Throughout their years in the sun, the French have bequeathed much to the world. Charlemagne is the father of pretty much all Europeans, and grandson of Charles Martel, King of the Franks, who defeated the first Muslim incursion into Western Europe at the Battle of Tours, where after a battle of two to seven days (depending on whose version you believe), Frankish infantry managed to an Arab army at least 60,000 strong (and as numerous as 400,000), accompanied by heavy cavalry. France was also the training ground for William and his Normans, who would eventually conquer Britain, then turn back and come within a 19-year-old peasant girl of reconquering France. Under Louis XIV of the House of Bourbon, also known as the Sun King, France was so far ahead of the rest of Europe that it was able to afford to be on the losing side of several wars and still be the dominant power. It was, indeed, during this period that the term lingua franca, meaning the French language, meaning the standard international language, was coined.
Americans in particular will remember the French for their contribution during the War of Independence. In hindsight, support for the British Colonies was nothing more than a cynical move on the part of France, a swipe at Great Britain. Still, the enthusiasm of a young Marquis de Lafayette so moved the Yankees that, a century and a half later, General John Pershing reportedly paid tribute at his tomb with the words, "Lafayette, we are here".
Brits, for their part, will never forget Napoleon Bonaparte, even though they were enemies. It was at the Battle of Trafalgar against the French fleet that Admiral Horatio Nelson, who gave the ultimate sacrifice during the battle, gave his name to history. Napoleon's dominance was finally ended at the Battle of Waterloo, where the Duke of Wellington earned his fame, which he would lend to a beef dish.
Since the end of the Age of Enlightenment, however, France's lead in the world has fallen farther and farther behind, leaving France a still powerful, but relatively second-rate nation. As outlined by Alexandre Kojève, French policy has been decidedly anti-American. Now, Andrew Sullivan introduces us to Erik, who runs Le Monde Watch, who has a roundup of letters to the editor of Le Monde. There's too much vitriol and bile for me to reprint here, but you would be doing yourself a service to visit, and see just what the hyper-Gaullist publication's readers have to say.
Come to think of it, "le monde" translates as "the world", and these days, the most ardently internationalist movements are, as they were 100 years ago, the Communists. Maybe that explains it, then.
[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]