Bonn — Does anti-Americanism exist in Europe? This was a major question facing West German, American, British, Dutch, French, and Swedish participants in the recent Aspen Institute (Berlin) conference on the subject of anti-Americanism.
"Yes," said New York Times Bonn correspondent John Vinocur. "Anti-Americanism in Germany is the norm, and the early postwar enthusiasm for the US was the exception. He traced an intellectual strain going back through Heinrich Heine's scorn for Germans who emigrated to the New World to get rich.
"Yes," said Washington columnist Joseph Kraft, finding anti-Americanism in constant European harping about America's third world policy without any European recipe for a better policy.
"No," said young West German MP Karsten Voigt, who thought there was a healthy, growing European self-confidence and identity that is distinct from, but not hostile to, America.
"Anti-Reaganism," he preferred to call the phenomenon of European Roman Catholic criticism of Washington's El Salvador policy or European Social Democratic criticism of American slashing of social welfare to boost defense.
"But," demurred Berlin Free University Prof. Emeritus Richard Loewenthal, "it's hardly European self-confidence that has spurred recent European criticism of America. "It's more a renewed fear of Soviet military superiority in Europe -- and perception of a decline in American leadership over several post-Kennedy presidencies. This has turned Europe's inevitable dependence on the US -- a relationship that was seen as Europe's salvation in the early postwar years -- into something that is often perceived as a burden and a danger. Among many young Europeans, this is leading to a 'stop the world I want to get off' head-in-the- sand pacifism."
"But why is it," growled octogenarian John J. McCloy, the famous Berlin blockade commandant of West Berlin, "that European youths protest about El Salvador intead of Afghanistan? The US has only 57 marines in El Salvador, while the Soviet Union has 80,000 troops in Afghanistan."
"It's because America is being held to its own ideals," proposed several Europeans, "while everybody already expects the Soviet Union to bully its neighbors."
There is a historical and cultural factor in German anti-Americanism, Professor Loewenthal observed. Traditionally Germany was ambivalent toward the West. Historically it has been part of Western civilization. But after Luther's revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, Germans felt more and more separate from the West, he noted. Before World War I, as liberal a thinker as Max Weber could define the German mission as finding a way between Anglo-Saxon materialism and Russian barbarity. This idea of mission found its terrible practice in Hitler, he said. When this suddenly collapsed, the Federal Republic of Germany became the first purely Western Germany in history, not only in its NATO alliance, but also in its way of life.
Die Zeit editor Theo Sommer submitted notes to the conference in which he said anti- Americanism is "statistically almost invisible," since US popularity among Germans has remained remarkably constant.
Today there is none of the Vietnam-era throwing of gasoline bombs or 1950 s-type "Yankee go home" slogans. Today's anti- Americanism is an "elite affair" among "disaffected young generation, academic and intellectual circles, and church people," Mr. Sommer wrote. The phenomenon is primarily a rebellion against modernism that lights on America as a convenient symbol.
"Perhaps," suggested Hellmut Becker, the former director of Berlin's Max Planck Educational Institute, "the anti-Americanism of today's West German youth is a reaction to the extreme pro-Americanism here after the war."
The conclusions? Everyone had his own.
For columnist Kraft, the bottom line was that Europe had better mind its p's and q's or else the US would retire to neoisolationism. For Stuart Eizenstat, a former adviser to President Carter, the implication was that the American public won't buy Reagan's propensity to see world problems as part of US-Soviet confrontation -- but until this becomes apparent there will be "four rocky years" in whic h "Europe will get the bumps."