The United States and Western Europe since 1945: From "Empire" by Invitation to Transatlantic Drift

By Geir Lundestad | Go to book overview

4 De Gaulle's Challenge to America's Hegemony, 1962-1969

A Period of Transition

Sometimes it is difficult for a historian to decide where one chapter should end and the next one begin. Thus it may seem awkward to begin a chapter on de Gaulle's challenge to America's hegemony in 1962, as I have decided to do, when the general in fact came to power in 1958, but there are two sound reasons for doing this. First, as we shall see shortly, Washington was initially quite favorable to de Gaulle's coming to power in France, seeing him as an improvement on the weak governments of the Fourth Republic, and not until 1962 did the Kennedy administration reverse the positive judgement formed by Eisenhower. Second, although in many ways the celebration of the United States in Western Europe reached its climax in 1963 with President Kennedy's trip to Europe, it would be wrong to let the previous chapter on the Atlantic Community run to 1963, because by then the feud between Washington and Paris was very bitter indeed.

Kennedy's trip to Europe (West Germany, Ireland, Britain, and Italy) in June 1963 was undertaken in direct response to de Gaulle's challenge to the United States in January of that year in the form of vetoing Britain's membership of the EEC and of concluding the Franco-German treaty. The trip was a huge success. Everywhere the President went he was met with huge crowds. The climax was reached in Berlin when he declared that “All free men, wherever they live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words 'Ich bin ein Berliner'.” In particular the trip began to improve relations between the United States and the Western European left, not only in the countries Kennedy visited, but also elsewhere. The moderate left definitely preferred the young liberal American president to his old conservative predecessor. In Italy the new administration and the President's visit to Italy produced in December 1963 that apertura a sinistra (opening to the left) that had been so long anticipated, when the reformed Nenni Socialists finally joined the Italian government that had been firmly controlled by the Christian Democrats since 1948. But not until Nenni moved toward support for NATO

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