Bring Down the Mind-Walls

By Timothy Garton Ash
Timothy Garton Ash's book "Free World: America, Europe and the Surprising Future of the West" is published by Random House. He is a professor of European studies at Oxford University and a senior fell

Los Angeles Times

November 9, 2004

Fifteen years ago today, the Berlin Wall came down. It came down as a result of the will of the people, the magnetism of free societies and wise policies jointly pursued by Europeans and Americans. It came down despite the fact that a nuclear-armed Soviet Union could have stopped it at any moment. The impossible happened. I had lived for years in both halves of the divided city and will never forget the feeling of hope as I walked through the half-demolished, roughcast concrete of the wall for the first time.

Yet now we look around and see new walls. There's the "fence" being constructed between Israelis and Palestinians, which in places looks uncannily like the Berlin Wall. There are the high barriers of trade protectionism with which both the United States and the European Union surround themselves, thus helping to keep half the world's people in abject poverty. There are the walls of prejudice, ignorance and hostility dividing Muslims, Christians, Jews and secular people around the world. Most ridiculous of all, there is a growing wall separating Europeans from Americans. These latter barriers are made not of concrete and barbed wire but of thoughts, feelings and words. They are mind-walls.

The mind-walls have grown larger and more threatening since Sept. 11, 2001. And, alas, we have reason to fear that the reelection of George W. Bush may prompt them to rise still further. Opinion polls show that in most regions of the world hostility to the United States — which often contains a strong element of disillusionment or even disappointed love — rose to unprecedented levels during President Bush's first term in office. The European Union, which used to define itself against the enemy in the east, now seems tempted to define itself against the over-mighty ally in the west.

These new divisions are at once unnecessary and potentially disastrous for our children's world. Totalitarian communism and liberal democracy were opposites. They had to slug it out. Europe and the United States are not and must not.

Last year, during the crisis of the West precipitated by the Iraq war, a new slogan emerged: "Americans are from Mars, Europeans are from Venus." There was, we were told, a great values divide between Europe and the U.S.

But that is not exactly the case. The truth is that, in this last election, we saw that there was a great values divide inside the U.S. itself, between the so-called red and blue states. A large minority of Americans opposed the Iraq war (just as a large minority of Europeans supported it). In fact, there is a continuum of values across the two continents.

Europe, for its part, is divided by a great argument as well; it is between what I call Euro-Gaullists, who want to see a strong, united Europe as a rival superpower to the U.S., and Euro- Atlanticists, who wish to see a strong, united Europe as a partner with the U.S. Washington should appreciate that it has a major stake in this fight.

The U.S. is militarily powerful enough to win any war on its own. But, as we are seeing in Iraq, it can't finish the job on its own. It can't rebuild Iraq on its own. It can't bring about the liberalization and modernization of the Arab-Islamic world on its own. It can't stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons on its own. It can't manage the emergence of China as a superpower on its own. The spread of global free trade, so vital for the poor of the world, depends on the two most important trading blocs — members of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the EU — working together. So does any serious attempt to address the growing problem of climate change.

In fact, none of the great global challenges of the 21st century can be addressed without the world's two greatest communities of the rich and free working together. If Europe and the United States do find new ways to work together, seizing the chance of a presidential second term in Washington and a new leadership of the EU in Brussels, then we are looking at extraordinary opportunities.

It's a statement of fact that more people in the world are more free than ever before in human history. Freedom has spread dramatically in and around Europe over the 15 years since the fall of the wall. Let us take the occasion of this anniversary to chart a new course: from "the free world" of the Cold War — an anti-Soviet alliance that will not be revived in its old form — to a free world that embraces new democracies in countries far beyond the traditional West. Never in the history of grammar has a shift from the definite to the indefinite article been more important.