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Works and Days

Europe to an American

May 25th, 2008 - 1:29 pm


A Memorial Day Speech?

I was listening today from Brussels to Barack Obama’s Memorial Day commencement address. It was, as usual, well-delivered, and broadcast worldwide, but instead of any–even slight–reference to what we owe hundreds of thousands of Americans this day who paid the ultimate sacrifice to ensure our present freedoms, we hear remonstrations about the “money culture” and how young students are to not to pursue the big money and house (as he has lately), but instead pursue a path of public service that, as usual, is analogous to that once followed by the noble Mr. Obama himself.

Then I heard a bit of news from another speech of his on Latin America:

“Since the Bush Administration launched a misguided war in Iraq, its policy in the Americas has been negligent toward our friends, ineffective with our adversaries, disinterested in the challenges that matter in peoples’ lives, and incapable of advancing our interests in the region.
No wonder, then, that demagogues like Hugo Chavez have stepped into this vacuum.”

But all that hardly seems either accurate or fair: (1) The “misguided” war was “launched” only after a majority ratification vote of the US Senate, including a majority of the Democratic Senators. (2) The current administration is currently desperately trying to craft a free-trade agreement with Columbia, and ensure that Nafta continues with Mexico-over protectionist sentiment of the sort voiced by Obama. (3) Hugo Chavez came on the scene well before the Bush administration, taking office in 1999 and then being reelected in 2000. His shredding of Venezuela’s constitution and interference in Latin American politics were well under way during the last years of the Clinton administration.

Is it going to be this way each day of the campaign: We get some pious sermon relating the selflessness of his own past to shame us into being similarly idealistic, followed by a complete Orwellian rewrite of history? If so, its’ going to be a long five months.

Memorial Day in Europe

I spent the last two days visiting the American military cemetery at the Meuse-Argonne that commemorates the horrific battle of that name in 1918 (my grandfather Frank Hanson was gassed and severely wounded in the battle), and the next day at Hamm, in Luxembourg, where George S. Patton is buried. Both are beautiful, solemn places, and the care and attention given to their upkeep should make all Americans proud. The evidence of Memorial Day French and English flowers and wreaths was remarkable.

Friendly Europeans

At Bastogne today, I heard a fiery pro-American rant from a Dutchman, contrasting not just the WWII treatment of his country by the United States versus that from Germany, but the present-day treatment as well from haughty powerful EU members like Germany.

Two notes on Anti-Americanism this trip: one, it seems on the wane; two, it is almost an exclusively urban and elite phenomenon. Everyday Europeans in the countryside are especially warm, and seem tired of knee-jerk anti-Americanism. Most seem more worried about Arab immigrants and German bullying in the EU.

The Dollar

Another note. Although the season is early, there are almost no Americans to be seen. Gas is 1.60 Euros a liter or about (over) $9 a gallon for gas here. I haven’t seen much of Exxon here, so at least we can be assured that the evil American oil companies are not at the heart of the “price-gouging”. The price fixing here seems instead a combination of Gulf monarchies and EU tax collectors.Most hoteliers are happy, but whine nevertheless that fewer Americans are coming, and more Euros are going stateside for the summer.

More European myths

I try to come over here 2-3 times a year and am always struck by the Al-Gore-type lectures bac home to Americans about how far we are behind on the Internet, public wifi, etc. Two observations. Buying Internet here is about 3 times the cost as in the US. And in every hotel I’ve been at yet, there has been some sort of disruption of service or complete failure. At almost any hotel in the US, it takes about 3 minutes to log-in for 24-hour service at about $10; here the same time runs about $25 and is far less reliable.

The high tax, big government, secular, pacifist, and enforced egalitarianism of Europe–which seems the Obaman model– is something we should be very wary of emulating

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