The Bush "charm offensive" in Europe has begun, but no matter what public displays of mutual admiration and reconciliation take place (mostly for the benefit of US television) the trip will do little to heal the divisions between the US and Europe. Europeans are unmoved by the "war on terror" - having lived with terrorist threats for decades; nor do they think much of the "war against tyranny", viewing it as a lame pretext for US unilateral preemptive war.
Horst -Eberhard Richter has a provocative essay in Freitag entitled "The Tyranny of Fear: "Evil" and the Militarization of Politics" (Die Unfreiheit des Schreckens: Das "Böse"und die Miltarisierung der Politik). Richter's thesis is that the Tsunami was such a cataclysmic event that it provides a basis for moving beyond the "good versus evil" rhetoric of "post 9/11". US politicians are fond of saying "9/11 changed everything"; Richter says that for the community of nations the Tsunami changed everything. Here are a couple of passages (my translation):
Something extraordinary is happening. Even in countries for removed from the disaster the people feel affected. As if they too had lived through the catastrophe and through this fate have gained a new orientation. As if they now understood their own lives, their own fragility and their connectedness with everyone else.
Albert Eisnstein once wrote after Hiroshima and Nagasaki that in the shadow of the atomic bomb human beings should finally realize that they are all related to one another. That only involved two cities. Here we are confronted with the the greatest natural disaster in memory. Believers and unbelievers see this as a signal that we can no longer accept many things we have taken for granted. ... No technology can offer the kind of protection that was proclaimed by the leaders of the scientific-technological revolution. The global disaster teaches us that the most important power resides in our own beings - the power to suffer and mourn, to help, to hope, to trust and to earn trust of others, to prove ourselves in taking responsibility.
Nelson Mandela has provided a marvelous description of how during the long years of agonizing imprisonment it slowly dawned on him and his chiefs that the proper response to their own persecution was not violence but understanding. He wrote, we need to end the suffering on both sides - our own suffering as the oppressed, but also the suffering of our oppressors, who are imprisoned by their hatred. That Mandela was not simply a Utopian dreamer in his trust of mutual reconciliation was later proved in the cooperation of both blacks and whites in avoiding a civil war.
The time is now ripe for us to imagine that each one of us has the same energy that led to peace in South Africa. We cannot accept the argument that Mandela is a saint - too good to serve as an example for the real world. The real world today cries out for the courage to achieve peace - instead of cynically believing that the threat of nuclear destruction will protect us from our own impulse for violence. That is absurd. Mandela is not the only example. All of the great peace initiatives of the 20th century have been led by men or women who - during the times of enormous crisis - believed that understanding could be achieved between nations and peoples.
Will the US ever come to realize that "good versus evil" is no longer a tenable paradigm? And that our response to the Tsunami represents a great chance to show the world that we can still achieve greatness that benefits everyone?