A World Apart
Chicken Countries Shunning U.S. Beef,” screamed a New York Post headline recently. As far as eye-catching headlines go, it was a good one. The message was not exactly subliminal. Frogs, Krauts, and Limeys—bad, Americans—good. Nothing wrong with that—except for the facts, of course. The United States was one of the first countries to ban the importation of British beef after mad cow disease was discovered. As panic swept the country in 1989, officials at the Department of Agriculture called it a matter of life and death. The scare was exacerbated by Oprah Winfrey’s 1996 declaration that she would stop eating hamburgers because of her fears over mad cow disease. In 1999, America threatened to ban blood donations from anyone who had visited Britain the preceding 20 years, in case they had contracted the human equivalent. Anti-American British tabloids had a field day, but I can’t remember anyone calling the Yanks chickens. Mind you, they’ve called Americans everything else, including chickens, although in a different context.
Ironically, among the most strident anti-Americans in the Euro crowd are the Brits. It’s obviously something to do with having had to eat crow in Yorktown or having had their chestnuts pulled out of the fire twice in the space of 20 years, with American GIs doing the pulling. Ironically, the French are mostly pro-American, despite their leaders, as are the Germans and Italians. My very own, the Greeks, are even worse than the Brits. The most shameful moment came following the WTC tragedy. When asked for a minute of silence for the victims during an international football match, the crowd booed full throttle.
What is it about Uncle Sam that turns the civilized Euros into America-haters? Is it because he’s so rich and powerful? Is it Coca-Cola and McDonald’s? Or is it American arrogance? Well, in my not so humble opinion, it’s all three, with a little European snobbery thrown in for good measure.
Hollywood does not help. Let’s face it: Europeans perceive America through movies, and as everyone who has ever seen a movie knows, the Hollywood version of America is of an evil country governed by crooks. When was the last time you saw a film in which a priest was not a sexual pervert? A policeman not a sadistic racist? An FBI or CIA agent not in the pay of drug dealers or of a shadowy corporation plotting to poison everyone’s water in pursuit of the almighty (not so mighty lately) dollar? Better yet, when was the last time Hollywood depicted a drug dealer, and a black dealer at that, as bad? Movies are not real life, and Europeans are supposedly a sophisticated lot who know better, and yet … Just the violence in American films gives reason enough to America-haters to say I told you so. The disconnect between Hollywood and America fills the rest of the world with a distorted picture of the so-called land of opportunity.
The trouble with Europe is it can never look America in the eye as an equal. The tired old continent will always be like a junior overseas partner of a giant bank who is invited to the office party as a gracious gesture on the part of the American honcho.
And then there’s anti-Semitism. Nothing outrages Europeans more than to read American pundits accusing them of it. France, Germany, and Britain are swamped with Muslims—close to six million in France. They, and they alone, are responsible for anti-Semitic attacks against Jews and other outrages such as defacing synagogues and Jewish graves. Spineless European leaders fear their indigenous Muslims and fudge the issue. If there is any anti-Semitism left in Europe after World War II, it is confined to whispers in the drawing room, if that. Yet the American media persist in linking it with Europeans in general, as unfair a charge as it is false.Uncle Sam going it alone in Iraq—while jingoist newspapers and networks called those who refused to follow Donald von Rumsfeld cowards—added fuel to the anti-American bonfire. Coward is a dirty word worldwide, and the only thing I can add are a few statistics. Between August 1914 and November 1918, one and half million French soldiers died in battle. This is three times more than all Americans who have died in every foreign war between 1776 and today. Over 120,000 French soldiers died in six weeks in the spring of 1940. Some 3,250,000 German soldiers died in two world wars, and close to five million Russians. The Brits lost something like two million in the two wars. A tiny country such as my own has lost nearly a million soldiers since the turn of the 20th century. We Europeans need no lessons in dying for our countries from Americans. What we do need is a better American understanding of our cultural differences and of the fact that we cannot be like the Americans because we, sadly or otherwise, happen to be Europeans.