There’s a pretty useful summary on the differences between the United States and Europe in the The New York Times today. As luck would have it, my
syndicated column is sort of a response to many of the points made in Bronner’s essay. There are a few stolen bases in his piece. For example he says that in the airport in Basel there are “fewer armed guards visible than at any major airport in America.” Well, that may be true. But if it is it’s a very new development. For most of the 1980s and 1990s Americans would arrive in Europe only to be shocked at the number of soldiers walking through airports with sub-machine guns slung over their shoulders. American airports didn’t have armed soldiers in them until after September 11. There may be fewer armed soldiers in West European airports than there were — thought I doubt it — but if that’s the case it’s because Europe decided to start appeasing and buying off terrorists groups not because it talked, say, Abu Nidal into pacifism.
Also, Switzerland is famously neutral and the country least likely to fear terrorist attacks. Bronner writes his piece from Paris, but he chooses a Swiss airport for his example. Could it be because Paris airports are actually filled with soldiers armed to the teeth — and for good reason. Richard Reid, for example, boarded his plane in Paris.
Regardless, while Bronner seems to get it right in terms of the attitudes separating Europe and America, he glosses over a lot of history to reach his conclusion. When he writes, “Through common economic interests, education and relentless talk, the Europeans have forged a new world for themselves,” he downplays a single enormous fact. Europe could afford to cultivate its penchant for “relentless talk” because America was guarding the gates and ports of Europe. It’s one thing to take security for granted while you push a lot of paper around. It’s another thing entirely to believe that it was the paper pushing itself which secured your safety and prosperity.
It’s like one of those stupid jokes where the guy pats his head to keep lions away. Another guy says, “But there are no lions in Cleveland.” The head-patter responds, “See? It works.” If Europeans actually believe their hotel-room symposia created their zone of peace, they’re sadly mistaken.