French historians and literary scholars are all too aware of the anti-French attitudes in American society. Anti-French references have long been rife in American popular culture, but took on new virulence in the wake of Franco-German opposition to the Bush administration’s plan to invade Iraq in 2003. References to “Old Europe”, “freedom fries”, and “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” became mainstays of American humor during the Iraq War, as American politicians and journalists fueled Anti-French sentiments. Opponents of John Kerry attacked his supposed Frenchness during the 2004 United States Presidential Election, perhaps contributing to his defeat.
Anti-French attacks are back again in the current Republican Primaries. A new political ad entitled “The French Connection” produced by Newt Gingrich’s campaign compares Mitt Romney to John Kerry on the basis of their alleged Frenchness. According to the BBC, “Correspondents say the highlighting of Mr Romney’s alleged French-language skills is an attempt to portray him as an elitist, European-style liberal wimp.”
The BBC reports on the Gingrich ad and anti-French attitudes. The BBC story also has a link to the Gingrich ad, which condemns Romney’s Frenchness by asserting: “He speaks French, too.”
There are, of course, deep historical roots for anti-French attitudes in American popular and political culture. Despite their common experiences of Revolution, their shared histories of the “Sister Republics”, and their strong alliance through two World Wars, France and the United States have repeatedly clashed over political and cultural issues. Legacies of Anglo-French rivalry, French defeat in the Seven Years’ War, French intervention in the American War of Independence, the postwar status of Loyalists, and the creation of a bilingual Canada produced anti-French sentiment that was revived in the Quasi-War and the broader Napoleonic Wars. The Indochina War, French withdrawal from NATO, and the Vietnam War all created serious tensions between France and the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. Competing cultural trends and models of democracy have led Americans and French people to be wary of their perceived rivals. Richard Pell, Richard Kuisel, Jean-Philippe Mathy, and other historians have investigated the long history of the complex Franco-American relationship.