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Right now, acrimony toward our American baby

DISCUSSIONS | June 09, 2006

Samuel Rachlin, Denmark

1985 Nieman fellow, roving correspondent, Danish TV/2

WASHINGTON—America is a baby. At least in comparison to old Europe, with our thousand years of history, legends and hang-ups. It’s a baby shaped by the dreams of our forefathers who came here generations ago from all over Europe. That is perhaps why every European feels that he is not only entitled to have an opinion about America, but is also obliged to have an opinion.

I think we Europeans feel that we own a piece of America. In any case, we would like to own a piece of America. The secret, Freudian dream of Europeans: we want to be Americans. Unlike our forefathers who crossed the Atlantic in their pursuit of happiness and freedom, we, the modern Europeans, stay behind, dream and repress the urge to go. Very often, instead of going, we prefer to turn against our fascination with America and reject the New World. Thank you, Sigmund.

As different and diverse as America is, as different and diverse are the views of America in Denmark, the country that I call home. America is still very much a piece of work in progress and, accordingly, the views of America among Europeans are changing and fluctuating with the currents and movements that have carried the country along through its history. It might be a truism, but yes, people love America, people hate America, but I know no one who is indifferent or does not care about America. We all have a stake in this baby.

I was pleased to see the old, ideological/biological anti-Americanism disappear with the end of the Cold War. Similarly, I was saddened to see it return in a new incarnation a few years later when the threat of nuclear annihilation evaporated along with the Soviet threat and the terror balance. The parents no longer needed the baby as a babysitter. Led by the Germans and the French, some European politicians used anti-Americanism for their own domestic purposes in the same primitive and cynical manner as the Communists had done in the past. 

In the meantime, 9/11 had happened, and Iraq had happened. First, we saw grief and compassion in Europe, and no one said it better than Le Monde on 9/12: “We Are All Americans”. The secret European dream had finally come out in the open – we are all Americans. But we only stayed American for a little while – just a blip on the screen of history. With the preparation for military action in Iraq and the subsequent invasion and war, the trans-Atlantic divide became wider than it had ever been after World War II.

The bitter acrimony on both sides in the shadow of Iraq’s anguish and tragedy tore us apart and seemed to tell us that our relationship in the 21st century most likely will be very different from the one we had in the past century. But then, of course, the tides of history, the comings and goings of politicians and governments, will affect events and play with fates of people and countries in unpredictable ways.

My hope is though that our shared history will do more to bring us closer together rather than our differences in the future will make us grow further apart. After 18 years in America, I, of course, have no problem with confessing that I would prefer to see my fellow Europeans come out of their closets and open their arms to the tune of  “Yes Sir, that’s my baby now…”

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