If Thomas Babington Macaulay gave us the Whig interpretation of history, Victor Davis Hanson has given us the Marvel Comics interpretation, with added Thucydides. (Hanson is a classicist and doesn’t care who knows it.) For the past year, this sixth-generation grape farmer from Selma, Calif. has been writing the same piece, week after unforgiving week, for National Review Online. At the risk of simplifying, it goes something like this: Churchill good, Chamberlain bad; Democracy good, Tyranny bad; Israel good, Palestine bad; America good, Europe bad; Cowpokes good, Redskins bad; and, listen up, if it hadn’t been for “muscular and unsophisticated Americans,” you Euroweenies would now be speaking Kraut. But Hanson is not just a classicist and a grape farmer; he is also visiting professor of military history at the U.S. Naval Academy, and he knows what he wants. In the name of all that is holy and decent and democratic, in the name of Wal-Mart and Wall Street, he wants us to square our jaws, narrow our eyes, slap on the sun screen, dust off the depleted uranium, and spend $60 billion on a war with Iraq.
All things considered, most Europeans would rather pass on this one, as Saddam Hussein has never done them any harm and intends them none; and anyway people might get killed: not Americans, perhaps, but people all the same. Hanson finds this response repulsive. Who the devil do these Europeans think they are? Have they no gratitude? Can they not recognize “history’s greatest civilization” when it is staring them in the face and asking for no more than a bit of unconditional love and maybe a spare infantry battalion or two? America offers Europe “Sex and the City” as it were and the nuclear umbrella, yet the Europeans become churlish when asked to put their lives on the line and persist in taking a negative view of Manifest Destiny.
Hanson is without doubt the best buy in Neocon City. In October, he poured out his frustration and grief in Commentary (“Goodbye Europe?”), but alas fell at the first paragraph: “… few things can have been more dismaying to Americans than the attitude adopted by many of our closest European allies, whose sympathy for the loss of life [on 9/11] was quickly replaced by skepticism … toward American motives and American policy.”
Be dismayed no longer, Americans. Sympathy for the loss of life was absolutely not replaced by skepticism. It was all along accompanied by skepticism. Sympathy remains in place, but (and please forgive me for going over old ground) Europeans are convinced that instead of declaring war on terrorism—a war he could not possibly win and which, after 14 months of military fiascoes, he is manifestly losing—the President of the United States should have devoted his energies to hunting down and hanging the murderers and their agents.
What a bunch of wimps, eh? Almost as bad as the Canadians. No wonder Hanson’s contempt for Europe is shared by many red-blooded (though for the most part unbloodied) Americans. After reading tens of thousands of words from the Weekly Standard, National Review, Commentary, and Policy Review, even Slate, the message I get from the War Party is that Europe—with the possible exception of Britain—is morally and intellectually bankrupt; that, having been exhausted by the wars of the last century, she is now too weak and too timid to confront major (or even minor) external threats; that she is envious of America’s military might and material abundance (which accounts for all those foaming anti-Americans); and that European Union itself is “socialist” (a word used by the New Right in America to describe any nation that provides a public health service and observes the major feasts of the Christian calendar).
Europe is also, of course, venomously and congenitally anti-Semitic. To read some of the more emotional neocons—Charles Krauthammer, George F. Will, David Gelernter, and Michael Ledeen, for example—one might conclude that it is only a matter of time before “Europeans” revert to form and, at the very least, start forcing Jews to scrub the streets. In a muddled piece in the Weekly Standard last autumn, David Gelernter wrote of Europe’s “casual, endemic anti-Semitism, her politically, financially, and masochistically rewarding fascination with Muslim states who despise her. …” Elsewhere in the same piece he asserted, “Europe wants to hate herself … but not for the sin of killing Jews; for the sin of killing Europeans.” And here is the snarling Michael Ledeen in NRO: “I always marveled at the Europeans’ ability to praise Hitler as a man of peace, and get terribly annoyed at Czechoslovakia for denying the poor man his richly deserved peace of mind … by existing in his Lebensraum.”
This is spiteful and paranoid rhetoric unworthy even of the Marvel Comics school. Two points should be made. The first is that only the Nazis and their accomplices were guilty of killing Jews. “Europe” was not. Europe suffered hideously in World War II, losing many more men in the struggle to defeat Hitler—and thus to save Jewish lives—than the Americans. France lost 110,000 dead by May 1940; worldwide, between 1939 and 1945, some 60 million died, most of them civilians. The second point is that, webwise, the United States is almost certainly the most anti-Semitic—and for that matter anti-American—nation on earth. It is not just loony websites, either. On the American street, anti-Semitism is selling like crack cocaine: according to the Anti-Defamation League 17 percent of Americans—some 35 million adults—are now “hardcore” anti-Semites, an increase of 5 percent since 1998.
Actually there is a third point. Ledeen’s crack about the Europeans praising Hitler as a man of peace might have had a bit more edge if he had added that Winston Churchill—icon-in-chief of neoconservatism—did not always speak ill of the Nazi leader. In 1937 he praised Hitler’s “patriotic achievement” and hoped that if England were ever defeated in war she would find a champion “as indomitable” to restore her fortunes. Churchill then led Great Britain to victory in the war against Nazism. Having defeated one evil, he warned of another: Soviet Communism. He did not, however, advocate war. On the contrary, he advocated dialogue. The result: peace in our time. We did not listen to the philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell when in 1948 he urged a preemptive nuclear strike against the Soviet Union to prevent Stalin from developing weapons of mass destruction. (Russell went on to become an anti-American loony.) Nor did we, thank God, bomb Moscow in retaliation for the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956.
Scarcely less overwrought than Ledeen and Gelernter—and Russell—is David Pryce-Jones, a countryman of mine. In his contribution to National Review’s “Ugly European” issue of April 5,1999—the cover drawing shows a Frenchman with cunning eyes, a long nose, a jutting chin, and a cigarette in the corner of his mean and unenlightened mouth—Pryce-Jones maintained that in many organizational, social, and intellectual respects the European Union is the natural successor to the Soviet Union. Blimey! The way these fellows tell it, America’s allies across the Atlantic have turned into a bunch of neo-Nazi commie weenies.
Robert Kagan, author of the monumental and widely acclaimed Policy Review essay, “Power and Weakness,” is more forgiving than many of the hawks. He would not deny that Europeans are weak, snotty, shrill, feckless, impotent, parochial, selfish, and parasitical, but he thinks their many failings are the result of capricious historical forces rather than of moral turpitude; and that Europe is not actually to blame for luxuriating in peace while leaving it to the mighty and altruistic USA to go abroad slaying dragons. C’est la guerre.
“Power and Weakness” is an upright and sober work, but it runs to 11,569 words, and Kagan occasionally bumps into the furniture. For example, it is hard to square his opening remarks—that Europeans and Americans no longer share a common view of the world; that on major strategic and international questions they are not even from the same planet; and that in terms of foreign and defense policies they have parted ways, almost certainly forever—with his conclusion that “the United States and Europe share a set of common Western beliefs. … [and their] aspirations for humanity are much the same. …” Kagan’s opening shot was on the mark: there are indeed irreconcilable differences between Europe and the United States and always have been. Contrary evidence notwithstanding, Europe is a product of the Age of Faith; America a product of the Age of Reason.
Kagan is a great believer in Reason, provided that it leads to right thinking. In a rare moment of Marvel School candor, he declares, “Americans, as good children of the Enlightenment, still believe in the perfectibility of man, and they retain hope for the perfectibility of the world. But they … still believe in the necessity of power in a world that remains far from perfect. … Americans can sometimes see themselves in heroic terms—as Gary Cooper at high noon. They will defend the townspeople, whether the townspeople want them to or not.”
You can be sure that National Review’s excitable John Derbyshire couldn’t agree more, though he surely would if he could. As an Englishman who recently became a U.S. citizen, he has the zeal and credulity of a convert. To him, America is not just the sweetest fruit of the Enlightenment but the “jewel in the crown of civilization.” England, by contrast, is “a feminized society drenched in sentimental hedonism.” After a trip to Canada to defend racial profiling, he pronounces, “Whenever you go amongst foreigners, or read their commentaries, you realize just how far ahead of the world America is. … this is where stuff happens.” Even before he became an anti-war activist, my old friend the Okie from Muskogee would have been embarrassed by that.
But let’s be fair. Not everything the neocons say is false or even ill informed. There is more anti-Semitism around now than there was before 9/11, but there is even more anti-Muslim feeling. There is also more hostility to the United States. That does not mean, however, that Europeans are anti-American. Most Europeans like Americans, though naturally some Europeans—possibly a growing number—dislike them, in the same way some Serbs dislike Albanians. What certainly does bother Europeans is Americanism—and what the great Jean-Pierre Chevenement called its cretinizing influence. (Incidentally, Americanism—the elevation of the active virtues over the passive—was condemned as a heresy by Pope Leo XIII in 1899.) A.N. Wilson, the conservative historian and novelist, is not fond of Americanism. Just before Christmas, he wrote in the London Evening Standard that if he were compelled to fight either for Iraq or America, he would fight for Iraq, since the Americanists had assumed the role of bully.
It is quite easy to see how this might set American teeth on edge and make American taxpayers resent the billions they are spending maintaining a military presence in Europe. The neocons are right when they say that Europe should either pay up or shut up, but do they mean what they say? It is precisely the neocons—both in the United States and in Great Britain—who have been most contemptuous of the European Rapid Reaction Force. The last thing that the liberal imperialists of the Anglo-American Right want is a militarily independent Europe. Yet to any self-respecting European, reliance on the United States for defense is indefensible and stupid. The European Union should pay whatever it costs to protect her borders and, if it should come to that, to resist the United States.
But the question remains: why are the neocons so mad at Europe? The anti-Semitism that is allegedly swamping the Continent cannot be the answer, except in the minds of the more loopy Zionists. Nor can Europe’s supposed envy of the United States. It does not exist except among pathologically pro-American beauty consultants and self-employed plumbers in Essex. What is to envy? East Texas? No, the answer is that neocons fear Europe. Why else would they get so angry about a continent that they profess to believe is impotent? Why, if the United States is mortally threatened by a two-bit mass-murderer in the Middle East, should the hacks of the New Right—and with them the administration—give a damn about what the Europeans think? Why don’t they forget Europe, forget the UN, and do the right thing and kill Saddam? It would be a morning’s work. What’s stopping them? What’s frustrating the best laid plans of Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney (not to mention Andrew Sullivan and the White House attack monkey Jonah Goldberg)? To many on this side of the Atlantic, it looks as though the administration is scared, not physically perhaps, but politically.
If Bush does not go to war, he loses face (and therefore votes). But if he stands and fights he risks losing the support of the 60 percent of Americans who do not believe that he has made the case for war. Some of us are wondering, therefore, whether he might not continue to procrastinate and, after cutting a relatively bloodless (but profitable) deal in the Middle East, declare a famous diplomatic victory. It is that possibility that goes some way to explaining why the neocons hate Europe. They do not want diplomatic victories. They want military victories. Some of them have been lusting after a war with Iraq since Sept. 12. Now they fear that Europe—or at least European and Third World voices within the UN—will somehow snatch it from them.
Maybe they should not be so anxious. The smart money in London, as in Washington, is still on war. In the weeks immediately before Christmas, Europe began to seem less intransigently European. The expansion of EU to the borders of the former Soviet Union, in tandem with the expansion of NATO, is likely to strengthen Washington and weaken Brussels. If Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s brave and principled warnings are ignored and Turkey comes on board, then the United States of Europe will become the Europe of the United States, and there will be no insubordination the next time America wants to war-war rather than jaw-jaw (which will be soon). That is not good news for neo-Nazi commie weenies. Those of them who are not prepared to straighten up and fly right will have to move to Canada—if there is still such a place.
Stuart Reid is deputy editor of the London Spectator.