For the first time in nearly twenty years, the U.S. hosted an Official State Dinner for a sitting French President, bestowing the highest honor the U.S. can bestow on a head of state to America’s oldest and strongest ally.
In their remarks during the arrival ceremony, both leaders acknowledged the other’s role in creating and preserving the democratic governments of the United States and France. From the American Revolutionary War to World War II to the War in Afghanistan, the alliance between these two countries has been enduring.
Attending the ceremony were two veterans of WWII who were part of the U.S. forces who liberated France from Nazi occupation. President Francois Hollande during his remarks extended an invitation to President Obama to attend the 70 year commemoration of the liberation of France this June where the French government will honor U.S. troops who helped to liberate their country.
Though the weather was a brisk twenty degrees, there were blue skies and sunshine for the French President’s visit. President Obama spoke of the fundamental universality of the ideals that both France and the U.S. share, saying, “Here, under the red, white and blue -- and the blue, white and red -- we declare our devotion once more to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” -- to “liberté, egalité, and fraternité.”
President Obama's French was noticeably novice, but President Hollande applauded the U.S. President’s attempt as the crowd chuckled. Undoubtedly, these two nations share a deep and abiding fidelity to the principles that formed these great democracies.
President Obama summed up the commonality between these nations remarking, “… it’s no exaggeration that we stand here because of each other. We owe our freedom to each other. Of course, we Americans also thank our French friends for so much else -- this capital city, designed by L’Enfant; our Statue of Liberty, a gift from France; and something many Americans are especially grateful for, New Orleans and the French Quarter. “
After Hollande’s arrival, he joined President Obama for a joint news conference and two bilateral meetings. After those meetings, guests from the world of politics, business, print and Hollywood arrived at the White House for the Official State Dinner.
Among those attending were actors Bradley Cooper and Mindy Kaling as well as entertainers like Mary J. Blige who also performed during the dinner, and Stephen Colbert who sat next to First Lady Michelle Obama. The night was capped with both presidents toasting one another.
Truly, Americans owe the birth of this nation to the financial backing, moral and military support that France provided during the American Revolution. That nation having inspired the dreams of self government in the American colonies after the people of France overthrew their monarch and created a new democracy in France.
Those ideals that sustained the French Revolution helped to embolden the people of America to overthrow monarchical rule and form a new nation of its own.
Less than two centuries later, it would be the French calling on its sister nation to aid them in overthrowing Nazi rule that had devastated and occupied most of Europe, including France. Without the aid of the U.S., it’s doubtful that the German march to control nations around the globe could have been stopped.
When one considers that history, it’s not hard to argue that France deserves the honor that has been bestowed upon it this week.