France pilots effort to score points in US

All decent red-blooded Americans have a number of hatreds in common: taxes, atheists, Osama bin Laden, hockey, scripted TV, Janet Jackson, and the French.

All decent red-blooded Americans have a number of hatreds in common: taxes, atheists, Osama bin Laden, hockey, scripted TV, Janet Jackson, and the French.

But lately the land of Merlot and flaky pastry has been trying to get back on our good side. And its latest move shows an impressive virtuosity when it comes to American heartstrings.

The French government announced last week it would bestow its highest honor, the Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur, on seven American Vietnam war heroes largely disowned by America herself.

The pilots flew supply missions in 1954 to besieged French troops near the Laotian border - soldiers who'd been on the losing end of a gruesome battle that signaled the end of French rule in the tiny Asian country.

Unfortunately, the pilots worked for a CIA front group, which meant the US would have denied any knowledge of them had they been captured or killed. The pilots managed to avoid either, but were nonetheless largely disregarded by the US after the war.

So in 2003, a nephew of one of the pilots wrote the French ambassador to the US suggesting his government honor the pilots as a gesture of faith between the nations. "In today's politically charged climate it is important to bear in mind that... our two countries have been there for each other," he wrote.

Showing uncanny diplomacy (or perhaps a penchant for showing up the US government), the French agreed. The honors will be bestowed this week.

Unfortunately, the French might be better at diplomatic gestures than media relations: Coverage of the announcement was hard to come by. But at least now the French will have a few good (if elderly) pilots on their side when the Marines show up.

  • Douglas Quenqua writes PR Play of the Week. He is PRWeek's news editor.

    Ratings:

    1. Clueless

    2. Ill-advised

    3. On the right track

    4. Savvy

    5. Ingenious

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