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Europe's Dirty Little Secret

Deep within, crass America is appreciated.

July 04, 2002|NORAH VINCENT | Norah Vincent is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank set up after Sept. 11 to study terrorism.

Anti-Americanism is alive and well on the Continent, as it is in much of the rest of the world, but it appears to have taken on a distinctly Freudian quality.

If Europe is the superego--better yet, if NATO and the European Union give voice to the European superego--the United States embodies the id. If, in their own eyes, Europeans are the courtiers, Americans are the cowboys enacting Europe's repressed desires.

We may be the bad guys with the guns, but traveling in Europe, one gets the feeling that more than a few Europeans secretly still approve of what we are doing. They just can't bring themselves to admit it in the light of day. Interestingly, this superego/id relationship mirrors a similar and long-standing dynamic in American politics. Democrats and Republicans serve as each other's ids. President Clinton and Gary Condit were crucified for their involvement with Monica Lewinsky and Chandra Levy, respectively, while naughty Henry Hyde and Robert Livingston just slunk away after their indiscretions were revealed. Why? Because it's a trade.

Republicans pander to the Christian right's notions of marital fidelity while pasting the shame for their own dalliances on the horny Democrats. Likewise, by blaming Republicans for corporate greed--Enron, WorldCom, etc.--Democrats keep their blue-collar respectability while lining their pockets with the same gold.

European liberals and leftists do the same with American conservatives. We are a useful caricature of wealth and jingoism onto which outwardly decorous Europeans can affix their guilty but eminently understandable desires for a tough stand in the war on terror and a thriving democratic capitalist economy.

These feelings sometimes get expressed in interesting, subliminal ways. While the European governments loudly slam the U.S. for the war on terrorism and the Iraq and the Middle East issues, I saw more than a few adults walking with their children (too young to read) whom they had dressed in T-shirts that said things like "Peace by Superior Force" and "Practical Peace." The shirts had pictures of guns or tanks below the slogans. Other adults wore their own propaganda. One T-shirt said, "Dollars & Gold." Another said, "You can never be too rich." They were written in English. People around the world have always worn T-shirts with American slogans on them, but now it's especially startling to see cartoon versions of greed and violence esteemed so boldly, given the widely expressed European disapproval of U.S. foreign and economic policy.

Is this the difference between the intellectual policymakers and the man on the street? Maybe. It may also be the difference between public and private opinion.

More left-leaning Europeans than most might suspect will admit--sotto voce--that they were mighty glad that a Republican was in office on Sept. 11. They may not vote that way, but they recognize the necessity of President Bush's policies.

Despite public outcry for the Palestinians, deep down many probably know that their own security depends in part on Israel's (as well as on Afghanistan's, Pakistan's and India's) and on the use of "superior force" in the face of Islamic extremism.

One thing is certain. Europeans are every bit as frightened as we are, a fear that manifests itself mostly in xenophobia. I saw a lot of swastikas scrawled on walls, next to graffiti that said things such as "Europe for Europeans."

If this is any indication of nationalistic fervor, it goes well beyond anti-Semitism to include everyone who isn't "European." That means Islamic militants because they cause trouble, Jews because they are targets and Americans because, as in the world wars, we bring a necessary evil Europeans wish they didn't need and a realpolitik they are, perhaps, ashamed of secretly endorsing.

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