Following address was given at the 4 May 2003 commemorative ceremonies at Valley Forge, by Major General Daniel Bastien, Defense Attaché from the Embassy of France.
First of all, allow me to say how pleased and honored I am to be with you today, on this French Alliance Day, to commemorate the French-American friendship.
There are several reasons to that :
Today's celebration will give me the opportunity to remind how deep the friendship between our 2 countries, which dates back from that time, really is. Let me add that it should continue to be so, whatever artificial frictions there might currently be at the political level, because we all know that 2 countries that have such strong bonds and such a long and common history cannot be other than friends.
- The first one being that, after having spent a total of 7 and a half years of my life in the USA on 4 different occasions, I love your country and its people, and have always been interested in its history, and especially in the various events leading to its beginning,
- The second reason is that, as a military officer, I admire General George Washington, the President of the oldest democracy on earth, a great man with a very clear vision, who has impelled the admiration of the whole world.
- Thirdly, it is truly an honor for me to speak here, at Valley Forge, the place where the first real, confident and professional American army was born.
This year, we are celebrating the 225th anniversary of the Alliance Treaty between the United States and France, your oldest ally.
I wish to point out that this Treaty was the first one of its kind to recognize the United States as an independent nation. It was the first treaty ever signed by the newly established United States and another country.
The treaty of the Alliance was significant because it stated that each of our two countries was to provide mutual defensive assistance, and that neither France nor the United States would make peace with the enemy of that time, until the independence of the United States was recognized.
I am not going to elaborate more about this treaty, because, as Philadelphians and as experts of the American Revolution, there is probably not much I could tell you that you don't already know.
But, at a time when some people seem to relish presenting the French American friendship as being in danger, I would like to take a few minutes, to remind everyone - even if we sometimes hear or read the contrary - that our alliance continues to be strong.
By reading the press recently, especially in Washington DC, one could have the feeling that, as the war in Iraq is over, and an awful dictator and oppressor is gone, another war has started between France and the United States. This is most regrettable and deeply disturbing, since it is a false representation of reality, and we all know that when important issues are at stake, France and the United States of America are always together, have always been together, and will always be together.
In the past and as we speak, our soldier always have been fighting side by side for common values. It has always been the case and I am convinced that it will continue to be the case.
I would like to remind everyone that the USA and France have never been at war against each other.
Our countries have fought side by side from the very beginning, in Norfolk and elsewhere, to help your ancestors win the Revolutionary War, to help them set up a free and independent nation you can be proud of.
I also wish to remind everyone that the Statue of Liberty, standing in New York Harbor, was given by the people of France to the people of the United States, in October 1886, in recognition of the friendship established between our 2 countries during the American Revolution. As we all know, this statue, now a world heritage site, has grown as the most universal symbol of political freedom and democracy, two values that we have been sharing from the very beginning and will continue to share.
A few decades after this famous statue was given to your country, both our countries fought again side by side during WWI. During that terrible war, France, a country the size of Texas, with a population of less than 38 million people at the time, paid a very high price with the death of more than 1.4 million young men and women.
During that War, just like Lafayette's soldiers did for the newly established United State, thousands of young American soldiers, under the command of general Pershing, gave their lives to enable my country to recover its liberty. This is something the French people will never forget.
What about WWII ?
As the son of a Frenchman who joined the resistance movement against the Nazis at the age of 17, and as a person born and raised in a small city that was liberated by American GIs in November 1944, I can assure you that France will never forget what thousands and thousands of brave American soldiers, who landed on European beaches, did for my country and all the countries of the European continent.
A few years after the end of WWII, we were together again in Korea to contain the communist threat.
In 1991, we fought side by side again during the Gulf War, when, as a member of the coalition, France helped Kuwait recover its freedom from Iraq ; at that time, again, we fought side by side for liberty.
We then fought together again in Kosovo to help an oppressed population get rid of its dictator. For this Operation, France and the United States were the two major contributors in terms of deployed aircraft, as well as for the number of sorties flown during the air offensive.
As we speak, in the Balkans, France and the United States of America, again, are 2 of the main troops contributors to maintain peace in this fragile region. I would like to add that as of today, 89 young French soldiers gave their lives for this important mission
Since September 11, France has been and still is, with some other allies, one of the most active troops contributors in the global war against terrorism ; France was the only country, alongside the US, to provide an aircraft carrier and precision-strike fighter aircraft to give air support to the coalition ground troops.
As we speak, French and American soldiers are working together in Kabul, to maintain peace and stability ; as we speak, France and the United States of America are among the very few countries which accepted to train the Afghan army for a better future in this part of the world. I wonder why these facts do not get mentioned in the press on this side of the Atlantic? How come?
A few months ago, in Ivory Coast, French soldiers helped evacuate American children from a potentially dangerous situation. President Bush, the US Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, at that time, officially thanked the Republic of France for this assistance in rescuing American citizens. I have no doubt that, in a similar situation, U.S. soldiers would have acted the same way with us.
More recently, we evacuated American citizens from the Central African Republic under similar circumstances.
I felt it was useful, in the present situation, to recall these numerous examples of the enduring, deep and strong friendship between our 2 countries in my field of expertise.
As it is time for me now to conclude, I will just remind everyone that the relationship between the United States and France, is a longstanding and strong one, and I am personally confident that, after the current turbulences have abated, it will continue to be so in the future.
On this commemorative day, I dare recommend that all of us should never forget the importance and the strength of the friendship between our 2 countries, even if we might sometimes have differences of appreciation on some issues, as true friends do.
My last words will be to say that, if you, Philadelphians and experts of the French-American Alliance have not forgotten what my French ancestors did for your country, you can be assured that France has not forgotten, and will never forget what American soldiers did for France at 2 very difficult times of its long history.
God bless America.
Vive la France, and long live the French-American friendship.