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Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America's Disastrous Relationship with France Paperback – October 11, 2005

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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway; Reprint edition (October 11, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767917553
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767917551
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 0.7 x 5.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #604,647 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 44 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 113 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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37 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Reader on February 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Let me preface this by saying that I largely agree with the book's overall premise, that French political elites have an irrational fear of American political hegemony. That said, I am extremely disappointed in the book's opening chapter.

The authors' treatment of the wars between the British and French North American colonies is extremely one-sided and misleading. They would have you believe that the British colonists were a passive bunch who acted in self-defense against French aggressors and their vicious Indian allies. This is laughable in light of the facts that 1) the British colonies had literally 20 times the population of the French ones; 2) the British made it their explicit goal to conquer the French territories, as they had done to New Netherland and 3) the British made good on their claim, invading and conquering New France in 1759.

The authors mention the Deerfield massacre of 1704 while conveniently overlooking similar slaughters that occurred in Quebec, Port Royal and Montreal at the hands of the British. They also gloss over the expulsion of 10,000 Acadians from their colony (now Nova Scotia), something the French never did in territories they captured.

The authors acknowledge that the French made far more native allies than the British, but never pause to examine why this was the case. Whereas the British effectively wanted to create a reconstituted European state and push the natives out of the way, the predominantly fur-trading French colonists attempted to assimilate themselves into Native culture as much as the opposite. When the British attempted to expand their colonies, they met the fierce opposition of Native tribes, who did not want to see their French allies evicted.
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