One hundred years ago, a Serbian terrorist assassinated an Austrian Archduke and his morganatic wife. Within a month, Austrian military action attempted to hold Serbia accountable. Unfortunately, by the beginning of August, Balkan terrorism and Austria's response had plunged most of Europe into an inferno of war which would last for another four years. Nothing good came form World War I, but a whole lot of bad did - including Communism, Naziism, Fascism, World War II, and the Cold War. It was the latter experiences (especially World War II) that seem to have taught European societies to eschew their national identities and abandon their sovereignty, with further harmful consequences such as we are witnessing now.
Fast forward one hundred years. This time it wasn't an Archduke and his wife but hundreds of air travelers killed by terrorists.This time, however, Europe seems almost mute. Even the Netherlands, the nation to suffer the most casualties, seems strangely passive. An Op-Ed in today's New York Times (Arnon Grunberg, "The problem with Collective Grief") defends Dutch reticence - lest national mourning and outrage result in an expression of "nationalism."
Talk about learning the wrong lesson from the 20th century's house of horrors!
Of course, Europe's self-abnegation has been a long time in the making. In its origin, already during the Cold War, it was facilitated by the protective umbrella of American military might. As long as the U.S. could be counted on to counter any Soviet threat to Western Europe, Western Europe could concentrate on going shopping. On paper, those European nations remain our "allies." But they are saddled with increasingly neo-pacifist populations, an increasingly dysfunctional post-modern mentality of moral equivalence, and leadership ill-equipped to respond to the challenge of evil in the world.
To make matters worse, the U.S. is becoming more like Europe - in its own culturally unique way, of course, reverting to a revived isolationism, once thought to be discredited but (like Camus' plague germs) always still there somewhere waiting to revive.The President's domestic political opponents - themselves utterly bereft of even a shred of moral or political credibility in these matters - blame the President's unimpressive leadership for the world-wide perception of American weakness. And certainly his unimpressive performance a year ago when he threatened Syria over its chemical weapons and then unceremoniously backed down did not do much for American credibility. But, of course, the fact remains that the President was reflecting the change in American public opinion that has become as allergic to the responsibilities of global leadership as Europeans have become to their own legitimate nationalism.
Meanwhile, Russia resumes its troublesome role in the world. Ever since Moscow first emerged as a European power in the 17th century, its ambitions have proved problematic for Europe. The Soviet Union's 20th-century Communist ideology was an add-on, which is now mercifully for all of us consigned to the dust heap of history. But Russia and its imperial ambitions are, now as then, an indelible part of the European picture (and Asian picture and world picture). Surface-to-Air Missiles may be new, but the configuration of world power is not. When it comes to maintaining a safe international balance of power, the world has changed less than we, for whatever reason, seem to want to imagine.
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