French President Emmanuel Macron said, on November 8, 2018, that France and Germany should create a European army to “protect themselves against Russia, China, and even the United States”. Pictured: Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a press conference on November 18, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Michele Tantussi/Getty Images)
June 6, 2019. Normandy, France. The remains of 9,387 American military dead are buried at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial; 9238 Latin crosses for Christians and 149 Stars of David for Jews are aligned on the bluff overlooking Omaha Beach, one of five sectors on the Normandy coast where 132,000 soldiers of the Western allies landed on June 6, 1944. US President Donald J. Trump delivers a speech praising heroism, duty, honor and freedom, and pays tribute to the young Americans who gave their lives; he also speaks of the other soldiers who fought in the Normandy landings: Canadians, British, French. He behaves as a great statesman.
Just before he spoke, French President Emmanuel Macron also paid tribute to those brave soldiers. He added some remarks — that immediately were seen as a way to lecture the American President:
“America is never as great as when it fights for the freedom of others. It is never as great as when it is faithful to the universal values defended by its founding fathers when two and a half centuries ago, France came to support its independence”.
Macron had earlier indicated that he intended to emphasize “French values” and “the art of being French”. Jean-Pierre Raffarin, a former French Prime Minister and today one of Emmanuel Macron’s political advisors, said the that French President thought the United States had “abandoned core ethical principles” and that “America today would not fight for the freedom of Europe. “
The day before that, Macron organized a ceremony to pay homage to the French resistance. “Without the resistance and all the French fighters,” he said, “France would not have regained freedom”. At another ceremony to pay tribute to the 177 Free French soldiers who landed at Normandy on D-Day, he said that the French were “everywhere to liberate their own country, on land, at sea, in the air”.
President Macron’s will to pay tribute to the French resistance and the French who landed on D-Day is understandable. Many French citizens fought bravely. His attempt, however, to describe the French playing a vital role in the liberation of their country, as if the French had liberated France, is harder to accept. It merely diminishes the role of all those who were not French who fought and died to liberate the country.
His words and attitude appear to have their roots in those of General Charles de Gaulle at the end of World War II. The general was filmed in Normandy, a few days after June 6, 1944, just a few miles from the beaches where thousands of young Americans had been killed and not yet even been buried. “France,” he said, “begins to free itself and will soon be free, thanks to the French”. During the rest of his political career, de Gaulle stressed that France had been liberated by the French. When he talked about the Vichy regime, he said it was composed of “a handful of traitors who had ceased to be French”.
De Gaulle refused to speak of the many French who had collaborated with the authorities of the German occupation. He refused to commemorate D-Day. He even went on to claim that the Normandy landings had “not been the beginning of the liberation of France,” but “the starting point of an American attempt to colonize France”. He then added that “the American occupation of France” had ended during his presidency, when he had decided to “leave NATO and ask the United States to close the American military bases on French territory”. He never spoke of the crucial role of the Marshall Plan in rebuilding France, or that NATO was created to protect Western Europe from the Soviet Union.
What de Gaulle said had a profound effect. Until the early 1970s, twenty-five years after the war, no book or film in France dealt with “collaboration”. The history textbooks used in French schools omitted the close ties between many French people and German occupation authorities just a few years earlier. Instead, students learned that France had been occupied, and that the Resistance had liberated the country with the help of “Allies”. The role of the Americans was barely mentioned. The vast support of the French population for Marshal Philippe Pétain, the anti-Semitism of the wartime Vichy regime and the active contribution of the French police and gendarmes in deporting Jews to concentration camps were never mentioned. Books such as Harvest of Hate by Leon Leo Poliakov (1951) noted the crimes of the Third Reich, but not the crimes of the French police and gendarmes. Only a few copies were sold.
Robert Paxton’s book, however, Vichy France, translated into French in 1973, created a scandal. Paxton used countless documents that no one had seen before to describe the extent of “collaboration” in France and the zealous contribution of the Vichy regime to deporting Jews. Many French commentators wrote that the book was not only full of lies but an insult to the honor of France.
Until 1984, no French President even took part in D-Day ceremonies — and the events were discreet, to say the least.
The commemorations of the 1942 “Vel d’Hiv roundup” (a Nazi-directed raid and mass arrest of Jews in Paris by the French police) became official only in 1992. Before that, only Jewish organizations had participated; newspapers never wrote about it. In 1995, President Jacques Chirac recognized that France was guilty of the Vel d’Hiv roundup and of deporting of tens of thousands of Jews to concentration camps; many French politicians to this day nonetheless persist in saying that he was wrong and that France is not guilty.
Since 1945, no French political leader has ever breathed a word of gratitude to the United States for its contribution to the liberation of France without adding remarks emphasizing the moral values of France and the essential role of the French Resistance. Whenever possible, they have also done their best to show that they could prevail against the United States if they so wished.
The speech delivered by French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin at the United Nations on February 14, 2003 — criticizing the decision of US President George W. Bush’s administration to invade Iraq — stated that “France is standing up, faithful to its values”. The speech earned Villepin unanimous praise in France. Villepin did not, however, mention that France had just concluded secret oil contracts with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and did not want to lose money. When President Nicolas Sarkozy defined his own foreign policy in a speech on August 27, 2007, he stressed that France was allied with the United States, but “not aligned”. President François Hollande repeated the same formulation — “We are allied, not aligned” — in 2012.
Macron went one step further. On November 8, 2018, he said that France and Germany should create a European army to “protect themselves against Russia, China, and even the United States”. Three days later, at a November 11 ceremony, while looking at President Trump, who had not long before that praised “American nationalism”, Macron suggested that “patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is its betrayal.”
Previously, on April 25, 2018, Macron had delivered an address in front of the US Congress on the Iranian nuclear program in which he enjoined the United States to “respect their signature”. “France will not leave the Iranian nuclear deal,” he said, “because we signed it [and] we respect our commitments. “
As France apparently feels no guilt about its role in the genocide of Europe’s Jews, French leaders have long been indifferent to anti-Semitism. They began to talk about it only in the 1980s — in order to demonize the “far right”. That is what they continue to do.
French foreign policy became anti-Israeli in the 1960s, when, at the end of Algerian war, French politicians thought that it would be more lucrative to establish closer links with the Arab world. France is still anti-Israeli. On November 27, 1967, General de Gaulle delivered remarks mixing anti-Semitism with verbal attacks against Israel. He described the Jews as “domineering and sure of themselves”, spoke of their supposed “ardent and conquering ambition” and described Israel as a “war-like state bent on expansion”. In June 1967, three days before the Six-Day War, when threats from the Arab world against Israel were impossible disregard and war seemed imminent, de Gaulle decided to institute an embargo on delivering arms to Israel.
During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, French Foreign Minister Michel Jobert refused to condemn Egypt’s and Syria’s aggression against Israel: “Attempting to set foot at home,” he misstated, “does not necessarily constitute aggression”.
France also supported the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) at a time when it was unreservedly a terrorist movement, openly dedicated to destroying Israel and murdering Jews. France voted in favor of a United Nations resolution supporting the PLO, and as early as January 27, 1976, called for the “creation of a Palestinian state”. President Jacques Chirac unabashedly supported the PLO and, as he put it, the “need to create a Palestinian state”. In November 2004, he provided a warm welcome in France to the Palestinian arch-terrorist, Chairman Yasser Arafat just before the latter’s death, and offered him a funeral cortege worthy of a great democratic parliamentarian.
On September 21, 2011 President Nicolas Sarkozy also told the UN that France wanted the creation of a Palestinian state as soon as possible “in the lines of 1967”, and said that “Palestine” had to have an “observer state” seat at the United Nations “similar to the one the Vatican has”. Six weeks later, on October 31, France voted in favor of the entry of the “State of Palestine” into UNESCO.
Macron continues the same policy as his predecessors. He never misses an opportunity to invite the current Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to the Elysée Palace and he never forgets to kiss him. Macron also asks for the creation of “a Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital”. He condemns all the decisions in favor of Israel made by the Trump administration, and describes the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as a “grave mistake”. On May 15, 2018, when Hamas sent terrorists hidden among civilians to storm Israel’s border fence with Gaza, and Israeli soldiers had to shoot armed people to prevent their border being breached, Macron condemned “the violence of the Israeli armed forces against the protesters”. Only several months later, when rockets were launched into Israel from Gaza, did he condemn Hamas’s terrorist activity.
On May 8, 2018, President Trump — explaining that Iran was now “the leading sponsor of terrorism”, and that it “support[ed] terrorist proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas” and was still trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability — decided to withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear deal. He announced there would be American sanctions to encourage Iran to change its behavior and come to the table for new talks. From that point on, France and Germany have done all they can to circumvent American sanctions and to continue working with Iran. On June 17, 2019 — when Iran’s regime was threatening to use precision missiles to hit “all enemies – at least the ones in the region or the ones who have forces in the region” — and two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman were struck, Macron advised Iran to be “patient and responsible”.
Since 1945, the French attitude towards the United States has been marked by arrogance and ingratitude. In 2005, the American journalist Richard Chesnoff quoted a French professor, Dominique Moïsi:
“When France was a great power, America was a nascent power, when America became a superpower, France became a middle-size power, and now that America is the hyper-power, France is not anywhere near being in the same league.”
Chesnoff added that this had led to a mix of unavowed envy and hidden resentment.
At the time of the French Revolution, France claimed to have a universal message; France saw only later that the United States had become “the country embodying the values of freedom and human dignity on earth”, wrote Jean-François Revel in 2002 in Anti-Americanism. He added that a French politician had told him, “America stole universality from us”. He also stressed that the French claim of having a universal message was often “contradicted by the appalling reality of France’s behavior”.
France’s behavior towards the United States, Israel, and the Iranian regime today might well illustrate his observation.
Macron’s remarks in Normandy on June 6 seemed unnecessarily arrogant — an attitude especially insufferable as, at the moment he spoke, France was still trying to circumvent American sanctions on Iran’s malign regime. He is also in no position to make such pointed remarks. For six months, protests by the “yellow vests” have been hitting the French economy hard. They have revealed the extent of the discontent among those French who are disadvantaged. Macron reacted with contempt and brutality: he called protesters a “hateful crowd” and asked the police to restore order “ruthlessly” (twenty four people have lost an eye, five others lost a hand). Macron may have received the support of the elites, but the despair of the protestors did not disappear.
Illegal immigration has transformed many areas of the country into shanty towns. Hundreds of no-go zones in the suburbs have been described by the Algerian writer Boualem Sansal and the journalist Éric Zemmour as small Islamic republics in the making. Jews in France must now conceal their religious identity in public wherever they are.
On November 13, 2018, President Trump, reacting to Macron’s November remarks, said in a tweet thread, “there is no country more nationalist than France” and, “it was Germany” that invaded France. “[I]n World Wars One & Two… The French were starting to learn German when we came around.”
On June 6, Trump used more diplomatic language. He said that his relationship with France and Macron was “exceptional”. But he now knows Macron. Trump doubtless remembers that during Macron’s visit to Washington 14 months ago, Macron had seemed friendly toward him, but then, in Congress, spent his whole speech running down the essential decisions of the Trump administration.
On April 24, 2018, Macron, to show his friendship, offered an oak tree to Trump; they planted it together on the White House lawn. The oak, which had been was quarantined by US agricultural authorities, was reported to have died four days after the 2019 D-Day ceremonies. Macron promised to send Trump another oak; it has not yet arrived. Oaks may live eight hundred years. Macron’s friendly words seem to have a shorter life expectancy.
Dr. Guy Millière, a professor at the University of Paris, is the author of 27 books on France and Europe.