This is quite the speech that President Sarkozy gave to Congress yesterday. Fabulous rhetoric. Wonderful sentiment. Just what we want to hear. Which makes me suspicious. What do the French want? Perhaps Sarko figures that France is more likely to lead Europe as our best friend, than as the petulant power that undermines common western goals by, say, doing business with Saddam… That would be okay.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The men and women of my generation heard their grandparents talk about how in 1917, America saved France at a time when it had reached the final limits of its strength, which it had exhausted in the most absurd and bloodiest of wars.
The men and women of my generation heard their parents talk about how in 1944, America returned to free Europe from the horrifying tyranny that threatened to enslave it.
Fathers took their sons to see the vast cemeteries where, under thousands of white crosses so far from home, thousands of young American soldiers lay who had fallen not to defend their own freedom but the freedom of all others, not to defend their own families, their own homeland, but to defend humanity as a whole.
Fathers took their sons to the beaches where the young men of America had so heroically landed. They read them the admirable letters of farewell that those 20-year-old soldiers had written to their families before the battle to tell them: “We don’t consider ourselves heroes. We want this war to be over. But however much dread we may feel, you can count on us.” Before they landed, Eisenhower told them: “The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.”
And as they listened to their fathers, watched movies, read history books and the letters of soldiers who died on the beaches of Normandy and Provence, as they visited the cemeteries where the star-spangled banner flies, the children of my generation understood that these young Americans, 20 years old, were true heroes to whom they owed the fact that they were free people and not slaves. France will never forget the sacrifice of your children.
To those 20-year-old heroes who gave us everything, to the families of those who never returned, to the children who mourned fathers they barely got a chance to know, I want to express France’s eternal gratitude.
On behalf of my generation, which did not experience war but knows how much it owes to their courage and their sacrifice; on behalf of our children, who must never forget; to all the veterans who are here today and, notably the seven I had the honor to decorate yesterday evening, one of whom, Senator Inouye, belongs to your Congress, I want to express the deep, sincere gratitude of the French people. I want to tell you that whenever an American soldier falls somewhere in the world, I think of what the American army did for France. I think of them and I am sad, as one is sad to lose a member of one’s family.