Saturday, September 11, 2004

September 11 (III)

Question: What do you call Europeans who do not sneer at Uncle Sam?

Answer (among others): Europeans who lived through the horror of September 11.

Katrin Bennhold has an article in the International Herald Tribune in which she listens to a Frenchman, a German, and a Briton who "shared America's most traumatic moment"".

…Bruno Dellinger, 43 … moved to New York in 1997. In his study in downtown Manhattan, a small American flag adorns the bookshelf…

Born in Lyon, Dellinger is a child of France. But three years ago, when he fled his office on the 47th floor of the World Trade Center and saw the sky turn black as the towers collapsed behind him, almost suffocating from debris and fear, he also became a child of Sept. 11.

"It felt like war," Dellinger, a writer and entrepreneur, recalls with emotion. "And what a lot of Europeans don't understand is that this country is still at war."

Liane Lohde, a German policy analyst, heard the first plane hit on Sept. 11 as she crossed the Williamsburg Bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan on her way to work. She learned later that several of her company's clients had died in the attack. She says she remembers how alienated and misunderstood she felt during telephone conversations with family and friends in Europe in the days after.

"I remember how some of the first few phone calls really shocked me — and them," she said, sitting in a small restaurant in London, where she has lived since April 2002. "All they saw," Lohde said, "was the danger of the superpower overreacting, whereas I definitely felt that this could not go unanswered."

She herself was surprised by the force of her reaction, said Lohde, 29, who considers herself left of the political center in Europe.

In New York, Janice Brooks sympathizes. An Englishwoman, she transferred with her company from London to New York in August 2001, two weeks before the attacks. Brooks survived Sept. 11 against all odds. An executive assistant at Euro Brokers, an American brokerage firm, she was on the 75th floor of the World Trade Center on her way to her office on the 84th floor when the second plane hit the building, demolishing floors 76 to 84. Sixty-one of her colleagues died that day.

Today, Brooks, 44, in contrast to broader public opinion in her home country, is an unabashed supporter of Britain's embattled prime minister, Tony Blair, because he has stood by America over the past three years.

"I feel very proud of my little island to have stood by America when it counted," she said from New York in a telephone interview. "A stand needed to be made."

…What sets them apart from their friends and families in Europe to this day, it became clear in long conversations, is not just sharp memories of the smell of kerosene and the endless dust that blew through the city for months, but their intense everyday bonding with Americans. Brooks describes herself as an "honorary American." To all three — even Lohde, who plans to move to Washington shortly — the United States is home as much as France, Germany or Britain.

Like many on the European side of the Atlantic, Lohde feels unease with an American stance she perceives to be too unilateral and reliant on military might. But she also says Europeans have failed to understand just how fundamentally Sept. 11 altered American psychology. …

Dellinger says he can relate to both: America's military view of the world and Europe's soft-power approach of working with diplomacy, aid and economic incentives. In his opinion the current rift goes beyond Iraq. "Ultimately it's about how safe you feel as a nation and how you view threats," he said. "Europeans feel safe; Europe is at peace. America in many ways is not."

…Raised in the Old World, where after 60 years of peace taxpayers choose to fund welfare over weaponry, Dellinger said that as a European, he had been humbled when he moved to the United States to realize the amount average American families pay for their country's defense bill every year. "Let's just remember that Europe still relies on America for its security," he said.

…For Dellinger, the United States is about idealism, an idealism the French sometimes sneer at as empty or superficial. In the weeks after Sept. 11, he says, he saw that idealism at work. People grieved together, but they immediately went on to rebuild their businesses and their lives with an energy he can't imagine fellow Europeans at home ever would; it made him buy the little flag now resting on his bookshelf.

For Lohde, who is leaving London to move to Washington next month, America is a place of diversity — diversity of culture, opportunity and views. She gets upset when her European friends fail to see how many Americans have a profoundly mid-Atlantic point of view, one she holds herself.

And for Brooks, who has stayed on in New York and just renewed her work permit for another two years, it is, above all, camaraderie and personal freedom — "the belief that you can do anything" — that keep her in New York.

Brooks says she wishes she didn't have to choose between Europe and the States: "I want to make my own country and take the best of both worlds."

Thinking of the Iraqis, who, rather overwhelmingly, support the decision to topple Saddam Hussein: isn't it strange how the people who are the most directly concerned by America's (or Bush's) "crimes", or the most directly involved in the tragedies involving Uncle Sam, are always the least inclined to criticize the United States?

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