Culture

Impotent condescension

Culture | Europeans look down their noses at the U.S.'s "hyper-power" status

Issue: "Clergy Sexual Abuse," March 30, 2002

America at the beginning of the 21st century is already not so much a superpower as a behemoth on the world stage," observed an editorial in the London Observer. "Economically dominant, it enjoys military and cultural power unrivaled since the days of the Roman emperors."

European pundits are running out of words to express their awe at the United States. The term superpower hardly does justice to American might. The United States now is a "mega-power." Or, better yet, as the Observer puts it, a "hyper-power."

The liberal-leaning British newspaper pointed out that a single U.S. carrier group-an aircraft carrier and its escort ships-packs more planes, marines, and firepower than most European nations. And America has seven of them. And that's just the Navy. And no other nation has anything remotely close to the military technology of the United States.

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Afghanistan was the Soviet Union's Vietnam, but the United States quickly dispatched the Taliban like hitting a bug with a hammer. Though Europe-especially England-has been supportive of America's war against terrorism, the European mind is finding the display of American might deeply unsettling.

This lies behind some of the fretting about President Bush's "axis of evil" speech, the treatment of the terrorist captives in Guantanamo, and American threats to turn its hammer against Saddam Hussein.

Europeans feel that they are far more sophisticated and culturally superior to the more primitive Americans, with their gun-slinging ways just out of the Wild West. They are also dismayed to find themselves irrelevant.

The Observer quotes with a straight face a British academic, David Rieff, who said of the United States, "They're not doing the intelligent thing, which would be to forge multilateral institutions that are favorable to us."

Mixed in with this impotent condescension is fear. Mr. Rieff goes on to worry, "Even for someone who's not against the use of American power, it's hard to believe that the people running the country can limit their ambitions for an empire at its high-water mark."

The Europeans seem to be projecting their own history onto the United States. True, nations that have been invaded, attacked, and had their cities destroyed throughout their history-and have been plagued with terrorism of one kind or another for generations-could be excused for thinking the United States is overreacting to the events of Sept. 11. But that sort of thing has never happened to us before, and they should realize that we do not take it lightly.

Those worried about American power can take heart in knowing that unlike European nations, the United States is not interested in conquering its neighbors and setting up a global empire. Just about every European nation took its turn in trying to dominate the world-Italy's Rome, the Spanish conquistadors, Napoleonic France, the British Empire, the three Reichs of Germany. The United States, however powerful, has mostly kept to itself.

The wreckage left behind by European colonialism is actually to blame for much of the instability in the world. The genocidal civil wars of Africa are largely due to the European-drawn colonial borders, which remained after independence and placed tribes that hate each other in the same country. The Hindu-Muslim powderkeg of Kashmir, the Byzantine politics of the Middle East, the dangerous regimes of Indonesia and Indochina, even the belligerence of China, all have colonial European connections.

One reason Europe is nervous about U.S. action against Islamic terrorists is that they have so many Muslim immigrants-former citizens of their far-flung empires who have taken advantage of their right to move to the seat of the empire. Today, Europe is home to 15 million Muslims, and Islam has surpassed Judaism as the second largest European religion. As for the largest, Christianity, the churches are mostly empty.

This may be the real secret of Europe's cultural decline. In response to the way President Bush speaks in terms of clear moral categories, a German writer said, "You know, the concept of 'good and evil' no longer exists in Europe."

Europeans are much further gone down the path of secularism and moral relativism than Americans (who have gone quite a way down that path themselves). Prostitution is generally legal and pornography is on free-TV. European universities remain bastions of an almost Maoist leftism. In Scandinavia, couples living together outnumber those who marry. The Dutch have legalized both drugs and the killing of their sick.

As Europe tries to dismantle their own national identities into a bureaucratic European Union, they are alarmed at American patriotism. As they destroy their own rich cultures, they are envious of one that still shows signs of life.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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