William Pfaff on Europe's reluctance to go to war


William Pfaff in the International Herald Tribune (emphasis mine):

American commentators like to think that the "Jacksonian" frontier spirit equips America to dominate, reform and democratize other civilizations. They do not appreciate that America's indefatigable confidence comes largely from never having had anything very bad happen to it.

The worst American war was the Civil War, in which the nation, North and South, suffered 498,000 wartime deaths from all causes, or slightly more than 1.5 percent of a total population of 31.5 million.

The single battle of the Somme in World War I produced twice as many European casualties as the United States suffered, wounded included, during that entire war.

There were 407,000 American war deaths in World War II, out of a population of 132 million - less than a third of 1 percent. Considering this, Washington does not really possess the authority to explain, in condescending terms, that Europe's reluctance to go to war is caused by a pusillanimous reluctance to confront the realities of a Hobbesian universe.


It cannot be emphasized too often that not one of the principal figures associated with the Bush White House's foreign policy, with the exception of Colin Powell, has any actual experience of war, most of them having actively sought to avoid military service in Vietnam. Their inexperience and ignorance could not be better displayed than by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's recent comment that draftees have added "no value, no advantage really, to the United States armed services over any sustained period of time." Who does he think fought World War II - the 174,000-man prewar regular army?

The American regular army has never been truly effective until large numbers of flexible, brainy and nonconformist wartime civilian soldiers were integrated into its command, staffs and ranks.


Germany's current resistance to President George W. Bush's war coincides with the re-emergence in Germany of articulated memories of exterminatory bombardment, pillage, population expulsions and mass rape, suffered in the final months of World War II. That devastating experience has for years been deliberately repressed in the German consciousness, in acknowledgment of Germany's responsibility for the war and the crimes committed by German forces.

In recent months a series of books and articles have at last recalled what the Germans themselves call taboo subjects, at a time when the youngest generations of those who experienced these events are mostly still alive.

This has not been to argue the merits, justification and (minor) actual effect on the German war effort of allied saturation and firestorm bombing of German cities, but in order to establish a moral and aesthetic coming-to-terms with events that, together with the firebombing of Japan's wooden cities, rank among the worst things ever done in or by Western civilization.


Yup. We don't as a society recognize the 'costs' of war, because there don't seem to be any.

For us.

Yes, we can spend $400-500 billion/year on defense, $100-500 billion on Iraq, since we have already created such a perfect health care system, and there are no problems with our education system or our infrastructure.

It's amazing to me that Americans think this is a good use of our money.

I never see any of the press mention the fact that most economic writers seem to believe that part of the economic problems in the 70s were due to our excessive spending for the Viet Nam war. Even my right-wing economics professors taught me that the multiplier effect for defense spending was rather low compared to government spending on education or infrastructure projects.

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This page contains a single entry by published on February 2, 2003 1:01 PM.

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