Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Old Europe is Heard from Again...
I have a friend, an American, who has found himself living in Britain for the last eight years or so. Since his wife never wanted to leave England after they were married, he never bothered to make a case for returning to America. In the last few weeks, he's begun to change his mind.

The thing that is causing this change of heart is the war. Not that he doesn't feel safe in Britain, or that he has visions of the Islamic horde marching up Watford High Street, guns blazing and chanting "Allahu Akbar! (God is Great). It's just that, to him, Britain has become an unbearable place to live if you're an American.

It started innocently enough. There were jokes about President Bush, not that he minded, he's not political. The, of course, came the obligatory lectures from friends and acquaintances about how unsophisticated Americans are and how simplistic our world-view is. Mind you, your typical Englishman/woman in the street, to my experience, has always been charmed to meet Americans and is genuinely interested in us, even if only to be polite. But now, they're getting openly hostile.

My buddy cannot, for example, go to work without being reminded that his nation is killing children, led by an idiot, or has an exagerrated sense of righteousnous. We've gone from being the quirky, but loveable, eccentric cousins to the fur-breasted Hitlerian legions in British public opinion. It's almost as if he, personally, started the whole thing.

His "favorite" argument (always made when not solicited, by the way) is that Europe, and Britain in particular, know how to deal with terrorism, and we (Americans) should learn from their example. Europe, for example, does not invade hostile countries when threatened by a terrorist act (conveneniently forgetting the England has been in possession of Northern Ireland for 900 years, which is the instigating cause of IRA terrorism, of course). Europe does not go about toppling "legitimately elected governments" in response to an act of terrorism, apparently forgetting that the First World War occured after the assassination of the Austrian heir-apparent. If that ain't terrorism, I don't know what is. of course, Europeans are more restrained and pragmatic when it comes to things like terror bombings. You bomb Coventry and we burn down Berlin, nothing like that great English sense of fairness, is there?

But, there is hostility. Almost, as if, being 3,000 miles from home, but still an American, my friend is somehow responsible for starting a war that your typical Englishman doesn't have the guts to fight for himself. Notwithstanding the English troops in Afghanistan and Iraq right now, but then again, they aren't typical.

I can only guess at why they think this way.

Guess Number 1 - Britain is a hollow shell of what it used to be. The great power conferred by the Royal Navy, the statesmanship of a Lloyd-George or Churchill, the engine of a great manufacturing economy, are all gone. They belong to the past as much as Stonehenge and ruins of Bath. They are a by-gone era that will never return because no one remembers what it was like then. The English have lost touch with what it is that made them English, what has made them unique in the history of the world. The "Great" has gone out of Great Britain, the pomp and majesty has been chipped away at for so long that it is no longer recognizable. Englishmen today must live under a cloud that is reminiscent of the last days of Rome. Only they're content to live under it.

Guess Number 2 - After nearly 100 years of IRA bombings and plots, and the comparatively little loss of life (more people were killed on 9/11 than in all the IRA bombings on record), the English have come to look at terrorism as a minor inconvenience. Of course, this is a people who have withstood the Nazi blitz, so perhaps they're jaded somewhat. They forget, however, that the IRA is fighting for a limited, political goal (England out of Ireland) and is not fighting to gather the entire world under Catholic rule. Islamic terrorists, on the other hand, are fighting for what God has told them is right -- the entire world under the Islamic tent -- and under rules in which killing the unbeliever is just as good as converting him. The IRA would (probably) never slam an airliner into the Houses of Parliament, for example.

Guess Number 3 - Britain, and Europe as a whole, are secretly jealous of the United States. It's a case of penis envy writ large. The United States defeated Nazi and Japanese militarism with a combination of zeal, guts and an industrial capacity second to none. The United States stared down a major nuclear power for 50 years, playing a game of chicken that threatened the destruction of the world, until that power fell flat on it's back, a victim of it's own excesses and failures, rather than by outright conquest. They wish they still could do that, but they can't. While Americans were defending them from the ravages of Communism, Europeans were busy losing their empires and implementing the less-pernicious virus of socialism. They've decided that they would rather be mollycoddled than fight for their own freedom and safety. This sense of security, however, does not extend beyond any individual's own nose.

To my friend across the pond, I say, chin up, old boy! You're always welcome to come home, and we'll take you just as you are and not how others would wish you to be. And because we're such good folks, we'll take your wife too (okay, I do adore her), no questions asked.

To the idiots who haven't figured out that the United States has once again taken up the gauntlet that will enable what's left of their civilization to continue, I quote Geroge Orwell, as great an Englishman as there ever was, speaking of the dangers of his own day: "to be anti-war is to be objectively pro-Nazi". Substitute Islamic-suicide- bombing-fanatic in place of Nazi.

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