Friday, November 19, 2010

Europe, World War II, Suicide and Jason Bourne

In taking a small break from Atkinson's The Day of Battle, The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, I resumed reading Bruce Thornton's Decline and Fall, Europe's Slow-Motion Suicide, and ran across the following, ". . . a recent poll . . . reports that in France, 29 percent of those polled felt optimistic about the future, while in Germany only 15 percent did so. Meanwhile in . . . Iraq, 69 percent were optimistic that things will [improve]. Likewise a 2003 Harris poll found that while 57 percent of Americans are satisfied with their lives, only 14 percent of the French, 17 percent of the Germans, and 16 percent of the Italians are. Suicide rates are equally revealing: in many European countries, suicide is the second leading cause of death, after accidents, and France's suicide rate is about twice that of the United States', as are Belgium's, Luxembourg's, Finland's Austria's, and Switzerland. Rates of emigration from Europe to America, even as hardly any Americans immigrate to Europe, also suggests that the 'European Dream' is not so attractive to many of those who live it."

The first thought I had was that it may not be a good thing for the U.S. to emulate Europe's Utopian ideals too closely. Perhaps it is Europe's paternalistic policies that have turned Europeans into something like Nietzsche's "last man," "men without chests," and left them hopeless.

My second thought had to do with the association of World War II and the present European despair. We in America seem to be convinced that Post-Traumatic stress, for Americans, is far more prevalent than was believed in the past. Perhaps that is true of Europeans as well. If any continent is entitled to the Post-Traumatic Stress syndrome it is Europe. Most of the Europeans who actually fought or suffered during World War II are dead now, but their children and grandchildren are living, and the sins (at least some sins) of the fathers are still visited upon the children of the third and fourth generations. Perhaps what Europe has touted and writers like Robert Kagan have ridiculed, European Utopia, is actually a form of escape, an ideal created to permit these children to cope with their fathers' sin.

Robert Kagan in his Of Paradise and Power, America and Europe in the New World Order scoffed at Europe's pretensions. Their belief that they could handle all their problems with diplomacy and "soft power" failed miserably in the former Yugoslavia. Much to their chagrin they had to request "obsolete" America to get them out of that trouble. Also, their pretense of adhering to a higher international law was seen to be threadbare during the build up to the resumption of the Iraq war. France's commitment to Iraq had nothing to do with international law. Thornton writes, "In the same deal that sold the nuclear reactor [destroyed by Israel] to Iraq, France sold another $1.5 billion worth of weapons, including the Mirage F1, France's most advanced jet fighter at the time, along with an air-defense system, surface-to-air missiles and advanced electronics. This was just the beginning of French arms sales to Iraq, which reached $20 billion worth of the most sophisticated weaponry, including 'thousands of HOT and Milan anti-tank missiles, Roland 2 air defense systems, and Gazelle helicopters.' As Kenneth Timmerman notes, 'Iraq was in effect subsidizing the French Defense Ministry.'"

These matters have been discussed elsewhere and there is no need to spend too much time with them here, but it is worth noting that those most responsible for the fostering of the "ideal" of a European Utopia, were conducting business as usual when it came to their own national interests. France, at least France under Chirac, wanted his nation to lead Europe into competition with the United States. While America may have been the "last man standing" after the Cold War, Chirac didn't want the U.S. to remain standing alone for long. He wanted a united Europe, led by France, to stand opposite the U.S. in world affairs. That desire may have inspired Chirac to "remain in bed" with Saddam Hussein longer than the U.S., Eastern Europe, and many nations of Western Europe thought was seemly. Chirac is gone and so is Saddam Hussein, but this "sin," perhaps, is still being visited upon succeeding generations of French children, for if the "ideal" of a European Utopia was a failure if not a sham, then where does that leave the ordinary European? Perhaps he is being cared for paternalistically by European governments, but for what, a high suicide rate?

Several years ago, a nephew, Sean, brought me a box of books from a relative on his mother's side who committed suicide. This relative wasn't someone he knew. The report was that he was a strange man who spent a lot of time playing war games, and the books I "inherited" bore that out. Sean assumed I would appreciate these books because I was interested in history, but these weren't the sort of books I normally read. They had to do with details of European, primarily German, battlefields, weaponry and uniforms. The few books that actually dealt with history were superficial and he probably bought them because of their photographs. Each time I run across one of his books I wonder about him a little. Did he play his war games with others? Did he belong to a war-game club? And did any of this, these war games, contribute to his suicide?

This fellow would have committed suicide before the failure of the European Utopia was quite as apparent as it is today; so I can imagine, if he was something of a war-monger, that the idea that Europe may have done away with war would have left him despondent. If there was no hope for a future threat from a Hitler or of heroics from such generals as Patton and Montgomery, then what was the point of continuing to play these games? But if he had held on a bit longer, he would have learned that history hasn't quite ended, and while the two-part Iraq War wouldn't have challenged his war-gaming skills, it would at least have held out hope for him. Future European Wars weren't entirely out of the question.

Which causes me to wonder whether I have this European ennui all wrong. Perhaps Europeans aren't depressed and suicidal because their Utopia isn't working. Perhaps they are depressed because of their diminished "chests," to borrow Nietzsche's term. Modern sociologists fervently believe that the human genome is as malleable as the canine's and that they can turn man, through clever sociological means, into a peace-loving creature. There is, unfortunately, no more evidence to support that belief than there is for a belief in the European Utopia. Nations may be at peace with each other from time to time, but this doesn't mean that they have given up war. War is still one of the arrows in the quiver of any successful state. That it seems to be missing from the European quiver might incline some unreconstructed Europeans to feel less rather than more secure. That is, a confidence in a nation's ability to defend its citizens probably contributes to a citizenry's feelings that it is safe.

The U.S. took care of Europe's security during the Cold War, but who takes care of it now? Eastern Europeans never quite embraced Western Europe's Utopian ideas and those nations have neither forgotten Russia's threat nor that the U.S. is still capable of confronting Russia if need be. Western Europe is still convinced, at least officially, that soft power works, but that idea probably sits precariously in the minds of Europeans who were raised on stories of World War II violence. It is all well and good to disarm Europe's people, but who is going to disarm Europe's enemies?

But, some Europeans may argue, Europe has no enemies. How well, I wonder, does such an idea sit in the psyches of the "third and the fourth generations" of those who sinned in World Wars I and II? I'm reminded of the movie, The Bourne Identity, in which Jason Bourne has lost his memory. Bits and pieces come back to him and eventually he learns that he was an assassin for the government. "You do remember, don't you Jason," his former boss yells at him, and at that moment Jason does remember. His reaction is to grab his former boss and yell back he doesn't want to do it anymore. He then rather inconsistently threatens his boss with violence if he should send anyone after him. In Europe's case only the mildest threats are possible. If any foreign nation comes after Europe in some way, then they will use "soft power" against it -- trade restrictions primarily, I suppose.

The marginally recovered Jason Bourne is no longer an assassin, but he does fight against those who try to kill him, and he is very good at it. But at the end of the third movie, after he has defeated or exposed all his known enemies, he is still on the run. He doesn't know that there is anyone coming after him, but he intends to stay "on the run," because man is a warlike creature and there will always be someone, eventually, to come.

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