The French War Against America: How a Trusted Ally Betrayed Washington and the Founding Fathers

Harlow Giles Unger, Author
Harlow Giles Unger, Author John Wiley & Sons $27.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-471-65113-0
Reviewed on: 03/28/2005
Release date: 03/01/2005
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The only French war against America-in the traditional sense-was an undeclared maritime war in the late 1790s, and it does not appear until the 10th chapter of this provocative but flawed study. The rest is good old-fashioned realpolitik that never fooled George Washington, who understood and accepted that ""it is a maxim... that no nation is to be trusted farther than it is bound by its interests."" Unger, the author of biographies of Lafayette, John Hancock and Noah Webster, argues that the recent French campaign to frustrate American interests is part of a policy that stretches back to the founding of the Republic. Much of Unger's story is well known. France, which lost its North American empire in 1763, was the first nation to recognize American independence and to offer assistance during the Revolution; monarchical and aristocratic France was more interested in weakening old enemy England and regaining its lost colonies than in liberty. That France should continue to base its diplomacy on its perceived self-interests thereafter-even to the point of trying to destabilize the American administration-is not startling, but Unger is often shrill in his characterizations. He exaggerates French threats (which often were no more than wishful thinking), implies the worst about French behavior and casts the French people in an unflattering light: ""certifiably insane,"" the ""French hordes"" commit ""vile treachery."" In the present climate, there is likely an audience for a book that promises to expose French duplicity, but Unger promises more than he can deliver.
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