My article on my recent participation in the Europe-Russia forum (held by the Economic Forum of Poland) in Bucharest May 25-27 now appears in The Weekly Standard. A few key excerpts, illustrations, and additional thoughts:
The conference venue added a touch of eerie symbolism. Bucharest is still haunted by the legacy of Nicolae Ceausescu, whose barbaric rule made Romania a hellhole even by the low standards of the Soviet bloc. The Europe-Russia Forum met in the building that is the most conspicuous legacy of his rule: the Palace of the Parliament, formerly the House of the People. Ceausescu had it built in his final years as both personal residence and seat of government, razing much of the city’s historic district to make room for the gargantuan edifice. After his overthrow and execution, some wanted to dynamite it. Yet it still stands, a monument to megalomania and to the dark age from which this part of the world only recently emerged.
The Palace of the Parliament at dusk
In my last column on World War II, I mentioned some through-the-looking-glass similarities between Russian and American attitudes toward the war — such as the fact that both often act as if they single-handedly defeated Hitler.
While working on the column, I thought of another parallel. Russians “patriots” frequently wax indignant at the ungrateful people of Eastern Europe and the Baltics who fail to appreciate Russia’s role in liberating them from the Nazi yoke. Many Americans, particularly conservatives, have the same attitude toward Europeans who fail to appreciate America’s role in saving them from Hitler.
But is there any kind of moral equivalence there?
I would say no.
It’s not that I don’t find the “how dare they — we saved their butts during World War II!” attitude annoying. I do, except in response to shrill , vicious anti-Americanism (rather than reasoned criticism of U.S. policies). I think demanding gratitude for one’s good deeds is always somewhat unseemly, and takes away much of the value of the good deed.
Still, there’s a difference. Allow me to illustrate (with apologies for the gender-stereotypical script).
Scenario A: A man saves a woman from a homicidal maniac. They start dating and end up getting married. He can be a bit domineering at times and sometimes, when she questions something he does, self-righteously reminds her of the gratitude she owes him for saving her life.
Not very nice, right? But now consider …
Scenarior B: A man saves a woman from a homicidal maniac. He then proceeds to forcibly take her to his house and repeatedly rape her. When she finally escapes and goes to the police, he proceeds to loudly complain about her ingratitude — after all, if it weren’t for him, she’d be dead now!