Meanwhile: Europeans are not cowards: Fletcher Crossman

This is a rather interesting piece of writing. I think is the best article I’ve read in a while. I think I’ll put it all in, in case the IHT decide to take it down later.

We know war

Mt. PLEASANT, South Carolina Listening to Richard Perle on the radio recently was a little hard for a European like me. Perle, a former chairman of the Defense Policy Board, stated that European nations “do not have the most courageous of instincts,” with the implication that America has to intervene in international affairs because Europeans are afraid to. Perle’s comments take place against a chorus of similar sentiments to be heard on America’s airwaves in recent months.

An average listener would be forgiven for believing that Europeans are a cowardly bunch of ungrateful wimps, whose anti-American bombast is a merely a cover for their complicity with evil regimes.

It may be true. But as a European myself – I’m from Britain – it doesn’t feel true. And I wonder if our cultural disconnect comes from two very different experiences of war.

Let’s be clear: Europeans don’t run away from war. Even the most fleeting look at our history will tell you that we love war, we want war, we will find almost any excuse for a war. In 1914 young men from all across Europe jauntily marched off to start yet another one, with flags waving and patriotic songs playing. Young men from my country marched in the knowledge that they represented the greatest nation on Earth, an economic powerhouse, a country blessed by God. Any of this sounding familiar?

Barely one of those men could have clearly explained what the war was about, it was enough that they were fighting for freedom, and against oppression.

Fast forward five years. 1919. A whole generation of young men – over 8.5 million – wiped out in the most disgusting war the world had ever seen. Economies collapsed, vast regions were blighted. No longer was anyone playing patriotic songs. Now poets like Wilfred Owen were bitterly decrying “the old lie” that it is an honorable thing to die for your country. Who was the enemy, anyway? Was it those pathetic, blood-stained bodies strewn across the opposing trenches, or the fat, cigar-smoking politicians that ordered us into this nightmare?

This feeling has never been totally expunged from the European psyche. However clear-cut the rationale sounds at the start of a war, the reality always results in atrocities, injustices and moral ambiguity. Within a few short years we were forced into a World War II, and this time there was none of the flag-waving; instead there was a stunned gasp of: “Are we really going through all this again?”

And this time it was worse. Our cities were flattened, a genocide was committed, a whole civilization was brought to its knees.

But World War II was mercifully different for America. Despite its debilitating losses – and its astonishing selflessness in prioritizing the European theater ahead of its own mission in the Pacific – America emerged from the devastation in a pre-eminent position, its infrastructure intact. Culturally, politically and economically, America stood like a gleaming Colossus above an impoverished world. If America had believed that by use of force, Good could prevail over Evil, then it had been proved right. War had saved Freedom and defeated Tyranny.

And this is now burned into the American psyche in much the same way that cynicism is for the European. America is the brave young soldier, with shining eyes and a firm jaw, marching towards a battle that will make the world a better place. Europe is the bitter old veteran sitting on the sidewalk, his medals collecting dust somewhere, shaking his head knowingly as the young soldier marches by.

Both views are valid and both are forged in the furnace of experience. America has the power and inclination to promote justice in the world, and Richard Perle may indeed be right: Perhaps Europeans don’t have the most courageous of instincts. Not anymore. They still live in the shadow of two unthinkable wars, and have learnt that patriotism and courageous instincts have too often resulted in corruption, destruction and death.

The writer, an English teacher, previously worked as a radio and television journalist in Britain.

10 thoughts on “Meanwhile: Europeans are not cowards: Fletcher Crossman”

  1. Tis a good article, but it tends to see all European’s as similar, and while I would agree that there are many similarities there are more differences between different European countries than between different US states.

  2. Perhaps, but I think Crossman’s closing remarks sum up how I feel about it.

    Perhaps Europeans don’t have the most courageous of instincts. Not anymore. They still live in the shadow of two unthinkable wars, and have learnt that patriotism and courageous instincts have too often resulted in corruption, destruction and death.

  3. hey i know where you live just kiddind!
    i realy liked your article (even if i didnt understand it) but i have to respect my teacher’s work.

  4. Mr. Fletcher M. Crossman Is my English teacher and he has been for the past year I am amazed to see his work on the internet and I’m proud of him.

  5. Mr Crossman is my teacher here in Charleston. Today in class he had us write a literary anylisis on his article. I really enjoyed reading his article.

  6. Crossman writes well and could add meaningfully to the U.S./British debate on several fronts-ala Christopher Hitchens or is it Hutchens?

    To digress for a moment, I agree with the writer who said that Crossman is less convincing when he claims to speak for Europeans writ large.

    That’s why I’m focusing on the U.S. versus British aspects of his thinking rather than broadening the topic.

    Now back to Chris H., British pundit, who has gained a following in the U.S. recently.

    Personally, I find CH rather smug and consistently condescending in his TV appearances (rather like Norman Mailer used to be) although he is excruciatingly erudite.

    And this is the reason why I believe it would be inspiring to have a recent vintage “Nice Brit” on the scene-someone who is not so academic as… say… Paul Kennedy or Jeremy Rifkin-someone who has a dash of class, an Alastair Cooke like figure with a whisper of a South Carolina plantation accent to give us de Tocquevillesque commentary (if you pardon the mixed meta??nation).

    It appears that Crossman may also be an artist although I haven’t been able to confirm this.
    Where can we find his bio?
    It would be deflating to learn that he grew up in a duplex in Liverpool.

    As to pedagogy, would someone let me know what language arts teaching encompasses today?
    Is Crossman preparing college students for careers in journalism?
    Does the British approach to training journalists differ from the U.S…..say Walter Annenberg School of Journalism in some meaningful way e.g. by emphasizing classical exposition and/or rhetoric studies?

  7. So the current generation of Europeans, those paragons of virtue, have become experts in the wisdom of the millenia. Allegedly, unlike those silly, simplistic Americans, they have learned from two world conflicts, and in their infinite wisdom, they “know war” and they know that it is something that must be avoided at all costs. What a relief!

    This, of course was the exact message that their forefathers of the 1930s put forward when they refused to resist Hitler. In one notable event, twelve million “peace activists” in London signed a petition “for peace”, which was duly sent to… Adolf Hitler.

    Perish the thought, they scoffed, that anybody should be so naive to think that, with their empire and colonies, Britain and France (the “false” democracies) were any better than Nazi Germany. No, they were just as bad, said the peace activists at the time, before crowing that they knew better than to take sides and risk war.

    I know I must sound extremely naive to those wise Europeans, but I think there are other lessons to be learned from World War II. And one may be that there are situations that, yes, are worse than having armed warriors sounding off against each other (no matter how destructive their weapons), for instance a system which allows a state-wide political police force to violate the homes of innocent, unarmed, and defenseless citizens with impunity, haul fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, and wives and daughters off to jail, and torture, rape, and murder them, be it in the basements of the city prisons or inside death camps.

    Unfortunately, as Raymond Aron has said, “there is no History of those tragedies that have been averted.” The main lesson that Europeans have taken from history is, more correctly, simply the self-serving one that they are ever and always more humanistic, more generous, more peace-loving, and more wise to the ways of the world than Americans are. In other words, they are superior to everybody else. Just like their forefathers were.

    —Erik Svane, founder of Americans Anonymous
    an organization for expatriates who are stumped when submitted to a barrage of irony-laden questions, asinine comments, and demented accusations concerning the U.S. by a group of smug, self-righteous foreigners

  8. Mr. C is my favorite bald british literature teacher down here in the south. It is simply amazing to see him type without using his trademark accent!

  9. Fletcher Crossman is undoubtedly an articulate writer, and I largely agree with Mr Crossman’s position on this, but while Fletcher is arguing from a European’s perspective I think the 9/11 attacks put America into a tailspin that it is hard for Europeans to understand. Mr Crossman rightly says that the two continents are in different mindsets and it is just as hard for them to understand us as it is for us to understand them.

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