The German Marshall Fund has just released Transatlantic Trends, their annual survey of European and American public opinion. The survey collects data on issues ranging from the popularity of the American President (Europeans really like President Obama and they really hated G. W. Bush) to opinions on NATO, the European Union, climate change, economic policy, the war in Afghanistan and so forth. You can find their “Key Findings” here and the detailed “Topline Data” here.
The most striking difference between Americans and Europeans is reflected in answers to the following rather cautiously worded statement:
Please tell me to what extend you agree with the following: Under some conditions, war is necessary to obtain justice.
The American response:
Strongly agree: 37 percent
Somewhat agree: 34 percent
Somewhat disagree: 11 percent
Strongly disagree: 14 percent
For those who are counting, that’s 71 percent who agree to 25 percent who disagree.
By contrast, the Europeans answer:
Strongly agree: 8 percent
Somewhat agree: 17 percent
Somewhat disagree: 22 percent
Strongly disagree: 49 percent
That’s 25 percent who agree to 71 percent who disagree.
The UK is the only European nation that could muster a majority who agree that under some conditions war is necessary to obtain justice, but only barely at 55-40 percent, coming in at percentages of: 20, 35, 15, and 25 respectively.
On the Continent one finds a rather dismal picture. Worth mentioning is the high percentage of Europeans who strongly disagree, suggesting that they believe that under no conditions can war ever be necessary to obtain justice: 57 percent of the French (5, 13, 24, 57), 55 percent of the Germans (6, 13, 25, 55), 64 percent of the Italians (4, 12, 20, 64), 55 percent of the Spanish (4, 10, 30, 55), and 60 percent of the Belgians (3, 14, 18, 60). Only 47 percent of the Dutch strongly disagree (10, 19, 22, 47), which makes them, I suppose, the warmongers of the Continent.
Pretty bleak, but then again, let’s look on the bright side. Who wouldn’t prefer having a nation of German pacifists than a nation of goose-stepping Nazi’s traipsing through Europe? Certainly, the German pacifism of the first part of the twenty-first century is to be preferred to the German militarism of the first half of the twentieth.
But militarism and pacifism, of course, don’t exhaust the range of moral options (and I would argue that they tend to go together like Tweedledee and Tweedledum, but that is for another day.) If they thought real, real hard, and reached deep into their heritage, Europeans just might be able to come up with a few conditions under which war should be waged for the sake of justice. Or maybe not so deep, maybe just as far back as, say, Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald. A visit to the American cemetery at, say, Normady, for example, might also serve to jar their collective conscience. But I doubt it.
In any case, let’s hope the Germans, French, Dutch, Spanish, Belgians and the rest figure it all out before some decidedly less-pacifist, more militaristically inclined predators, see fit to take advantage of their pacifistic naiveté. I suspect, however, that it might take a few twenty-first century storm-troopers goose-stepping down the streets of Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, and Madrid to get their attention. By then, it will be too late—but maybe not too late to call on the Americans. Maybe.