Misunderstanding America:
We're not the ones with the problems

Victor Davis Hanson
March 3, 2002

from National Review Online

In the last six months we have witnessed an unprecedented level of hostility voiced toward America by an array of European intellectuals, EU officials, and those in the media from London to Rome. At a time of war we expect such enmity from our enemies in the Middle East. Americans are accustomed to such opportunistic broadsides from Cuba and China — and of course venom from the lunatic states of North Korea, Libya, Iran, and the like. Yet it is unnerving to hear constant European recriminations over everything from Guantanamo Bay and our injunction of the word "Axis" to plans to topple Saddam Hussein and preserve Israel.

As sort of an informal survey, I counted talking heads that I have listened to recently on public and cable television. In the last five weeks, I have heard eight from India, and six from Russia. All were reasonable, supported more or less the efforts of the United States to combat terrorism, and seemed genuinely to appreciate American institutions.

In contrast, the last 13 European allies I saw — French officials, British journalists, and EU bureaucrats — have uniformly voiced dissatisfaction with America. In some cases they express an almost visceral dislike of the United States. Perusal of some European magazines and newspapers reveals a similar continuum of disdain.

There are two general themes to their unhappiness — other than simple envy.

First, European criticism is without a doubt deeply embedded in aristocratic socialism. We Americans somehow are purportedly cutthroat and exploiting in our manner of capitalism, and yet manage to allow our unwashed, crass, and parochial classes to define our culture. Do they hate us for trampling upon our less fortunate — or allowing our less fortunate to trample high culture and so dominate the American landscape from McDonalds, Wal-Mart, and Britney Spears to Oprah, Nascar, and Jerry Springer?

Second, the Europeans also don't have a clue about America's world role — past, present, or future. And their ignorance has manifested itself in a variety of ways throughout this crisis. Everyone from Swedish relief officials to Bono whines that in proportional rather than absolute amounts of foreign aid, we Americans are tight-fisted and do not give generously to the Third World countries.

Forget the billions that we do hand out — and whether such blanket donations without prerequisite conditions of Westernization make countries like Egypt, Palestine, North Korea, and Pakistan worse rather than better. Instead consider that Americans, unlike Europeans, spend billions in defense that in real terms are not directly tied to the security of the United States, but rather ensure global trade, tranquility, and security.

Just how much "foreign aid" is a multibillion-dollar carrier battle group worth, when it patrols the Mediterranean or the Sea of Japan and so has the effect not of stealing foreign resources, but rather of ensuring that Turks and Greeks are not at war, that Koreans do not blow each other up, or that China keeps away from Taiwan and Japan? Unlike simple food or money, this type of "foreign assistance" is quite risky to its benefactors — and more likely to be resented, caricatured, or misrepresented. Sending in an air wing to Kosovo can save thousands; sending in the Red Cross or the U.N. tragically cannot.

GPS-bombs, not Amnesty International, are more likely to keep killers away from Big Ben and the Vatican. Should we not deploy carriers, frigates, and planes the world over, both the Europeans and the Third World would not enjoy a stable global community, but one that would either sink into the chaos of a Mogadishu, Monrovia, or Kabul, or find its stability only in the law and order of a Baghdad, Peking, or Havana.

Nor do Europeans understand that the United States is rightly or wrongly engaged in one of the most radical experiments in emigration and assimilation since the Irish arrival during the great famine over a century ago. We may well have eight-ten million legal and illegal immigrants from Mexico inside our borders. Here in California some cities — like my hometown and dozens nearby — have seen their populations swell to between 70 and 90 percent Hispanic immigrants.

Some studies suggest 90 percent of the arrivals, in large part from Oaxaca and Michoacan, have no formal education past the eighth grade. Of all those born in Mexico who now reside in California, only 60 percent will finish high school. In the CSU system, the largest university in the world, 47 percent of all students must take remedial classes.

And how has the United States dealt with millions of aliens from the third world crossing its borders illegally? Despite the rhetoric of the race industry, it has been mostly humane in its great experiment to transform millions that had no opportunity to become literate into American naturalized suburbanites in a generation.

The entire survival of our immediate neighbor Mexico is built on two assumptions: billions in cash remunerations must be sent back by its citizens living illegally in the United States, and millions of them must leave and head north rather than march en masse on Mexico City to seek redress of grievance. Taken in that context, the United States is not merely giving billions of dollars in foreign aid the world over, but in fact trying to vent the social unrest of much of Mexico and Central America — in the same way that we were the safety-valve for Europe for much of the nineteenth century. Let Italy, Holland, or Austria allow 10 million from Bangladesh, Nigeria, or Mexico to cross their borders rather than merely send food and medicine abroad.

Europeans also have a strange way of looking at the history of the twentieth century. Just because on two occasions they have wrecked their civilization and suffered greater tragedy than we is no reason to forget the origins and remedies of those great calamities.

Let us remember that Germany, Austria, France, and England almost ruined Western culture between 1914-18. Only the belated entry of a million American soldiers stopped the bloodletting. Two decades later, deviant states in Italy and Germany nearly ruined the West a second time — in the process eliminating 6 million of Europe's finest citizens. Western Europe — the bedrock states of the EU of Holland, France, and Belgium — could do little and capitulated in a matter of weeks.

All were liberated only due to the efforts of muscular and unsophisticated Americans. I suppose that concern with Europe is why we said "Hitler first," even though it was the Japanese, not the Nazis, who had attacked us directly and were the most immediate threat.

There is no need to recount the half-century of the Cold War. Despite the shrill nonsense of Euro-Communists and socialists, few doubt that had America not stood firm in creating NATO, the entire continent would have been conquered in the manner of Eastern Europe. Then there are the minor affairs, beyond the Berlin Airlift and the American assurance to risk New York and Washington to stop Soviet armor from reaching Bonn and Paris.

The British created Israel, and then bailed with the rest of Europe when it became clear that continued support would endanger the friendship of their former colonial subjects — now full of oil and terrorists — in the Gulf, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq. The Europeans most recently sat paralyzed in fear as 250,000 of their neighbors were butchered in the former Yugoslavia — and that was after Soviet tanks were being melted for scrap.

So there is a sad pattern to this sad century. We did not beg to get involved in two world wars. The Soviet Union was no threat on land to us. We didn't know much about the Middle East or the Palestinian problem or Serbia. But somehow we certainly were needed for something by someone to prevent a catastrophe.

The Europeans apparently talk only to our elites on the East Coast, who in turn apparently worry whether they are treated politely or rudely in London or Paris. But the vast majority of Americans simply could not care less. They do not think K-Mart or Target are crass; they eat fast food instead of hour-long lunches because they work at hectic 40-50-hour a week jobs that would send much of Europe into a revolution. They are trying to assimilate millions of some of the poorest people in the planet into their culture — a far more daunting task than reuniting East and West Germany.

In this regard, Europe should pay closer attention to America's demography as well. Some of us teach classes made up of 60-70 percent from immigrant students from Mexico, the Punjab, or Southeast Asia. These newcomers have little immediate cultural or emotional ties with Europe.

Even two decades ago, all my Hispanic friends in our local community were vehemently cheering on Argentina, and damning rumors of American assistance to England. By 2050, a quarter of the population will be of Hispanic heritage; perhaps another 20 percent Asian and African American. Their view of Europe will be predicated on its attitudes in the here and now, not on a reservoir of good will based on a common emotional bond or ethnic heritage.

Yet in the past six months, our European allies have been frittering away almost all of America's past positive sentiments toward the continent. After the European reaction to the aftermath of Sept. 11, I doubt seriously whether America would wish to intervene as we did in 1999 in Kosovo. Should there be chaos in the Aegean, should there be a falling-out between Russia and Eastern Europe, should there be a missile attack on a European capital from Iran or Iraq, should China make demands on the EU, there would now be zero support in the United States for the use of American troops abroad.

As we have seen — thanks to Europe — Article V of NATO now means little, if anything. Nor is this growing reluctance to aid Europe a return to American isolation or knownothingism. Americans in contrast feel strongly about their obligations to Japan and Latin America, and their thawing relations with India and Russia.

So the problem is not with us, but with the Europeans. And if the dividends of their new utopian and increasingly unfree EU are what we've seen in the present crisis, it may well be that we can only remain friends by being allies no longer.

Victor Davis Hanson is the author of
Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power

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17 mar 2002