Freedom Fries


Statue of George Washington and General LaFayette on the USA square in Paris
Tonight I had a very nice evening at an old farm in the rural countryside of Georgia, where we were celebrating the birthday of a dear friend.   A friend who, incidentally, came to visit me in Paris when she and her daughter were already traveling in England.  Tonight I got the chance to reconnect with some of our mutual friends and to meet some of her friends whom I had never met.  One of my favorite things about France, and particularly Paris, is that average citizens are quite intellectual and take great pride in being well informed and up-to-date on world and national affairs.  Tonight I was with a group of thoughtful, diverse and well-read Georgians, albiet in the middle of the bucolic, Georgia boondocks.  What does that have to do with Paris, you ask?  Well let me just tell you...
     First, I need to thank my friend for inviting me to be a part of her small, inner-circle as we marked the milestone of her 50th birthday.  Next, and finally to the point, she and a few of her friends at the party are teachers at a wonderful local highschool.  One of those teachers happened to be a French teacher, so we had plenty of positive feelings to share about France.  While chatting, I told her that waiters in Parisian restaurants will sometimes tease Americans by calling their order of french fries "freedom fries" in a light-hearted jab at what many Americans angrily renamed french fries when France chose not to join America when we invaded Iraq.  This pleasant teacher immediately reacted and told me that she had warned her students not to call them that in front of her.   I have to admit that it angered me to watch the news reports and see Americans pouring French wine into the streets and saying "freedom fries".   It shocks me whenever I'm confronted with just how poorly educated most Americans are about our own American Revolutionary War; called the war of American independence.  Over the last few years, I've begun to make a habit of asking friends, both here and in France, if they know about General LaFayette of France and about his role in our war for freedom from England.  Many people on both sides of the ocean are surprised to find out that LaFayette had such a huge impact on America and on Americans during and after the war.  Had the French not come to our aid, is is likely that we would not have won against the British and we could forget about those freedom fries. 
    General LaFayette became so famous and beloved by Americans that after the war his visits were met with parades and outpourings of gratitude as he traveled across the United States.  The colonists, with the help of his French troops, had defeated the British and won our independence.  During the war, LaFayette became extremely close to our future first President, George Washington.  Now we get to the trivia that many Americans and Frenchmen do not know.   Not only are there statues of Lafayette all over our country, there are are streets and even many towns and cities named after him.  In France there are also statues of him; some including George Washington as well.  After President Washington's death, LaFayette returned to the USA and visited his grave.  He is said to have cried that his American father had passed away.  He had loved George Washington so much that he had named his own son George Washington LaFayette.
In Paris, if you visit Picpus Cemetery, you will find the grave of General LaFayette and his wife.  Picpus is the cemetery where you will find the mass graves of the hundreds of beheaded victims who had been guillotined after the French Revolution.   Some of the immediate family of LaFayette's wife had been guillotined and were buried in Picpus.  When LaFayette died, he was buried there, under soil from George Washington's grave at Mount Vernon.  After our Revolution, and long before his death, several U.S. states had granted LaFayette (and all of his future male offspring) citizenship of their respective states. This was before our country had written the Constitution or had officially become the USA.  Those state citizenships made LaFayette and his future children automatic citizens of the USA once the constitution became law.  Over Lafayette's grave in Paris you will always see the American flag.  The flag has continuously flown over his grave.  It flew during WWl and was even there when the Nazis occupied Paris during WWll.   When the U.S. entered WWl, Colonel C.E. Stanton stood at LaFayette's grave and gave a beautiful speech which began with "What we have of blood and treasure are yours"  and he ended with "General LaFayette, we are here".      That was when we began to repay our debt for the freedom we won with the help of the French.   I believe it was General Patton who said, during WWll - upon liberating Corsica from the Nazis, "we have liberated the birthplace of Napoleon, and now we are going to liberate the birthplace of LaFayette".
So when you hear someone complaining that the French owe us for helping them in WWl and WWll, you should be sure to tell them that we were actually there to repay the debt that we owed them.  Not to mention the possibility that the German army would have come directly to America if we had not helped the Europeans defeat the Nazis.  The French were our first, and therefore our oldest allies.  They are our friends, even when we are acting like spoiled children and pouring fine wine into the streets.  The photo above is of a statue of Washington and LaFayette which was made by Frederic Bartholdi, the same man who designed the Statue of Liberty. It sits in Paris, in a large public square called Place des Etats Unis (USA Square). 
     Many of our laws are based on the Napoleonic Code, and we have common beliefs in freedom of speech and equal rights.   So I'll defend the rights of idiots to say "freedom fries", but they should know that it was the French that helped us achieve that freedom.  I suppose however, if someone is dumb enough to waste good French wine, I assure you that their opinions probably aren't worth considering in the first place.  Please tell them to send me the wine.  I promise to pour it out (directly into a glass).   I can hardly wait to get back to Paris where I may say "LaFayette, nous voila" .    Michael 
The grave of General LaFayette and his wife at Picpus Cemetery in Paris.


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