Thursday, September 10, 2009

Nothing To Kill Or Die For

At First Thoughts, Keith Pavlischek notes that when it comes to their views on whether war is every justified, the differences between Americans and Europeans are much more significant that using mayo as a condiment with french fries:

The most striking difference between Americans and Europeans is reflected in answers to the following rather cautiously worded statement:

Please tell me to what extend you agree with the following: Under some conditions, war is necessary to obtain justice.

The American response:

Strongly agree: 37 percent
Somewhat agree: 34 percent
Somewhat disagree: 11 percent
Strongly disagree: 14 percent

For those who are counting, that's 71 percent who agree to 25 percent who disagree.

By contrast, the Europeans answer:

Strongly agree: 8 percent
Somewhat agree: 17 percent
Somewhat disagree: 22 percent
Strongly disagree: 49 percent

That's 25 percent who agree to 71 percent who disagree.

The UK is the only European nation that could muster a majority who agree that under some conditions war is necessary to obtain justice, but only barely at 55-40 percent, coming in at percentages of: 20, 35, 15, and 25 respectively.

On the Continent one finds a rather dismal picture. Worth mentioning is the high percentage of Europeans who strongly disagree, suggesting that they believe that under no conditions can war ever be necessary to obtain justice: 57 percent of the French (5, 13, 24, 57), 55 percent of the Germans (6, 13, 25, 55), 64 percent of the Italians (4, 12, 20, 64), 55 percent of the Spanish (4, 10, 30, 55), and 60 percent of the Belgians (3, 14, 18, 60). Only 47 percent of the Dutch strongly disagree (10, 19, 22, 47), which makes them, I suppose, the warmongers of the Continent.

Or perhaps the ones more mindful of what it's like to be occupied by powerful neighbors.

Pretty bleak, but then again, let's look on the bright side. Who wouldn't prefer having a nation of German pacifists than a nation of goose-stepping Nazis traipsing through Europe? Certainly, the German pacifism of the first part of the twenty-first century is to be preferred to the German militarism of the first half of the twentieth.

But militarism and pacifism, of course, don't exhaust the range of moral options (and I would argue that they tend to go together like Tweedledee and Tweedledum, but that is for another day.) If they thought real, real hard, and reached deep into their heritage, Europeans just might be able to come up with a few conditions under which war should be waged for the sake of justice. Or maybe not so deep, maybe just as far back as, say, Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald. A visit to the American cemetery at, say, Normandy, for example, might also serve to jar their collective conscience. But I doubt it.

Back in aught-two, I shared my thoughts on the rise of post-war European pacifism in a lengthy post. Most of what I wrote at the time still holds up pretty well today based on the latest survey results that Pavlischek cites:

Because the Germans did suffer tremendously in the World Wars and the Cold War they tend to view themselves as victims of war and proof that war is never justified. And when you see the evidence of how thoroughly their country was ravaged, particularly from the aerial bombing in Word War II, it is possible to understand the basis for their belief. They witnessed the horrors of World War II firsthand and the fact that they are now able to peacefully coexist with their past enemies from that conflict leads them to believe that the war was avoidable and so are all future wars. The nearly sixty years of peace that they have enjoyed since 1945 is attributed to their diplomacy and communication and they feel that the fall of Communism was inevitable.

This view seems to ignore the fact that it was not diplomacy or communication but rather war that ended the terrors of Nazism. It also does not recognize that the fall of Communism was not a historic inevitability and that only the threat of war (the U.S. nuclear umbrella, 350,000 American troops in West Germany) ensured the security of Western Europe during the Cold War.

The Germans, the Italians, other small European countries, and even the French were at one time or another defeated on the field of battle, occupied by foreign powers, and to differing levels had their countries devastated during World War II. Even the countries that were on the victorious Allied side, emerged beaten down physically and psychologically from the conflict. The French were allowed to be a part of the Allied coalition that reestablished peace in Europe but they knew in their hearts that they had lost the war and that their country was much weaker as a result of it. So for most of the countries of continental Europe the Second World War was a disaster for their peoples, their economies, and their national psyches. After what had happened many lost their faith in their national identities and patriotism was seen as outdated and unnecessary. The ensuing Cold War cloaked this uneasiness as the U.S. rebuilt the economies of Western Europe through the Marshall Plan and the Iron Curtain descended on Eastern Europe.

But the end of the Cold War and the rise of the European Union has brought this lack of confidence in their individual countries to the forefront of European attitudes about themselves. Like insecure school children they crave acceptance by the group (in this case the world) and so are unwilling or unable to stand on their own. Besides they are not really sure anymore about what is right or wrong so they go along with the majority seeking safety in numbers. They want disputes to be handled by the U.N. rather than having to become involved and individually pass judgment or take action. The fact that many European countries have already ceded much of their national sovereignty to the E.U. (currency, banking system, etc.) makes this surrender of power to the will of the "international community" all the easier.

The one thing that may no longer be quite as true--at least based on this data--was my belief that the British were different. While a majority of Brits (55%) still believe that war is sometimes necessary to obtain justice, that number is hardly overwhelming and far short of where American public opinions stands.

While the Europeans will likely be able to carry on with these pacifist attitudes for some time without consequence, you have to wonder (and worry) about what will transpire when they are faced with a threat from people who do believe that there are still things worth fighting and dying for.

UPDATE: Another data nugget from the survey that caught my eye:

People on both sides of the Atlantic were concerned about climate change, but respondents in the European Union (48% very concerned) were more intensely worried than Americans (40% very concerned). The most anxious were the Portuguese (62% very concerned), while the least apprehensive were the Dutch (just 23% very concerned) and the Poles (29% very concerned).

It's interesting that the country in Europe most threatened by the rising sea levels that are predicted to accompany climate change are the least worried about it. Hard to beat the Dutch when it comes to being practical.

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