The rise of France-bashing has certainly been an interesting phenomenon. Hitting its peak of ridiculousness with the renaming of Freedom Fries, the situation has become as much a joke as much as real anger towards another country. So, how did this occur?
Really, if America was going to have issues with a European country, you would think it would be England. The whole Revolutionary War thing was a rather large spat, and without the aid of France
America would have almost certainly lost the battle for independence. Sounds like a recipe for loving France and reviling Great Britain, doesn't it?
And there really isn't a history of animosity between the two countries. The Statue of Libery, given to as a gift to the United States from France in 1866, was meant as a symbol of friendship between the two nations. And, notably for the current situation, America was instrumental in liberating France in WWI and WWII.
So where did it go wrong? The recent wave of France-bashing lies in the different policies our two countries have in foreign affairs, and most specifically France's antagonism towards U.S. policies in the mid-East. The general perception seems to be that France owes us allegiance in foreign affairs, because we saved their country from invasion. Twice. This, of course, is silliness. America didn't liberate France to gain an international I.O.U., they did it to liberate France. If we expected France to bow down to us decades later we would hardly be liberators. But, though the current mid-East situation has brought the issue to the forefront, France's antagonistic relationship with the U.S. did not begin with the U.S. policies in Iraq, nor with the current administration.
In this slate.com article entitled "Why do the French hate us
?" from January 29, 2003, they relate the following concerning the belief that the French hate our current administration only:
It sounds convincing—after all, lots of Europeans have been complaining about Bush of late. But it's not true. The French never really liked the Clinton administration, either. In June 2000, during President Clinton's last year in office, France was the only one (talk about unilateralism) of 107 countries to refuse to sign a U.S. initiative aimed at encouraging democracy around the world. A year earlier, State Department spokesman James Rubin complained, "We do find it puzzling and passing strange that France would spend so much energy and focus so much attention on the danger to them of a strong United States rather than the dangers that we and France together face from countries like Iraq." The French oppose the United States, quite simply, for what it is—the most powerful country on earth.
And furthermore, and pretty insightfully, the article explains:
Much of the French opposition to American power arose after the fall of the Soviet Union made the United States the only power in a unipolar world: According to one poll, the percentage of the French who viewed the United States "with sympathy" dropped from 54 to 35 percent between 1988 and 1996. But French grumbling over U.S. power predates the end of the Cold War, too. As Philip H. Gordon outlined in the National Interest in 2000 (during the Clinton administration), "resentment and frustration" have marked French-American relations since the end of World War II. When Charles de Gaulle became president of the Fifth Republic, he was still resentful that FDR had refused to recognize his Free French resistance over the Vichy regime during the war. De Gaulle decided never to depend on the Americans again, and though he was an ally of the United States, he was an exceptionally cranky one, pursuing détente with the Soviet Union, withdrawing militarily from NATO, and establishing an independent French nuclear force.
Perhaps the most astonishing description of the rocky French-American relationship comes from the French diplomat who, in 1983, told the Atlantic that a particular change in U.S. policy "makes us wonder whether we can count on American administrations—just as we've been wondering since Congress refused to endorse the Treaty of Versailles." Americans don't have this sort of historical consciousness—at least, not for anything that happened abroad before World War II. It's as if an American diplomat said, "Well, we had to beat the frogs in the French and Indian War to lay the groundwork for national unity and manifest destiny, and well, we've been beating them ever since." Or, "You know, we've known ever since the XYZ Affair that you couldn't trust the French. That's why we've been sparring with them since the Quasi-War."
But history is at the core of the tensions between France and America. Donald Rumsfeld's comment last week about "old Europe" was telling: Americans see France as akin to Portugal, a once-great power now in decline. But as part of its own "special relationship" with the United States, France refuses to cede the world stage to the Americans. French identity is similar to American identity—France sees itself as a great nation worthy of power, the birthplace of democracy, and a culture and system of government that the world would be wise to emulate.
So, the possible reason for French bashing is this: France made the U.S. possible by coming to our aid in the Revolutionary War. We owe them one. The U.S. saved France in WWI. We're even. The U.S. saved France in WWII. They owe us. They turned against us international diplomacy in the late 20th century. HOW DARE THEY! French wear berets (which we as a nation thought were awfully trendy during the Salt Lake Olympics but now feel are a ridiculous fashion accessory) and speak with funny accents, we should mock them! That will show them we're the superior culture. EVERYONE! Together, let us point and laugh! Hahahahahahaha. And when we are feeling especially superior we will call them frogs!
So there it is, the relationship between the U.S. and France in brief (or not so brief).