For everyone of French heritage, who simply appreciate France, or who appreciates the success of their democracy – “Happy Bastille Day.”
The topic of France is a fascinating one in and of itself growing up in Louisiana. On the one hand, New Orleans, perhaps more than any other American city, resounds with French heritage. Everything from our history, to our music, to our law, to most especially our cuisine is influenced by the French. When my wife and I went to Paris on our honeymoon, it felt like home. On the other side of the coin, Louisiana is perhaps one of the most conservative states in the country. We shine bright red on the red-blue divide in our country. And I have heard the French disparaged since I was a youth because they weren’t an instant ally as nations like the UK or Canada. I can still remember the outrage when, in the 1980s, the French refused their airspace for our offensive operations against Libya. And even as late as 2003, when stationed in Shreveport, there was restaurant there that served “Freedom Fries” instead of “French Fries” because they refused to call anything French. The utter irony of it all is that a number of those who were and are the most disparaging of the French in Louisiana have French names.
Our memory is short sometimes. We forget how important it was for our revolution to succeed to have the French as allies. We forget that the French sold us a tremendous amount of our land at a pittance of a cost in the formation of the country as we know it. We forget that despite their relative independence, that the French have worked with us, rather than against us, on most of our major foreign policy efforts in the past hundred and fifty years. Most of all, we forget that sometimes great friends are not those who automatically agree with us on everything.
I think the thing that we should take home with us though when considering French history is that when the French cast off their old system of an entrenched monarchy that ruled autocratically, that their modern democracy was not the immediate result. Soon after the monarchy was overthrown, chaos reigned in the streets. This was followed by the rule of Napoleon that was a bit less than democratic. It took years from Bastille Day to the day when democracy really flourished in France. A side note should be a word of caution to the church. One of the reasons the French are so secular today is because the church during the monarchy had gotten so enmeshed in the power structure, that it too (to a large degree) got cast off when the people rebelled against the monarchy.
Today, there are those who seem willing to tear down everything from the political, economic, to the social institutions that currently exist. Even in the church, there isn’t a week that goes by that someone doesn’t announce the death of my denomination (though we are still very much alive). The status quo is not acceptable to them and people seem ready to usher in change. And while change will undoubtedly happen (it always does), let us beware of those who speak and act rashly. If we think we are beyond the “Committee for Public Safety” (check that part of French history out if you are unfamiliar with it), we are wrong.
My heritage is a mix. My ancestors came from both the British Isles and from France. But while I kept the second part quieter when I was younger, I now embrace it. As a matter of fact, one of the great joys of the year is to learn my son wants to learn French with me. I’ll let you know if we succeed!
Let us celebrate with our French allies on this day for many reasons. And let us consider how history might influence our future (for the better if we are wise).
Until next time,