James J. Sheehan, an historian teaching at Stanford, has just published "Where Have All the Soldiers Gone: The Transformation of Modern Europe, in which he argues that not only has Europe enjoyed 60 years without military conflict, but that deep-seated changes in European societies have basically made war on the European continent unthinkable:
Western Europe has become politically and socially demilitarized to a degree once unimaginable; after so many centuries of bloody conflict, Europeans don’t want to study war anymore. In his scintillating tour d’horizon – and de force – Sheehan suggests that such obsolescence of war is specifically "the product of Europe’s distinctive history in the 20th century," and he argues that it has created a new kind of European state along with "a dramatically new international system within Europe."
…From the 1970s the economy stalled while Europe faced numerous social problems. And yet as the Cold War ran down the clock, it became gradually clearer that liberal democracy and a market economy mitigated by welfare had won a complete political victory over "actually existing socialism." At the same time Europe was fully "civilianized": conscription was abandoned, armies themselves assimilated the values of civilian society and, as the great English military historian Michael Howard has put it, "death was no longer seen as being part of the social contract."
Jonathan Yardley, in a review of the same book, notes the fundamental difference in attitudes toward the use of military force on both sides of the Atlantic:
No doubt more than a few people on this side of the Atlantic will insist that Europe has been able to move into its present reconciled posture on the backs of the American taxpayers, whose lavishly financed armed forces keep Europe protected from whatever militaristic harm might try to come its way. To whatever extent the Western world is now at peace — acts of terrorism aside — it is not a Pax Europa but a Pax Americana. Many in this country take offense when Europeans, from the comfort of their American-protected aeries, attack America for one reason or another. This reaction is understandable, but it fails to take into account that European criticism of some American policies — "an excessive reliance on military solutions, the threat of preemptive action, and the apparent disregard for consultation and cooperation" — is well founded.
It’s easy for us to turn up our noses at Europe’s not infrequent outbursts of self-righteousness, especially from the intellectual left, but we do well to remind ourselves that Europe speaks from experience that we have not undergone and can only pray we never do. I am no pacifist, but it seems to me that Europe as Sheehan portrays it in this timely, first-rate book is headed on a sound, mature course. Europeans tend to see terrorism "as a persistent challenge to domestic order rather than an immediate international threat" and to attack it with "more effective policing, stricter laws, better surveillance" rather than with a "war." Maybe, just maybe, they know more than we do.