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 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 “anti-Americanism.”

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 subservience.

Actually, Americans weren’t quite so selfless. During both World War II and the Cold War, they were told that their own freedom depended on saving Europe’s 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 today’s 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 today’s Hitler, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.

Well, the French remember the first Hitler, and they don’t 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 don’t 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?

[Breaker quote: Listening to "anti-Americans"]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 don’t become his enemy. When he sobers up, he will regard you as a better friend than he knew.

North Korea’s bloated fanatic, Kim Jong Il, is a far more despicable tyrant than Saddam Hussein, which is saying something. He is also viciously anti-American. It’s conceivable, even probable, that he would be delighted by a U.S. war on Iraq, because of its likely baneful results for America.

It’s 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 emperor.

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 isn’t 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.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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of Griffin Internet Syndicate

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