British columnist Andrew Gimson has an exceptionally good column in the Telegraph today pointing out the ways in which current European prejudices about America are just plain wrong
We are inclined, in our snobbish way, to dismiss the Americans as a new and vulgar people, whose civilisation has hardly risen above the level of cowboys and Indians. Yet the United States of America is actually the oldest republic in the world, with a constitution that is one of the noblest works of man. When one strips away the distracting symbols of modernity – motor cars, skyscrapers, space rockets, microchips, junk food – one finds an essentially 18th-century country. While Europe has engaged in the headlong and frankly rather immature pursuit of novelty – how many constitutions have the nations of Europe been through in this time? – the Americans have held to the ideals enunciated more than 200 years ago by their founding fathers.
And, as Gimson points out, Americans have shown a willingness to die, when necessary, to protect their cherished freedoms that Europeans don’t seem to share:
We went to the fine new museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, devoted to the American Civil War. It was the bloodiest war in American history. Americans slaughtered Americans in terrible numbers before the North prevailed. You can look up the names of soldiers on a computer, and I found to my slight surprise that a man called Joseph Gimson served on the Union side as a private in the 37th Regiment of Coloured Infantry, and was “severely and dangerously wounded” in the battle of Northeast Station on February 22, 1865.
We stood at Gettysburg, scene of the bloodiest battle of all, on a field covered with memorials to the fallen. Here Abraham Lincoln gave his great and sublimely brief address, ending with the hope “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”.
Again some Europeans will give an unkind smile. All this sounds so Puritan, so na?ve and so self-righteous. We cannot help feeling that the Americans ought to have been able to settle their quarrel without killing each other, and, while we cannot defend the institution of slavery, we wonder whether the North had the right to impose its will by force.
These are vain quibbles. The North went to war and was victorious.
The Americans are prepared to use force in pursuit of what they regard as noble aims. It is yet another respect in which they are rather old-fashioned. They are patriots who venerate their nation and their flag
The same can be said for almost every other war America has been involved in — World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, The Gulf War, Iraq — all of these were motivated not be a desire to increase the size of some grand empire, but by the honest belief that we were fighting for freedom. One can argue that this idea was wrong, or that the tactics used were inappropriate, but one cannot argue about the motivation.
As Gimson points out, the world would do well to remember that Americans typically mean what they say:
[W]hen the Americans speak of freedom, we should not imagine, in our cynical and worldly-wise way, that they are merely using that word as a cloak for realpolitik. They are not above realpolitik, but they also mean what they say.
These formidable people think freedom is so valuable that it is worth dying for.
How unfortunate that our European brothers and sisters somehow find this idea strange.
H/T: Ann Althouse