When traveling through Europe accompanied by a copy of Martin Gilbert’s magisterial one-volume biography, “Churchill: A Life,” you cannot ignore the parallels between today and the 1930s. With the enemies of freedom prowling along on the periphery of civilization and the economy wobbling, the West once again finds itself at an existential crossroads. This time, there is no Winston Churchill to set us upon the road toward victory.
Europe is different from when I first lived there in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was not as superficially wealthy then, although this time I rarely wandered far from where the tourists congregate. On the outside, at least, you would hardly see the rot of debt and welfare-state mismanagement even in Italy and Spain. The people were well dressed. The cafés were expensive but still packed. The cars are fairly new and have shockingly little body damage, when you consider the insanity that overtakes Europeans when they slide behind a steering wheel.
But that’s on the surface. Once you get behind the walls and into interior of the homes, the old cramped shabbiness is still there. All their money goes to clothes, food, and drink, because there’s no room in European apartments for the stuff Americans pack into theirs.
Like a cheesy disaster movie foreshadowing the apocalypse during Act I, the TVs in the bars where the locals drink wine and gobble pricey tapas cover the looming Greek default 24/7. The coming collapse is background noise to a cacophony of people chattering into iPhones. The revolution is being televised, and no one’s watching.
Countless stores will dress women in the latest, most expensive fashions, but few supply the woman who wishes to dress her children. The merchants know their markets, and you need babies to support baby clothes stores. When you walk the streets, you notice the couples with kids—they stand out, and it’s always just one kid. Even the cabbies sigh that the birth rate is below replacement level. Children are the ultimate luxury item. Most Italians don’t move out of their families’ apartments until they’re in their 30s. There’s no room for kids—not in the tiny apartments and not in young people’s social lives. Moreover, children represent an investment in the future, but it’s a buyer’s market.
There are fewer immigrants than you might think from what we read here in America, although this time I wandered primarily through the more affluent neighborhoods. On the continent, the immigrants are largely kept out of sight and, for the moment, out of mind—at least those not engaged in trying to sell you selfie sticks outside the Sagrada Familia.
Not so in England. When you go to a restaurant or a store in or around London, you almost certainly won’t be served by a native Englishman. Often, it’s an Eastern European. Our most frustrating language challenges took place in the United Kingdom. The immigrants do the work, while working-class Londoners apparently stay home and collect dole checks.
You do not see many cops with submachine guns, a fixture in Europe in the late 1980s. Perhaps they now rely on the closed-circuit television cameras bolted to every building and pole in every big city. There were a few policemen in Barcelona, but you get the impression they were there mostly to keep the Catalan separatists in line.
Yet the threat of violence is hangs over the continent. When an ISIS sympathizer decapitated his coworker and stuck his head on a factory gate in Grenoble, France, I was about 100 miles away. I would have been in Tunis the day before nearly five dozen European tourists were machine-gunned on the beach, except that stop had been cancelled after the last time ISIS machine-gunned several dozen tourists there.
These atrocities seemed to create barely a stir, certainly nothing like the kind of groundswell for vengeance upon the savages that Churchill would have demanded. Winston, veteran of battles on the Indian frontier, Omdurman, the Boers War, and the trenches, would have made the savages pay for their perfidy in blood. Current British Prime Minister David Cameron can’t even work up a lather sufficient to convincingly commit to few tentative airstrikes somewhere down the road. Of course, no one else did, either. Maybe the electronic dance music was too loud and no one in Europe was able to hear the bells tolling for them over the dope beats.
Then there are the looming threats of less-intimate violence. The Russian bear stalks back and forth in the East, temporarily restrained by arbitrary lines on maps. When people realize that this time no one in Europe will die for a line on a map, Russia will cross them. And, of course, thanks to the surrender of President Obama and the rest of the West, Iran will soon have the bomb. It’s little mitigation that the initial generation of Iran’s ballistic missiles will only be able to hit Europe and we will have to wait until they deploy their second generation before they can unleash the Twelfth Iman’s vengeance on Los Angeles.
The world is preparing for war, but not in Europe, where Daft Punk’s beat goes on.
The blood of the likes of Charles Martel no longer runs in the veins of today’s café-dwelling Europeans.
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
The blood of Charles Martel no longer runs in the veins of today’s Europeans
This morning there was a very muscular argument, Europe Is Partying Like It’s 1939 by Kurt Schlichter. The prose is a little purple for my taste, the cry of doom a little overconfident. None-the-less, there is a resonance. He observes differences between the Europe he sees today and the Europe he first knew in the 1980s. I was living in Europe as far back as the 1960s and can vouch for some of these trends.