Anti-Americanism is, of course, as European as Apfelstrudel. But over the last few years it's rollercoastered like the stock market. The invasion of Iraq sent it skyrocketing. It was muted somewhat by the election of a black man as President of the United States. (That Americans, whom Europeans are taught to think of as incurable racists, had done such a thing rendered some veteran America-bashers temporarily mute.) But European anti-Americanism has never entirely gone away, and the troubles America has been through of late have been the occasion for much Schadenfreude, especially given that they've provided a pleasant distraction from Europe's own even more formidable problems.
Still, it wasn't until I ran across an article the other day in the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet that I realized European anti-Americanism, thanks to Urinegate, is once again in full bloom. The article, written by somebody named Asbjørn Svarstad, begins by noting that the American soldiers who filmed themselves urinating on dead Taliban members may not be the first GIs to have behaved in such a manner. “American commandos who were dropped over Snåsa [in northern Norway] toward the end of World War II,” writes Asbjørn Svarstad, “are suspected of having displayed the same kind of contempt for their enemies.”
The main character in Svarstad's story is none other than William Colby, who would later become head of the CIA but who back in 1945 was a 24-year-old major in charge of the Norwegian Special Operation Group (NORSO) under the command of the OSS. NORSO, which sounds rather like Brad Pitt's unit in Inglourious Basterds, consisted of Norwegian-Americans and Norwegians who were operating behind enemy lines on a mission called Operation RYPE. On May 2, 1945, Colby's men, who were stationed at a farm called Gjevsjøen, were discovered by five German soldiers, whom they quickly dispatched. According to Svarstad, local Norwegians – and here's the meat of the story – later claimed that they were then invited by the Americans to urinate on the Germans' corpses.
One of Svarstad's sources is Norwegian journalist Ola Flyum, whom he describes as an authority on how northern Norway experienced World War II. Flyum's verdict on the NORSO episode is as follows: “This kind of behavior says a great deal about the way in which the Americans conducted themselves. The Norwegians were shaken. Such a culture was unknown to them. I see many reasons to examine whether this was a war crime.”
Yes, you read that right. The local Norwegians had lived for five years under the Nazis, who had come to subdue and tyrannize them, to execute troublemakers and cart Jews off to their deaths. But, if Flyum is to be believed, the real trauma for these folks was being invited by their American liberators to relieve themselves on the bodies of their oppressors.
Interesting. And even more interesting are the reader comments on Svarstad's article, which the last time I checked totaled no fewer than 645. Let me emphasize that several readers, to their credit, sought to provide a degree of perspective by bringing up such small details as, ahem, the Nazi death camps. But the overall tone of the comments was set by those who agreed heartily with the implicit message of the article: namely, that Americans are by nature more uncouth – and more prone to violence, war crimes, torture, and abuse of civilians – than anybody else, including the Nazis.
“Most of the Germans,” insisted one reader, “followed the rules and fought a civilized war.” Another agreed, saying that America “is way worse then Nazi Germany ever was.” A third asserted that during the Vietnam War, the US, that “sanctimonious and arrogant s*** country,” had outdone Hitler. A couple of readers cited the Allied bombing of Dresden as proof that America and the western Allies were at least as bad as the Nazis; one recalled having “seen videos from WWII of P51 planes mowing down German farmers in May 1945.” Several readers insisted that it wasn't the Western Allies that whupped the Nazis and freed Norway, but the Soviets: “America would have been a**-f***ed in a one-on-one against Nazi Germany.”
A number of readers gleefully savaged the American soldiers who urinated on the Taliban. “How many women and children have these brave soldiers killed?” asked one. A running theme was that American soldiers are, as one reader put it, “typical American white trash.” Indeed, the words “white trash” recurred frequently. Left-wing readers who undoubtedly pride themselves on their purported respect for people (especially the underprivileged) of all races and religions, and who fret about the human rights of even the most loathsome members of the species (such as Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden), were quick to deride American GIs as poor, dumb – and, indeed, barely human – hicks: “There's no doubt that white trash from the US...have lukewarm attitudes toward morality. Without the local minister and sheriff they fumble around, unwashed and drunk, and rape, kill, and film their crimes. They're garbage.”
Readers who would surely never breathe a critical word about Islam sneered about the nauseating religiosity of American Christians. Several proffered social analyses founded on familiar stereotypes: “This [urinating on the enemy] probably has something to do with American sexual morality. This reminds them of a sexual act, and that's a no-no in America. But violence and murder are totally OK.” Two or three readers even took the opportunity to attack the Marshall Plan, the purpose of which, they had apparently been taught, was not to help but to exploit. The following reader comment was representative of many in its pure, unhinged enmity:
“USA! Degenerate land that steadily gets worse and worse! The world's misery springs out of that country. Soon it will be Iran's turn [because Americans are] horny for war. [Kill who you want, women, children, it doesn't matter to America] as long as the money rolls in. Evil, perfectly set in system!”
Why bother with Mr. Svarstad's silly article and with his readers' even sillier comments? Partly because the whole thing is a sobering lesson in the power of disinformation. Back in the 1940s, when Americans soldiers were putting their lives on the line to free Europe, could even the most cynical of them have imagined that within a couple of generations, thanks to an army of determined European journalists and schoolteachers, their sacrifice would have been turned into exploitation, their heroism into villainy, in the minds of countless Europeans? Could they ever have conceived that one day the grandchildren of the people they freed from totalitarianism would be maligning them in the most condescending terms and denying that they had done anything worthwhile? It is instructive to be reminded just how quickly, and easily, white can become black and black can become white in the minds of millions.
But this story is not just about disinformation but about moral sickness. For some of the people who posted comments on Mr. Svarstad's article are not, in fact, ignorant. They know better. They know history. Yet something perverse in their souls drives them to spit on people who have protected them and bow to those who would destroy them. It is an aspect of human nature that is nothing less than chilling.
One thing that certainly comes through clearly in the comments on Svarstad's article is that in the minds of many Europeans, the Holocaust is barely a footnote. They know that the Nazi occupying forces in Norway rounded up Jews and sent them to their deaths, but, to put it bluntly, they don't really care.
Until I read Svarstad's article, I knew nothing about Colby's operation. I went and looked it up. A CIA account of it concludes as follows:
Within just a few weeks, Major Colby and his men succeeded in sabotaging a key bridge and numerous railroad lines throughout Norway. They strategically delayed the southern movement of German troops and drastically hindered the German war effort.
While Operation RYPE had a significant military impact, the political impact of the operation was even more enduring. The Norwegians recognized the American loss of life on their soil on behalf of their freedom, and the alliance between the two countries was strengthened.
Major Colby was honored with the Silver Star and St. Olaf’s Medal to commemorate the valor he displayed in leading this strategic operation.
Toward the end of Colby's own very absorbing chronicle of Operation RYPE, we read the following:
Then we skied to Snasa, where we were treated like heroes, the mayor proclaiming our virtues. All the way to Trondheim we proceeded to the cheers of the people who were reading glowing accounts in the press. Everywhere we appeared, bands gave out with the Star Spangled Banner. It was thrilling to hear the national anthem under those circumstances
But the rest of this story is routine. We supervised the surrender and policed 10,000 Germans at Namsos, and we acted as honor guard for Crown Prince Olaf on his return to Trondheim and accompanied him in the parade in his honor on 10 June.
We got to Oslo eight days later, and the men were given furloughs to visit their old homes. They were highly acclaimed.
One conclusion to be drawn from all this, perhaps, is that if you want to free people from some monstrous despot, go ahead. They may indeed cheer you in the streets when you're done. But be prepared for their grandchildren to spit on your grave.
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