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War, War, War, War, Then . . .

A couple of times during the conversations (see Conversations With th Enemy) I offered my brief history of Europe. It goes like this: war, war, war, war, war, the Americans show up, peace. I like to accompany that deliberately provocative statement with irritating karate chop motions. The point was to see whether the person across the table would be able to effectively rebut me.

I don't think anyone did. I think the premise caught them off-guard. I think the idea that they owed their peaceful, prosperous Europe to American intervention and protection was an entirely alien notion, so inconceivable that it left them with almost nothing to say.

Pushed further -- and I pushed a lot on this point -- Europeans will admit that the US liberated Western Europe from the Nazis. (Some of the older generation not only admit this but express unstinting gratitude.) The next step, admitting that we then spent 40 years protecting them from the USSR, is harder for them to swallow. It's not really a question of the facts being in dispute, I think, it's that it takes the idea of American benevolence out of the long-distant past and moves it uncomfortably close to the present day.

Europe exists, free and prosperous, because the Americans kicked out the bad guys, kept out the bad guys, and built a nice little playpen for the Europeans. We acted in loco parentis, or perhaps like the responsible big brother dealing with the hopeless screw-up of a sibling. War, war, war, war, war, the Americans show up, peace.

Europeans can't accept any of that narrative. It would require them to admit that the Americans occasionally do the right thing. It would require them to admit that what they value so highly, their cosmopolitan lifestyle, was in large part a gift from a nation they are pathologically unable to trust. And just as important, it would require them to believe that there are bears in the woods.

That last point is where Americans and Europeans run into a wall. Americans think the world is a dangerous place, full of bad people doing bad things. Europeans reject categorically any notion of a serious external or internal threat to their way of life. To admit the possibility of threat would be to face the fact of European weakness and dependence. They can't do that without admitting that the bad guys have been kept at bay by the Americans, that Europe is Europe because of Americans sitting in tanks at the Fulda gap for 40 years.

Interestingly, Europeans have no problem at all blaming us for endangering them when our muscular efforts go wrong, as in Iraq. So, while Europeans won't admit that American power at its best has kept them secure, they are eager to claim that American power at its most inept endangers them. Foreign threats are unreal when the Americans are competent, and then real when we're not. There is no bear in the woods . . . and then there is . . . and then he disappears . . . and then back he comes, but the constant is that Americans must recieve no credit for chasing the bear away, just blame when we fail.

So often in these European conversations I've found myself arguing with my kids. As most parents know, the ten times you give your kid what he wants are as nothing when measured against the one time you refuse. The ten times you make it to the play or the game or the recital do not insulate you from guilt over your one failure. The Europeans see Iraq, and Iraq is a mess, and that one failure, because it ratifies their prejudices, becomes the only benchmark for judging the nation that saved them from fascism, kept them safe from communism, and cradled them in its arms until it could grow up to reach contemptuous, oblivious adolescence.

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“War, War, War, War, Then . . .”

  1. Anonymous Anonymous Says:

    Vote online about the future of Europe at www.FreeEurope.info.

    One liner: "Human development in its richest diversity" (John Stuart Mill)

  2. Blogger Brian Says:

    Not tea bags! 'Minds me of a GB Shaw quote, tho', which I just read: "Americans adore me and will persist in adoring me until I say something nice about them." But that was then ...

    BTW, SUREly you have a spell checker?!?

    "must recieve no credit". Urk. I hope you receive this as constructive criticism; you are a righter, write?


  3. Blogger Brian Says:

    Oh, you shorted yourself one "war" in the title. Sounds better with 5.

    Do you have an actual list of examples?

  4. Blogger Michael Reynolds Says:

    Fortunately writing doesn't have a whole lot to do with remembering the "i before e" rule.

    Examples of what? European wars?

  5. Anonymous Kafir Says:

    I agree wholeheartedly but I wonder if their failure to respond to this alien notion has less to do with its inconceivability and more to do with their disgust at hearing it over and over. Do they roll their eyes?

  6. Blogger Michael Reynolds Says:


    I think they've heard the WW2 guilt trip a lot. But I think the idea that they have been granted a special, protected life by the generosity of American taxpayers and the dedication of American soldiers is surprising to them.

    They grant us WW2, but they don't like admitting to the Marshall Plan, the very one-sided security arrangements of NATO, the fact that their goods sail on American-protected waters, and so on.

  7. Blogger Objectivist Says:

    Two things: One, I'm still here (and you thought you were rid of me), and I still won't let you get away with this noble notion of saving Europe from the Nazis. Not Americans – Russians. By the time Americans got involved the outcome of WWII was clearly decided. By 44, it was the threat of Communism that loomed over Europe, not Nazism. Which brings me to point #2: It would have been really noble, altruistic, and very Richard The Lion Heart-esque if Americans did it FOR the Europeans, at their (American) expense. That however, is simply not the case. Were Europeans the primary beneficiaries of American involvement? Of course! Nobody can argue otherwise. But Americans benefited as well, and arguably, as much. Work through the scenario where the entire Europe became Soviet. Do you think the US would've fared well after WWII w/o free Europe? What about the Middle East? Clearly it's a very long stretch, and like any other "what if" scenario, open to interpretation. One thing that it does make clear, is that the US wasn't acting as "the responsible big brother dealing with the hopeless screw-up of a sibling". More like the big brother protecting his weaker sibling from an imminent disaster, while at the same time, eliminating a less immediate threat, but a threat that was absolutely certain to catch up with him. (Not nearly as catchy, I'll grant you, but much more accurate.)

    I think if you put it in these terms, most Europeans will happily agree.


  8. Blogger Michael Reynolds Says:

    Damn, Objectivist, I thought I'd shaken you off like I have the rest of my readers. You know, without you damned readers I get to be right 100% of the time here.

    Actually, I have always admitted a) that the Russians get the bulk of the credit for killing off Nazi Germany, and b) that the US had very mixed motives.

    But on that first point, while the USSR killed the Reich, it could not have done so without a major assist from the US and the Brits. And killing Nazis is different from freeing Europe. Yes they killed the Reich, but we freed Western Europe.

    On the second point it's never my intention to demand gratitude from Europeans. The question is posed in the context of insistence by many Europeans that the US is a malign, imperialist force, and in the face of what amounts to a sort of lazy, not-terribly-principled pacifism. I wasn't trying in these conversations to get people to worship me (although that might have been fun) I was trying to get them to acknowledge that what they have did not come into being because Europeans were uniquely virtous and had evolved beyond war. They have what they have in large part because the Americans have not evolved beyond war.

    Watch this clip. It's a Frenchman admitting the simple truth:


    Parenthetically, I was closer to right about the EU population number than he was.

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