Old Europe

Posted: Jun 17, 2004 12:00 AM

 HOT SPRINGS, Va. -- Some years ago, while dining in a Paris restaurant, I asked the waiter about the venison on the menu. He told me that it was smaller than that served in the United States.
The waiter, a long-faced man, who, come to think of it, looked rather like the junior senator from Massachusetts, went on to say, "But then, everything in Europe is smaller than in America." I was too much the gentleman to tell him that my corn-fed venison back in the American Midwest was more tender than his and tasted better, if only un peu meilleur.

 Given France's support of our humanitarian efforts in Iraq, I shall not be spending much time in French restaurants for the foreseeable future or, for that matter, in German concert halls. I have long admired the charm of French life and the Germans' conception of music, at least from the 17th century to the early 20th -- but misgivings about the French and the Germans that began with their behavior in the 1930s and have continued to the present make them repellent to me. They never faced up to post-World War II communism or to their responsibility for the cruelty and destitution that replaced their colonial empires in what came to be called the Third World. Even in the NATO alliance, they almost never met their military budgets.

 Now they are sitting back and lecturing us while our coalition attempts to lift barbarism from the Iraqis, to sober up the nihilists of the Middle East and to defeat terrorism. The French and the Germans have revealed no plan, no will and no intention of bringing justice or peace to Iraq. The only evidence I have seen of their involvement in the area is long inventories of arms they sold to Saddam and catalogues of payoffs they received from the United Nations oil for food scheme.

 The French and the Germans have almost always let the English-speaking peoples bear the cost of liberty. Even in the Balkans in the 1990s, they importuned upon the United States for as much military might as they could possibly inveigle from us. Nonetheless, throughout the Cold War and now into the war on terror, we Americans have episodically had to witness their imbecilic anti-American rallies. As they burn our flags and ignorantly depict our presidents as cowboys, we are supposed to take instruction from their infantile tantrums.

 Old Europe obviously is conflicted about cowboys. Their chattering classes are given to using the term "cowboy" as one of disparagement. Yet American Westerns remain a staple of entertainment on television stations all over the old bone heap -- Orwell's term -- that is Europe.

 As the French and Germans continue to dodder around in their moral and intellectual senescence, they are hastening the day when they move from being a topic for historians to being a topic for archaeologists. Tom Wolfe once joked that their countries had become theme parks fit for the commercial genius of Disneyland. Actually, it now appears that under the leadership of Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder, their countries are more likely to become archaeological digs. If the terrorists of the world have their way, unimpeded by the military resolve of the English speaking peoples, the day will come sooner than later.

 These thoughts struck me the other day while driving from Washington some 250 miles into the Virginia mountains. Just weeks before, I had been driving in Europe -- in Ireland, to be specific. The Irish countryside, like the countryside of those countries I have now banished from my travel plans, France and Germany, is lovely. But that French waiter of years ago was right. Europe is not as big as America.

 From my car roaring along a spacious four-lane highway, I see vast rolling hills, wide valleys and large modern cities popping up and then dropping off as I accelerate on. The fields are alive with cattle and crops about to be planted or freshly planted. The roads bustle with huge trucks hauling an enormous variety of product. Overhead, blue sky and huge billowing clouds contend for attention. America really is big.

 That, of course, is only the American countryside. Old Europe also has to shiver at the sight of American cities, hundreds of them. It has only taken a little over two centuries to create them and to transform a wilderness into the brilliant and productive landscape I pass through en route to the lovely Virginia mountains.

 Perhaps because our ancestors were so energetic and capable, Old Europe's descendants of peasants and effete aristocrats feel a bit ashamed. Still, this is no excuse for acting so shamefully. If the French and the Germans have any sense of honor, they will lend a hand in rebuilding Iraq. More chapters of appeasement and collaboration will do them no good.