by Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.
Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. . . .
Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?
It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world. . . . (George Washington's Farewell Address, 1796)
Such was the wise advice of America's first president, a man called "the father of our country." He could see that the United States had been blessed with the "peculiar . . . situation" of being defended by two huge oceans and removed by thousands of miles from the frequent and often bloody troubles of Europe. The fledgling nation had the wonderful advantage and opportunity to grow and prosper on its own, and Washington believed that, in tandem with this geographical separation, the longer America remained unattached by political alliance to any foreign nation the better.
The young United States was indeed able to avoid most of Europe's conflicts but not entirely. As the nation expanded and grew more powerful and influential, its political dealings with other nations likewise increased. By the end of the nineteenth century, the U.S. was definitely a "player" on the world scene, a fact that became apparent with America's decisive entrance into World War I.
Armistice Day also marks the beginning of Europe's increased influence on American thinking. U.S. soldiers climbed out of the trenches of Europe's battlefields and brought home ideas about government, politics, philosophy, art, and culture that isolated Americans would never have conceived on their own. Some have seen this as the inevitable beginning of the end of a distinctive American culture and ideology, particularly in social and moral terms.
In recent years, however, the tide has turned; ideas and attitudes have reversed flow. Europeans are now complaining that they are being Americanized by McDonald's, Coke, and Disney. They feel that American-driven globalism is subsuming their native cultures, and they fear that unbalanced American power will lead to total U.S. domination in every sector and on every level of life.
And they are letting us know.
Militarily, economically, and politically, European nations once dominated the world scene. Spain, Portugal, England, France, Holland, Germany—all at one time or another held sway over vast areas of the earth. However, those days are long past.
Today, no one speaks much of European power because it has faded to a mere ghost of its former glory. Though the media still beg to know what the European governments think about world affairs, the impact of their views is inconsequential. In the end, these once-proud nations have little strength to leverage any significant change.
This is particularly true of American policy. France, Germany, and Britain hold permanent seats on the UN Security Council as a legacy of their past achievements, not on the merits of their current importance. They can veto any initiative the U.S. brings before the UN, but as President George Bush clearly threatened on September 12, 2002, America will do what it deems necessary whether the Security Council passes a resolution or not.
The reaction of Europeans to this loss of power has been, predictably, to lash out at America and its perceived abuses of power. William Drozdiak, executive director of the Transatlantic Center in Brussels, Belgium, remarks, "There's a feeling that America is becoming too infatuated with its own power and showing its arrogance."1 Spyros Economides, who teaches international relations at the London School of Economics, agrees, "Right now the vast majority of European states—excepting perhaps Great Britain—are resentful if not fearful of what they see as American unilateralism."2
Germany and France seem to be the hotbeds of anti-Americanism these days. For instance, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, lagging in the polls in the run-up to elections, promised Germany's opposition to "aggressive" U.S. plans for Iraq and promptly took the lead. France, for its part, decided to honor a convicted murderer, Philadelphia's Mumia Abu-Jamal, as an honorary citizen of Paris, just to spite America's continued use of "barbaric" capital punishment,3 even though it was legal in France until 1981.4
Britain, however, has its share of U.S.-bashers. On Independence Day this year, London's Daily Mirror ran a headline that read, "Mourn on the Fourth of July: The USA is now the world's leading rogue state." One of its competitors, The Telegraph, usually considered a conservative newspaper, ran an editorial by Harold Pinter on November 12, 2002, titled, "The American administration is a bloodthirsty wild animal."
The fact is that America must use its military power because, in comparison, Europe does not have any. On average, European nations spend less than two percent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on military needs, while the U.S. spending level is more than twice that.5 Because the U.S. GDP is several times what individual European nations can muster, this is a significant difference indeed. The U.S. outspends the next nine largest national defense budgets combined, pays for nearly eighty percent of the planet's research and development in military matters, and accounts for about forty percent of all global defense expenditures.6
On the playground, if one boy has a stick—and the will to use it—while the other boys do not, the only recourse the stickless boys have is to heckle and disparage the boy with the stick as a dangerous bully. As Josef Joffe, editor of the German newspaper Die Zeit, has concluded, Europe has become a stickless boy, what he calls an "Axis of Envy."7
Europeans do not just envy American power but American prosperity as well. We are inclined to believe that the European standard of living compares to the American, but this is becoming decreasingly true. European Union countries, for example, register a combined GDP of less than two-thirds of America's. Moreover, Europeans pay a higher percentage of their wages in taxes. The divide economically is widening so rapidly that the average European would place somewhere in the middle of America's lower class.8
A huge part of the problem is Europe's infatuation with socialism, a very expensive form of government. At its foundation is the belief that the state, as a collective of the people, should cushion and control the lives of its citizens from the cradle to the grave. In effect, it is "soft" Marxism, and the history of communist states leaves telling evidence of non-productivity, excessive regulation, low worker morale, non-existent competition, low wages, and eventual economic implosion. The economies of Europe are on this track, albeit the train is moving more slowly.
By comparison, American capitalism is vibrant, productive, expansive, and competitive. Its workers produce more and work harder than their European counterparts. For instance, an EU laborer produces only three-quarters of what a typical American does, and the U.S. worker works more hours and takes less vacation time. Socialist Europe demands employers give their workers short workweeks, a month or more of paid vacation, and multiple social amenities. It is no wonder their employees slouch on the job.
In addition, the U.S. economy has produced 57 million new jobs since 1970, while EU nations have produced only five million, and most of these were government positions. Add to this that much of European growth during this time can be traced back to American business expanding into Europe or infusing capital into established European companies.
A good example of Europe's economy is its "strongest" nation, Germany. Over the last decade, Germany grew at a paltry 1.4 percent annually, better only than languishing Japan of all major industrial nations. Imports have plunged more than 28 percent since 1991 (while America's rose by 34 percent). Unemployment has frozen at about ten percent, and Germans who have jobs pay upwards of two-fifths of their wages in taxes.9
It is no wonder, then, that Europeans think of Americans as fat, money-tossing, boorish consumers, who drive gas-guzzling SUVs, live in oversized houses, wear expensive Nike clothing, eat fast food for every meal, and watch HBO most of their waking hours. Though they may not want to do any of these things, they would like to be able to, but their nations' economies are heading in the other direction.
More than just the wide Atlantic separates the cultures of Europe and America. From the beginning, the people of New World America proved themselves a breed apart from those they left behind on the Continent. Particularly evident are American's independent spirit and pragmatic approach to life's difficulties.
Europeans, on the other hand, are products of centuries of frequent upheaval and close living, which has made them typically conformists and consensus-builders. Europe has had to rely repeatedly on tenuous balance-of-power alliances and paper-thin treaties to create a semblance of peace and security for its people, and by this method, many fundamental problems have been allowed to continue. In other words, they are used to living with their problems, a situation Americans find untenable.
Another cultural difference is the perspective toward government. America was founded on the principle of "government of the people, by the people, and for the people." Although it has strayed significantly from this ideal, the United States government is still more responsible to the electorate than any European government.
In fact, to Americans, European nations hardly seem democratic at all, and the EU looks alarmingly like an oligarchy. Most of the decisions of government—particularly thousands of picayune regulations—are made by a handful of bureaucrats, who are unaccountable to the man on the street. This is an aftereffect of the "old" European class system, in which the "peasantry" allow their "betters" to make all the important decisions. As journalist Clive Crook writes, "Europe's leaders see themselves as wise parents, and their citizens as children."10 Such an assertion over here about an American politician could get him tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail.
Finally, Europeans see their ancient cultures being torn down at a rapid rate, and they blame America as the locomotive of globalization. However, they should look no further than two of their own pet ideas: integration and multiculturalism. Globalization has merely carried these concepts faster and farther than their proponents ever believed could happen, and now they are witnessing cultural breakdown at an undesired pace. American business makes a good scapegoat because of its relentless self-promotion. Europe, however, is merely reaping the harvest of its own liberal philosophies.
Do all these indicators point toward the U.S. and Europe going their separate ways? A case can be made that most of it is just talk—Europeans venting their angst. Another argument could be that it is merely a reflection of Europe's dislike for the present American administration, and as soon as it is replaced, the Atlantic alliance will resume is warm embrace. Alternately, we may be witnessing the beginnings of a painful divorce.
For many years, we have maintained that a great power, which the Bible calls "the Beast," will rise out of Europe as the last reincarnation of the Roman Empire (Revelation 13:1-10; 17:1-13). As described in Daniel 2:40-43, it has ten "toes," composed of iron and clay and divided on two "feet"—Eastern and Western Europe, we have interpreted—as the Roman Empire was similarly divided. This Beast power would dominate the world politically and militarily (Daniel 11:36-39), bringing on the "time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time" (Daniel 12:1).
Present-day Europe, however, appears particularly unqualified for such a role, which opens up a few possibilities:
1. The Beast is not European. Our long-held understanding is hard to toss aside because the biblical clues seem to fit the Europe-based Roman and Holy Roman Empires so squarely. If Europe or the EU is not the Beast power, then it must surely have a European component.
2. Christ's return is farther off than we think. Europe is so weak—militarily, in particular—that it could take years for its war machine to grow to world domination. In particular, Europe is in no shape to defeat the U.S., a present necessity for world hegemony.
3. Something other than Europe will destroy the U.S., and the Beast will fill the power vacuum. A few nuclear bombs or other weapons of mass destruction—possibly terrorist-related—might cut America down to size (Ezekiel 7:1-9). Europe could then appropriate NATO assets abroad and become a superpower overnight.
4. The U.S., originally colonized and founded by Europeans, will become a part of the Beast power, supplying its military might. Many have wondered if any Israelite country would join with the Beast, especially since the prophecies seem to suggest it is a Gentile empire, like Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. However, the nations of Israel today believe they are Gentiles and function as Gentiles in many respects, meaning it is not beyond the realm of possibility biblically (see Romans 9-11).
Other possibilities surely exist, and in this time of uncertainty, there is no way to determine whether any of these are real. Such is the character of prophecy. We are assured, however, that, "Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7). We will keep our eyes and ears open for any indication of which way events will turn.
1 Rubin, Daniel, and Gerlin, Andrea, "Europeans frustrated, irritated with U.S. foreign policy," Miami Herald, November 10, 2002.
3 Housego, Kim, "U.S. Inmate Named Honorary Parisian," Associated Press, December 9, 2001.
4 Rubin and Gerlin, ibid.
5 Bourge, Christine, "United States and Europe in different worlds," Cayman Net News, July 24, 2002.
6 Zinsmeister, Karl, "Old and In the Way," The American Enterprise, December 2002, p. 8.
7 Friedman, Thomas L., "A war on terrorists to wage together," The New York Times, November 4, 2002.
8 Zinsmeister, ibid., p. 7.
10 Crook, Clive, "Europe Embarks, Ignorantly, On Its Big Adventure," National Journal, January 5, .2002.