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Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America's Disastrous Relationship with France Hardcover – October 5, 2004

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1ST edition (October 5, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385512198
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385512190
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #867,650 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

National Review reporter Miller (The Unmaking of Americans) and Harvard lecturer Molesky focus quite single-mindedly on destroying what they say is the "myth" of the historical friendship between the United States and France. In doing so, they give short shrift to a few vital facts: for instance, while focusing on the French and Indian massacre of British colonists at Deerfield, Mass., in 1704, they overlook the importance of the French fleet in George Washington's great victory at Yorktown. Miller and Molesky also dismiss French policy as having a cynical underside of national self-interest, willfully overlooking the fact that all governments act out of self-interest. Thus, they call French trade barriers during the Cold War ingratitude for American aid in WWII. They accuse the French, who dare to look down on American culture, of their own "sordid cultural exports," such as the avant-garde, with its strain of nihilism. And, as the authors see it, the French, with the debacle at Dien Bien Phu, are responsible for America's quagmire in Vietnam. As one might guess, driving this revisionism is France's refusal to support the United States in its late invasion of Iraq The authors' ire, and their carefully selected and unnuanced slices of history, will convince only the already converted.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Lafayette, the Statue of Liberty, D-Day-- such symbolic shorthand for a historical alliance between France and America crumbles in the caustic viewpoint expressed by this historical review of their relationship. Miller, of the conservative National Review,^B and Molesky, a Harvard history lecturer, argue that animosity rather than amity has been the two countries' normal state of affairs, extending from the French and Indian War to the post-World War II pattern of frequent French diplomatic opposition to American foreign policy. The authors reflect on the sources of French anti-Americanism, maintaining it is, in part, because of France's resentment of its own decline as a great power and its cultural contempt for America as crass and materialistic. What may seem like the long-gone past, such as Napoleon III's pro-South policy in the Civil War, is presented as a seamless continuum to the present, representing the French proclivity for hampering the American "hyperpower," as one foreign minister recently called the U.S. Gratifying to a nationalist sensibility, Miller and Molesky's editorialized jaunt through history is fluid and opinionated. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

The book is well written.
The second section of the book, less visible under the mass of historical detail but no less important, discusses French intellectual and artistic movements.
Jeffrey Leach
If you still think of France as our oldest ally, you really ought to read this book.
Michael J. Edelman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Pierre on June 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover
When reviewing a book, it usually helps if the reviewer has an accurate idea of what the book is about. Looking at most of the negative reviews below tells us more about the reviewers and their prejudices and less about the book they've supposedly read (although some admit that they haven't even bothered to read it). To begin with, most of these reviewers seem to think that the book pretends to be a complete history of Franco-American relations. If they look closely they'll find that the book itself has no such pretensions. It is a book about the antagonistic aspects of French and American relations. That's all. Why write such a book rather than a complete history? Well, there's a myth out there in the journalistic ether that holds that the Franco-American relationship was a centuries-old concert of amity and alliance -- that is, until George W. Bush, by going to war in Iraq, managed to produce an unprecedented rift with our "oldest ally". In a matter of months, he had supposedly soured, damaged, and nearly destroyed America's 200-year-old friendship with France. Actually, Bush did nothing of the sort. His administration is hardly the first to have had problems with France. There have been earlier and more serious rifts -- and even military hostilities: Franco-American friendship hadn't even lasted 20 years before the two nations went to war in 1797. One has to wonder why most of our journalists couldn't bring themselves to formulate their remarks in a more historically-informed way. Specifically, one has to wonder why they couldn't simply say that France and the United States had re-entered one of their periodic antagonisms. One explanation is that some of them are simply ignorant of the facts. Hence the need for a book like this.Read more ›
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33 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Edmund Weil on December 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The reviews of this book swing between such extremes that I decided to do a little research of my own to see just what is going on here.

The Library Journal charged that Miller and Molesky ignore the academic studies published by Henry Blumenthal and Jean-Baptiste Duroselle. So I looked up Blumenthal's "A Reappraisal of Franco-American Relations, 1830-1871" and found the following: "Contrary to popular notions, the relations between the two countries were not friendly. Usual references to the historic Franco-American friendship from the times of Lafayette to the present conveniently ignore crucial issues and petty incidents which led to a growing estrangement between Paris and Washington in the last century . . . Franco-American alienation in the mid-nineteenth century gradually developed and deepened as the result of a multitude of conflicting policies and viewpoints." And in his "France and the United States: Their Diplomatic Relations, 1789-1914" Blumenthal notes that "the celebrated friendship between France and the United States has been a historical myth." This is precisely Miller and Molesky's thesis. So, far from running afoul of Blumenthal's seminal works, Miller and Molesky are precisely on the same page. Duroselle's "France and the United States: From the Beginnings to the Present", while noting many of the "crucial issues and petty incidents" mentioned by Blumenthal, tends to whitewash the actions and motivations of French statesmen when discussing their questionable antagonisms to the US. Duroselle's book is also a summary history and typically glosses over Franco-American frictions rather than exploring them in detail. Thus, there was probably a good reason for Miller and Molesky to ignore a book that wasn't exactly impartial or exhaustive.
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83 of 112 people found the following review helpful By Pete on October 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Students of diplomatic history will find familiar material here. Their previous reading will have included scattered accounts of French perfidy in the New World and placed them on their guard against the myth of untarnished Franco-American amity. For the non-specialist, however, Miller and Molesky have performed an invaluable service by marshalling the salient facts into one book - and a most engaging and well-written one at that. Their demolition of the aforementioned myth is complete (but restrained) as they guide us through 300 years of French misadventures with the United States.

To be sure, the familiar facts of Franco-American friendship and assistance are recounted and form the background of the narrative. As these are well known they are explored in detail only when necessary (and perhaps when charity warrants that the authors not make France look as bad as it might deserve). The book, naturally, accentuates the negative but is hardly a litany of complaints. Facts are facts - and any student of Franco-American relations should understand how American friendships and alliances with France have been colored by deception, rivalry, and even open (though undeclared) war on the part of the French. The book's thesis may seem provocative - but by the time the narrative reaches the First World War most readers should be thoroughly convinced of its truth. Diplomatic history may seem like a musty and pedantic business to most Americans but Miller and Molesky's well-paced argument and enlightening revelations successfully elicit the dialectical agility required to think of France as (often simultaneously) ally and enemy.

Not, of course, an enemy of the Nazi or Soviet sort, but a persistent one nonetheless.
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