One of the problems with oppositional behavior is that, while you may think you’re in control, you’re not — you’re just in constant reactive mode. Thus, if you ask me to sit down and I reflexively refuse to sit down (“you can’t boss me around”), I’ve ceded a form of negative power to you. My own wishes are no longer part of the sit down/stand up decision. Your wishes, and my unthinking, unreasoning need to oppose them, are the only ideas on the table.
As I mused when I returned from Europe, I wonder whether some European decisions arise from a reflexive anti-Americanism, rather than from any genuine European desires and impulses. The example I chose was cigarette smoking. I know from speaking with Europeans that they enjoy denigrating Americans for their anti-smoking drive, a la “you foolish, naive Americans with your health obsession” — never mind the fact that it seems as if every German hotel and town advertises its contribution to “wellness” in the form of spas and suchlike.
Because smoking is expensive (insofar as it costs smokers lots of money, costs health-care lots of money, and costs businesses money to repair fabric literally damaged by smoke) and unhealthy, there are no good rational reasons to cling to smoking, only irrational ones. I posited that one of the European’s irrational reasons wasn’t just their “culture,” but was an affirmative desire to distinguish themselves from callow, health-obsessed Americans.
My theory that Europe is driven by anti-Americanism, rather than by affirmative European desires, got a boost today when I read Pamela Meister’s article “Europe’s Anti-American Blinders.” (Meister blogs at Blogmeister USA.) In it, she takes my half-formed, unresearched theory, and develops it into a full indictment of Europe’s America problem. Although I think the whole article is well worth reading, these two paragraphs are the money quotes for me:
Twice in the twentieth century, Europe nearly committed suicide. Both times Americans jumped in to bail them out, at huge personal and national cost, something which must eat at their psyche – the colonial upstarts who dared to create a new world had to come to the aid of the old. Those classless, cultureless, money-grubbing Americans had to go in and do a managed intervention, keeping Europeans safe from themselves and a now-collapsed Soviet threat. (That American money, while considered to be dirty capitalist spoils, also comes in handy, too.) Guilt in their complicity in the mass murder of European Jews who contributed so much to their culture and the world at large – Albert Einstein, Marc Chagall, and Niels Bohr, to name a few – keeps them from admitting to the fact that the bias is still there, ready to boil over at any moment. America’s steadfast support of Israel, therefore, is another bone of contention.
Europeans, weary after centuries of warfare, want to believe in utopia. So their governments created cradle to grave social programs to keep the people happy, to keep them from asking too many questions. In a sense, not much has changed since the days of the lord and serf. They downsized their militaries, putting all their stock in diplomatic solutions, forgetting their past success with negotiations with Hitler. Criticizing American policies and American missteps allows them to forget their own. Squealing about the “torture” of terrorist detainees at Abu Ghraib allows the French to ignore their alleged involvement in the Rwanda killing spree, in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus died in only 100 days. It allows the Dutch to bestow honors to troops who failed to protect nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys, killed by Serb forces that overran Srebrenica in July of 1995. And Belgian and Italian soldiers, sent to protect Somalia under the umbrella of the U.N. in the late 1990s, were said to have raped and tortured those wretched people – facing only fines and dishonorable discharges for their crimes.
I think my instincts were right and that Europe isn’t acting in this brave new world, it’s just reacting. And as long as it’s merely reacting, it’s not thinking about things nor is it taking responsibility for its conduct.