Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths
Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths

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4.8 Europe, the US, and the war on terror

There are, it is argued, significant differences between the ways in which the US and Europe view the world and with it the present terrorist threat. For Professor James Sheehan of Stanford University:

Americans tended to see terrorism as a global movement that directly threatened their national security. To defeat it would require a war like the one that had destroyed the Axis powers in the Second World War – a comparison underscored by the constant association of September 11th with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour.

(Sheehan, 2008, p211)

In contrast:

Europeans, who had been fighting their own local forms of terrorism for several decades, were inclined to see it as a persistent challenge to domestic order rather than an immediate international threat. The proper remedy was more effective policing, stricter laws, better surveillance. They wanted to extradite terrorists and try them as criminals, not wage war against states that were suspected of supporting them. The notion of a ‘war on terrorism’ was misleading, warned Michael Howard, a British military historian, because the word ‘war’ “arouses an expectation and a demand for military action against some easily identifiable adversary … leading to decisive results. Few Europeans doubted that terrorism was a serious issue, but most did not accept the official American position that a global battle for national survival had begun on September 11.

(ibid, p211)

European states, then, in contrast to the US (and, as we shall see, Britain), may:

… still have armed forces – just as garrison states had economies – but politically, symbolically and economically, these military institutions are subordinated to the agencies that do what citizens regard as important: managing the economy, promoting economic growth, providing welfare, and protecting people for life’s vicissitudes.

(ibid, p221)

There is therefore, beyond the tactical differences of what to do about Saddam Hussain and Iraq, a crucial difference between the US and Europe.

… at the beginning of the twenty-first century, many more Americans were prepared to accept the necessity of using violence to resolve international disputes. In 2003, when a poll by the German Marshall Fund asked Americans whether they believed that, under certain circumstances, war was necessary to obtain justice, 55 percent strongly agreed. In France and Germany only 12 percent held that opinion.

(ibid, pxvi)

This, for Sheehan, is why when

… only three European governments – France, Germany and Belgium – actively opposed the war in Iraq; the rest responded with varying degrees of support or at least compliance. But the overwhelming majority of Europeans, including those whose governments had joined the American-led coalition, were strongly and often vocally against military actions.

(ibid p214)

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