November 24, 2002

A philosopher king’s farewell in Prague (MARTIN WALKER, 11/21/02, UPI)

Havel became the moral leader of the struggle against Soviet oppression long before he became, in what he called “one of those playful tricks history plays on us humans,” the leader of his country. And almost immediately, he saw it wrenched apart, as the Slovak half of the country decided to go its own independent way, and Havel’s humanist convictions and his devotion to human rights and freedom of choice ensured the breakup was so civilized that it became known as the Velvet Divorce.

Havel remains president until early next year. But after 13 years in office, the man who led the Velvet Revolution that broke Czechoslovakia free from Soviet rule, and who brought his country into the NATO alliance and now into the European Union, is finally stepping down after one of the most extraordinary careers in modern politics.

I’m a huge fan of Vaclav Havel, but the following speech seem fundamentally wrong, SPEECH: “The Transformation of NATO” (Václav Havel, 11/20/02, NATO):

NATO represents a unique combination of two parts of the world–North America and Europe–closely related to each other and yet fairly distant in many ways, both geographically and mentally. Numerous circumstances indicate that the present era–when so much is changing, so much is being born and so much is subjected to examination–is becoming, among other things, a time of serious testing of the relationship between America and Europe, and that the fate of NATO in the future depends, to a substantial extent, on how those concerned will stand this test.

My personal opinion is that although the two components of our alliance may, in the future, divide various tasks between them in a greater measure than they have until now, they will always need each other. Actually, they may need each other even more in the future than they do now and it would, therefore, be an historical mistake of immense consequences, possibly close to a disaster, if they were to begin to move away from one another at the political level in any major way.

What needs to be done in this situation?

I believe that the first requisite, above all else, is a quest for better knowledge of each other, better mutual understanding and a greater capacity for empathy with one another’s positions and one another’s dilemmas.

Europe should perhaps remind itself, more than it has before, that the two greatest wars in the world’s history to date grew on its soil from conflicts between European countries; and, that on both occasions it was the United States–which had no part in the outbreak of those conflicts–that eventually made the decisive contribution to the victory of the forces of freedom and justice. And more than that: Who knows whether Western Europe would have been able to hold its ground during the Cold War and withstand the Stalinist, or the Soviet or the Communist, expansion if it had not been backed by the immense potential of strength brought in by the United States, among other things within NATO? And it was, again, the United States that acted as a driving force in the solution–though apparently belated and imperfect–of certain European conflicts that emerged after the collapse of the Iron Curtain. Would Europe have been able to resolve them on its own? I am not certain. Looking back at all we have been through during the twentieth century, and witnessing all that is happening today–with the United States being inevitably involved in some way or to some extent–Europeans should be more conscious of the roots and the type of the American responsibility and, if necessary, show a certain amount of understanding for the occasional insensitivity, clumsiness or self-importance that may come with this responsibility. I would even go so far as to profess my feeling that every European who blames the United States for the manner of subjugation of the world’s economy by its global corporations should realize that it was Europe that gave birth to the entire culture of profit and economic expansion and laid this culture in America’s cradle. It is not very wise to blame our own mirror. Actually, is this not an inadmissible ethnic interpretation of the problem? It is no accident that the large corporations are called “supranational”!

On the other hand, America should realize not only the fact that it owes a substantial part of its greatness and strength to the European roots of its civilization. First and foremost, it should be aware that it might still need Europe very badly indeed. It is not so difficult to imagine that other powers, equally advanced as today’s USA, might emerge on various continents of our planet ten or twenty years from now and that a close cultural, political and security link with half a billion Europeans might prove to be very useful for the United States, even if merely for the purpose of maintaining balance. Perhaps all those complicated debates with that fussing gaggle that Europe may occasionally resemble in the eyes of the Americans have meaning after all and are worth pursuing again and again. Where but on European soil, for that matter, can America find a spiritually closer ally or partner in the future?

There’s entirely too much here of that European taste for blood and soil. The West is really much more of an idea than a place or a people and that’s why it’s reached its pinnacle in America. Though we’re many different peoples and we’ve few ties to any specific bit of land, we believe the ideas ferociously. If Europe, as appears increasingly likely, stops believing in things like freedom, democracy, and the like, then no shared history or racial characteristics will suffice to hold the alliance together. And if places like Turkey, Iran, Israel, India, Taiwan, Chile, etc., embrace our ideals, no differences in race, religion, or tradition will be able to keep us apart. That even a Vaclav Havel doesn’t yet get that is more than a little scary.