69 million page views

A bit of perspective

Reader comment on item: Europeans: From Venus?

Submitted by Petter O. Nikula (Finland), Jul 18, 2002 at 21:45

I would like to present the 'European' perspective on some of the issues touched here. Naturally, I can't claim to speak for the whole of Europe, but rather as a Finn who hasn't personally experienced WW II.

I personally don't think it is true that Europe would have forgotten, or chosen not to acknowledge the importance of the US efforts in the second world war, but rather, we look at it from all our different perspectives.

A person from Germany, for instance will naturally have quite a different perspective than someone from Britain or France. A Briton might very well share the American perspective to a large degree, but what about the German? Of course, most germans today (I believe) look back on their own history during the 30's and 40's with revulsion, but on the other hand, I can understand that it can be very hard to stand up and cheer for those who bombed your country into a heap of rubble.

And what about my own country? To us, the defining part of WW II was that the Soviet Union declared war on us, and we fought twice against them within a decade. The rest of the whole affair largely passed us by. We never had any US (or other allied) forces helping us out. So, to us the US involvement was mostly something that took place 'somewhere else'.

As I said, there cannot be a uniform European feeling towards the US involvement in WW II, each country has it's own unique experience and set of circumstances to look back on. Perhaps some commentators here forget that Europe in no way is nearly as unified in its views and policies as the US is?

What I do find quite sad is that no-one (from either side in this debate) seems to remember those who had to bear the brunt of the German army during WW II. Those who actually had to carry out the ugly business of defeating them on the ground...

When comparing the relative (military) strength of the US and the EU, and how each entity chooses to spend their resources, one has to take into account one major factor that hasn't been mentioned so far.

Europe has for the past 50 years been quite busy rebuilding all that damage that WW II caused. Back then, all we had was basically a large smoking ruin. Even today, our BNP per capita is lower than that of the US. True, somewhere from the 1970's to the late 1980's, one might argue that this project was more or less completed.

But right at that moment, the east bloc finally collapsed and now we are yet again faced with a similar humongous task of rebuilding shattered economies and outdated businesses over a huge area. To picture the consequences, imagine what it would mean economically for the US if it were to suddenly absorb the whole of South America within a decade or two.

Finally I'd like to take a little time to try to explain what has been refered to as the European sense of morality (or lack there of, depending on your point of view).

We live with a huge legacy of guilt for our past. Even today, we are faced with the consequences of centuries of European colonialism. By and large, our former colonies are still among the poorest countries in the world, where even the most basic necessities are lacking.

The events in the Middle East are a constant reminder of our terrible offences against the Jews and how poorly our feeble attempt to set things right turned out, sparking off a conflict that has lasted now for 5 decades.

And last, but not least. We have vast, and dismal experience of what effects national pride, lack of the will to negotiate and meddling with other countries can lead to. Europe experienced internal conflicts over everything from religious wars, wars of aggression to wars over inheritances (!) for well over 500 years before the two world wars.

The European preference to (try to) make deals instead of projecting power stems from all these sources. Basically, we keep hoping that the rest of the world would also see the benefits of resolving conflicts peacefully, and we try to help as much as possible along that path.

Personally, I think it is too soon to drawn any final conclusions about the validity of this strategy. And I guess that before we can do so, Europe and the US are destined to hold differing views on how to best handle the conflicts that arise in the world.

Finally, in case you now draw the conclusion that Europeans are "softies" who keep persuing completely unrealistic dreams, let's not forget that there is an ongoing process of developing the EU in the military sense as well. Just don't expect us to build 10 carrier task forces and thousands of nuclear missiles by tomorrow though. First, we need to sort out what our aspirations are.

Should we do as the US and Russia have done and build up a large strategic capability (nuclear weapons)? Or, should we concentrate on creating an ability to carry out conventional wars overseas (Operation Desert Storm)? Or, maybe the capability to wage unconventional wars (Afghanistan)? Or, perhaps we should do all three? Sorting out issues like that isn't the easiest thing to do among more than ten nations trying to co-operate.

Europe is very much in the process of trying to define what our ambitions on the global stage truly are and how we want to try to achieve them. The US is in the enviable position to have those ambitions fairly clearly defined, and have the tools to carry them out today. This is of course what the article by Mr Pipes basically states.
Submitting....

Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

Comment on this item

Mark my comment as a response to A bit of perspective by Petter O. Nikula

Email me if someone replies to my comment

Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

See recent outstanding comments.

Follow Daniel Pipes

Facebook   Twitter   RSS   Join Mailing List

All materials by Daniel Pipes on this site: © 1968-2023 Daniel Pipes. daniel.pipes@gmail.com and @DanielPipes

Support Daniel Pipes' work with a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum.Daniel J. Pipes

(The MEF is a publicly supported, nonprofit organization under section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code.

Contributions are tax deductible to the full extent allowed by law. Tax-ID 23-774-9796, approved Apr. 27, 1998.

For more information, view our IRS letter of determination.)