My Usual Charming Self

The Art of Architecture
March 2003

Lafayette, I am here

By Bernie Reeves



The Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette is on my mind. While jokes about France are making the rounds, we forget it was the 18-year-old French nobleman who galvanized his countrys support to back the newly formed United States in its long revolutionary war against the British. Without Lafayette and the French, we would be members of the British Commonwealth of Nations today.

The vessel of the Marquis young life was filled with the spirit of the Revolution. He dedicated himself to coming over to fight with General Washington, even using his own great wealth to provision a ship, after naively and narrowly avoiding a plot by US ambassadors in France to hire French mercenary officers to remove General George Washington. Upon his arrival near Charleston, South Carolina, he trekked northward seeking Washingtons camp. Relying on his Masonic connections, he befriended the General and became the childless Washingtons surrogate son.

He fought bravely and retreated intelligently in battle and acted as ambassador to his friends in the French court, including the fated Louis XVI, feverishly imploring the King to back America. Lafayette was there at Yorktown where Cornwallis, trapped by US land forces and the French fleet, surrendered his forces. Lafayette returned to France a hero and continued to work to cause the final surrender of the British. Later he played a key role in the French Revolution (designing the French Revolutions tricoleur flag) until he fell afoul of Robbespierres Reign of Terror and was imprisoned, released and continued to play a role in French politics until his death. He returned to America for a triumphant tour and remained the most popular character of the new country into the mid-20th century. General John J. Perishing, arriving in France as head of the American Expeditionary Force in World War I, stated grandly and sincerely: Lafayette, I am here, recognizing the debt to be repaid to him and France for our independence.

In 1915, a group of American fliers, anxious to help the French fight the Germans before the US entered World War I, set off for France in their jodhpurs and leather flying boots only to discover that the US Constitution prevented them from fighting in the forces of a foreign army. To circumvent this, they were allowed to join briefly the French Foreign Legion and then transfer to a French flying corps where they named their six-man group the Lafayette Escadrille to honor our marquis, as George Washington affectionately called him. (Four of the original Escadrille were native Tar Heels.)

While training, the French instructors taught their fliers to radio the tower when they were in trouble by saying help me, which in French is maidez. The Escadrille Americans tortured their French by shouting mayday, and the term became famous and is used today.

By World War II our marquis was still remembered and venerated, but the French were not after the surrender of Paris and the occupation of France by Nazi Germany. The so-called Free French, led by Colonel-in-exile Charles De Gaulle, were tolerated by the British and Americans and given control of France after VE Day. In order not to insult the already injured famous French pride, the post-war French were allowed back into their former colonies, including Indochina, a decision that would create international havoc 20 years later and cause a division in the American political landscape that lingers into the 21st century.

After the war, the Marshall Plan helped to rebuild France, and NATO was formed to protect them and Europe from another German war and from the menacing and threatening Soviet Union that cast its scowl over Europe with nuclear weapons, paranoia and a dedicated policy to force communism over the continent. The French took American money and NATOs protection but, typically, went their own way saying they were members only when it suited them. DeGaulle met with the leader of Frances historical enemy, Germanys Konrad Adenuaer, and in 1957 signed the Treaty of Rome, the genesis of the European Community, called then the Common Market, for the purposes of fixing agricultural and steel prices. One of the underlying concepts that brought these warring nations together was the historical ideal to re-create the Frankish Kingdom of Charlemagne in 800 when the two countries were under one ruler. The other motivation was undisguised anti-Americanism, to stand up against our power by creating a European trading bloc equal in size to the mighty economic power of the US in the wake of the destruction of Europe after World War II.

The Kingdom of Charlemagne did not happen but the anti-Americanism of EU founders France and Germany continues today taking on even more virulent rhetoric since the disappearance of the threat of the Soviet Union in 1992. Caught in the middle is the UK. Originally left out of the Common Market due to centuries old grudges, but mainly because of its special relationship with the US, Britain is now a member of the EU but not fully integrated, as Prime Minister Tony Blair refuses to hold a referendum on full union knowing it will fail. This conflict in Britainwhether to maintain the Atlantic Alliance with the US or move ahead to full membership in the EUis playing out on the world stage today as Blairs government is backing US Iraq policy while Germany and France are leading the EU to the edge of a shooting war with the US and the UK over the issue.

The French define the political character of the EU and the Germans its economic realpolitic and together their euro bureaucrats have created another Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, an idealistic socialist construct in which very different nations are to subsume their sovereignty and cultural identity into a theoretical collectivist entity. Like the ad man said, it looks good, it smells good, but the dog won't eat it. Expect the euro to go the way of the ruble and, after the French presidents dressing down of the eastern European states who have sided with America, the dissolution of the EU as a credible body. Sadly, the thought police in Brussels will continue on, forcing uniformity of behavior and obeisance to the European central state regulations well into the future after the collapse of EU power.

Which brings us back to France and the legacy of Lafayette, and the American and French revolutions. Lafayette believed in the seismic change in the human condition foreshadowed by our revolution and transported it to France where the French Revolution carried the banner of individual liberty across Europe and beyond. Today, the French nation and its people have abandoned the cause, leaving it to the US to serve as the symbol to the world of the basic values of freedom. Beaten and humiliated over the past two centuries, all that is left to them are jealousy and contempt for their partner in the liberation of mankindwhich they exercise at every opportunity, most notably today in the political firestorm over the invasion of Iraq. Perhaps wed be smarter to go ahead and invade our real enemies in Europe and leave Iraq to its neighbors and create what Winston Churchill saw coming in 1945: an alliance of English-speaking peoples standing defiantly against the corruption of Europe.

The headline is going to read: Golfers attacked by alligators at Kiawah Island as the toothy reptiles are lounging around the major island golf courses just waiting for a tasty morsel of human flesh. As I predicted, soon you won't be able to make it from your front door to the car without fending off protected species, now enshrined by environmental activists to a status above Homo sapiens.

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Good news from the Places Rated Almanac. The Triangle Metro region is ranked numero uno in US metro areas for education, a key factor in the value of real estate and, admittedly, a big shock to me. Upon further analysis, the rating takes into account universities and private schools and does not rely entirely on the public school system.

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Fourth District Congressman David Price, worried that the Iraq situation was taking public attention away from the upcoming US Supreme Court ruling in the University of Michigan affirmative action case, sponsored a panel discussion at Duke recently comprised entirely of pro-affirmative action participants. One panelist, John L. Jackson, a Duke assistant professor of cultural anthropology, feels that the bold and unabashedly explicit history of racial aggression and oppression in the US mandates a kind of equally explicit upfront and unembarrassed attempt at redress. Gee, I thought Duke had purged itself of the Stanley Fish-era Marxist revolutionaries with questionable ability to write and think clearly.

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The boycott of French products could lead to a return to sanity in the bottled-water craze. Turns out cavities are on the rise among hip water connoisseurs who think tap water is environmentally unsound. But good old piped in water out of the kitchen spout has fluoride. Perrier and the copycat bottled waters do not.