Governor, Madam, Admiral, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Friends,
It is great privilege to be with you today to commemorate a historic event. I do think that history matters. We cannot build a better future if we ignore history and the lesson of history.
And it is indeed for me an honor and a great pleasure to be in Rhode Island today, some two-hundred and twenty-five years after General Rochambeau set foot here, in Newport.
I join you today to celebrate a particular moment in our common history. One that has been too often overlooked in history books. But that sealed the French-American friendship for centuries.
General Rochambeau and his army disembarked from Admiral de Ternay’s ships anchored off the coast of Rhode Island on July 10, 1780. He arrived in a country that he did not know other than from the incomplete information he had been given in Paris. The Americans, for their part, did not know him, and were at first wary of this man, who did not speak so well English, and was accompanied by troops – and you never know with troops.
So it was a rather, rather tense first moment. But he had come to support their struggle for freedom and independence. Showing respect and commitment to their cause, he quickly gained the trust, the trust of the local population. With his fifty-five hundred men, nearly 6,000, he established an encampment, and lived with the people of Newport for almost one year.
His relationship with George Washington was warm and was one of mutual esteem. While he was more experienced than the American General, he agreed to serve under his orders. Leaving Newport, he marched South to Yorktown with him. There, on October 19, 1781, his crucial support helped the American patriots to achieve their decisive victory against the British Army, and to establish the independence of their nation.
I am truly delighted to attend the first of a series of events, which will culminate next year, in October 2006, with the 225th anniversary of the victory of Yorktown. This Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route, which runs over 620 miles through nine states, is a great symbol of our two countries’ enduring friendship. And as I was overlooking the list of all the French regiments and Navy ships which participated in the war for your independence, dear friends, I was looking at the names of 44,000 French officers and soldiers who participated in this war for your independence and during which 5,000 died for your freedom.
Rochambeau’s journey in America is a story of trust. Trust between two generals, the Founding Father of the United States of America and the great French officer. Trust between American patriots and the French soldiers. But also more simply, trust between two nations, France and the United States. It has been a permanent feature of our relations over the past 225 years, and it will continue to be so in the future.
Through figures like Rochambeau, Lafayette and Admiral de Grasse, France has helped the American people to secure the birth of their Republic. In turn, the United States of America gave unfailing support to my country in the most tragic hours of its history. As the Governor said, in 1917, and again in World War II, many young American soldiers crossed the Atlantic and landed in France to liberate my country and Europe from oppression and tyranny. I can assure you that the French people will never forget their sacrifice for our freedom. We will never forget that, if today, we are a free country leaving in peace and democracy, it is thanks to the sacrifices of so many American heroes that, 61 years ago, landed on the beaches of Normandy, and sacrificed their lives for freedom and democracy in France and in Europe. And, Governor, as I said yesterday, in your residence, Admiral, I had the privilege of being with President Bush and President Chirac, but even more important maybe, with 100 American veterans of D-Day. It was for the sixtieth anniversary of this historic moment which really turned the tide of history. And I was humbled, humbled by the way these heroes, these veterans were expressing themselves, with such modesty. They told me: “We had to did it, so we did it”. And I told them: “It’s not so simple, it’s not so simple. Because you were, at that time, only 18, 19, 20 years old, and you were ready to die for the freedom of France”. My friends, we will never forget. This will remain in our hearts for the rest of our lives, the life of our children, the life of our grandchildren.
Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Friends,
The United States and France have had disagreements in recent years. But today, our two countries are focused on the challenges ahead. We are fighting around the world to defeat the dangers of extremism, intolerance, and poverty. Our law enforcement systems are cooperating to fight terrorism. Two days ago, after New York, after Madrid, London was struck by terrorism. But the terrorists will not intimidate us. They cannot win because they bring only fear, hatred, and despair. We will win, we will win because we represent hope, we bring freedom and democracy. And we will win because we are united and determined to defend together our shared values.
The U.S. and France are acting together on every front to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. American and French troops are operating side by side in Afghanistan, in Africa, in the Balkans. American and French soldiers are together bringing peace and stability to regions wrecked by hatred and violence. In many other places, such as Lebanon and Ukraine, the United States and France, together, are working to foster democracy and freedom.
And in Iraq today, despite past differences, France is ready to help by training Iraqi gendarmerie, that is military police, because we know, we know the magnitude of what is at stake today in Iraq: nothing less than the future of the Iraqi people, the future of the whole Middle East, and even more important, the future of the relations between the Muslim world and the West.
The trust we forged from the Newport encampment to the beaches of Normandy is the key to our indestructible friendship. And this same trust in our common values and our common mission will continue to inspire us to act together for a freer, more peaceful, and more prosperous world.
Thank you very much to all of you. Thank you, and God Bless America!
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