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Vive La Facts!

In this commentary, CBSNews.com's Jarrett Murphy makes the case for the European nation many Americans love to hate.

If there were room in the Axis of Evil for a fourth member, few Americans would hesitate, these days, to add France to the list.

And why not?

The snooty French, demonstrating against United States policy in Iraq, are marching down streets liberated by American troops during the Second World War.

The French government has so stubbornly resisted the American push for war against Saddam Hussein that the unity of NATO — formed to protect Western Europe from a Soviet surge — is at risk.

Now France may resort to using its Security Council veto to block United Nations approval of the use of force.

Americans have taken these slings and arrows personally, partly because they seem to confirm a long-held suspicion that France lacks the intestinal fortitude a leading nation needs.

This widespread feeling goes beyond the merits of the possible war in Iraq. It is separate from the question of whether the root of French aversion to the conflict is pacifism or anti-Americanism. It is, instead, a belief based on a history of French failures and American rescues.

N'est ce pas?

Maybe not. Before we send an invasion force up the Seine, consider these points:

The United States would likely not exist if it weren't for French assistance.

French officers played a key role in our country's fight for independence. Sure, they came here largely out of spite for Great Britain, but Lafayette, Rochambeau and others did provide battlefield expertise the Continental Army sorely lacked.

The United States only "bailed out" the French after Pearl Harbor was attacked.

If Britain and France appeased the Nazis, America was certainly in no rush to fight them.

In 1940, Britain was so worried about the German threat that it trained citizen teams to resist a Nazi invasion, but the U.S. only provided aid in exchange for leases to British bases.

France surrendered in June 1940, but America did not enter the war for another 17 months — only after the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.
Even after we entered the war, we continued to talk with both the free French and the collaborator Vichy government, which was simultaneously enacting anti-Jewish laws.

The French also fought and died.

The stereotype of the French as cowards or shirkers should, if anything, be confined to their leaders, who turned a blind eye to Adolf Hitler's dreams of conquest.

The French people, on the other hand, sacrificed mightily to defend their country: some 200,000 French soldiers died in World War II.

And even after their leaders' surrender, many Frenchmen and women risked their lives in the resistance against Nazi occupation. Several American flyers who went down behind enemy lines owe their survival to daring French civilians.

France has sometimes confronted "aggression" when the United States was loathe to act.

No country lost more peacekeepers in Bosnia than France. If there's a parallel between the Nazis and Saddam Hussein's regime, there's an even stronger one with the ethnic cleansing that occurred in the Balkans in the early 1990s.

France has also intervened several times in its former African colonies, with mixed and sometimes tragic results — but it certainly has been engaged. Some 3,000 French troops are currently on the ground in Cote d'Ivoire trying to uphold a cease-fire between three rebel factions and the embattled government.

Americans who go to France often find that the locals defy their reputations as Europe's rudest — until, that is, you bring up the "we bailed you out" line.

Why is this such a faux pas?

It offends because it implies that French soldiers have never stood and fought, when in fact they have: sometimes at America's side, sometimes in its stead.

It's a little like saying there were no Americans on the beaches of Normandy.