A Letter to the Europeans

Cry the beloved continent.

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

Despite the bitter recrimination and growing rift between you and us, most Americans have not forgotten that a strong, confident Europe is still critical to the material and spiritual well being of the United States.

It is not just that as Westerners you have withstood — often later at our side — all prior challenges to the shared liberal civilization you created, whether the specter of an Ottoman global suzerainty, Bonapartism, Prussian militarism, Nazism, fascism, Japanese militarism, or Soviet Communism.

Nor is our allegiance a mere matter of history. Europe is the repository of the Western tradition, most manifestly in shrines like the Acropolis, the Pantheon, the Uffizi, or the Vatican. We concede that the Great Books — we as yet have not produced a Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, or Locke, much less a Da Vinci, Mozart, or Newton — and the Great Ideas of the West from democracy to capitalism to human rights originated on your continent alone. And if Americans believe our Constitution and the visions of our Founding Fathers were historic improvements on Europe of the 18th-century, then at least we acknowledge in our humility that they were also inconceivable without it.

No, there is a greater oneness between us, an unspoken familiarity even now in the age of global sameness, that makes an American feel at home in Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, or Athens in a way that is not true of Istanbul, Cairo, or Bangkok.

In the multiracial society of the United States, an American black, Asian, or Latino finds natural affinity in London and Brussels in a way not true in Lagos, Ho Chi Min City, or Lima. For millions of Americans “Eurocentric” is no slur — for it is an appellation of shared values and ideas not of race.

Even in this debased era of multiculturalism that misleads our youth into thinking no culture can be worse than the West, we all know in our hearts the truth that we live by and the lie that we profess — that the critic of the West would rather have his heart repaired in Berlin than in Guatemala or be a Muslim in Paris rather than a Christian in Riyadh, or a woman or homosexual in Amsterdam than in Iran, or run a newspaper in Stockholm rather than in Havana, or drink the water in Luxembourg rather than in Uganda, or object to his government in Italy rather than in China or North Korea. Radical Muslims damn Europe and praise Allah — but whenever possible from Europe rather than inside Libya, Syria, or Iran.

Although we Americans think the European Union is a flawed notion and will not survive to fulfill its present aspirations, we hope in some strange way that it does — for both our sakes of having a proud partner in a more dangerous world to come rather than an angry and envious inferior, nursing past glories while blaming others for self-inflicted wounds of the present.

Even in this era of crisis, we cling to the notion that in the eleventh hour you, Europe, will yet reawake, rediscover your heritage, and join with us in defending the idea of the West from this latest illiberal scourge of Islamic fascism. For just once, if only for the purpose of theatrics, we would like to urge calm and restraint to a Europe angry, volatile, and threatening, in the face of blackmail and taunts from a third-rate theocracy in Tehran — or a two-bit fascist thug fomenting hate and violence from a state-subsidized mosque in a European suburb.

Alas, recently, Europeans have been taken hostage on the West Bank, Yemen, and Iraq. All have been released. There are two constants in the stories: Some sort of blackmail was no doubt involved (either cash payments or the release of terrorist killers in European jails?), and the captives often seem to praise the moderation of their captors. Is this an aberration or indicative of a deeper continental malady? Few, in either a private or public fashion, suggested that such bribery only perpetuates the kidnapping of innocents and provides cash infusions to terrorists to further their mayhem.

On the home front, a single, though bloody, attack in Madrid changed an entire Spanish election, and prompted the withdrawal of troops from Iraq — although the terrorists nevertheless continued, despite their promises to the contrary, to plant bombs and plan assassinations of Spanish judicial officials. Cry the beloved continent.

The entire legal system of the Netherlands is under review due to the gruesome murder of Theo van Gogh and politicians there who speak out about the fascistic tendencies of radical Islam often either face threats or go into hiding. Cry the beloved continent.

Unemployment, postcolonial prejudice, and de facto apartheid may have led to the fiery rioting in the French suburbs, but it was also energized by a radical Islamic culture of hate. In response followed de facto French martial law. All that remains certain is that the rioting will return either to grow or to warp liberal French society. Indeed, so far has global culture devolved in caving to Islamism that we fear that only two places in the world are now safe for a Jew to live in safety — and Europe, the graveyard of 20th-century Jewry, is tragically not among them. Cry the beloved continent.

Your idealistic approach to health care, transportation, global warming, and entitlements have won over much of coastal and blue America, who, if given their way, would replicate here what you have there. Yet the worry grows that none of this vision of your anointed is sustainable — given an aging and shrinking population, growing and unassimilated minority populations, flat growth rates, increasing statism, and high unemployment.

If America, the former British commonwealth, India, and China, embraced globalization, while the Arab Middle East rejected it, you sought a third way of insulating yourselves from it — and now are beginning to pay for trying to legislate and control what is well beyond your ability to do either.

Abroad you face even worse challenges. In the post-Cold War you dismantled your armed forces, and chose to enhance entitlements at the expense of military readiness. I fear you counted only on a tried and simple principle: that the United States would continue to subsidize European defense while ignoring your growing secular religion of anti-Americanism.

But in the last 15 years, and especially after 9/11, heaven did not come to earth, that instead became a more dangerous place than ever before. Worse, in the meantime you lost the goodwill of the United States, which you demonized, I think, on the understanding that there would never be real repercussions to your flamboyant venom.

Your courts indict American soldiers, often a few miles from the very military garrisons that alone protect you. Your media and public castigate the country whose fashion, music, entertainment, and popular culture you so slavishly embrace.

The Balkan massacres proved that a mass murderer like Slobodan Milosevic could operate with impunity in Europe until removed by the intervention of the United States. And yet from that gruesome lesson, in retrospect we over here have learned only two things: The Holocaust would have gone on unabated hours from Paris and Berlin without the leadership of United States, and in this era of the Chirac/Schroeder ingratitude the American public would never sanction such help to you again. If you believe that an American-led NATO should not serve larger Western interests outside of Europe, we concede that it cannot even do that inside it.

We wish you well in your faith that war has become obsolete and that outlaw nations will comply with international jurisprudence that was born and is nurtured in Europe. Yet your own intelligence suggests that the Iran theocracy is both acquiring nuclear weaponry and seeking to craft missile technology to put an Islamic bomb within reach of European cities — oblivious to the reasoned appeals of European Union diplomats, who themselves operate as Greek philosophers in the agora only on the condition that Americans will once more play the role of Roman legionaries in the shadows.

Russia may no longer be the mass-murdering Soviet Union, but it remains a proud nationalist and increasingly autocratic power of the 19th-century stripe, nuclear and angry at the loss of its empire, emboldened by the ease that it can starve energy supplies to Western Europe, and tired of humanitarian lectures from Westerners who have no real military to match their condescending sermons. Old Europe has neither the will nor the power to protect the ascending democracies of Eastern Europe, much less the republics of the former Soviet Union from present Russian bullying — and perhaps worse to come.

The European strategy of selling weapons to Arab autocracies, triangulating against the United States for oil and influence, and providing cash to dubious terrorists like Hamas has backfired. Polls in the West Bank suggest Palestinians hate you, the generous and accommodating, as much as they do us, the staunch ally of Israel.

So, terrorists of the Middle East seem to have even less respect for you than for the United States, given they harbor a certain contempt for your weakness as relish to the generic hatred of our shared Western traditions.

You will, of course, answer that in your postwar wisdom you have transcended the internecine killing of the earlier 20th century when nationalism and militarism ruined your continent — and that you have lent your insight to the world at large that should follow your therapeutic creed rather than the tragic vision of the United States.

But the choices are not so starkly bipolar between either chauvinistic saber rattling or studied pacifism. There is a third way, the promise of muscular democratic government that does not apologize for 2,500 years of civilization and is willing to defend it from the enemies of liberalism, who would undo all that we wrought.

A European Union that facilitates trade, finance, and commerce can enrich and ennoble your continent, but it need not suppress the unique language, character, and customs of European nationhood itself, much less abdicate a heritage that once not merely moralized about, but took action to end, evil.

The world is becoming a more dangerous place, despite your new protocols of childlessness, pacifism, socialism, and hedonism. Islamic radicalism, an ascendant Communist China, a growing new collectivism in Latin America, perhaps a neo-czarist Russia as well, in addition to the famine and savagery in Africa, all that and more threaten the promise of the West.

So criticize us for our sins; lend us your advice; impart to America the wealth of your greater experience — but as a partner and an equal in a war, not as an inferior or envious neutral on the sidelines. History is unforgiving. None of us receives exemption simply by reason of the fumes of past glory.

Either your economy will reform, your populace multiply, and your citizenry defend itself, or not. And if not, then Europe as we have known it will pass away — to the great joy of the Islamists but to the terrible sorrow of America.

©2005 Victor Davis Hanson

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