Americans, especially Leftist Americans, will invariably assure you that Europeans are more civilized than Americans are. When pressed for details, they’ll cite art, music, architecture, skinny French women, and gun control. By those standards, I have to agree that the Europeans are indeed more civilized. I’ll go even further: when it comes to art, music, and architecture, Europeans, from the Greeks forward, are the most civilized beings who have ever walked the earth.
However, if you have a slightly richer definition of what constitutes “civilization,” I’m sorry to say that the Europeans are just as savage as anyone else — and maybe more so because, when they burst their “civilized” banks, they tend to do so with a peculiar vengeance. Just off the top of my head, the Europeans have blessed history books with a series of wars that left death and destruction in their wake on a scale unimaginable on our comparatively peaceful American continent:
- The Hundred Years War
- St. Bartholemew’s Day Massacre
- The Thirty Years War
- The Napoleonic War
- The Slave Trade
- The Colonial Occupations of Africa and Latin America
- World War I
- World War II
Our own Civil War, while undeniably bloody, was amateur hour compared to the games the Europeans have played.
Even when the Europeans aren’t at war, it turns out that their blood lust still needs to be slaked. Bruce Kesler directed me to a book called Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, that doesn’t just examine the murderous years of WWII, but also examines the carnage Hitler and Stalin wrought during the 1930s, in the lead-up to WWII. Bruce explains why this book is a “must read” — and it has certainly moved up to the top of my reading list.
Another book that reminds us that little but a gloss of art separates Europeans from their savage Darwinian roots is Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II. The carnage in the World War II’s aftermath is actually unsurprising: millions of people uprooted, brutalized by six years of war, and scrabbling for incredibly scarce resources. I doubt any culture would respond well to those circumstances — and the Europeans certainly didn’t. The Russian soldiers, especially, didn’t. Although the Russian attack on German civilians doesn’t have a memorable name, a la the dreadful “Rape of Nanking,” it was certainly comparable in terms of ferocity and misogyny. You can learn more about Savage Continent here.
UPDATE: Two things: First, Danny Lemieux’s comment is correct, insofar as it reminds that I forget to include socialized medicine in my list of things that Leftists find civilized about Europe. He’s also correct that it worked only because America essentially paid for it during the Cold War. Second, Eugene Podrazik, who blogs at Elkhorn Creek Lodge, saw The Hunger Games and, as I read his post, found it remarkably reminiscent of what Europe will be in a decade or so and what we will be in a few decades, if we follow Europe.