The failure of France to support the United States in the war against Iraq has resulted in a flurry of vitriolic comments that continues to this day, impugning everything from French wine to French honor. One columnist even called the French “cheese-eating monkeys.” (Don’t Americans eat cheese?). It’s understandable that some Americans might be miffed that their oldest ally refused to support our war against Saddam, even though, in retrospect, it looks like they made the right choice. Unfairly, this feeling has resulted in caustic jokes and remarks disparaging French valor and fighting performance in World War II.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, in World War II France lost 213,324 military personnel killed in only 15 months of warfare. Great Britain, after six years of war, suffered 264,443 killed, and the United States lost 292,131 after a two-front war lasting almost four years. The great disparity in these figures, even though they include Free French losses during the remainder of the war, certainly show that the French military fought fiercely to defend the country, especially since most of the fighting took place in the six-week period of the German invasion.
One of the most unfair jokes making the rounds on the Internet is: “Question: How many Frenchmen does it take to defend Paris? Answer: No one knows. It’s never been done.” Sorry, but it has been done. In World War I, the Second Battle of the Somme had Paris as its objective. Despite an all-out German assault, and heavy French and British losses, the city was successfully defended. In the Franco-Prussian War, when the city was besieged by Prussian troops, Paris held out for more than four months, giving up only after its population was starving and forced to eat rats.
So if we want to complain about the French not supporting us in Iraq, fine. But let’s remember one thing. Without the French, there would be no United States of America. It was French arms, equipment, and money that allowed us to fight Britain, the greatest military power of the time. There were more French soldiers than Americans at Yorktown, the battle that ended the Revolutionary War, and it was the French Navy that prevented the British from reinforcing.
If we must bash the French, let’s not do so by deriding the courage of a nation with a military heritage as proud as our own. If we must, we can stop eating French cheese, stop drinking French wine, and I suppose we can rename French fries. But, please folks, let’s not send back the Statue of Liberty.