February 10, 2008


Europeans Are From Venus: WHERE HAVE ALL THE SOLDIERS GONE?: a review of The Transformation of Modern Europe By James J. Sheehan (GEOFFREY WHEATCROFT, 2/09/08, NY Times Book Review)

[I]t’s a surely astonishing fact that no European war has been fought for more than 60 years, at least outside the ruins of Yugoslavia. Western Europe has become politically and socially demilitarized to a degree once unimaginable; after so many centuries of bloody conflict, Europeans don’t want to study war no more. In his scintillating tour d’horizon — and de force — Sheehan suggests that such obsolescence of war is specifically “the product of Europe’s distinctive history in the 20th century,” and he argues that it has created a new kind of European state along with “a dramatically new international system within Europe.” [...]

By the second half of the 20th century, having given a most vivid demonstration of Walter Benjamin’s saying that civilization and barbarism are far from incompatible, Europe was exhausted and ashamed. For all the exigencies of the cold war, there was an overwhelming desire never again to see real war, between France and Germany or among their neighbors.

The trente glorieuses after VE-Day saw three decades of astonishing economic growth, which coincided with another most remarkable change: “With or without a fight, Europeans abandoned their empires.” This proved pure benefit for Europe, if not for the former colonies, and its further significance was that, as Sheehan says in a typically perceptive phrase, the brute force with which empire had been won and held now seemed anachronistic, “part of a vanished world in which the ability to wage war had been centrally important to what it meant to be a state.”

From the 1970s the economy stalled while Europe faced numerous social problems. And yet as the cold war ran down the clock, it became gradually clearer that liberal democracy and a market economy mitigated by welfare had won a complete political victory over “actually existing socialism.” At the same time Europe was fully “civilianized”: conscription was abandoned, armies themselves assimilated the values of civilian society and, as the great English military historian Michael Howard has put it, “death was no longer seen as being part of the social contract.”

Lifeless modern Europe is an almost wholly American creation, or rather destruction. Leaders like Harry Truman and George Marshall, who had fought both WWI and WWII and were bracing for WWIII, had no desire to see their country ever drawn into another war on the continent, so they made the Europeans welfare queens. We effectively took over their national security and we pumped in enough money to prop up their welfare systems. The statism we rejected at home was perfect for them, a kind of machinery for developing Europeans of such spiritual lassitude that they'd never bother anyone again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 10, 2008 7:21 AM

I may add, not in disagreement, that the 19th Century pagan insanities which led to the butcheries of the world wars set up the Europeans for the loss of mrale which followed.

By assuming the role of the world government, the United States has held open a door into irrelevncy through which the Europens have been only too glad to pass.

Of course, the "vanished world in which the ability to wage war had been centrally important to what it meant to be a state," as the author of the reviewed book put it, has not vanished at all.

This is why the irrelevant statelets over there see no harm in devolving into tiny, less relevant statelets.

Posted by: Lou Gots at February 10, 2008 10:58 AM

i don't know...given enough hate between groups and they could be nasty again. It may just be sleeping, waiting its time to slouch off to Bethlehem again.

Posted by: Mikey [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 10, 2008 7:16 PM

A nice example of this is the US generously agreeing to take on troop and material transport for NATO. This is a burdensome, expensive, difficult and definitely unsexy part of having a military.

Of course, now the Europeans can't actually send their militarily anywhere in sufficient numbers to accomplish anything unless the US agrees.

Posted by: Ibid at February 10, 2008 10:04 PM
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