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Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America's Disastrous Relationship with France
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Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America's Disastrous Relationship with France [Paperback]

John J. Miller , Mark Molesky
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)

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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.


In Our Oldest Enemy, John J. Miller and Mark Molesky will delight some, infuriate others, but whether you agree or disagree, the book is bound to stimulate broad debate about the deeper nature of U.S.-French relations and set the reader thinking. Make sure to put it in your suitcase as you polish off that glass of Merlot and book your summer trip to Provence.”-- Jay Winik, author of April 1865: The Month That Saved America

“In Our Oldest Enemy, John J. Miller and Mark Molesky provide a provocative counterpoint to the dewy-eyed sentimentality that usually surrounds the history of U.S.-France relations. Instead of Lafayette and all that, they write about clashes from the French and Indian Wars, through World War II and Vietnam, and right up to the Iraq War. Sometimes the French have literally fought Americans, as in the little-known Quasi-War of the late eighteenth century. More often, they have tried to curb American influence in peaceful ways while furthering their own ends.”

-- Max Boot, author of The Savage Wars of Peace

“If we grow exasperated at the French and demand gratitude, expect shared purpose, and wish friendship, we will probably grow only more exasperated--since John Miller and Mark Molesky show that French animosities are centuries old and derive from who Americans are rather than from what we do. Their romp through our shared history would almost be funny--if it were not so sad in the present post--9-11 world."

-- Victor Davis Hanson, author of Carnage and Culture and The Western Way of War;
Senior Fellow, The Hoover Institution, Stanford University

About the Author

John J. Miller is national political reporter for National Review and the author of The Unmaking of Americans. Mark Molesky is Assistant Professor of History at Seton Hall University. He received his Ph.D. in history from Harvard University, where he was a Lecturer on History and Literature.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.



Who can tell what sorrows pierced our souls?
–Reverend John Williams (1)

The people of Deerfield, Massachusetts, didn’t know what danger lurked just outside their little village before dawn on February 29, 1704. Yet dozens of them had only hours to live. For most of the rest, it would be the worst day they would ever witness.

They certainly weren’t blind to the risks of residing in the wilderness of western Massachusetts. At the start of the eighteenth century, Deerfield sat precariously on the edge of the American frontier. Many of its residents lived within the walls of a small fort, and even more crowded in each night. Patrols checked the surrounding countryside. A night watchman kept vigil. There was a good reason for these precautions: The previous summer, French and Indian raiders had destroyed the village of Wells, Maine, as well as a few smaller outposts. In October, Indians allied with the French had captured a pair of men from Deerfield itself. (2)

Winter was supposed to be a season of relative calm, with the bitter cold and three feet of snow providing a blanket of security found at no other time of year. The people of Deerfield probably had gone to bed the night before thinking they would wake up to a chilly morning like any other, except for the trivial fact that it would be a leap-year day. Yet somewhere in the darkness, between two hundred and three hundred French and Indian marauders were descending upon the town. Led by Sieur Hertel de Rouville, they had braved the severe conditions, trudging 300 miles south from Canada on snowshoes, to spread terror among the American colonists and capture hostages who might be exchanged for French prisoners.

As the sun disappeared on February 28, the French and Indian expedition halted a mile or two north of Deerfield and began to probe the little town. Throughout the night, scouts crossed the frozen Connecticut River and observed their unsuspecting target. A little after midnight, one of them returned to the camp and informed his companions that a watchman was making his rounds. A few hours later, however, a second reconnaissance found no trace of him. The man apparently had nodded off. At about four o’clock, the attackers approached the sleeping hamlet.

The harsh weather that had hampered their progress from New France now became a friend to the French and Indians. Drifts of snow pressing against the walls of the fort created ramps that allowed a few to clamber over the twelve-foot-tall barriers. Once inside, they opened the main doors of the fort for their comrades. The killing was about to begin.

As bloodcurdling war whoops echoed through the cold air, attackers burst into the home of the Reverend John Williams, the village’s most prominent citizen. He had been marked for capture, not death. Two of his young children, however, were not as fortunate: John junior, age six, and Jerusha, a six-week-old baby who could not even hold up his head, were murdered before his eyes. The children’s nursemaid, a black servant named Parthena, was also slaughtered.

Outside, a massacre raged. In all, seventeen homes were put to the torch. One family of five suffocated in their cellar as a fire burned above them. The inhabitants of another dwelling, the brick home of Benobi Stebbins and his family, put up a fierce resistance. For several hours, French and Indians laid siege to it, but their numbers dwindled as members of their party quit the fort to lead captives away. At about nine in the morning, reinforcements from the nearby towns of Hadley and Hatfield managed to push the attackers beyond the walls of Deerfield only to break off their pursuit when they clashed with a larger French and Indian force that already had left the village.

When the men returned to the smoldering town, they surveyed the magnitude of the disaster. Nearly 300people had gone to sleep in the village the night before, but only 133remained. Forty-four residents had been killed, including ten men, nine women, and twenty-five children. Five soldiers garrisoned at the fort lost their lives, as well as seven men from Hadley and Hatfield, for a total of fifty-six fatalities. Another 109people had been herded off as captives. (3)

The French and Indians had displayed enormous cruelty in deciding whom to kill and whom to capture. Children age two and under were slain at an exceptionally high rate and those between three and twelve at a somewhat lower one, while all of the older children survived. (4) It seems the French and Indians were making judgments about which villagers would be able endure a forced march through the wintertime wilderness to Canada and which might slow them down. They had designated the weakest and most vulnerable members of the Deerfield community for death–and they did not think twice about slaughtering infants. Leaving the little ones behind for others to rescue does not seem to have entered their thinking.

Many of the captives faced a similarly grim fate. In the first three days of the march, the French and Indians killed nine of their prisoners, including “a suckling child” and three elderly women. (5) One of the victims was Eunice Williams, the minister’s wife. During the trek, she fell into a river and injured herself, thus becoming a liability to the raiders. “The cruel and bloodthirsty savage who took her slew her with his hatchet at one stroke,” wrote her husband of the incident. Her body was abandoned, leaving the Reverend Williams to pray that somehow “she might meet with a Christian burial and not be left for meat to the fowls of the air and beasts of the earth.” (6) (His wish was granted: Searchers recovered her body a few days later and buried it in the Deerfield graveyard.)

In all, some twenty-one captives perished during the journey north. One of them was the pregnant Mary Brooks, murdered after she slipped on the ice and miscarried her child. Another was a four-year-old girl, whose Indian porter had struggled under the weight in the deep snow and decided his pack was more important than the child. By the middle of April, a full six weeks later, the survivors at last reached New France.

Over the next forty months, the governor of Massachusetts, William Dudley, pleaded with his counterpart in New France, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, to release the captives. Most were let go after more than a year in Canada, although twenty-nine of the youngest members never returned because the French had successfully convinced (or coerced) them to join their community and convert to Catholicism. John Williams was one of the last to be released. Vaudreuil considered him the most valuable captive, and would exchange him only for Jean Baptiste, a notorious French pirate confined to a Boston jail. At first Dudley refused to give up this dangerous criminal, but as the months dragged on, he finally relented. By the beginning of 1707, the widower Williams was back home in Deerfield, almost three years after he had been forced to leave at gunpoint.

But the French had not yet had their fill of bloodshed–and New England would not know peace for many decades. The year after Williams returned, violence again visited the recovering village when Indians allied with the French captured one resident and killed a Hatfield man. In April 1709, they seized another from Deerfield. Two months later, some 140French and Indians attacked the town once more. This time, however, sentries raised an alarm and succeeded in hustling most of the locals into the fort. Two people were killed and another pair captured, but Deerfield survived.

The Deerfield Massacre was merely an episode in what the colonists would collectively refer to as the French Wars–a series of brutal conflicts that eventually came to be known as the French and Indian Wars. There were four of them in all–King William’s War (1689to 1697), Queen Anne’s War (1702to 1713), King George’s War (1744to 1748), and the eponymous one known as the French and Indian War (1754 to 1760). Each was part of a larger imperial struggle between Britain and France, with American colonists bearing the brunt of the violence. Only the last of these conflicts proved decisive in toppling the New World empire France had been trying to build for more than two centuries. It also set in motion many of the resentments and jealousies that would animate French attitudes toward Americans in the years to come.

Like the British, the French were latecomers to the Western Hemisphere. Spain had already conquered the Aztecs in Mexico and was well on its way to subduing the Incas in Peru when King Francis I decided that his country needed to make its own claims in the New World. In the 1530s, he commissioned Jacques Cartier to search for gold in faraway lands. An intrepid navigator, Cartier explored the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Although he found no treasure, he did raise a thirty-foot-tall cross bearing the fleur-de-lis at Gaspé. This action served as the initial basis for French territorial claims in North America. Later Cartier ascended the St. Lawrence River to the site of modern-day Montreal. One day, he came upon an encampment the natives called Canada. An effort to start a colony failed, and Canada–as the entire region came to be known–would remain virtually untouched by Europeans until the first part of the seventeenth century.

In 1608, Samuel de Champlain founded the city of Quebec. A man of common birth, he was a remarkable leader who formed alliances with local Indian tribes, raided others, and began to establish the fur-trading networks that would come to dominate life in New France. With the exception of Catholic missionaries devoted to the conversion of natives, almost everyone participated in this industry. Population growth already was impaired by the severe winters, but fur trading made it even more difficult because it drew men away from the farms that formed the backbone of any seventeenth-century c...
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