[OUTLOOK]Even giants can’t stand aloneIn Asia, World War II had no single “D-Day.” Instead there were dozens of them, with the Americans wresting island after island from the Japanese. In Europe, the commemoration of the Allied invasion on June 6, 1944 has grown in importance decade after decade. This year, everybody who was anybody ― presidents, prime ministers and kings ― came to the small town of Arromanches on the coast of Normandy ― plus two surprise guests.
One was the German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, the other Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the past, the Germans were not welcome at the D-Day festivities, being told ever so politely: “Sorry, this party is just for us, for Europe’s liberators and the nations they freed from Nazi oppression.” But this year, during the 60th anniversary, Mr. Schroeder stood side by side with the likes of George W. Bush, Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac.
The Russian president was also a first. Never before had a ruler of the Kremlin been invited to the celebration in Normandy, undoubtedly because the Soviets had turned from World War II ally to the West’s worst enemy during the Cold War. This “reunification” with Russia and Germany after World War II and the Cold War is a fitting conclusion to the 20th century, Europe’s worst.
Though a glorious one for the arts and sciences (think of Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud), that century marked the political and moral low point in European history. The horror story began with the carnage of World War I that destroyed an entire generation of young people as well as four empires (Russia, Austria, Germany, and Turkey).
Out of defeat and chaos arose the twin monsters of Russian and German totalitarianism as well as their smaller Fascist brothers in Italy and Spain. Twenty years later, it was World War II. All told, genocide, revolution, famine and war wiped out 100 million people.
Given this catastrophe, the happy ending is even more impressive. Though it wasn’t written in Hollywood, it clearly bears an American signature. American power saved Europe in 1918, and it saved it again when Eisenhower’s troops waded ashore on D-Day in 1944.
Nor was the job done 13 months later, when Hitler’s armies surrendered. If Europe is “whole and free” today, it is because the United States stayed in Western Europe for the next 40 years, holding off a Soviet giant that had already swallowed the eastern part at the opening of the Cold War.
So three cheers for the United States, which also saved South Korea in 1950-53. It was Ronald Reagan who famously exclaimed in Berlin in 1984: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” It was George H.W. Bush who made sure that the Berlin Wall fell quietly five years later and that the last Russian soldiers were gone from Central Europe by D-Day 1994.
Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic could now “go home” again. Just six weeks before D-Day 2004, this trio entered the European Union along with five other former Soviet satellites.
At each point over the last century, it was America that liberated Europe from defeat or self-destruction. But as yesterday’s enemies and allies gathered for one last time (who will be left to make the trip in 2014?), a curious sense of unease wafted across the cliffs of Normandy.
As the Germans and Russians are finally brought into the fold, it is America that looks like the odd man out. Looking at the European media, you might think that America is Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler rolled into one. On D-Day 2004, Europe was awash in a tsunami of anti-Americanism that bears absolutely no resemblance to a rationally argued critique of U.S. policy in Iraq.
And so you begin to wonder. Why is it that the second and third post-D-Day generations are so obsessed with America that they will stop at nothing to discredit the country?
Of course, it does not help that Mr. Bush’s America, no longer restrained by another superpower, has turned into Gulliver Unbound. Whereas Jonathan Swift’s character was very sweet to the Lilliputians, the United States of George W. Bush doesn’t speak softly at all, while it wields a very big stick.
But these rational reasons for resentment cannot quite explain the sheer loathing of the United States. Maybe Dr. Freud can help. He would probably mumble: “Go back to D-Day and recall that we hate those most who have helped us most.” Make that a bit sharper: We, the Europeans, will never forgive the Americans for saving us so often from our own worst failures.
America is a constant reminder of Europe’s catastrophes. And dependence keeps grating. Even today, Europe must turn to the United States when local bad guys like Slobodan Milosevic need chastening.
Worse, there is Temptress America, a culture that radiates outward and pulls inward. Europe eats, listens, dances and dresses American, and if the lure of low culture weren’t enough, there is the glamour of the United States’ top universities that makes the worst anti-American diatribe usually end like this: “You went to Harvard. Could you help get my daughter in?”
Will this, too, pass by D-Day 2014? It might, but only if Europe sheds its arrogance of weakness, and the United States the arrogance of strength that has recently afflicted Gulliver Unbound.
Watch George W. Bush in Normandy and then during the G-8, E.U.-U.S. and NATO summits, all in June, for signs of a kinder and gentler America. The United States is still the greatest power in history, but it learned the hard way in Fallujah and Najaf that even giants can’t go it alone.
* The writer is the editor of Die Zeit, a German weekly, and a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution.
by Josef Joffe