Menace in the West: The Rise of French Anti-Americanism in Modern Times

By David Strauss | Go to book overview

chapter 8
Debts, Reparations, Tariffs, and Loans

The "no entanglement policy" has become a dogma for the masses overseas. However, it is only serviceable for unthinking crowds. Preaching abstention at the very time when observers, experts, and traveling statesmen from the United States are in all the European capitals, even Moscow, is dishonest. Dishonesty turns to cynicism when the American press advises our creditors to abandon us to our fate while their bankers and businessmen are colonizing and besieging us.

-- Régis Michaud, 1931

The hostility of the French public to the American position on war debts is usually regarded as the key element in the disintegration of the wartime entente. The importance of the issue stems, on the one hand, from its duration. As Jean Prévost noted, "The continual hope of Frenchmen to see the United States abrogate or at least reduce the debt has distorted relations between the United States and France from 1919 to 1931." On the other hand, the issue generated an intense emotional reaction among Frenchmen. Prévost pointed out that "the public considered our debt obligation toward America, not just with concern, but with a kind of fury."1 After the euphoria of the entente period, when France believed in American idealism, the insistence on collecting the debts helped to establish the French image of a selfish, materialistic America.

In retrospect, it is clear that the French response to the debt issue

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