The Corner

All Hail Charles De Gaulle

My new book — Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America’s Disastrous Relationship with France, co-authored by Mark Molesky — official comes out on Tuesday. NRO is scheduled to run a few excerpts next week. Meanwhile, I’ve set up a website — oldestenemy.com – that features a news blog. Since the current topic on The Corner is last night’s debate, I thought I’d share today’s posting:

John Kerry told a seriously misleading story about Franco-American relations in last night’s presidential debate. “We can remember when President Kennedy in the Cuban missile crisis sent his secretary of state to Paris to meet with de Gaulle. And in the middle of the discussion, to tell them about the missiles in Cuba, he said, ‘Here, let me show you the photos.’ And DeGaulle waved them off and said, ‘No, no, no, no. The word of the president of the United States is good enough for me.’”

First of all, Kerry botched a detail. JFK didn’t send his own secretary of state; he sent Dean Acheson, who was Truman’s. (Kerry knows this, because he told this part of the tale correctly in his NYU speech.)

But more important, Kerry tried to invoke a golden age of Franco-American friendship which in fact is a myth. It certainly didn’t exist when de Gaulle was around. No American president cared for the French leader. FDR called him “unreliable, uncooperative, and disloyal.” Truman branded him an “SOB.” And in the 1960s, Acheson publicly said de Gaulle was not “a dependable or effective ally.” It is accurate to say de Gaulle was marginally helpful during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but it’s wrong to suggest that all was sweetness and light between the United States and Gaullist France during the Cold War–when de Gaulle was quitting NATO and condemning American involvement in Vietnam. If Kerry wants to improve relations with France, he has chosen a poor model.

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.

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