Remarks at the French-American Dinner

Paris, France | October 9, 1968

For it is our conviction that only by working energetically together for the future of Franco-American relations can we remain true to that legend that goes back to the Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington.

I mentioned our common history. I could hardly forget that long and consoling background if I wanted to. Every morning as my car turns into the courtyard at our chancery, I am greeted by Benjamin Franklin, sitting there on his bench as though to watch over Franco-American affairs as he did when he was first Minister to this country. As I enter the door of the Embassy, I walk between busts of the Marquis de Lafayette and of our first President. A portrait of George Washington, again, faces me as I head for the stairway that leads to my office. And on the landing of that stairway I meet the portrait of the Comte de Rochambeau. Reminders of France's role in the early history of my country are thus with me daily.

A couple of weekends ago I attended the moving ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the battle of Saint-Mihiel. How could one not be deeply affected by a visit to this spot where Americans died to preserve ideals they shared with the French? I tried on that occasion to express what I felt in these words —

Ce lieu solonnel, nous rappelle, combien estlourd le tribut exige
par la liberte , mais aussi combien ferme demeure l'attachement
de l'Ame /rique a la defense ce cette liberte
Un tel endroit temoigne, non moins solennellement, de Pattachement
de la France la libert'6 . Aussi, Phommage que je rends aujourd'hui ‘6.
ces Americains, qui sont venus combattre ici et ne sont jamais rentre's
dans leur pays, s'adresse egalement aux centaines de milliers de jeunes
Francais qui sont tomb s pour defendre leur patrie.
La Bravoure et le sacrifice de tous ceux qui ont combattu sur ce soli,
sont desormais legendaires. Its nous ont enseigne le sens du courage, de Phormeur et du devoir.

So we are reminded, constantly and in diverse ways, of the past in which we so often worked together. This is good. This is as it should be.

But it seems to me this is not enough. Quick glances now and then at the past should not keep us from long looks at the future. And this is what I should like to stress tonight.

It has been no secret to the world at large that relations between France and the United States, at least on the official plane, have not gone consistently smoothly over the past decade. We need not go into reasons or results -- they are known to all who follow world events as closely as do the members of this audience. What we do need to do is to pause a moment to recognize that these relations seem now to have entered a period of greater relaxation, permitting traditional affinities to resume their traditional role. We must study ways in which attitudes can become still better -- and stay that way.

I was very much touched by the fact that a part of what I had to say at Saint-Mihiel was presented on your national television that very evening. I appreciate fully all that is represented by the opportunity to speak to so many Frenchmen through that remarkable medium.

But this is not an isolated gesture, and I do not want to present it as such. We are very pleased, as we continue to explain our country to your countrymen, by the degree of increased comprehension we note.

I am working to become better acquainted with various regions in your highly varied country, and with the people who live there. I have been impressed with the warmth and enthusiasm with which I am received. I have been pleasantly surprised too because I had -- as many people do -- a much too pessimistic view of relations between France and America. But when I went on my first official trip to Southern France a few weeks ago, I saw the exact opposite of anti-Americanism everywhere went.

Everywhere I went I was warmly welcomed by people from all walks of life. Everywhere I went there were crowds of people who had come out not to see me personally but to testify and to show their feeling for the country I represent. And what pleased and encouraged me most was that this welcome came from fishermen in Villefranche, working people in Cannes, and folk dancers in St. Tropez, as well as from the local officials. This contrasts sharply with news stories one sometimes reads on both sides of the Atlantic. Nor are they empty expressions of surface feelings based solely on that legend of the past. People display real interest in closer associations, greater cooperation, more appreciation in both directions.

I find this exhilarating and encouraging.

For the first time in the history of our relations there is a serious desire on the part of both American educators and French educators to find out what the educational system on one side can offer to improve the educational system on the other side. We look forward to a meeting later this fall of French and American specialists on this highly important field. It will be good to review again what we have by way of common problems and to see whether there are likely common solutions.

You have heard of my personal interest in youth and youth's current preoccupations. Both our countries are going to have to face them. We both believe increasingly that we do this best by asking youth themselves to help in the task. There is a whole field of potential cooperation here that we have hardly explored together. This is to me all the more surprising in that we go on emphasizing -- going back to that legend of the past again -- our common ideals and our common heritage. How do we expect to keep them common unless we find better ways to bring our youth into contact with each other?

In this connection, I have talked recently to American Businessmen with long experience in France. I have shared some of my convictions with them, particularly as concerns youth, and I have been heartened at their initial reaction and their promise to assume a still greater role in helping to explain to French youth the philosophy and the high ethics of the responsible American businessman. This is welcome help indeed.

The other day, someone showed me the results of a private public opinion poll in France. As I understood it, it was one of a series covering many months in the past. It apparently took up many things, but I was impressed by only one -- the revelation that in French minds the United States had come to enjoy a higher appreciation than for a long time. That, I think, is truly exciting news.

We ought to profit from these favorable "winds of change." The Franco-American "atmosphere" is better than many people can remember. Every one of us who believes firmly in the worth of good relations between our countries ought to proclaim this welcome truth to the doubters around us -- of which there have been too many for too long, with too much damaging influence on what you and I cherish as right and important.

I cannot resist the temptation to go one step further. I am told there are two organizations in France which by their very title accept more than average responsibility in the realm of Franco-American relations. One is called the Comite France-Amerique, in whose company I am honored to find myself tonight. The other is the Association France-Etats Unis, with whom I am to meet in a few days and to whom I shall be saying some of the things I say to you now.

We are grateful to these two groups and to the consistent efforts they have made over the past decades to keep Franco-American friendship flourishing. Without them, both our countries would be poorer today. I salute their devotion and their accomplishments.

But I wonder how I could best encourage them to profit by this period of happier climate by exerting still greater effort, by helping still further to meet the challenge posed by our young people and their educators, by spreading still more widely the good news that better times for Franco-American relations can, and do, lie ahead. We at the Embassy would welcome your ideas and your personal support for activities that would go in the direction in which we all believe. For it is our conviction that only by working energetically together for the future of Franco-American relations can we remain true to that legend that goes back to the Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington.

Thank you for inviting me tonight. Your warm welcome has brought me a lot of encouragement.