Europe: A Land Without Love
by Tom Jay
The current issue of Foreign Affairs published an essay by Ivan Krastev and Mark Leonard called “Europe’s Shattered Dream of Order: How Putin Is Disrupting the Atlantic Alliance.” The authors cite a 2014 WIN/Gallup International survey reporting dismal results from respondents regarding the virtue of patriotism in Europe. Only 29 percent of French respondents, 27 percent of Brits, and 18 percent of Germans said they would fight for their country. A shocking 68 percent of Italians said they would positively refuse to defend their nation. (Giuseppe Garibaldi shouldn’t have troubled himself.) Globally, 3/5 of the population would fight for their country. The statistic needs parsing; 77 percent of that 3/5 comes from Middle Eastern and North African regions (MENA). Asian nations are second in willingness to fight for their flags at 71 percent. A meager 25 percent of Western Europeans would fight for their lands. In the U.S., 44 percent of respondents said they would take up arms for our nation. The timing of the survey was intentional, coinciding with centennial remembrances of the Great War. As the dark specter of nationalism casts an increasingly ominous shadow across Asia and Eastern Europe, western Europeans continue to inebriate themselves at the fountain of nihilism.
America’s recruitment prospects also are poor, but for a different reason: obesity. According to Army figures reported by Carol Costello of CNN in April, 10 percent of recruits are disqualified because of obesity. Maj. Gen. Allen Batschelet, commander of Army recruiting, warned that obesity could become a national security threat. Based on current trends, the Army believes that by 2020, only 2 of 10 recruits will qualify because of obesity. “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” We are too fat to fight.
Another threat to patriotism is atomization. Contra the vacuous promises of service providers, technology continues to isolate us from one another, sealing us up in self-constructed cocoons of downloaded music and “tweets.” Even movie-going has become an increasingly isolated activity with the advent of “home theater” systems. Americans now value personal rights more than communal safety according to a 2011 Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Research survey in which people were asked which they would choose between personal freedoms and protecting fellow citizens from terrorism. 54 percent of respondents prioritized individual rights. Some were fatalistic about it. “If they really want to hit us,” their thinking goes, “they will.” Underlying this attitude is a shirking of responsibility to the community, the very community that provides the opportunities and presumed “rights” these people now demand. In antiquity, each free-born man understood his duty to the polis. This is why even the poor, ill-equipped citizens of Athens marched out against the Persians at Marathon with nothing more than javelins and cutlasses. Europeans should know better. Most potentially world-changing battles were fought on European soil. Two particularly come to mind in light of the survey cited by Krastev and Leonard.
In 490 B.C., Attica, the taproot of western culture, teetered on the brink of destruction. Only Sparta and Athens refused Darius’ tributary demands of earth and water. The rest of Greece bent the knee to Persian power. After sacking Eretria, the Persians beached along the east coast of Attica. Athenian generals convened a war-council on a mountain slope overlooking the plain of Marathon, where the full might of Persian power was visible below. The mere thought of the Persian military struck fear into the hearts of most Greeks. As Sir Edward Creasy wrote in The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World, the Persians “had more than once met Greek troops in Asia Minor, in Cyprus, in Egypt, and had invariably beaten them. Nothing can be stronger than the expressions used by the early Greek writers respecting the terror which the name of the Medes inspired…”