Today is Bastille Day, Frances big national holiday. Historian and author David McCullough has a great piece in the New York Times today urging Americans to rediscover the rich relationship which France and the U.S. have traditionally enjoyed. Its been a rocky relationship at times, but even when our governments havent gotten along, the French have always made it clear that they have no beef with the American people, which is realistic since both countries have influenced each other in so many ways. Not the least influence and one that, I have to say, very few U.S. conservatives seem to be aware of, despite their alleged interest in Revolutionary-era history is that if not for France, our revolution would have no doubt gone down the tubes. The French essentially bankrolled the American revolution (granted, they saw it as a way to hand Britain a big defeat) to the tune of $9 billion in todays money. And that Cornwallis surrenders at Yorktown thing? It was a French-designed battle in which French army troops outnumbered George Washingtons army and French ships blocked any possible Cornwallis retreat. One hundred and sixty years later, we repaid that debt by saving Frances bacon in World War II, as we had, though to a much smaller degree, in World War I. When the French hear that many Americans think theyre ungrateful for our help, they invariably point out Frances critical role in Americas very existence and declare the two countries even.
McCullough points out that bit of history, and goes on to mention that it was a French architect who designed Washington, D.C. He writes about Frances gift of the Statue of Liberty, and a slew of other Franco-American connections, while noting that more than nine million Americans are of French descent (another million or so are of French-speaking, though not strictly French, descent, including this writer), and that many of us live in places with French-derived names such as Des Moines, New Orleans, St. Louis, Terre Haute, Coeur dElene, Vermont, and on and on. And that doesnt include the fact that some of our greatest artists, as well as doctors, went to Paris to perfect their craft. So at some point today, have a glass of French wine, or some Camembert or Morbier cheese, or wear French cuffs or French perfume, or re-read parts of DeTocquevilles Democracy In America, or maybe bop some Freedom Fries dope on the head with a baguette, and celebrate the long relationship between our two great nations.