Lectures from our European friends and allies on the subjects of democracy, human rights and the rule of law sadden most Americans who hear them for a number of reasons.
Foremost among these is a sense of misunderstanding. Most Americans feel that the United States stands for those three principles and, to the extent we are held to be tarnishing any of them, we feel like our actions are not being properly explained. The fact that a large number of Americans generally agree with the European view further complicates matters. Obviously, people feel strongly about it, but whichever way they come down on the issue I would think that we can all agree that the growing rift between the U.S. and Europe/Canada is worrisome.
On the other hand, I would be lying if I also didn't admit that a lot of the commentary just simply makes me angry. Hitchens mocked this kind of anger in an essay a long time ago when he noted (I quote from memory) that there exists in every person a special kind of outrage when one hears foreigners tearing down one's country that goes something to the effect of "listen, I can say that the President is a moron, but I'll be damned if I have to hear some needle-dicked foreigner saying so!" That's exactly the kind of anger I'm talking about.
When I get it from the Germans, I want to point out that while I appreciate their advice, I'd rather not get it from the most criminal people in the history of the world, responsible for the death and torture of literally tens of million people. From the Irish, well, sure, just as soon as you all figure out how to stop killing each other over how to govern six minor counties, we'll listen. From the French, yeah okay, but your "republique" is younger than me so come back when you figure it out. From the Italians, well, I admit it, I usually just laugh. From the Scandinavians, I like to ask, now that they are no longer ethnically homogenous, if they have a little more perspective on the inherent difficulties of race relations. From the British, well, no one really cares what the way-past-their-sale-date Brits think anymore really, do they?
But the thing that really gets me the most is when I get it from the Spanish. Here they are, a whopping 27 years out of a military dictatorship, lecturing the world's oldest republic about democracy and human rights. I can still remember the last military coup attempt there, in 1981. It was on TV and everything.
But then I get over it. Rationality sets in and I start thinking about how much more preferable it is for Germans and Spaniards to get all exercised about concepts like human rights instead of, say, their right to conquer other nations, even if Uncle Sam is taking it in the shorts. It pisses me off, sure, but it's progress, of a sort. After all, we don't actually expect Europeans to be helpful, so it's enough that they're simply not getting us involved in yet another bloody war. Although, good, old-fashioned European death camps still seem to pop up with distressing regularity, though, truth be told, they don't tend to pop up in Iowa or Wisconsin so much as, well, somewhere in Europe.
Still, the ghosts of Europe's past never do quite get a rest, do they? Current example:
The Socialist government of Prime Minister Zapatero in Spain is committed to certain constitutional reforms. Among the reforms being considered are setting forth in greater detail the nature of the autonomy enjoyed by Catalonia. Catalonia, for those of you who weren't aware of the fact that Spain is not really a "nation" in the full sense of the world, is a province of Spain with its own language, politics and distinct culture, centered around its capital, Barcelona. (Quick aside: if your first stop in Spain is Barcelona, that is not the time to try out your college Spanish). Being good multi-culturalists, the Socialist government is going all out to try to give the various regions of Spain more autonomy.
The problem with the scheme is this very ancient Spanish Constitution, which dates back to the golden age of the Bee Gees. The Constitution not only enshrines national unity, it also makes the Spanish Army guarantor of that unity in Section 8, Clause 1:
The mission of the Armed Forces, comprising the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, is to guarantee the sovereignty and independence of Spain and to defend its territorial integrity and the constitutional order.Uh-oh.
Earlier this month, Spanish Army Lieutenant General Jose Mena, then commander of the army's ground forces, gave a speech to fellow officers urging the government to reconsider the granting of more autonomy to Catalonia. Speaking forcefully of the Army's constitutional role, he more than hinted that the Army may be forced to intervene should the Socialist government go ahead with plans that would, in effect, dismember the Spanish state. General Mena warned of "serious consequences for the armed forces, as an institution, and its members if the Catalan charter is approved in its current terms...."
Defense Minister Jose Bono quickly sacked General Mena and ordered him confined to his house, where the general is currently awaiting his fate. Reacting to the speech, Prime Minister Zapatero sought to play down fears of military unrest by noting that this government was convinced, after a thorough review, that there exists no wide-spread unease in the Spanish armed forces regarding the increasing demands of the various Spanish communities for autonomy.
In response to the government and Mena's arrest, a letter appeared two days ago in Melilla Hoy
(Melilla Today), the daily newspaper of the city/colony Spain claims control over on the northern coast of Morocco. (Don't tell me you didn't know Spain still has, in the Year of Our Lord 2006, colonies in Africa! And don't tell me you didn't know that the oh-so-progressive European Union claims it as E.U. territory!! And don't you dare tell me you weren't aware of the fact that this pleasant European enclave is protected by a double border fence, complete with guard towers, searchlights and light machine gun emplacements to keep out the natives!) This letter was from a certain Captain Roberto Gonzalez of the Spanish Legion, a portion of which is currently stationed in Melilla, having fled Iraq at Zapatero's orders after the Madrid Bombings.
Captain Gonzalez of the Spanish Legion responded to the assurances of Zapatero by informing the prime minister that to the extent his advisers have told him there is nothing to worry about regarding unease in the Spanish armed forces "your advisers have not told you the truth." Gonzalez continued:
There is a lot of unease, within and outside the armed forces, which sees how Spain is being dismembered, how the national flag is burned in public, how terrorists are allowed to hold demonstrations and social events, and how a generation of Spaniards no longer recognize Spain as their fatherland.
The Spanish Legion was the unit of General Franco, who launched the Spanish Civil War from bases in northern Morocco, like Melilla.Uh-oh.