As a dutiful American columnist, I should probably be pondering the half-baked presumption behind Barack Obama's bizarre "presidential" seal. Or shaking my head at John McCain's hair-trigger panic over an aide's answer to a question about terrorism's political impact. Or clucking over the irresponsibly childish $300 billion goodie bag -- I mean, mortgage bailout bill -- that just passed in the U.S. Senate. But I can't stop thinking about Europe.
No surprise there. I just returned from a swift-moving, fact-finding journey through six European countries. And that tally doesn't even include two side-trips: one to Luxemburg just to buy cheaper diesel fuel (no kidding); and one to the German town of Monschau in the northern Ardennes where my G.I. father, still wearing the summer-weight uniform that perfectly suited Normandy in June of 1944, contracted pneumonia in December of the same year, and was thus taken off the front line for medical treatment just days before the Germans launched their final offensive later known as the Battle of the Bulge. In all, 19,000 Americans were killed.
Sacred soil, you might say. But not necessarily regarded as such in the same way by its native populations. Nearby Belgium and Holland, for example, didn't field armies after they were swiftly occupied by Nazi Germany. That means, as a very perceptive Flemish lady pointed out to me, for many Europeans on this Western front the war was more a civilian matter of personal survival than the military exercise in national sacrifice that the United States and Great Britain in particular underwent.
All these decades later, such basic experiential differences still play out in ways both obvious and subtle in the American and European disconnect on sundry issues and attitudes -- the fissures Americans airily dismiss as anti-Americanism, or perhaps see as doctrinal differences (eroding but historical) over socialism and capitalism. Such differences have helped turn Europe into the European Union, a nation-destroying behemoth both driven and empowered by the infantilizing machinery of the welfare state. Indeed, so shockingly totalitarian is the orientation of the EU, it strikes me that President Bush's misguided effort to democratize the Islamic Middle East might well have been better aimed at liberating the hostage peoples of the Brussels-dominated supra-state.