Julian Barnes on That Sweet Enemy, a book about Anglo-French relations over the centuries:
Although public opposition to the Iraq war in Britain is high, it would take a lot more fair-mindedness than most British (or Americans) are capable of for them to utter, instead of “Blair [or Bush] was wrong,” the simple words “Chirac was right.”
The Anglophone reader is made forcibly aware that, even at the basic level, each supposed fact and understanding about our conjoined cross-Channel history has an equal and opposite counter-fact and counter-understanding. Did the British hold the key German attack on the Somme in the spring of 1918, and then make the thrust that ended the war? Or did they collapse in shameful panic and have to be rescued by French reinforcements? Was Dunkirk an example of British heroism which, by prolonging the struggle, gave France hope and eventually liberation? Or was it a further demonstration of the traditional British willingness to fight to the last Frenchman and then decamp, leaving their ally to its fate?
It’s a great review, well worth reading. And the final word — well, I shan’t ruin it for you, but here’s the setup:
For all the high military and diplomatic dramas described by the Tombses, the one I would have most enjoyed witnessing occurred during an official visit to Britain by General de Gaulle. The regular assassination attempts on the French President meant that he always traveled with a bag of his own blood, in case a sudden transfusion was required. When he arrived at Harold Macmillan’s house in Sussex, his entourage handed the blood to Macmillan’s cook, and instructed her to put it in her fridge…