When I got married in December, friends asked my wife and me if we were going on a honeymoon. We replied that we are and have been for months because we are in the U.S. Army stationed in Europe. Yes, we get some weird looks when we say this, but it is true. Because we are in the Army, we have been able to travel to some of Europe's great places and have some special experiences.
How can I impart the emotion of looking down on the graves of the people of Noville, Belgium, who were killed by the Germans in reprisals; looking at the candles in Giessen, Germany, on the night marking the U.S. bombing of the city in 1944; the monuments to Americans and British in Prague for liberating their country from the Nazis and the Soviets; the love of Americans all over Luxembourg, where the people's suffering in war was so graphic; the quaint grouped graves of Jews who made up the better parts of some German towns; the grandeur and romance of Paris, where war and remembrance is felt everywhere; the pride in resistance to the Nazis and the love of freedom in Amsterdam; the ominously dark yet impressive structures of Berlin that show both great human achievement and monstrosity.
All this time we have lived in a nice little apartment in the German town near our base and traveled freely. I see Stateside, it seems as if all Europeans are anti-American. That just is untrue. And even where such sentiments exists, they are not quite what you might think.
You are most aware of official hostility in Paris and Berlin. What you aren't seeing is that all around them, in Denmark, Hungary, and elsewhere, the move is to support the U.S. and prevent Paris and Berlin from ever dominating again.
In the last months, the European Union has moved to create 13 small military units. Some argue this is to counter the U.S. military. This really is all too small and disorganized to lead a mission. The effect pushes Europe more toward following the U.S. as the units will be follow-on forces at best.
I don't know if I can possibly get you to appreciate what it is like to go to a city that has been devastatingly bombed and destroyed by the U.S. and yet be treated like a hero and made very comfortable. Berlin and many other German cities where we have spent time are like that. Remember that almost all our bases here are in former German military bases fought over and occupied by the U.S. after World War II.
I think we are too caught up with the diplomacy of left-leaning European leaders who dominate the news to see that beyond them are many supporters and admirers of America, even in the case of the Iraq mission. For example, conservative Christian Democratic Union leader Angela Merkel, raised in communist East Germany, is leads Germany's most prominent opposition party. She illustrates the disparity in pro- and anti-American sentiments in Germany.
I don't think it is accidental that we have so much support among Central and Eastern Europeans. "I know what it is when you don't have freedom," Mrs. Merkel explains about her East German childhood, "and so I have a strong feeling for freedom, in comparison to the Western experience where the existence of freedom is normal and fighting for it is not as necessary as it was for us."
The people of Bastogne love us. You will feel a love and admiration for us that is more humbling than I can describe. They welcomed us into their homes and treated us like modern saints. I know, though, that is really about the legacy of great Americans there in the two world wars, and their sacrifices they made for freedom against tyrants terrorizing Europe and then against the Soviet threat for 45 years after.
One thing to realize about is that we sometimes provoke some of the anti-American sentiments too.
We laugh when this is joked about by Jay Leno. But one morning on the German TV show "Das Magazin," many New York college-age kids were asked the name of today's German leader. About half said Adolf Hitler. For Germans ashamed of the Nazi past, hearing American kids so ignorant of history is crushing and offensive. What do you expect foreigners to think of us when our kids are so ill-educated out of high school and vote in our elections?
While we should understand anti-Americanism really isn't as big in Europe as it seems from the press and media, we should also realize we need to clean up our act some, too.
We are the world's champions of freedom and democracy. We should show our pride by being worthy of it as best we can. We shouldn't abuse the American legacy by being negligent and ignorant of our history and place in the world.
U.S. Army Spec. Joe Roche's observations about his experiences in Iraq have been quoted by President Bush and by the Smithsonian Institution, among other distinctions.