From Our Own Correspondent is a series on BBC Radio 4 in which the BBC’s foreign correspondents are given the opportunity to file radio “essays” rather than reporting news items. It is always a source of interesting reflections, and this week’s programme was no exception.
BBC Washington Correspondent Justin Webb spent some time reflecting on the cultural differences between the US and Europe, prompted by George Bush’s forthcoming diplomatic trip.
The fact is that Americans have long regarded Europeans as weak-willed, lily-livered, morally degenerate moaners, incapable of clear thinking or resolute action.
My point is that this tendency is accelerating.
All the handshakes we are about to see and all the warm words cannot do any more than paper over a growing Atlantic chasm.
The talk of common values is increasingly just talk.
When I heard that on Saturday I wanted to argue. But then I listened to Sen. John McCain, recently returned from a security conference in Munich on the news this morning.
“We all spoke very nicely and politely and praised each other, but the Germans had not moved one iota on Iran, on the arms embargo of China or assistance to us in Iraq … I’ve seen no movement on the Old Europe side of the street”
So maybe Webb’s description of the American view of Europe is not so wide of the mark. I wonder.
More comfortable listening was the piece by Rob Watson, another of the BBC’s correspondents in Washington but now returning home after a ten year stint. He felt moved to write “a love letter to the country where I have lived for a quarter of my life”
Driving it all is the American dream, which still motivates immigrants and those born here alike. A belief that tomorrow is always a better day and that there is nothing you can not do if you really put your mind to it.
Of course many, maybe most, end up being disappointed, but the dream endures nonetheless.
I am not the only person living here who loves America, most Americans do too. This is what drives all that “God Bless America” music and flag waving that you see at the drop of a hat.
It is not the unhealthy nationalism of “our country is better than your country”, after all most Americans have never stepped outside the place, but rather an expression of “life here is good, whoopee”.