Macron, De Gaulle, America, and France
Headlines stressed French President Macron’s purportedly implied critique of Trump in his address to the United States Congress last week. But more significant is its continuity with the historical American-French friendship, however sometimes bumpy. Macron noted his speech was on the fifty-eighth anniversary of his predecessor President Charles de Gaulle’s 1960 address to the US Congress.
On April 26, 1960, the New York Times said of De Gaulle’s performance in the US Capitol:
Senators and Representatives gave the French President a mighty ovation in recognition not only for thoughts but of the precision, brevity and rare eloquence with which he expressed them. Speaking from memory, he glanced only twice at the text before him. He is noted for being adept in both speech and writing.
Reading old De Gaulle speeches is always a special pleasure, and his 1960 address to America included themes that Macron echoed.
Here’s De Gaulle:
Since the appearance of the United States on the world scene, we have fought side by side on three occasions and for three great causes. First, it was for your independence. Later on it was for the independence of others. Finally it was for the independence of France herself. Our common past is filled with efforts and sacrifices. It is great because at all times we have served together for freedom. It is dear to us, so much so that in spite of vicissitudes the friendship between Americans and Frenchmen, though two centuries old, is today more alive than ever.
It is an honor for France, for the French people, and for me, to be received in this sanctuary of democracy, where so much of the history of the United States has been written.
We are surrounded today with images, portraits and symbols, which remind us that France has participated—with heart in hand—in the story of this great nation. From the very beginning.
We have fought shoulder-to-shoulder many battles, starting with those that gave birth to the United States of America. Since then, we have shared a common vision for humanity. Our two nations are rooted in the same soil, grounded in the same ideals of the American and French Revolutions.
We have worked together for the universal ideals of liberty, tolerance, and equal rights.
The strength of our bonds is the source of our shared ideals.
This is what united us in the struggle against imperialism during the First World War. Then in the fight against Nazism during the Second World War. This is what united us again during the era of the Stalinist threat, and now we lean on that strength to fight against terrorist groups.
De Gaulle explained France’s historical affinity for American ideals:
But what has led France to your side and holds her there are her national spirit which is a thousand years old, her tradition which made her a champion of freedom, her ideal which has for name the Rights of Man and her conviction that in the end, order in the world calls for democracy on the national plane and the right of self-government on the international plane. And these are the very things which are also the vision, the inspiration and the spirit of the American people.
As did Macron:
We have encountered countless rendezvous with death, because we have this constant attachment to freedom and democracy. As emblazoned on the flags of the French revolutionaries, “Vivre libre ou mourir.” Live free or die.
Thankfully, freedom is also the source of all that is worth living for. Freedom is a call to think and to love. It is a call to our will. That is why, in times of peace, France and the United States were able to forge unbreakable bonds, from the grist of painful memories.
The most indestructible, the most powerful, the most definitive knot between us is the one that ties the true purpose of our peoples to advance, as Abraham Lincoln said, the “unfinished business” of democracy.
Indeed, our two societies have stood up to advance human rights for all. They have engaged in a continual dialogue to unpack this “unfinished business.”
De Gaulle cited France’s alliance with America in the Cold War:
But, if in material terms the balance between the two camps which divide the universe may seem equal, morally it is not. France made her choice. She has chosen to be on the side of the free peoples; she has chosen to be there with you. Certainly in this decision what counts for much is the memory of what our alliance has been, the help given us under the Marshall Plan after the last war to restore our economy, the threat that the Soviet bloc raises for us and for you and finally the colossal effort you are making so that, should the occasion arise, aggression brings death to the aggressor even if it must at the same time causes the death of the defender.
And Macron cited French alliance with America in more recent conflicts:
Since 1776 we, the American and French people, have had a rendezvous with freedom.
And with it come sacrifices.
That is why we are very honored by the presence today of Robert Jackson Ewald, a World War II veteran. Robert Jackson Ewald took part in the D-Day landing. He fought for our freedom, 74 years ago. Sir, on behalf of France: thank you. I bow to your courage and your devotion.
In recent years, our nations have suffered wrenching losses simply because of our values and our taste for freedom. Because these values are the very ones those terrorists precisely hate.
Tragically, on September 11, 2001, many Americans had an unexpected rendezvous with death. Over the last five years, my country and Europe also experienced terrible terrorist attacks.
And we shall never forget these innocent victims, nor the incredible resilience of our people in the aftermath. It is a horrific price to pay for freedom, for democracy.
That is why we stand together in Syria and in the Sahel today, to fight together against these terrorist groups who seek to destroy everything for which we stand.
De Gaulle implored Western cooperation on behalf of civilization:
Nonetheless while France has chosen to belong altogether to the gathering of the free peoples, she does not despair at all of seeing peace established in the world.
Since all things have to have a beginning, she believes that only a détente is now possible and necessary. But this détente, who else can achieve it, but the nations who have been the creators and who remain the bearers of modern civilization? This means all Europe and America, her daughter.
To be sure, the fate of the universe has at other times depended on peoples of other regions. It may happen that, in the future, such might become the case again. But, today, the destiny of our human race depends upon the states of the old and the new world.
Let them be agreed and no one will ignore them.
And Macron likewise extolled transatlantic collaboration:
This is an urgent reminder indeed. Because now, going beyond our bilateral ties, beyond our very special relationship, Europe and the United States must face together the global challenges of this century. And we cannot take for granted our transatlantic history and bonds. At the core, our Western values themselves are at risk.
We have to succeed facing these challenges, and we cannot succeed forgetting our principles and our history.
In fact, the twenty first century has brought a series of new threats and new challenges that our ancestors might not ever have imagined.
Our strongest beliefs are challenged by the rise of a yet unknown new world order. Our societies are concerned about the future of their children.
All of us gathered here in this noble Chamber, we—elected officials—all share the responsibility to demonstrate that democracy remains the best answer to the questions and doubts that arise today.
Even if the foundations of our progress are disrupted, we must stand firmly and fight to make our principles prevail.
But we bear another responsibility inherited from our collective history. Today, the international community needs to step up our game and build the twenty-first-century world order, based on the perennial principles we established together after World War II.
The rule of law, the fundamental values on which we secured peace for 70 years are now questioned by urgent issues that require our joint action.
De Gaulle warned of the nuclear arms race:
Failing the renunciation of atomic armaments by those states who are provided with them, the French Republic obviously will be obliged to equip itself with such armaments. In consequence, how many others will attempt to do the same?… Events will escape from the control of those who obey reason and that the worst catastrophes will be unleashed by fanatics, lunatics or men of ambition.
And Macron warned of nuclear proliferation:
The terrorist threat is even more dangerous when it is combined with the nuclear proliferation threat. We must therefore be stricter than ever with countries seeking to acquire the nuclear bomb.
That is why France supports fully the United States in its efforts to bring Pyongyang, through sanctions and negotiations, towards denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
As for Iran, our objective is clear: Iran shall never possess any nuclear weapons. Not now, not in five years, not in 10 years. Never.
Macron also warned against growing authoritarianism globally:
I believe in democracy.
Many of our forebears were slain for the cause of freedom and human rights. With the great inheritance they gave us comes the responsibility to continue their mission in this new century and to preserve the perennial values handed to us and assure that today’s unprecedented innovations in science and technology remain in the service of liberty and in the preservation of our planet for the next generations.
De Gaulle concluded with unequivocal friendship for America:
Americans, let me say to you: In the big contest which lies ahead, nothing counts more for France than the wisdom, the resolution, the friendship of the great people of the United States. This is what I came here to tell you.
(Just over two weeks later, when Khrushchev stormed out of the Geneva summit in protest over American U2 surveillance flights over the Soviet Union, De Gaulle assured Eisenhower: “No matter what happens, France as your ally will stand with you all the way.”)
Macron ended his speech to Congress on a similar note:
The United States and the American people are an essential part of our confidence in the future, in democracy, in what women and men can accomplish in this world when we are driven by high ideals and an unbreakable trust in humanity and progress.
Today the call we hear is the call of history. This is a time of determination and courage. What we cherish is at stake. What we love is in danger. We have no choice but to prevail.
And together, we shall prevail.
Vive les Etats-Unis d’Amérique!
Long live the friendship between France and the United States of America!
Vive la République! Vive la France! Vive notre amitié.
As De Gaulle’s and Macron’s speeches reflect, America and France have been appointed to special collaborative destinies, unique and providential in human history, across the centuries. May this collaboration be nourished for the benefit of both and the betterment of a decent global civilization.