Warren Rosenblum: Vive la France!

Roundup: Talking About History

Warren Rosenblum is associate professor of history at Webster University. In 2010-2011, he was a visiting scholar at Harvard University's Center for European Studies.

We had the classic American Fourth of July this year. Grilled ribs, potato salad, and then, after dinner, we trashed the French. The ostensible topic was Dominique Strauss-Kahn — the French political leader and recently accused rapist whom many Americans apparently see as the reincarnation of Pepe Le Pew (with a dose of the Tasmanian Devil thrown in) — but the post-dinner anti-French sentiment wafted into other areas as well.

I felt bad, though I kept my mouth shut. The food was superb, the company was wonderful, and no one wants to hear a historian start waxing pedantically about everything Lafayette did to help America win its freedom. A good way to make sure we do not get invited back next year.

But 12 days later, everything is different I hope. Now, it is the birthday of France's revolution, symbolized by the storming of the Bastille prison on July 14, 1789. Unfortunately, on this topic too, Americans frequently are disdainful. Our national holiday celebrates the signing of a poetic and beautiful Declaration of Independence. The French celebrate the actions of a mob marching around Paris with heads on spikes. Our revolution led to the creation of a constitution that has lasted more than 220 years. The French Revolution quickly devolved into dictatorship and terror and the eventual rise of the emperor Napoleon.

comments powered by Disqus