For the next hour or so, these half-dozen college kids debated the merits of spending several weeks supporting either the anti-capitalist student strike in Paris -- or the Marxist (they called it "re-distributionist") agenda of Venezuelan strong-man Hugo Chavez. It was ultimately resolved in favor of going to Paris -- because it would be more affordable -- but during this often-passionate debate, each expressed a desire to spend their "Spring Break" doing something to help damage American prestige -- or, as they put it, to "bring down the arrogant United States."
It was a fascinating experience. Since FOX News isn't on the local cable service, these youngsters had no idea that my only "beat" is the U.S. military. Unlike American college students, their professors hadn't had a chance to tell them of my role in the "evil Reagan administration." It was also clear that their youthful idealism and exuberance are being shaped by information that depicts the United States and the Bush administration as anything but forces for good in the world.
Though hardly a scientific sampling of European public opinion, these students' perspectives on the U.S. role in defeating fascism, communism, in bringing down the wall, of standing up to Islamic terror were both shallow and twisted. According to them, Germany would have rid itself of Hitler without "terror bombing German civilians"; the Americans "created the 'Red-Scare' to divide and punish Germany; the wall would have come down decades earlier but for the presence of U.S. bases in Europe; the Sept. 11 attack was concocted by the Bush administration; German troops should never have been sent to Afghanistan, and -- because this is much on the news here right now -- U.S. troops in Iraq routinely commit atrocities and human-rights violations. They were unaware of this week's forceful presidential speeches, press conference and question/answer sessions -- perhaps understandably, because they have been little covered in European TV and newspapers.
Interestingly, none of them had particularly strong views on the threat posed by radical Islamic terror. Several expressed a belief that Madrid and London were attacked solely because their respective governments supported U.S. policy in Iraq. None of them could explain why there had also been attacks in Bali, the Philippines and Casablanca, Morocco. Nor did any of them perceive that nuclear weapons in Iran were a threat to them -- only to the United States.
It would be easy to dismiss these students as willfully ignorant, but that's too easy. Given the history of elite European universities like Heidelberg, many of these youngsters will eventually become leaders in government and business. They all acknowledged getting their "news" from TV and the Internet. They are paying attention to what's happening in Iraq, though it's pretty clear that many, if not most, already have a strong anti-American bias. Turning around these perceptions is going to require more than just a few presidential speeches. If President Bush wants to get American and European attention -- he ought to make his next speech on keeping commitments while standing before U.S. troops in Iraq.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.
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