Superpower standoff brews volatile reaction
Hamburg, London, Amsterdam — In a restaurant beside the Elbe River in Hamburg, Marek wholly forgot his meal as he tried to make me see his point. He had been explaining some of the reasons the peace movement in West Germany has been growing -- why opposition to US cruise and Pershing II medium-range missiles is so strong.
"There is a danger here," he said, waving his fork in the intensity of his emotion. "The danger is that antinuclear sentiment in [West] Germany will turn into anti-American feeling.
"I myself am not anti-American, but I do want those missiles kept off German soil. I am more conservative than my friends. They want the missiles right out. I think it would be all right if the Americans put them on ships or submarines at sea.
"The danger is that people who don't follow the debate closely will think it's directed against the US only. It isn't. At least, I don't think it is."
The current debate in Western Europe is focused on preventing (or defending) deployment of American nuclear missiles on European soil. The United States is at the center of concern. Somehow, any threat the Soviet Union might pose seems pushed well into the background.
Young people opposed to US missiles are upset by what they see as a belicose Ronald Reagan preoccupied with deploying new rockets in Europe rather than talking to Moscow about how to limit their numbers.
In part, the attitude is born of commitment: All nuclear weapons are seen as bad, American ones in particular, because it is American ones that are to come to Europe.
In part, it is born of ignorance: America is a reality to young people, but the Soviet Union is a mere abstraction. They know little about it.
And in part, it is a generation gap. Parents who remember World War II and who worry about Soviet medium-range SS-20 missiles find their children don't know, don't worry, and suspect that older people make up talk of a "Soviet threat" to justify enormous spending on defense. This is what young people see as wasteful and immoral.
Annetta, upper-middle-class like Marek, blond, about 16, serious and intelligent, was with us in the restaurant. "Some people," she said, "suspect the Americans of wanting to put their missiles here so that if a war comes, Europe will be destroyed, not America.
"No, I don't think the Russians are the same as the Americans. But they are both imperialist. They are both dangerous, in that sense."
Many other young people viewed both superpowers as dangerous, and, to a degree, similar.
It does not necessarily follow that a wave of anti-Americanism is sweeping Western Europe. But it does mean that a considerable number of young British people, West Germans, Dutch, Belgians, and others strongly disapprove of current American policies toward nuclear weapons, and aspects of US society as well.
America to them is a symbol of all that is wrong with modern society -- technology, nuclear power, complexity, consumerism. Some carry their views further and take a far-leftist stand that America equals capitalism equals destruction and decay. Others say they like American people but not Ronald Reagan, and, indeed, Mr. Reagan's own perceived cold-war rhetoric is anathema to many young Europeans who want him to start serious arms talks with Moscow soon.
They don't seem to have answers for what should happen if such talks fail. For now, they just want cooler words and serious arms talks. They seem to be protesting against a lack of US leadership under former President Carter and President Reagan, but at the same time rejecting any assertive US lead based on nuclear missiles.
As for the Soviet Union, it is simply not at the center of young people's thought. The atheistic challenge of communism to the roots of Western religion and culture is faintly perceived, if at all.
The problems Moscow faces seem more obvious to the people I talked with than its ability to use its military strength to boost its influence in strategic areas.
"Both America and Russia are conglomerates of power," said theology student Andreas Stolze as he took a break from handing out antinuclear publications at recent Protestant Church Day celebrations in Hamburg.
"Both are inherently expansionist. Economically and militarily, both systems want new markets for their goods and for their ideas."
Andreas looked surprised when asked if he really disliked America. "No," he said. "As people, Americans are fine. Friends who have been to the States say the hospitality is, well, fabulous.
"But we're talking about nuclear weapons now. I don't think the Americans want to use them, you understand -- they see them as political pressure on the Russians."
Another common view is that the Soviet Union is simply a harassed giant, worried by aggressive rhetoric from President Reagan.
"The Soviet Union feels isolated, surrounded by NATO, China, Japan, and so on ," said Alexander Lubke, a Hamburg graduate student, as we sat in his small student quarters during Church Day. "By building up so many weapons, the US makes it harder for internal changes to take place."
Said red-bearded Andy Stephens, a Cambridge University graduate engineer working temporarily for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in London: "People have a lot of prejudice against the Russians. It's hard to break through it.
"They feel threatened everywhere -- the US, China and so forth. I support nuclear disarmament of Britain, and i donht think the Russians will just walk in and take over if we give up our arms. World conditions change. In 1939 we went to war with West Germany: Well, that would be unthinkable now. We ought to move on and break down this view that all Russians are evil."
Arie is a quiet young man, blond, with black-rimmed glasses. He works as an archivist in Amsterdam, and is a devout member of the Dutch Reformed Church.
"The real danger is not the Russians," he told me seriously."It is stockpiling nuclear weapons. The NATO alliance sounds paranoid on the subject. The Russians seem to be discussing the issue in a more sober and adult tone.
"I say that without in any way approving their communist system. I am with America in wanting personal freedoms, capitalism, free enterprise.
"But I think the danger from Mr. Reagan is just as great as the danger from Mr. Brezhnev. He seems to believe in the possible use of nuclear weapons in the Persian Gulf. We have thousands of nuclear warheads stored in Europe, but I agree with Henry Kissinger, who onece said there was no absolute guarantee the US will come to Europe's aid in a war.
"You didn't come into World War II until the Japanese attacked you at Pearl Harbor. . . ."
His friend Jan, a university student, added:
"We are anti-imperialist. When the US acts in an imperialist way, we are anti-American -- in Vietnam, in El Salvador. . . ."
Some conservative European politicians believe that Moscow is scoring something of a propaganda coup with the peace movement. They suspect (though they offer no proof) that Moscow front groups channel funds to some peace groups.
What can the US do to put over its view that new Pershing II and cruise missiles are essential if NATO is to meet the threat of the Soviet SS-20 missiles?
"It's up to you to prove the rightness of your own views," said archivist Arie in Amsterdam. "You have to do it over and over, on every issue. We are just as sovererign as you are."
Added Jan: "Conservative politicians in Holland keep on saying that we in the peace movement are dividing the Western alliance, as the Russians want. Well, I don't know what the Russians will do if Holland gets rid of nuclear weapons. But I do know we and you Americans disagree on the issue of the weapons, whether the Russians want us to or not.You should try to understand us. You should listen to our fears -- listen!"
Said Arie: "You Americans have built a fence around yourselves and we're trying to break it down." At the suggestion that Americans thought Holland was inside its security fence, Arie shot back: "We're not."
He paused and then asked, "Do Americans really think we are neutral? We don't think of ourselves as any better than you. But you should be more realistic. We donht want any nuclear weapons. We want to set an example that could persuade other countries to follow."
By the Elbe in Hamburg, Marek also raised his voice slightly when I said many Americans felt Europeans simply wanted a "free ride" on defense.
"We kept our defense spending up in the 1970s when yours was slipping," he replied. "We have conscription in Germany -- 18 months in the military. You don't have compulsory national service at all. A conscientious objector here has to do 21 months' service at an old people's home or in a hospital, or some other approved place."
The number of conscientious objectors is said to be growing. Klaus, a Hamburg newspaper reporter, said he liked the US but objected to the new missiles -- he did civilian national service after working for several years with Amnesty International.
Ingrid Rombaut, a music student in Brussels, said: "We're not anti-American . . . I see Reagan as a weak person, easily influenced.
"But for many of us, the US is a fascinating country. We want to visit it. This is especially true of all those who don't care too much about politics. They just like your style of life -- the music, the clothes, you know."
Luc de Roms, a Flemish organizer for the Roman Catholic peace group Pax Christi, said during a long talk at his headquarters office in Antwerp:
"We have a cultural link with America. I don't like the Soviet system, of course. I don't want it here. I like Americans -- for their naivete. They are black-and-white thinkers. They are missionary, idealistic. They think big thoughts."
He paused. "But we don't want them to think for us, or for our defense. We have our own ideas. Nuclear weapons are the wrong means of defense. We think the idea of defense should be broadened to include economic and social aspects, all kinds of contacts and talks."
"I don't believe you can defend peace with a weapon," said Nina, a thoughtful high-school student in Hamburg. "To me it's a moral feeling. I will defend peace with my words and with my deeds."
In Amsterdam Christoffel Zumpolle emphasized the generation gap. "Older people who remember the Nazi occupation tend to favor the missiles," he said. "They remember war. Young people don't. But iths too simplistic to say that all older people want the missiles and all young people don't. My parents remember the war, but they don't want the new missiles here."
Frank Gupffert, in his final year of high school, told this correspondent in Amsterdam that he was ready to undergo conscription and even contemplating a career in the armed forces. Trim in green jacket, jeans, and brown sneakers, he felt half his friends agreed with him that the Soviet Union did indeed have its eyes on the Netherlands as a strategic steppingstone to Britain and as home to the gigantic port of Rotterdam.
"America will help if we are attacked," he said."The new missiles are necessary for our defense. Americans have spent a lot of money on their European bases. They don't want the Russians taking them over."
When I described the conversation to Christoffel, he smiled. "You won't find many like him," he said. "He's obviously upper-middle-class -- what did his father do?" When I replied, "Imports pure water and other items from Norway to sell to health stores," Christoffel nodded: "See?"
Commented an experienced Swiss newspaper reporter assigned in Bonn: "The USSR just isn't a factor for young people in West Germany. My mother-in-law lost here husband in the war, but young people are indifferent.
"Germany is still looking for its identity. Anti-Americanism is weaker in countries which have a more developed sense of identity: France, Italy. Here it's a father-son conflict, with the US the father and West Germany the son. Young Germans see the US as always wrong, as identified with consumerism."
"Of course," he added, "young people consume too. They must have their own cars, for instance."
Alison Whyte is on the staff of CDN in London. "Yes," she said, "for some here the peace movement is anti-American. They worry about [President] Reagan and [Prime Minister Margaret] Thatcher being warlike. Yet many people belong to the movement, old and young. It's not just left-wing pressure groups. In the ' 60s the ban-the-bomb marches were for middle-class, adult people. Now it's the kids' turn, and blue-collar workers join as well. They're anxious about unemployment, as well as about nuclear missiles."
Alison has also run into the generation gap: "When I told my mother I was leaving an environmental group to work for CND, my mother said, 'That's nice dear, but what about the Russians?'
"She is convinced they're just around the corner. She really is. I don't believe it. Why would the Russians want to come here?"
Chancellor Helmut Schmidt of West Germany told packed audiences of young people at Hamburg's Church Day celebrations in June that Germany had to defend itself. "There are some things I don't like about American policies," he said, "but never forget the CARE packages Americans sent us after the war, even though they had suffered too.
"We Germans have the moral duty to do the right thing after Hitler's madness. To see there will never be another world war. Every Jew, every Englisman, Frenchman, and American, has the right to remind us."
But those in his audience did not remember the postwar CARE packages. Most of them were not born until years later.
In London, Andy Stephens voiced what many European young people want: "Talk with Moscow on the missiles, and quickly.There isn't enough basic trust for effective talks, right now," he said.
"So we have to build up trust. One way is to say to the Russians, 'OK, look, we're not going to accept the cruise missiles in Britain. Now what are you Soviets going to do?'"
Said Erwin Northoff, a Hamburg graduate student in politics and law: "I do see a danger from the Russians, yes. I don't want to say it is as bad as Reagan says, but the Russians are armed. Yet I have an emotional fear of these new missiles. If we have them here, we are ourselves in risk of being attacked. I don't want them, on land or sea."
And Christoffel Zumpolle states: "If the Russians come, we'll learn Russian -- and resist. But not with nucler weapons."
Tomorrow: Unrest and unemployment