Courtesy Reuters

What France Means to England

POLITICAL alliances are not, as Herr Hitler rightly remarked, concluded upon a basis of compatibility of temper; they are concluded for the purpose of assuring certain common ends. The history of Anglo-French relations during the last thirty-five years is a proof of that aphorism. Our national characters, and at moments our immediate national aims, have proved incompatible; it is because we have throughout been faced by a basic common danger that we have been obliged, in spite of many quarrels, to retain our connection.

The American people have a congenital sympathy for France. To the great mass of Americans, France signifies a fellow Republic inspired by a common faith in the rights of man. Gratitude to Lafayette is even today a constantly renewed inspiration and the American schoolboy learns to look upon France as a hereditary friend. Contacts between the two countries are sentimental rather than actual, and those richer Americans who visit France are charmed by the luxuries and elegances of her ancient civilization. True, the war and its aftermath have done much to diminish this sentimental legend; yet the feeling is there; it is vague but widespread; it might at any moment again become operative.

The British people do not share these sympathies. It is not only that our history books indicate that France has for centuries been hostile towards us, it is that the two national characters are diametrically opposed. The average Englishman (and most Englishmen are extremely true to type) is slow, unintellectual and puritan. He regards Frenchmen as vivacious, and therefore volatile; as nimble-witted, and therefore unreliable; as hedonistic, and therefore profligate. He mistrusts their politicians, whom he regards as treacherous and corrupt. He is irritated by their press polemics, which he attributes, and not without reason, to foreign subventions. And he dislikes their foreign policy, which jars on his isolationist feelings and makes him dread lest we be dragged into trouble "at the coat-tails of France."

These instinctive prejudices are not mitigated by personal contacts.

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