:22 PM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


after the Third Empire

should say "during the Third Republic"
posted by stbalbach at 7:28 PM on February 8, 2009


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