At Large

Hating America

Nothing we do can save the haters from themselves.

By 2.1.07

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My wife came back from a week's business trip to Europe recently. Some of her new business associates, hearing where she was from, said, "Massachusetts? That's a much more tolerant place than the rest of America, isn't it?" "It is if you're not a conservative," Sally said. She reported that her listeners simply did not understand this.

As well, Sally said, some of her conversants complained that Americans were calling them bad names. "Cheese-eating surrender monkeys," the phrase from The Simpsons, sent into political orbit by National Review's Jonah Goldberg, seemed to get particularly under their skins.

Anti-Americanism, in short, is alive and kicking in Europe, and, unfortunately, in America, too.

A FEW SUMMERS AGO, WE MET three German medical students, who visited friends of ours at a summer cottage on the north shore of Massachusetts. After-dinner conversation turned to cultural topics. I recounted an anecdote told me by a female Baptist minister, originally from Alabama, now living in Boston, who had met a black man on a bus. The black man, who was also from Alabama, was drawn to her by her accent, and complained that Boston was a racially chilly city, that he missed the easy ways blacks and whites got along down South.

This anecdote caused an absolute explosion of fury in our summer conversation. It could not be true. Alabama? Bull Conner, fire hoses, police dogs? No, no African-American could possibly express fondness for Alabama. One of the med students, Indian by background, but now thoroughly assimilated to Germany, began a tirade of condemnation of race relations in the United States, a condemnation more suited to the conditions of the Jim Crow 1950s than the-21st century. His impression of us was frozen in the images of brutal old black and white newsreels.

And there was not an American topic immune from his attacks. Somehow we eased back on the conversation by turning to sports. I stepped in it again by saying I wished there were some way I could watch cricket.

"Cricket!" our Indian visitor snorted in triumph. "Baseball is absolute baby talk next to cricket!"

THE GERMAN NEWSPAPER DIE ZEIT published a survey in 2003 indicating that 20 percent of all Germans, and 31 percent of Germans under 30, believed that the United States had perpetrated the 9/11 attacks. The Pew Global Attitudes Project reports that America's "favorable" ratings have dropped steadily since the year 2000. European Ryder Cup golfer Paul Casey blithely said a few years back, "I hate Americans." The statement got covered up and blanketed over in the reserved world of golf. But he said it, no doubt.

Certainly, Americans harbor some anti-European feelings. But there is a contrast between our rather bemused making-fun-of attitudes toward Europeans, and Europeans' often vicious attitudes towards us. I don't think they really hate us. What these feelings express is a kind of self-fear and self-hatred projected outward.

After World War I, Europe was lost. The great monarchic lights had been snuffed out, the map re-drawn, and an entire generation bled of a significant portion of its young men. Depression and inflation made for hard times. Then in Germany arose a triumphalist nationalist movement, and a man, Adolf Hitler. From the very bosom of the most civilized nation in Europe, the nation of Goethe and Schiller and Beethoven, burst a monster, like in the movie Alien. This monster consumed Europe from the heart and soul outward.

Europeans still feel the shame and horror of that monstrous bursting. And they are terribly afraid it may happen again. So they have turned against every aspect of the Nazi movement, throwing the cultural baby out with the rotten bathwater: Pride, patriotism, religious fervor, the confident projection of power.

Where in the world today do you find pride, patriotism, religious fervor, and the confident projection of power? In the United States. Ergo, America-hating. And those qualities, indeed, are the ones of ours they hate the most.

OTHER ELEMENTS FIGURE IN THE EQUATION. The long march through the institutions of leftist politics proceeds apace, faster in Europe than in the U.S. That has a lot to do with European attitudes, as the popular media reinforce negative images of America, as the academy teaches the same doctrines. Prosperity contributes to America-hating. Europeans, like Americans, are very comfortable, and resent anything that might impinge on that comfort.

The contrast of a Europhile good-time-Charlie Bill Clinton and the American Gothic grimness of George W. Bush kicked up the America-bashing indices. American policies are also to blame, if not in the ways that Europeans choose to see them. America used to have a deal with the world. We'd prop up all kinds of corrupt regimes as long as they did business with us and didn't hurt us. Nine-eleven made that kind of deal impossible, and George W. Bush had to revoke it. He had to come up with a new foreign and defense policy, the first really new foreign policy in the United States since Dean Acheson created the Cold War.

The European establishment didn't like that. They had had an easy ride along with America for a long time, and no political figure who declares that good times are over will find himself much liked.

But mostly, America-hating is an emotional reaction to shortcomings in the European soul itself. I hope it does not last. I hope Europeans come to their senses about the present crises in the world. I, for one, would welcome back our confident, quirky, European cousins of yore.

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About the Author

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.