European anti-Americanism: A walk down memory lane

You know how the rise of anti-Americanism in Europe is all the fault of Bush and his warmongering, narrow-mindedness, religious fundamentalism, and so on and so forth?

The other day, I was doing a Lexis/Nexis searh in search of something else (material related to the Echelon surveillance program), and I came across an article with the headline:

Europe’s Dim View Of U.S. Is Evolving Into Frank Hostility

Sample paragraph:

Poking fun at America has always been a European pastime, particularly among the French. In the past, Americans have been ridiculed as Bermuda-shorts-wearing louts who call strangers by their first names and know nothing about the good life. But today’s criticism is far from being an amusing rejection of food rituals. Experts say that it has a virulence and an element of fear never seen before.

And this was published when?

April 9, 2000.

Some more excerpts:

Just read the title of his new book and you’ll get an idea of Noel Mamere’s perspective: “No Thanks, Uncle Sam.”

Mr. Mamere, an outspoken though hardly extreme member of the French Parliament, has devoted an entire book to his argument that America is a worrisome society these days. It has a record number of armed citizens. It embraces the death penalty, turns the poor away when they need medical care, and its legislators have failed to approve a nuclear test ban. Yet, argues Mr. Mamere, the United States throws its weight around and would have the entire world follow in its steps.

At this moment, he says in his closing chapter, “it is appropriate to be downright anti-American.”

In France, indeed in Europe, Mr. Mamere is by no means alone in his criticism of the United States. Wander a French bookstore these days and you will find any number of catchy titles (“The World Is Not Merchandise,” “Who Is Killing France? The American Strategy,” “American Totalitarianism” to name a few) deploring the American way — from its creation of a society ruled by profit to depictions of the United States as an unchecked force on its way to ruling the world. The books are only one sign of what experts say is a growing backlash of anti-Americanism. More and more often, Europeans talk about America as a menacing, even dangerous force intent on remaking the world in its image.

The article notes that this perception is linked to the United States’ sole-superpower status since the fall of the Berlin wall.

The Europeans read menace in a wide range of recent events. Far from seeing America’s involvement in Kosovo as a hand of support from across the Atlantic, for instance, many Europeans saw it as an American manipulation of NATO. And the humiliating fact that the intervention would not have been possible without American air power only rammed home the perception of America’s military superiority, and of European deficiency.

But suspicion runs high in other areas as well. The Clinton administration’s cheerleading — for instance, its repeated description of the United States as being the “indispensable” nation — strikes a threatening chord here. And recent disputes such as America’s decision last year to impose an import tax on goods like Roquefort cheese and foie gras because the Europeans would not accept hormone-enhanced beef from the United States only fuels the European sense that the United States is a bully.

To be sure, the average European is embracing much that comes from the United States. Its films, its music, its fashion and, even if no-one in France particularly cares to admit it, its fast food. The weekly best-seller list shows more than half the top selling novels in France are translations of American books. There are frequent complaints of a brain drain as young people flock to Silicon Valley and elsewhere in America to get their start in life.

But at the same time the view of a belligerent United States is growing too. Polls conducted by CSA in the last few years suggest that Europeans have some extremely negative views of the United States. In April last year, 68 percent of the French said they were worried about America’s status as a superpower. Only 30 percent said there was anything to admire across the Atlantic. Sixty-three percent said they did not feel close to the American people.

Another CSA poll in September 1998, which compared the attitudes of the Germans, Spanish, French, Italian and British toward the United States, found they had deep reservations too. …

“We have the impression that America has no more enemy,” says Michel Winock, a professor at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris who often writes on the subject of anti-Americanism. “It does what it likes now when it wants. Through NATO it directs European affairs. Before we could say we were on America’s side. Not now. There is no counterbalance.”

The European/American divide, the article notes, stems partly from differences on social issues such as the death penalty, and is exacerbated by many European commentators’ preoccupation with American social ills such as police violence and racism.

“Never has America been so loved and so hated,” says the novelist Pascal Bruckner, who has also written on anti-Americanism. “But in some ways America should be glad. We are not condemning the Russians for a lack of morality. We don’t care. They don’t count.”

Felix Rohatyn says he has felt the change of attitude take place since 1997, when he arrived in Paris as the American ambassador.

“The anti-Americanism today encompasses not a specific policy like Iranian sanctions but a feeling that globalization has an American face on it and is a danger to the European and French view of society,” Mr. Rohatyn said in an interview. “There is the sense that America is such an extraordinary power that it can crush everything in its way. It is more frustration and anxiety now than plain anti-Americanism.”

Claims that today’s European anti-Americanism is Bush’s (or the Bush Administration’s) fault often focus on the overwhelming sympathy for the United States in Europe right after 9/11, symbolized by the “Nous sommes tous Américains” — “We are all Americans” — editorial in Le Monde, published on September 13, 2001. It is a common charge that we have “squandered” that sympathy by our post-9/11 actions, and particularly the war in Iraq. Yet it is very likely, given the pre-9/11 climate in Europe, that this surge of sympathy was inevitably going to be temporary and probably short.

The 2000 New York Times article is a useful reminder of that.

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25 Comments

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25 responses to “European anti-Americanism: A walk down memory lane

  1. Jim

    Davids Medienkritk focuses on German anti-Americanism. What is immediately apparent is how old a lot of the substance is. 68er anti-Americanism uses a lot of the vocabulary of Nazi anti-Ameircnism, and the Nazis themsleves only borrowed this vocabulary. Bruce Bawer has writen on how engrained European anti-Americanism is. At bottom there is resentment at being forced out of their God-given role as colonial masters of the world, and this comes out in Europeans’ facile elision of their own public opinion with “world opinion”.

    There is also the ideologically-based contempt of people with a feudalist/socialist worldview for a market-based order.

    There is also a willful ahistoricity to Europeans’ sense that they have the advantage of age-old experience over Americans. Germans conveniently forget that the American nation is older than theirs, and that American domeocracy id far older than either German or for that matter French democracy. Even in academic matters they cling to this comforting myth. I once saw some clueless German (judging form thr grammatical erroros) commneter on a linguistic blog where the questionwas whether or not the noun/verb distinction was basic to human language go off on stupid Americans with out primitive language who were ignorant of thudsands of years of work in other parts of the world, when the discussion was based on examples from North American languages anyone in the field knows that Americans pretty much invented descriptive linguistics. Of course the most basic mistake they amke is to thiink that Americans are somehow ignorant of Europeans history – European history is the reason most of us are in America. Its is our history.

  2. colagirl

    Great post, Cathy! (I tried to make a previous post, but blogger ate it.)

    Your comment about how any sympathy we received in the wake of 9/11 was almost sure to be temporary and short-lived is especially well-taken. I thought as much at the time, and even then a lot of the sympathy we received was heavily laced with sanctimonious tut-tutting about how, well, we really *did* have it coming. As you discussed in your November 2005 post about Paul Berman and Anti-Americanism, European hostility and condescencion toward the US has a very long history and many deep roots, regardless of the current occupant of the White House. Good job.

  3. Anonymous

    Cathy,

    If you have access to the NYT archives, go back and read John Vinocur’s columns in the International Herald Tribune from 1997 on. They track France’s increasingly vocal hostility to the U.S. Long before Bush was elected, France openly proposed a plan to use international forums, such as the U.N., to tie down the U.S. and prevent it from acting “unilaterally.” France was forced to backtrack as a result of Europe’s failure to deal with the situtation in the former Yugoslavia, but it quickly came back with a vengeance.

    It is amazing that all of this seems to have slipped from the NYT’s, Washington Post’s, etc. memories.

  4. Brad

    Did you happen to read Pascal Bruckner’s piece in Dissent a couple years back? (google dissent bruckner) He made good sense of the situation.
    I traveled about Europe a lot during the 90′s and noticed the tension rising, so I agree with your assesment. (funny though, the one place where I experienced none of it was Scotland)

  5. Mark B.

    *Sigh* The British and French hated our guts in ’56 for not backing them up on Suez, then DeGaulle decided in the early 60′s that France, not the US should be the pivotal player in Europe, then we had the late ’60s protests against American materialism and the Vietnam War, then the neutron bomb flap in the late 70′s, then the furor about Reagan’s deployment of MRBMs in the early 80s . . .

    Europe will never be happy with the US, because the latter is a convenient scapegoat for Europe’s own political ineptitude. The cradle-to-grave welfare statism that Europeans take such pride in would have been impossible had the US not been footing the bulk of the defense bills for 50+ years, and now looks increasingly untenable in the face of a rapidly aging population and stagnant productivity. The bureaucratic nightmare in Brussels is emblematic of Europe’s inability to achieve true unity of purpose or political power commensurate with its economic stature.

    If you check European newspapers of 125 years ago, you’l find the French and others fulminating in very familiar terms about Perfidious Albion and those overmighty, arrogant Brits across the Channel. Nobody loves a superpower.

  6. W.B. Reeves

    Exactly what is the supposed significance here? That anti-American sentiment existed in Europe prior to the advent of George W. Bush?

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the notion that anyone above the age of 18 could be ignorant of this.

    Proving that G.W. Bush didn’t invent European anti-Americanism hardly seems significant since I don’t know of anyone who claims that he did. Nor is any source for such a claim cited here.

    The whole piece seems to elide the real issue. Has the Bush Presidency improved or injured the position of the U.S. vis a vis Europe? That is the relevant question. Pre-existing anti-Americanism is beside the point.

  7. amyalkon

    Our bookstores aren’t exactly a love letter to France, either.

  8. jw

    Maybe a Canadian can offer some insight here.

    Anti-Americanism is founded on the actions of the Executive and State Department. Neither is, generally speaking, willing to listen to the concerns of allies. Both act as though US law can and should be enforced throughout the planet.

    Put that together and you have the roots of anti-american feeling. Those roots are then twisted by people with their own agendas.

    Those on the far left, especially, twist annoyance at US foreign policy into real contempt for the US.

    There you are. That is your basic explanation. There’s more to it of course. The US populace’s refusal to learn even the basics of other countries is also a factor.

    I lived most of my life on the US/Canada border. I could look out my second story windows and see the US: When I was a child, I could see the US from the ground.

    US citizens coming into Canada had the idea that this is only another US State. It is normal for New Yorker’s coming into Fort Erie Ontario to demand that Ontario laws are identical to New York laws.

    It’s a common enough thing for Canada Customs to get cases like skiers in July coming into Ontario to do a bit of summer slope running (Seriously! CRC turn away a half dozen similar every week.) Why don’t US schools teach the basics?

    This ugly US tourist thing drives Canadians nuts. I’m not saying that we are all that much better … sadly we Canadians have a terrible reputation as far as tipping goes. Mind, there is a difference between being seen as cheap and not knowing that there is no snow in summertime Ontario.

    To my mind, the problem is one of annoyance twisted and ramped up by people with their own -nasty- agendas.

    The Canadian experience is quite similar to the European. Annoyance at minor –but highly annoying — things is twisted by those with an agenda into something dark and foul.

  9. Jim

    “The US populace’s refusal to learn even the basics of other countries is also a factor.”

    This is even truer of Europeans and for that matter Canadians. It’s worse in Europe, because at their primitive level of political organnization, they call thier tribal states nations and fancy themselves very sophisitciated and international indeed if they are familair with a couple of other European cultures and languages. What they lack in comparison to various parts of the US is an organic link to other continents by reason of descent from immigrants. I am quite sure for instance that almost anyone in Washington State knows a lot more about Vietmnam, Cambodia, Japan, China and so on, than most people in Germany do.

    “US citizens coming into Canada had the idea that this is only another US State. “

    Funny how Canadians seem to have exactly the same view, expressing shock and amazement that they do not have free entry into the US as they assume is their right, that they are not free to take jobs in the US without proper visas, and that they are free to comment on our internal politics as if they were their own.

    Look at the settlement pattern in Canada – all within 100 miles of the southern, all completely dependent on the US economy. Canada functions like a 51st state. That is certain the basis of their national defense strategy, quite obviously. Canada is more tightly bound to our northern states than the rest of the US is. Various sections of Canada have much closer relationships with their corresponding US states than with other parts of Cabada – ask anyone from British Columbia about this if you doubt it. Ditto for Alberta.

    Speaking of which, I cannot imagine why anyone would go to Ontario to ski, but there is often plenty of snow at Whistler in July, as in the Cascades and even the Sierra Nevada, so the idea of skiing in the summertime is not so outlandish as all that.

    “The Canadian experience is quite similar to the European.”

    Well of course, because Canada is still psychologically a European colony. The Anglophones are very proud of their connection to Britain, and many of them physically descend from Highlander goon squads who enforce imperial control in Canada after leaving the American colonies when that arrangement was blown apart.

    “Anti-Americanism is founded on the actions of the Executive and State Department. Neither is, generally speaking, willing to listen to the concerns of allies. Both act as though US law can and should be enforced throughout the planet.”

    First off, Canadian and European contempt for the US predates any of these actions, which I suppose is a reference to the Iraq mess. That point has been made over and over again. Secondly, this statement is flat false. That whole circle jerk in the Security Council before the Iraq invasion was all about consulting with “allies”. The concerns of the “allies”, the protection of Oil-For-Food sweetheart deals between Saddam and French oil companies, were indeed listened to and dissected in the US press and elsehwere.

    The second claim, that the US thinks that its laws “should be enforced throughout the planet.” is especially rich in a time when Europeans have set up an “international” court in one of their cities that purports to enforce “international” law throughout the planet, law which derives not from any legitimate legislative process, but from backroom treaty deals. Europeans still imagine that they set “international” norms as colonial masters of the planet. And they deeply resent any action by anyone that threatens this comfortable delusion.

  10. W.B. Reeves

    I see this is going to turn into yet other orgy of self indulgent nativism.

    There appears to be no middle ground between those who believe the U.S. has to live with the rest of the world and those who imagine the U.S. can tell the other residents of the globe to bugger off.

  11. Revenant

    Maybe a Canadian can offer some insight here. Anti-Americanism is founded on the actions of the Executive and State Department.

    Canadian anti-Americanism is founded in Canada’s inferiority complex. Our government’s activities are just a flimsy rationalization for it.

  12. Revenant

    There appears to be no middle ground between those who believe the U.S. has to live with the rest of the world and those who imagine the U.S. can tell the other residents of the globe to bugger off.

    Your problem is that you equate “live with” with “be liked by”, which is a bit silly. Obviously the United States has to live with other countries. That doesn’t mean that it is important for us to get them to like us. They certainly feel no obligation to make us like them. With few exceptions countries don’t base their relations with each other on mutual good feeling — they base them in enlightened self-interest. It is important that we trade with Europe. It is important to get Europe to carry its own weight with regard to international policing. It is not important to make Europeans think warm fuzzy thoughts about the United States — a nation the ruling classes of Europe have *always* viewed with contempt.

    Nobody is suggesting that the rest of the world “bugger off”. What we’re suggesting is that we don’t give a rat’s ass whether the people selling us wine and cellular phones in exchange for movies and computers think we’re a swell bunch of guys or a nation of jerks.

  13. Jim

    “I see this is going to turn into yet other orgy of self indulgent nativism.”

    As opposed to an orgy of self-indulgent pontification like this comment. As for nativism – what a sloppy assumption – you have no idea as to the nationality of anyone on this thread, and for all you know I might be British, or for that matter Chinese.

  14. W.B. Reeves

    Your problem is that you equate “live with” with “be liked by”, which is a bit silly. Obviously the United States has to live with other countries.

    Your problem is that you like to substitute your own prejudices for what others actually say. That’s something a bit worse than silly.

    As opposed to an orgy of self-indulgent pontification like this comment. As for nativism – what a sloppy assumption – you have no idea as to the nationality of anyone on this thread, and for all you know I might be British, or for that matter Chinese.

    One short paragraph compared to the seven you spent bashing Canada hardly qualifies as an orgy.

    It’s not a “sloppy assumption” to recognize American idiom when one hears it. Of course, it is possible that you learned English by watching imported US movies. I doubt it though, since you are so coy about your nationality. I suspect if you were not an American you would have said so.

    Of course I could be wrong.

  15. Revenant

    Your problem is that you like to substitute your own prejudices for what others actually say.

    Heh. And could you please quote the person in this thread who said something like “the U.S. can tell the other residents of the globe to bugger off.”? :)

    You are, indeed, equating “caring about being liked” with “living with other countries”. But a person can recognize that we need peaceful and prosperous relations with, say, France, while simultaneously realizing that such relations have never been dependent on the French liking us, or us them.

  16. W.B. Reeves

    Heh. And could you please quote the person in this thread who said something like “the U.S. can tell the other residents of the globe to bugger off.”? :)

    Playing dumb now? I never claimed that anyone said this any more than I claimed that anyone said that the U.S. had to live with the rest of the world. Those were my characterizations of the two poles of debate and I never attributed them to any particular individual.

    Like I said, what you’re engaged in is a bit worse than silly.

  17. Cathy Young

    W. B. Reeves: I’m certainly well aware of the fact that European anti-Americanism predated the Bush presidency. (As this article makes clear, the current wave of European anti-Americanism, in fact, predated the Bush presidency and began in the last years of Clinton.)

    There is a lot of commentary based on the premise that current European anti-Americanism is largely a response to the Bush presidency, the warmongering, the religious fundamentalism, etc. etc. I’m sure I can hunt down specific examples if you insist. I know I’ve seen plenty.

    Did the Bush administration help or hurt U.S. standing in the eyes of the world? I’m not sure Bush could have done much to change those attitudes one way or another, because they’re mainly a reaction to America’s post-1991 status as the world’s sole superpower.

  18. Revenant

    I never claimed that anyone said this any more than I claimed that anyone said that the U.S. had to live with the rest of the world

    Well, who said something like it, then? You claim you’re characterizing the two poles of the debate. I assume you meant the real debate that we were actually having. So which of us here in this thread has been saying something that could be accurately characterized as “we don’t have to live with the rest of the world and can just tell them to bugger off”?

    You claimed that there was apparently no middle ground between those two positions. The reality is that not only is there a middle ground, but the entire discussion has taken place in it. Because the “bugger off” position is a straw man, held by and advocated by nobody here.

    Like I said, what you’re engaged in is a bit worse than silly.

    I am honest; you are not. That is enough for me.

  19. W.B. Reeves

    Thank you for your response. A few points in return.

    W. B. Reeves: I’m certainly well aware of the fact that European anti-Americanism predated the Bush presidency. (As this article makes clear, the current wave of European anti-Americanism, in fact, predated the Bush presidency and began in the last years of Clinton.)

    I like wave imagery but here I think it misleading. The article indicates that there was a rise in European anti-Americanism towards the end of the Clinton Presidency. Calling it the beginning of the current wave presupposes a fact not in evidence. It presumes that the current level of anti-American sentiment is merely an extension of the earlier trend.

    I don’t know how you would go about proving this supposition.

    There is a lot of commentary based on the premise that current European anti-Americanism is largely a response to the Bush presidency, the warmongering, the religious fundamentalism, etc. etc. I’m sure I can hunt down specific examples if you insist. I know I’ve seen plenty.

    I’m sure you could find many examples of the kind you describe. I’d be surprised if you’d find very many that would claim that there was no European anti-Americanism prior to the Bush presidency or that such sentiment would disappear tomorrow if Bush left office.

    Did the Bush administration help or hurt U.S. standing in the eyes of the world? I’m not sure Bush could have done much to change those attitudes one way or another, because they’re mainly a reaction to America’s post-1991 status as the world’s sole superpower.

    Are you saying that European anti-American sentiment is no stronger now than at the time the article was written? Or do you think that it has risen but the rise has nothing to do with US foreign policy?

    It’s possible that anti-American sentiment would be just as great regardless of Bush’s policies. For that to be true though, one would have to believe that US policy had no influence whatever. That hardly seems credible.

    If your point is that long term trends made it likely that there would be a falling out between Europe and America, I wouldn’t dispute you. That doesn’t make US policy and actions irrelevant to the mix anymore than good policy or bad policy excludes the influence of larger trends. One can accelerate or retard the other.

    I think you would have more luck determining whether Bush’s foreign policy has undermined or strengthened US standing abroad than you will have proving your current hypothesis.

  20. W.B. Reeves

    I am honest; you are not. That is enough for me.

    Personal insults don’t interest me. People can decide for themselves who is or is not being honest.

    Nobody is suggesting that the rest of the world “bugger off”. What we’re suggesting is that we don’t give a rat’s ass whether the people selling us wine and cellular phones in exchange for movies and computers think we’re a swell bunch of guys or a nation of jerks.

    Judging from the above quote I’d say you don’t understand the meaning of the phrase “bugger off”.

  21. Anonymous

    Speaking as a Canadian who is sick of the knee-jerk anti-Americanism of his country…
    We live in the shadow of the US and resent them for being bigger economically (every Canadain now chimes in “well, our country is bigger…”)
    I don’t. I like the Americans. I have found that, as a general rule, Americans are outgoing and want to be friends
    Being as “sophisticated” as we are (Europeans and Canadians) (read: we are sneaky and conniving and assume the worst of others…and considering German history, this may very well be a survival trait) we regard outward friendliness as smarmy

  22. Jim

    W.B. Reeves, you assume I am American because you claim to be able to recognize American idiom. What idiom do you think Chinese try to imitate when they are learning English? Surely the mainstream variety of the language, I would think.

    “”bugger off”.

    So I can assume you are British. Why are you bothering to comment in a debate that doesn’t concern you then?

  23. W.B. Reeves

    W.B. Reeves, you assume I am American because you claim to be able to recognize American idiom. What idiom do you think Chinese try to imitate when they are learning English? Surely the mainstream variety of the language, I would think.

    I notice that you don’t say that my assumption was wrong. In my experience, English students from non English speaking countries imitate their teachers. This is why so many East Asians and Africans speak with a British inflection. You accused me of a sloppy (ie, groundless) assumption. I gave you the basis of that assumption. You’re simply quibbling.

    So I can assume you are British. Why are you bothering to comment in a debate that doesn’t concern you then?

    A single borrowing of a slang phrase doesn’t alter one’s idiom. If I had based my assumption on such a slender reed you might have a point. Since I didn’t, you don’t.

  24. Lori Heine

    I believe that anti-Americanism is based primarily upon one motive: envy.

    Other countries can either choose to be like us or choose not to be. But we don’t have to change. We are, in just about every way, the leaders of the world.

    What is all this crap about Americans being “ugly?” Ugly is in the eye of the beholder. We bailed most of these nations out of trouble with Hitler sixty years ago. They were not able to do it by themselves. Screw them if they don’t like us — these are the same cowards who are now allowing Muslim immigrants to dictate how they are going to run their affairs. They are willing to roll over and play dead for Islamofascists who want to make Sharia the law of their land.

    Europe needs to defend itself, or it will die. Whether it does or whether it does not is not a decision the USA can make. But we are absolutely right to hold ourselves aloof from Europe’s little crisis of political correctness.

  25. W.B. Reeves

    Lori, have you ever been to Europe?

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