Wednesday, March 12, 2003

European Delusions
For the past several weeks I have been trying to understand European opposition to the use of force in Iraq. I wanted to get beyond the trite notion that it is basic anti-Americanism. I think there are two major factors at play in the European opposition (and yes, I realize that many governments in Europe do support the US position, but their people do not and so I will use the term European opposition). On some elementary level there does seem to be a degree of anti-Americanism, but I think that it is more anti-US hegemony than a particular dislike for America or her people.
I think the more important factor is Europe's view of the world and their history. Let me explain. Europe has a rather troubling past with regards to checking aggression on the Continent, and also its colonization of Third World countries. The first half of the 20th Century saw the Continent engulfed in two World Wars. What I find especially telling about European attitudes is that when given the chance to stop Hitler, they balked and instead chose appeasement as Nazis marched into Poland. History shows that this was a dreadfully wrongheaded choice, but one has to assume that European leaders genuinely thought that Hitler would be content with taking only some portion of Europe. These leaders failed to recognize the threat that Hitler posed to all of Europe (let alone the Jewish people). It took US soldiers crossing the Atlantic to save Europe from herself.
Since the end of WWII and throughout the Cold War, Europe was protected from threats by the presence of US troops and missiles. This allowed Europeans a certain degree of freedom to dream of a peaceful world. America was providing for their defense and was keeping the world safe from expansionist Communism. It was not European leaders who crippled the Soviet Union, it was the US.
Also, during the 20th Century, many European countries continued their colonization of Africa and other Third World countries. They would exploit native natural resources and foster conflict among peoples in order to maintain their rule. European countries viewed these relationships as proper and thought of those whom they colonized as somehow beneath them. This invariably coloured European perceptions of these countries.
And what does this all mean in today's situation? I would posit that Europe's past colonization affects it in two potential ways- one is that Europe feels a collective guilt and shame (and they should) for their past injustices which prevents them from acting against a former colony; or Europeans still view these countries and their people as below Europe and not worthy of protection. Either way, I believe that Europe's past relationship with the Third World colours their actions today.
Now, my other argument was based on Europe's ability or willingness to deny evil in the world. Prior to US involvement in the Continent, Europe was completely unwilling or unable to stop aggression. They were unwilling to confront evil in their own backyard, whether it was Hitler or Mussolini. Since US involvement, very little has changed. Europe still fails to act when given the opportunity to preserve human rights and stop genocide (see Bosnia). While the US was protecting the European way of life, Europeans themselves were relieved of the obligation to provide for their defense or to contemplate the threats present in the modern world.
Which leads us to today, a time in which vast numbers of Europeans fail to see evil, going so far as to equate an American president with a despotic dictator with weapons of mass destruction. And while I find the Hitler-Saddam analogy to be over-used, I do think it shows Europe's unwillingness to see evil in the world, and to act against it.
America has a much different perspective and it is one that I think is derived from our past as a colony. America was a country born of freedom, a country that only came into existence because brave men and women were willing to put their lives at risk for freedom. America is a country that enjoys a level of freedom unknown in most regions of the world and given our own struggle for freedom we feel obligated to help others who yearn for freedom. The average American feels that it is our country's obligation to not only police the world, but to promote democracy and human rights. Countless American men and women have fought and died for these ideals over the past 100 years. It is a price that we pay as being the world's lone superpower and guarantor of freedom. It is something that Europeans will never understand.


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