Anti-French sentiment in the United States

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Anti-French sentiment in the United States is the manifestation of Francophobia by Americans. It signifies a consistent hostility toward the government, culture, and people of France that employs stereotypes. It has a strong relation with inner-American political conflicts, as French attitudes and status symbols were closely connected with parts of American elites and leaders. In some cases anti-French sentiment may be driven by xenophobia, a general aversion toward foreigners.

As with any other xenophobia, Francophobia in the can be distinguished from rational criticism of France.[1] However, the different concepts and use of 'rationality' per se are already of interest.[2]

18th century[edit]

The United States was built on the support of France in the American Revolutionary War. Despite the positive view of Jeffersonian Americans during the French Revolution, it awakened or created anti-French feelings among many Federalists. An ideological split was already emerging between Francophobe and Francophile sentiment, with John Adams, Alexander Hamilton and their fellow Federalists taking a skeptical view of France, even as Thomas Jefferson and other Democratic-Republicans urged closer ties. As for the Revolution, many or most Federalists denounced it as far too radical and violent. Those on the Democratic-Republican side remained broadly supportive. Pierre Bourdieu and Stanley Hoffmann[3] have suggested that one of the roots of anti-French sentiments in the United States and anti-American sentiments in France is the claim of both countries that their social and political systems are "models" that universally apply. France's secularism was often something of an issue for the Americans. There are some similarities there to the Federalists' reaction to perceived French anti-clericalism.

In the 1790s, the French, under a new post-revolutionary government, accused the United States of collaborating with the British and proceeded to impound Britain-bound US merchant ships. Attempts at diplomacy led to the 1797 XYZ Affair and the Quasi-War fought entirely at sea between the United States and France from 1798 to 1801.

19th and early 20th centuries[edit]

Relations somewhat improved after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. American cultured classes embraced French styles and luxuries after the Civil War: Americans trained as architects in the École des Beaux-Arts, French haute cuisine reigned at elite American tables, and upper-class women in the US followed Parisian clothing fashions. Following World War I, a generation of rich American expatriates and bohemians settled in Paris. That, however, did not help with the populist image of a liberal elite of American francophiles.

In the Southern United States, some Americans were anti-French for racist reasons. For example, John Trotwood Moore, a Southern novelist and local historian who served as the State Librarian and Archivist of Tennessee from 1919 to 1929, lambasted the French for "intermarrying with the Indians and treating them as equals" during the French colonization of the Americas.[4]

Allegation of missing French-American lobby[edit]

French historian Justin Vaïsse has proposed that an important cause of public hostility in the US is the small number of Americans of direct or recent French descent.[5][6] Most Americans of French descent are descended from 17th and 18th century colonists who settled in Quebec, Acadia, or Louisiana before migrating to the United States or being incorporated into American territories. French Americans of colonial era Huguenot descent, French Protestant emigrants, have often ceased identification with France.

World War II[edit]

The rout of British and French forces at the Battle of Dunkirk in May/June 1940 against Nazi German forces came as a profound shock to Francophilic Americans.

As in Operation Torch, neither French resistance forces nor the opposing French Vichy authorities were easy to handle. The Allies succeeded in slipping French General Henri Giraud out of Vichy France and offered him the command of Free French forces in North Africa. Giraud, however, insisted on being nominated commander-in-chief of all the invading forces, which was reserved for General Dwight Eisenhower, and Giraud remained a mere spectator. General George Patton saying he "would rather have a German division in front... than a French one behind" him is often cited, but confirmation is problematic, as the quote appeared much later. Also, Patton was a Francophile and even spoke French.

The 112 Gripes about the French was a 1945 handbook, which has been often reprinted.[7] It was issued by the United States military authorities to defuse growing tension between the US military and the locals. The euphoria of victory over Germany was short-lived, and within months of Liberation, tensions began to rise between the French and the US military personnel stationed in the country.

Late 20th century[edit]

France's troubled history in Indochina and the Algerian War made the US be rather critical of France's ongoing colonial aspirations. As well, de Gaulle's support for Quebec independence, as exemplified by his Vive le Québec libre speech in 1967, was not very welcome in the US.[citation needed]

Relations worsened even more when de Gaulle affirmed France as an independent power, in part by removing France from the joint military structure of NATO and vetoing Britain's entry into the EEC.

When de Gaulle requested in 1966 that all American soldiers leave French soil, US President Lyndon Johnson is reported to have asked him whether that included the 60,000 buried in it.[8]

Israel, Iraq and the Middle East[edit]

Eurafrique refers to the (important) idea of strategic partnership between Africa and Europe, and the conspiracy theory Eurabia refers to a French/Arab cabal to Islamize Europe. However, the Suez Crisis of 1956 marked a watershed for Israeli-French relations.[9][10] Israel, France, and the United Kingdom allied for control of the Suez Canal but then were forced to withdraw by the United States and the Soviet Union.[9][11] While France had previously been the main supporter of Israel, the United States took over its current role as ally of Israel with the Six-Day War in 1967.[12] The change of sides also impaired French-US relations, as France was inceasingly seen as an outdated and aggressive neocolonial power.

Osirak was a light water reactor program in Iraq, derived primarily from French technology. In 1981, it was destroyed in an attack by the Israeli Air Force. The participation of the French government in the program worsened US French relations for years to come.

France allied with the United States during the First Iraq War and was a major member during the War in Afghanistan.

21st century[edit]

However, anti-French sentiment returned to the fore in the wake of France's refusal to support US proposals in the UN Security Council for military action to invade Iraq. While other nations also opposed the US proposals (notably Russia; China; and traditional US allies, such as Germany, Canada, and Belgium), France received particularly ferocious criticism.[13]

In 1990s popular culture, the derogatory phrase "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" began as a joke on The Simpsons in 1995, used by Groundskeeper Willie's character in a satirical manner. National Review contributor Jonah Goldberg claimed credit for making the term known, with its implicit characterization of the French as cowards.[14] In early 2003, George Will from The Washington Post described retreat as "an exercise for which France has often refined its savoir-faire since 1870."[15] Anti-French displays also came in the form of bumper stickers, and t-shirts calling for the United States to invade: "Iraq first, France next!"[16] and "First Iraq, then Chirac!"[citation needed]

Freedom fries is a political euphemism for french fries. The term came to prominence in 2003 when the then Republican Chairman of the Committee on House Administration, Bob Ney, renamed the menu item in three Congressional cafeterias in response to France's opposition to the proposed invasion of Iraq.


  1. ^ Justin Vaïsse, "Etats-Unis : le regain francophobe", Politique Internationale, Autumn 2002 [1].
  2. ^ See Drape, Air & Space Power Journal feature 2012, which used the pun by Charles Krauthammer that nuclear weapons per se pose no existential threat, as it depends on the possessor, as by Great Britain or Russia, or France. Krauthammer declared, to great laughter, OK, 'we’re not so sure about the French'.
  3. ^ Pierre Bourdieu, « Deux impérialismes de l'universel », in Christine Fauré and Tom Bishop, L'Amérique des Français, Paris, F. Bourin, 1992 ; Stanley Hoffmann, « Deux universalismes en conflit », The Tocqueville Review, Vol.21 (1), 2000.
  4. ^ Bailey, Fred Arthur (Spring 1999). "JOHN TROTWOOD MOORE AND THE PATRICIAN CULT OF THE NEW SOUTH". Tennessee Historical Quarterly. 58 (1): 22. JSTOR 42627447. (Registration required (help)). 
  5. ^ Politique Internationale – La Revue
  6. ^ Pierre Verdaguer, "A Turn-of-the-Century Honeymoon? The Washington Post's Coverage of France", French Politics, Culture & Society, vol. 21, no. 2, summer 2003.
  7. ^ 112 Gripes about the French Revisited Col Jim Drape, USAF 2012
  8. ^ "France's rendezvous with history". BBC News. March 14, 2009. 
  9. ^ a b David Newman (2010-03-28). "Repairing Israel-UK Relations". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2012-01-12. 
  10. ^ Ian Black (2010-02-18). "Dubai killing deals another blow to faltering UK-Israel relations". Guardian. London. Retrieved 2012-01-12. 
  11. ^ "Israel threatens British boycott". The Times. London. 
  12. ^ When Israel and France Broke Up, NYT GARY J. BASS, March 31, 2010
  13. ^ See Condoleezza Rice: "Punish France, ignore Germany, and forgive Russia."
  14. ^ "Inscrutable Racism", National Review, April 6, 2001
  15. ^ "Wimps, weasels and monkeys — the US media view of 'perfidious France'", Guardian Unlimited, February 11, 2003
  16. ^ First Iraq, then France T-Shirts Archived April 28, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.

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