The School of Experience
January 28, 2003
The states of Europe are reluctant to support an
American war on Iraq. So are most European people. For this the hawkish
press in this country is accusing them of
As the columnist Richard Cohen
puts it, These European critics need to be reminded ... that America
saved Europe from the Nazis and from the Communists and asked nothing
in return. Nothing, it seems, except an eternally grateful
werent quite so selfless. During both World War II and the Cold
War, they were told that their own freedom depended on saving
Europes freedom. They were strongly opposed to entering World
War II until Pearl Harbor by which time more than 100,000 of
those allegedly cowardly Frenchmen had died fighting Germany, only to be
conquered. Yet to hear todays hawks tell it, the French surrendered
without a struggle and welcomed Hitler to Paris; and today they are
spurning their benefactors us Americans who are nobly
trying to save them from todays Hitler, Iraqs Saddam
Well, the French remember the
first Hitler, and they dont see the analogy. They think the United
States is pushing for a needless war against a regime that poses no threat
to them, let alone to the United States, which, with typical Gallic
effrontery and ethnocentrism, they consider to be across the Atlantic, out
of reach of Iraq. They see nothing to be gained by such a war, but they see
dangers for everyone; and they dont want to be dragged into it. This
is now anti-Americanism.
The Germans share these views.
They too are anti-American.
Think of that! We save their
freedom for them, and they insist on acting like free countries! Did our
brave soldiers die so that they could disagree with us?
The Pope opposes this war. He must be anti-American too. And
guess what? General Norman Schwarzkopf, hero of the 1991 Gulf War, is
very dubious about this one. And here you thought he was a patriot.
Millions of people in this world,
some of them in Europe, really are anti-American. They wish nothing but
harm to this country; they curse its name. But the millions of other
Europeans and Americans who want to prevent this war
are chiefly driven by humane concern for everyone who is likely to suffer.
They are anti-war for pro-American reasons. If you try to stop a friend from
getting into a drunken brawl, you dont become his enemy. When he sobers
up, he will regard you as a better friend than he knew.
North Koreas bloated
fanatic, Kim Jong Il, is a far more despicable tyrant than Saddam Hussein,
which is saying something. He is also viciously anti-American. Its
conceivable, even probable, that he would be delighted by a U.S. war on
Iraq, because of its likely baneful results for America.
Its juvenile to equate
critics with enemies. A critic may warn you that you are driving
dangerously. An enemy would rather see you have a serious accident. A
true friend will sometimes be a critic, even an angry critic. Our European
friends are now exasperated with us. Instead of heeding their passionate
pleas, our rulers ridicule them as old Europe for refusing to
cooperate in a dubiously conceived military adventure whose outcome
nobody can know.
Two world wars ended with
consequences all the belligerents failed to foresee. If anyone really won,
it was, both times, the Communists. The first war enabled them to
overthrow the tsars and conquer Russia; the second one enabled them to
extend their empire over much of Christian Europe. Even Stalin must have
been happily surprised when, after a mighty close shave, he emerged as an
Yet to this day, the optimistic
illusion persists that we won both wars. But neither time
could the results be judged on the day the enemy ceremonially
surrendered. History isnt measured by ceremonies, which are only
brief pauses in infinitely complex and continuous events.
Except for Secretary of State
Colin Powell, nobody in the Bush administration seems even slightly
aware that history will keep moving unpredictably, as it always does,
after the United States marches triumphantly into Baghdad.
Experience keeps a dear
school, Benjamin Franklin said, but a fool will learn in no
other. The Europeans have learned bitter lessons in that school;
Americans are just now enrolling.