Anti-Americanism in Western Europe? After the United States' bombing of Libya, headlines here were full of foreboding about the use of US force against Libya. But beneath the surface clamor, attitudes toward America and Americans are more complex, less fearful, and more enduring than immediate impressions suggest.
Detailed conversations in London, Paris, Heidelberg, and Bonn and with a leading Swedish commentator, on the eve of the April 15 US raid, indicated more complexity -- and warmer attitudes toward the US. These attitudes, many believe, remain generally constant beneath the shifts of headlines and immediate events.
For the moment, popular feeling will ebb and flow depending on events: whether Libyan gunmen try to kill more Americans or Europeans, and whether President Reagan orders more armed action.
Yet through the conversations came European approval of such US fundamentals as individual freedom, opportunity, flexibility, and technological prowess.
These points are so much taken for granted on both sides of the Atlantic that they rarely find their way into news reports.
``In France there's been a definite change in the last five years,'' says political scientist Marie-France Toinet in Paris. ``It's become fashionable to make profit, to be the first, to succeed, and that is something we have picked up from the US.'' She paused, smiled, and added, ``For better or for worse.''
``For us,'' said Reinhold Zundel, the mayor of Heidelberg, West Germany, ``America is a place of opportunity, of freedom, of strength. . . .''
British Labour Party Member of Parliament Peter Snape spoke vigorously about his opposition to recent General Motors' efforts to take over British automobile companies: ``Let's face it, American business isn't going around the world like some commercialized International Red Cross -- it's out to make money.''
But then, our formal interview over, he chatted with amiable anticipation about a planned visit to the US and of pleasant memories of previous trips.
Professor Alan Budd of the London Business School pushed aside British business fears of US takeovers. His point: ``The best way to create and assure jobs is not to insist on British control but to find the most efficient management available, and Americans have some brilliant management techniques.''
Pierre Hassner of the French National Foundation of Political Science says, ``The French have become more at ease with themselves in recent years, more objective about America, less systematically anti-American. Intellectuals have turned away from the Soviet Union with its Gulag Archipelago [of political prisoners] and its soldiers in Afghanistan. As long as there's no great war in which America is engaged, the French see rather the technology and the prosperity of your country.''
Conscious of recent US clashes with Libya, and of the US public debate about aiding the anti-Sandinista ``contras'' in Nicaragua, he continued, ``It may be that there'll be a wave against American policy if Reagan intervenes somewhere . . . but the idea that we are on the same side, and that we have the same values as distinct from the Russians or even the third world -- this is here to stay.''
A latent suspicion of ``America the Superpower'' certainly exists in Europe, more visible at some moments, less at others. It is also true that what appears as ``anti-Americanism'' is often in fact something else.
It can be many things: a fear of terrorism; a country, such as Britain, still uncertain about its national identity and world role; a need among domestic political parties to find issues with which to berate the opposition; emotion fanned by the headlines of the tabloid press across Europe; suspicion of smaller countries towards larger ones, just as Portugal, Spain, and Britain were criticized when their empires dominated the world.
In Britain, people like individual Americans and the American way of life, cheerfully eat hamburgers and pizza, watch ``Dallas'' and ``Dynasty'' on television, and buy rock-and-roll records and tapes.
But intellectuals and the upper classes in particular tend to be less keen on America in the abstract -- as the Western superpower and global corporate giant.
In a remarkable shift in the last five years, French intellectuals, businessmen, and socialist politicians have come to admire US technology and freedom of opportunity. Yet the individual American tourist, who doesn't speak French, can still run into trouble.
In West Germany, the older generation clings to US power as a shield against the Soviets across the border to the east. University students see the US in two ways simultaneously: they accept hamburgers, rock music, and jeans (while knowing little of American classical music, art, and literature), even as they chafe at their nation's dependence on US military protection.
In Sweden, basic attitudes have shifted away from the anti-American speeches of the late Olof Palme during the Vietnam war. With the Soviets sending submarines to Swedish coasts, officially neutral Sweden finds itself much keener on close links with Washington, as the Swedes' big businesses of Volvo, Saab, and Ericson continue to rely on American markets.
Nowhere did the Monitor conversations in Europe indicate a preference for Soviet ideas or behavior.
In France and Sweden that's a big change from the 1960-1980 years of US civil-rights violence, political assassinations, and Vietnam. In fact, a notable feature in France is the drop of Soviet popularity among intellectuals, coinciding with the generally pro-American policies of President Fran,cois Mitterrand (except on Libya.)
For all the misgivings of West German youth, West Germany has a close relationship with the US, and ``its quarrels are almost like those within a family,'' says one veteran US observer in Bonn.
Britain as a whole is instinctively anti-Soviet, and in that sense, pro-American. Anti-Americanism springs at times from a sense of resentment after becoming in just four decades -- in terms of physical power -- a more insular country, with a declining economic base and unemployment rate of 14 percent year after year.
``We are all resentful of someone doing better than us,'' said Sir Peter Ramsbotham, former British Ambassador to Washington, recently.
While public opinion polls have showed two-thirds of those asked opposed to President Reagan's use of force against Libya, earlier polls have also shown two-thirds liking Americans and wanting to go to the US as tourists.
First of two articles. Next: what it's like to be an American living in Europe.