Friday, August 3, 2007

Le Divorce?

This weekend we visited the homes, universities, and museums of some of the founding fathers (Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe), while learning oodles about U.S. history what amazed me was how closely intertwined the U.S. and France were during this period; financially, philosophically, intellectually, and through numerous partnerships, friendships and alliances. During the late 18th century, both the U.S. and France were in pre and post Revolutionary periods, each was the others' main backer in the fight against monarchy (English or French). France went into debt financing the U.S. Revolution and Lafayette amongst others come over here to lend a hand (or observe and even praise in the case of Toqueville) and formed lastings friendships with Washington and others...

In all three of the houses we visited (save Madison's which is under renovation)- there were myriad references to France and Europe (Monroe's daughter was best friends with Eugenie (Napoleon's daughter in law whom he married to his brother)), furniture, books (one of Monroe's bookcases was entirely comprised of French books - books on the French Constitution, history...) - and both Franklin and Jefferson spent years upon years in Paris - bringing back furniture, customs, friendships, and a very open view towards Europe. When Jefferson served as U.S. Ambassador in France, his offices were housed at Versailles (i.e. in the "home" of the King!). They went abroad to build relationships and learn, especially from the French. Our countries were not only allies, we were close friends. We were similar-minded and fighting for the same truths and ideals.

During this period we were born of revolution and freedom from religious persecution, we were born of the Enlightenment - we both drafted constitutions and declarations of rights for "all" men - only the U.S.'s had a clause about the right to bear arms. I wonder if this simple sentence comprised of only a few words plays a big, big part in the question that I am asking.

When did this break occur, when and where were the signs that pointed towards the resultant divorce? Will relations ever be what they used to be or having grown and matured, are we just too different now to ever be that close again? We have gotten used to this froid relationship with France, and my generation doesnt have a living memory of anything different. Which is why visiting the grounds of our birth as a country makes this point shockingly real. Visting the homes of the founding fathers is a lesson in US history but also in what was happening in France at the time and a lesson about the love between our two countries.

England has certainly taken the place that was once held by France - which given that we fought a war against England for our freedom and independence is ironic. Or is it? Looking at world history there are numerous stories of countries being allies, enemies, occupying one another... (e.g. France and Germany who now share the drivers seat in the EU).

When did we grow apart? Was it the changes in our countries during the industrial revolutions? Was it during the periods of Empire and colonization? Was it due to when we have (or have not) abolished the death penalty? Segregation? The differences in urban landscapes? The Cold War? The rise of globalization? Was it that one country housed two world wars while the other fought them offshores?


A said...

I am by NO means an expert in history (I tend to forget what I read just seconds afterwards), so the following has to do with what I've personally observed in my years alive. And 1 thing I've noticed is that every nation-state needs an enemy at all times. Iran's a friend one day, an enemy the next. Osama's doing the dirty work for us one day, and plotting against us the next. Russia's an ally during WWII but really seen as a necessary evil that needs to be contained.

After the Soviet Union fell, the US needed a new enemy to focus on with all its might. Enter the Arabs/Muslims. This administration made it clear that you're either with us or against us and with regards to the Iraq War, France was "against us" (according to some). And so, the frigid relationship began (or continued). But, this is just what I've observed. The relationship may have gone awry before. If anyone else can enlighten me, please do.

Julie LeBlanc said...

Dear A: thanks for your comment! I think you are right and I overlooked the importance of the disagreement concerning the present Iraq War; then President CHIRAC was the first foreign head of state to visit the U.S. post 9/11 demonstrating the support of the France and the French people for the U.S.

Julie LeBlanc said...

This morning, after Sarkozy's uber-publicized visit to Lake Winnepesaukee, N.H., he went on to visit Presidents Bush 1 & 2 et femmes at the Bush complex in Kennebunkport, Maine. The French news made a somewhat big play of the absence of Cecilia Sarkozy. I have zero idea of why she wasnt there, since I think she met George and Laura at the G-8 Conference recently, but I 'd like to think that she didnt want to meet them on more intimate and "friendly" terms. If so, bravo to her. To have that kind of gumption is fantastic.

At the end of the George-Nicolas interview, a French reporter shouted out "so Iraq is now a forgotten issue?" The reply to this was a hand shushing by Sarkozy. In the glory and sunshine of the day it this question wsa but a tiny reminder of what he face upon returning home - where support for the newewed state of Franco-Americain amitie - will be less than zero.

Bush cited the famous Lafayette-Washington friendship, one that aided revolutions in both our countries... which brings me back to my earlier post - how I too when walking through the homes of our founding fathers remarked on HOW much things have changed.

The kicker of the day is that as the Bushes + Sarkozy jetted off in the Bush family speed boat - one say their images and the name of the boat shining in the sun "FIDELITY"...

You can almost hear Michael Moore writing the script for his next documentary... cant you?

Julie LeBlanc said...

I stand corrected - Sarkozy cited the Lafayette-Washington alliance as he just finished L's biography.

A said...

Quel divorce?

robotslingshot said...

I think this has to do with two things: our inward focus in the US(and the education that we are passing on to our children in this respect), and issues of pride due to world stature. The French are still a great civilization, but their reach declined after WWII, whereas the Americans began their move towards being a great empire. But America has taken advantage of their position and have become power hungry. Thus two proud nations bicker and refuse to fully understand each other.

My husband is French, I am American. We have this discussion all the time, and we usually defend one another's countries before our own.

Julie LeBlanc said...

robotslingshot: Thanks you for your feedback - I too am in a franco-american relationship and our cultural differences is quite often a discussion.

I agree with what you have said. I am curious: are you living in the US or France or neither?

Its very interesting your point above the move towards and away from Empire- the US has also moved towards religion (participation) while France has moved away.

They have moved towards socialism.. (it is still left to see what Sarko will do with his newfound powers) while we have moved away from it. I think.