Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader has been thinking a lot about France recently. You may believe that his ruminations on France began with the terrorist attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and on the kosher grocery store in Paris. But you’d be wrong. Your Maximum Leader was thinking about France over the Christmas holiday. He’s been listening to a very good podcast on the French Revolution – as well as taking time to glance through some of the (sadly too few) books on French history he owns.
Part of what your Maximum Leader has been thinking about is how to work out his own feelings towards the French Republic…
As anyone who has spent any time with your Maximum Leader (or any time on this blog over the years) knows, he is not what one would call a Francophile. But, he’s not a Francophobe either. He’s viewed his own feelings towards France with mixed emotions over his life. Your Maximum Leader has not traveled to France, so will likely have some bearing on his feelings at some point but he should list off a few items for your consideration. Your Maximum Leader appreciates and loves many elements of French culture. He would be a liar if he didn’t say he loves French food (both “high” French and “Provençal” and “low” French food. He loves a lot of French art. (Like anyone, he likes some movements and not others.) And he loves the idea of the French lifestyle that is mostly stereotypically imagined by Americans and exists to a lesser extent every year in France. (You know what he’s talking about here. Going to the bakery for bread every day. Sitting and having an afternoon break at a café. Leisurely early evening meals, home cooked, around a big table with family.) Frankly, any your Maximum Leader might be an exception here, he’s never met and interacted with a French citizen that he didn’t like. (As an aside, your Maximum Leader doesn’t have many regrets about his college years; but one minor regret his has is not asking a French exchange student who attended his college out on a date. Long story, if you’re interested write him and he’ll tell you all about it…)
At the same time that your Maximum Leader has all of this good will built up on behalf of France, he also has some ill will. Or if not ill will, certainly less than positive will. Your Maximum Leader has mocked the French as “cheese eating surrender monkeys.” Of course that appellation isn’t completely fair, even in the context of World War II, if one understands the times in which France was surrendering… And he’s been annoyed by French foreign policy more times than he can remember. (The first one he can recall was Francois Mitterand refusing to let US bombers over-fly France to go after Quaddaffi in Libya back in the Reagan years… That is the first of many…) Your Maximum Leader thinks that institutions dedicated to the preservation of “true” French culture and language are sort of silly. (He’s looking at you Academie Francaise.)
So basically, your Maximum Leader loves “the French” but doesn’t always love “France.” He’s sure that many Frenchmen would say the same (or much the same) about “the United States of America” and “Americans.”
Then your Maximum Leader had an epiphany. A true a ha moment.
France is our beloved first cousin who always annoys the crap out of us.
Yup. That is it. Your Maximum Leader’s “France is the USA’s first cousin” political theory.
Hear him out on this.
Are you close with your first cousins? Your Maximum Leader means really close. Like you grew up in the same town. You see each other all the time, not just at the holidays. You go over to their house. They come to yours. You go on vacation together. You are always there with them. But, their upbringing isn’t quite the same. Though in the same town, you go to different schools. You get involved in different activities. Perhaps you go to different churches (or no church at all).
You are very similar, but in some very important ways very dissimilar. You might be a good kid and a conformer, but that cousin of yours just wants to buck the system when they can. You are a loyal boyfriend (or girlfriend) and your cousin is something of a playboy (Playgirl? “Playa?”) You do your homework all the time and get good grades, and your cousin is something of a slacker. You are serious, and your cousin is a clown. You love your cousin, you both get along and like to be together. But there are things your cousin does that are just a part of who they are – things they can’t change and don’t want to change; things that just annoy the shit out of you.
That is the Franco-American relationship.
Both nations are born of the Judeo-Christian Western tradition. Both were born in revolution. Both are constitutional republics that value liberty. And we both annoy the shit out of each other.
It annoys your Maximum Leader that the French want to be part of Europe, and part of NATO, and leaders in the world; but they have to do everything their way. Their way is one that often seems contrarian for the sake of being contrarian.
Your Maximum Leader has come to realize that the US needs France, and the world needs France. Your Maximum Leader would like nations to see the US as the ultimate leader on the side of history and civilization that favors individual liberty, individual rights and responsibilities, and equality for all under commonly determined law. But the world is not a simple place and many of the actors on the world scene, for some mad reason, don’t trust the US to be a fair actor. Perhaps this is a consequence of a cold war where everyone had to pick a side and stick to their side. During the Cold War, France did its best to present herself as a western alternative to both the US and USSR.
The more your Maximum Leader thinks on it, that Cold War role and how it has developed in the post-Cold War world is an important one. France is an important “pole” in the modern multi-polar world. If France gets on your Maximum Leader’s nerves from time to time, it is because they need to.
Anyhow… Those are some thoughts on France…
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