Responses to Timothy Garton Ash's Guardian columns

This is an archived website, which offered an opportunity for readers of Timothy Garton Ash's book Free World and his weekly columns to exchange ideas. Updated links and new forums can be found at Timothy Garton Ash's new website,  

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Decadent Europe
9 June 2005

A. Sommer, USA

i>it may help the new Europe on the other side of the Atlantic in short-term power relations,</i>
There are few things more obnoxious and annoying than the inability of Europeans to see America as anything other than a reflection of themselves.

Todd Hammond, Czech Republic

Dear Mr. Ash
Your analysis of what ails Europe is about right. Now it's time to reconsider the term "neo-con". Is there really such an animal? It's no more than a bit of name-calling, a spiteful code phrase that heads off serious argument. Bad enough when shouted by activists, it's even more unfortunate when employed by scholars. The difference between your opinions and those of a person labled as a "neo-con" may be no more than the difference by which reasonable people can disagree.

Peter Bolt, Mankind in general (UK)

Presumably because I do not like the EU and was pleased by the French and Dutch vote I am in your eyes a neocon.
I could of course call you an out of touch hand wringing liberal. But I won`t.
I am in fact a Europhile,and I genuinely feel at home almost anywhere in Europe.
It is the EU I dislike. I consider it to be a second rate self serving institution.Within a short generation it has taken on all the self congratulatory, pompous,and self righteous character of that other Pan- European organisation The Roman Catholic Church.
Can you imagine a Voltaire or Paine a Stuart Mill or a Victor Hugo being asked to write a report on the EU Commissioners ?
What the EU really needs is Oliver Cromwell. Hows that for neocon thinking ?
Can`t you feel the draught in that Ivory tower of yours?

Robert Francis, United Kingdom

Dear Mr. Garton Ash,
I am just coming to the end of 'We the People' and read your artlcle in its light. As a young student of German, I was inspired by the example of democratic enterprise in the face of stagnation and crisis in 1989. When our political and economic decadence comes to a head, (debt, pensions, demotivation and disillusion) my generation will need to quickly relearn that enterprising and corageous zeal for democracy. I fear the crisis will not be as obvious and thus our response lukewarm, if that. The groundwork needs to happen now. Happily, the potential is there.

Bill Hocter, US

It's sad, and not terribly mature, to accept the premises of your opponents' arguments while continuing to vilify them. I mean, at the end of the day, whatever works to get the sad, stale continent of my ancestors off its duff. I must admit to a few moments of private glee to see the EU stumble in its arrogance. But you're absolutely right. We're part of the same civilization and need each other.
Perhaps, hesitantly, diffidently, you'll come to see we were also right, if imperfectly, about Iraq; just as we were right to be concerned about the "decadence" issue. Come on over. The pain of swallowing your pride only lasts a moment, but recapturing the vigor of your (our) civilization will yield generations of benefit.

Robert A. August, Houston, Texas, US

America does not need Europe. Europe is like the crazy old aunt with 25 cats, whoes house smells like urine. Yes, she's family but it is becoming a strain to save her again and again and then put up with her immoral tantrums. The only thing Europe can offer the US is their markets. As Europe declines they will decrease. But other markets will open up where people are willing to work for a living and shun the nanny welfare state.

Alun J Carr, University College Dublin, Ireland

May I suggest reading Jacques Barzun's 'From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present' (London: HarperCollins,2000), in which he asserts that the *whole* of Western Civilization is entering a decadent phase, not just Europe.

Michel Bastian, France

To Deirdre Tommey:
Has this article been published on the guardian site? If so, do you have a link to it? Incidentally: I´m no economist, but I still think that a lot of the current crisis (not all of it) is based on fear and instinctive nationalism. Case in point: the Eurozone debate you mentioned. Suddenly, in a kind of "now you mention it" reaction after the two killer referendums, everybody discovers a passion for their old currency again. The Dutch complain about the guilder having been underrated at the introduction of the Euro, some Germans want the Deutschmark back (with no apparent economical reason except a phantom perception that the Euro "made all prices go up", which is patent nonsense from an economical point of view) and an italian minister has seriously suggested reintroducing the lire. Whatever does he want to do that for? Hyperinflation nostalgia? My point is that quite a bit of the ongoing anti-european sentiment in public opinion isn´t rational. It´s a gut reaction for a very large part.
Of course you´re right, though: not everything in Europe is "hunkey dorey" (to use an americanism), and your Coca Cola analogy is appropriate. Perhaps we should not "sell" Europe as much as "make it work". The "selling" bit will come automatically if the people perceive the EU is essential to our future.

John, U.S.A.

You know what they say about drug or alcohol addiction, a person cannot be helped unless they want to be helped. Has Europe hit rock bottom? Are you starting to realize you have been engaging in self-destructive behavior? America will always be there for you when you are ready. When you take away peoples incentives to grow and better thier lives(i.e. socialism, secularism), you become stagnant.

Dave Livingston, Colorado Springs, Colorado

He's right on the money concerning several points, including "Euope and America are two parts of one larger civilization. If the old Europe on this side of the Atlanticgoes down...enormously damaging to US interests in the longer term."
Who on either side of the Pond would argue with that statement?
It is unlikely that anyone on this, the western, side of the Pond in his good senses is feeling cheerful that Europe appears to be commiting demographic suicide & thereby allowing the self-imolation of European civilization.
For one thing, many an American idetifies strongly with one or another Euopean nation. For instance, it is not for nothing that the British are frequently referred to by Americans as "The Cousins."
One of many manifestations of Anglo-Saxon unity was that during the Cold War the only power (& people) with which the U.S. shared its nuclear technology was the U.K.
But it remains the responsibility of the Europeans to get their acts together to reverse their death by demographics. Handing over the continentto Middle Eastern & North African Muslims is not a program for civilizational survival.
It is a reflection of European decandence that because of hedonistic self-indulgence that Europe is failing to reproduce itself. Hedonistic self-indulgence is itself a natural development of the abandonment of Christianity.
Seemingly, it is the elites of Europe who has chosen militant atheism as their new creed. Regardless however clever & enlightened they may consider themselves the evidence, the resulting dying civilization indicates their cleverness is not so intelligent after all.
Just perhaps, hopefully, the Roman Cardinal was correct in his assessment, which was, more or less, Napoleon & the Revolutionaires hated us, so did Stalin & the Communists, but we're still here.
With the EU, a stepchild of the revolution of 1789 in dire straits perhaps it will be left to the Church to restore Europe to its glory.

john woodhead, Germany

The notion of Europe as a dotty old aunt is somewhat appealing, and I assume this is directed at its leaders. I prefer to compare them to the trial scene in Alice in Wonderland, where nobody can agree what is going on, the jury scribble furiously without a clue what they are doing, the Red Queen shouts 'off with their heads' before anyone has been found guilty. Anyone who like myself has actually witnessed at first hand an European Union Summit will I think be struck by the sheer extravagent idiocy of the whole thing. Delegations totalling several hundreds and some three thousand journalists. Decisions are made that are hardly worth the name. Each nation holding its own press conference to give a completely different interpretation to what anybody else is saying in the next room. It is nothing less than a Byzantine court of Princes. Of the main participants the British think they are God's gift to democracy but don't want to be part of any European democracy, the French defend the little farmers, the Italians aren't sure what they want, the Spanish and Portugese happily take all the money everyone else gives them, and the Germans are in a permanent sulk. In this sense Europe is the same as it ever was, a continent of bickering nations. This never stopped Europe achieving grandeur and excellence in the past. The problem these days is that we cannot afford to do it, the world moves at a pace and Europe - best known for fighting wars - is dropping behind. Those who 'run' Europe are no longer living in the real world, the world of business is the real movitator of change. While politicians spend millions proclaiming things that never come to pass - a robust modernised Europe by 2010 for a start - men who run companies, employ thousands, trade with each other are quietly getting on with the task of changing European society.

Deidre Toomey, Ireland

Here we go again. Europe is staring at the abyss, its population is falling and China is gloating. Where have I come across a similar picture? Well in the mid 1930s Aldous Huxley wrote a very authorative sounding article which essentially summarised current thought on where Western Europe and Soviet Russia would be at the end of the C20. The consensus was that by 2000 Russia would be a heavily populated country with a very advanced technological culture and industry and Western Europe would be under-populated and reverting to a peasant culture. Didn't quite work out like that, did it? I am not producing this reference to make fun of Huxley--he was an immensely intelligent man, capable of lucidly summarising the most advanced projections of his day. But these projections were wholly mistaken.

F. Gamberini, EU

The last few columns, all devoted to Europe, have been very interesting.
But...Crisis? I'm afraid right now I am either too tired or blase' to summon the necessary anxiety to feel worried. Yes, two founder-members have rejected the constitution, but otherwise it seems to be pretty much business as usual.
There is no reason why integration cannot continue over specific areas of activity. I feel confident that the Union (or, in the worst-case scenario, the essential parts of it) will hold together.
I must also confess to a certain sense of fatigue over the vagueness with which the whole debate has been conducted: "European social model", "American model", "counter-balancing the US"; then the unknown reasons for the French and Dutch rejections, etc.
All I know is that Europe is a long-term project, and has to proceed gradually in order to be successful.
So it's a matter of "Pedro, adelante con juicio". Forward, but with judgement.

The world's hospital
16 June 2005

Ben Collins, US/UK

I hope you are feeling better. Your piece on your hospital stay mirrored mine perfectly. While I was quite sick I had an almost transcendent experience with the lovely staff. (Maybe it was the drugs.)
I'm an American (and one of the shrinking number of Americans still able to cobble together health insurance) and had just spent a hellish few days in a US private hospital mere weeks before my stay in an NHS hospital.
The difference in the two systems was glaring. And I think your notion that this is a core element of what we're fighting to keep in Europe is spot on.
Thanks very much. And again, I hope you feel better soon.

Dr John Mason, Netherlands

Thanks for this account, which set me thinking.
On two occasions I have taken my „tomboy‰ daughter (aged10)to the local polyclinic in Utrecht, Netherlands after she, on one occasion broke her wrist and another her small finger during „adventure play‰.
The procedure was similar on both occasions and was as follows:
At clinic entrance met by women in her sixties, employed part-time to „advise and escort‰ new arrivals.
Directed to cavernous, light, airy admissions hall with futuristic circular console equipped with a range of pc monitors, the hall embellished by a variety of art works ˆ a mixture of the aesthetic and the functional. The waiting receptionist immediately typed in my daughter‚s details and directed us to the x-ray department where we were met by a radiographer who was already in the possession of the relevant information that had been instantly relayed electronically by the receptionist.
My daughter was escorted to a small room where her wrist/hand was x-rayed.
We waited just a few minutes before being lead with the „wet plates‰ to the treatment area where a registrar and senior nurse where already primed to meet us. Addressing my daughter the registrar viewed the plates and announced the fracture.
We were then conveyed to the plaster room where a technician instantly began setting the afflicted part in gypsum.
In three-quarters of an hour we were walking back from the clinic admiring the pristine whiteness of the cast.
At every encounter we were meet with courteous, friendly attentiveness and smooth efficiency in the context of a very pleasant, almost futuristic environment. This experience was, in a sense shocking for someone like myself who has had so many negative experiences both as an employee and as a recipient of the British NHS. As far as I could determine, all of the clinic staff were local, Dutch nationals.
My point is this: According to your description of the characters mentioned in your article they were no doubt expressing genuine human concern, consideration and respect for their patients as cultural expressions of their countries of origin.
But as „foreigners‰ employed under the circumstances of English laissez faire economics, isn‚t their situation somewhat tenuous? Shouldn‚t their own countries be benefiting from their skills and compassion? Shouldn‚t the UK government be sufficiently taxing the UK public to provide conditions and remuneration that would attract and maintain British subjects as health workers rather than stealing talented people from their own countries?

Edward, UK

I thought your article on the NHS was excellent. I work in the NHS and see the many types of people that we have helping our patients, I'm proud to work supporting staff from 70 different countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.
Something, recently, made my skin crawl. It was a request from a popular right wing Sunday paper for information (under the FOI). The questions were mostly about instances of MRSA and communicable diseases among staff, slipped in was the following:
'How many of your staff were born overseas'
Aside from the ignorantly worded question I worry about the motives of the publication, it stuck out like a sore thumb among questions like 'how many of your staff have AIDS/TB' etc. People from 'overseas' add so much to the NHS, and in fact couldn't be run without them. It makes me sick to think that some hack somewhere is desperately correlating instances of MRSA (or what ever bug of the week is) with our hard working non British born staff for another health scare story.

Deidre, Ireland

My recent experience of emergency (7 am) admission to an NHS hospital was rather different from Mr Garton Ash's 'United Colours of Benneton' experience. I had absolutely excellent treatment from mainly white British staff (in addition I had two very good Vietnamese male nurses and one very kind trainee consultant of Greek origin). I did encounter a less than caring Eastern European trainee consultant (female).
And, like the the correspondent from the Netherlands I have a point of comparison. I had been admitted to a French hospital in similar circumstances a few months before. The hard pressed NHS hospital, which took emergencies from 2 main railways stations as a well as an airport scored 9 out of 10, the under-occupied provincial French hospital was not so good, I'm afraid, although the breakfasts (for which I paid) were very good. During the day the clinical staffing was good--but at night everything changed, so that when I began to haemorrhage over my bed at 3 a.m. only a nursing aide was there to puzzle over the problem. She assured me that there was no cause to worry and that my bed linen would be changed in the morning. It took a good deal of determination and bad French on my part to summon a sleepy and resentful doctor just as dawn was breaking. Any time that I woke at night in the London hospital my night nurse was over to my bed in a flash, usually with that life-giving elixir National Health Tea (greyish brown, like moleskin trousers).

Deidre, Ireland

M. Bastain,
It must be on the Guardian website. I don't have a link--I simply read the (print) paper. He is their economics editor. Try searching for all articles by Larry Elliott. The comparison with 'New Coke' is his, not mine.
His argument is this--a single interest rate for widely diverse economies is bizarre. Thus Ireland, a tiny economy, is over-heating and Germany, a giant economy is stagnant, yet both are tied to identical rates. Italy cannot devalue to ease export problems. And so on. His has been the lone voice of reason on the Euro in the Guardian for the last half dozen years.

Bill Hocter, MD, US

On your hospital Stay;
I'm glad you're feeling better. I love all the immigrants who come to America, who, like my ancestors from Ireland and Germany, made this a much richer country. I can see that that is happening in Britain as well.
In the end though, I think Tamir got it mostly right. It's good to have many brothers, and sisters as well. While I think that it's great to see the rainbow your country is becoming, isn't it a little sad that Fred other elderly Britons aren't also cared for by their children or native born nurses of their children's generation? But they don't have children, or at least not very many. Why will the Tamirs of the world want to imitate you when you're going extinct?

Devra Wiseman, UK

Dear Timothy GArton Ash, I have just read your column 'The World's Hospital' in the Guardian, 16 June, 2005 and want to say how very much I agree with you. I would like to go a little deeper, however, into the UK side of things. The NHS is, in my view, a glory of the UK. One of the very few we have. But the Government is intent on privatising it. This is heavily disguised as 'choice' and 'more investment' but it means that the NHS, whether free at point of use or not, turns into a method for enriching its private owners/management with our money. Will the nursing staff you describe in your article be allowed to spend the time caring if a private management company is counting the pennies? I am particularly infuriated as just now the tenders have closed in the Government's tendering of the South-West London Elective Orthopaedic Centre, based in Epsom, Surrey. This was opened, at a cost of £20 of public money, in 2004, by the Queen. Now it is being privatised, for the mantras of 'innovation' and 'investment' and, of course, choice. If there is spare capacity, then the NHS can send patients there from wherever in the UK if they want to have their operations there. Yours sincerely, Devra Wiseman

David Bellis, UK

Your piece on the NHS- Guardian 16/6- was right in line with my view after a few days in hospital. Quite splendid, sympathetic caring - multi racial, multi cultural- and such care for the old and infirm, and trying so hard to give everyone a due sense of dignity. I was not very ill, but there were very sick men, old and dieing, and I marvelled at the care.
Why is there such a brou-haha about immigrants- they do a fantastic job, and we should be happy to be more welcoming.
The NHS has lots of faults- it's human, but the concept is idealism made real, and it works, particularly for the most vulnerable people, and I value the equalitarianism implicit in the whole project.. Of course it's the equalitarianism that really upsets the doctors- which is why they defend so stoutly the continuance of private practice. The affluent don't much like equalitarianism either! No "choice" there.
Your articles are always stimulating- in what is now, I fear, a rather stereotyped far left commentating area in the Guardian. You are the nearest the Guardian's got to the splendid and much missed Hugo Young!\

Dan Murphy, USA

Tim the jealous, limp-wristed, Marxist Ash: "At one point, in my slightly fevered state, I found myself thinking that it made me proud to be British"
We're glad you're British too.

No time for petty rivalry
23 June 2005

Ronald Vopel, Brussels

text: Timothy,
I refer to your piece in the Guardian of 23 June 2005: No time for petty rivalry.
As usual, pretty correct stuff you are writing there. But you are slightly off on a few points:
Angela Merkel will not change to a closer link with the UK, at the expense of France. She derives her political understanding from Kohl and Adenauer. The fact that, as an East German, she has not penetrated fully Germany's foreign policy dimension, doesn't mean that she will set a new tone. Germany has never been an "honest broker between France and the UK" and, frankly, it shouldn't be as long as the Brits find nothing but insult for Germany. This potential honeymoon will anyway be over once Germany has kicked England out of the 2006 football championship.
Brown's speech yesterday was not just wrong on tone, it was also wrong on contents.
He claimed that Europe has to rebuild its global competitiveness, but it is Germany that is world export champion, not the UK. Where is the euro in his analysis?
He also claimed that the superstate concept has failed. Well, it was always just a bogeyman of the UK eurosceptics. Brussels has always favoured collective decisions AND a regional approach. If there is a scelerotic centralist system, it can be found in Westminster.
He also championed the nation state as the only meaningful approach. But continental Europeans still remember the terrible results of nationalism, much more than the British. There has to be something better. It is a bit rich to hear from a mono-lingual Scot who is eager to rule the British one day and who therefore needs to appear more British than anyone else, that a European identity cannot exist. Well, I have a European identity and so have you. That Brown cannot see it is his problem alone. It would be sufficient for him to study Eurovison, champions league etc. to see that something trans-national is emerging.....
Unfortunately, the UK currently cannot lead Europe because of its deliberate disconnection from the rest of Europe. The British are not considered committed to the cause by the continental Europeans, and this very much includes the Eastern European countries. It is small things like fox hunting, not fully using the metric system or having a different time zone (Madrid is west of London and uses CET) and it is rather big things like the current economic arrogance of Gordon Brown. People on the continent know that the 10 years of good economic growth in the UK have still not delivered public services that can match those of, say, Belgium and that much of the boom is built on a looming triple crisis (private debts, pensions, real estate). The US-poodle thing is just an additional confirmation that the British cannot be trusted.
If the UK wants to take some lead, why not sign up to the Schengen agreement? It would please the Irish who are currently frozen out and it would show that the French can be trusted. But I can already hear the tabloids howling. Who is actually ruling the UK, one may ask....

Deidre, Ireland

In his latest Guardian column Timothy Garton Ash concludes by reaching for the dictionary of received ideas. Thus French public transport is 'superb'. I now challenge TGA to test this hypothesis by trying to take a train from Apt, a large town, with a huge weekend market, a handsome Cathedral, hospital etc. The provencal pink railway station is also very attractive but there have been no trains for some years and travellers are advised to drive to Avignon if they actually wish to get on a train. Significant parts of regional France are not served by railways at all.
And 'Germany's technical education is still second to none'; again check this statement against the OECD PISA 2000 reports, which indicate that Germany has a huge barely literate or numerate underperforming tail of 15 year olds. There was much soul-searching about this in the German press--- did TGA simply miss this? And in 'scientific literacy' Germany didn't do too well, either.

John Essame, US resident, UK citizen

Re your thought in June 23rd column The Guardian: 'On the continent...many...believe that... Britain would always choose America over Europe', I must agree. If it is the present prime minister and government to whom they refer, how can it be otherwise, when they so often choose America over the British people ?

Michel Bastian, France

I also agree with TGA´s article in principle, though Blair does have a point in criticising the budget. It´s probably true he´s just getting back at Chirac and Schröder for forcing the old budget through, so there´s probably enough pig-headedness to go around for all three leaders. However, if you look at it objectively, even from a french point of view, the EU budget desperately needs restructuring. We´re still going on the 50ies and 60ies´ assumption that we need an agrarian budget. That just doesn´t work anymore nowadays. You cannot justify spending 40% of the budget on farmers whose businesses are not able to reach a break-even point, let alone turn a profit, without EU subsidies. Many, many farmers in Germany and in France can only survive because their businesses are heavily subsidised by the EU. Also those farming businesses (mostly bigger, industrial farms) that are viable still syphon off much too much money from the EU. Even french economists say that, and you can believe Sarkozy when he says the budget lacks realism. This is not a man that would use such unpopular speech lightly, especially when by doing so he´s setting himself up for a run-in with the french farmers.
So whatever Blair´s reasons are, his criticism doesn´t seem that far-fetched to me. Let´s get the budget fixed, and then Blair won´t have a pretext anymore to refuse talking about the rebate. And as for Schroeder and Chirac, it´ not just Blair that needs to pipe down. They´ll need to calm down a bit as well. At the moment there are way too many egos involved in the debate for my taste.
Concerning Merkel, I think the Brits are expecting too much of her. She is no Maggy Thatcher. Merkel still has a lot to prove, in Germany as well as in the EU. She´s far from being the political heavywheight she has to be if she wants to be an honest broker between Blair and Chirac. She just lacks the authority. In many ways, she´s still Kohl´s "girl" (for non-germans: Kohl used to affectionately refer to her as "mein Mädchen", my girl, when he was still chancellor; currently, the german press often calls her "das eiserne Mädchen", the iron girl, in reference to Maggy Thatcher; says a lot about her status in german politics).

Michel Bastian, France

To Deirdre:
> In his latest Guardian column Timothy Garton Ash >concludes by reaching for the dictionary of received >ideas. Thus French public transport is 'superb'. I now >challenge TGA to test this hypothesis by trying to take >a train from Apt, a large town, with a huge weekend >market, a handsome Cathedral, hospital etc. The >provencal pink railway station is also very attractive >but there have been no trains for some years and >travellers are advised to drive to Avignon if they >actually wish to get on a train. Significant parts of >regional France are not served by railways at all.
Well, I checked it out, and there is a regular bus service from Apt to Avignon (which is only about 25 kilometers away). Apt is actually not that big (just roundabout 11.000 inhabitants). It´s a small provincial town in the middle of a natural park and very probably maintaining a regular train service wouldn´t be economical.
Actually, to compare things, I challenge you to find a train service from Keswick in the lake district. You´ll find buses, but no trains.
So you can´t really judge any transport system on one personal experience.
>And 'Germany's technical education is still second to >none'; again check this statement against the OECD PISA >2000 reports, which indicate that Germany has a huge >barely literate or numerate underperforming tail of 15 >year olds. There was much soul-searching about this in >the German press--- did TGA simply miss this? And in >'scientific literacy' Germany didn't do too well, >either.
Depends on what you call "technical education". If you mean school, you´re right. However, if you mean technical universities, the german ones are internationally acclaimed. Aachen for example has a technical university that´s second to none, not even the big american institutions.


The sobering of America
30 June 2005

Bill Evans, UK

With world oil production peaking round about now and about 35 years supply left, 50 years at the most, before it runs out completely, and with Iraq sitting on the world's second biggest reserves, the chances of America "exiting" from Iraq are just about zero. American forces are already well advanced in building futuristic self-contained forts which they optimistically call "enduring" bases.
Virtually all wars in the remaining time we have left will be fought about who gets what's left of less and less gas and oil. Even if the insurgency in Iraq is successful in sabotaging oil production (which it largely is), as long as America is in occupation no one else gets it.

People who complained, and still do, of America having no "exit strategy" are merely demonstrating their ignorance as to why Bush and the oil barons ordered the invasion of Iraq in the first place.

Johanna Moren, Sweden ex-pat Australian

My Dear Mr.Ash
Having just read your article in the Guardian,I find it impossible to believe that you of all people could have your head buried in the sand.Bush and company haven't changed one little bit. I can't believe that you believe that. I have been a great admirer of yours. I can't say I always agree with you.
They are drunk with power, and nothing is going to stop them unless people like you get their heads out of the sand. Iran is on their list and that is that. Didn't the bombings in Iran before the elections sound any warning bells in your head. Covert operations in many countries in their world. I know everybody thinks it will be Syria, but to my mind they bring Syria up all the time to get us off the true objective.
Choas was necessary in Iraq, otherwise the Shi'ite's with a 60% majority would have won outright.They do not want that. Yes, they did win but not with a out-right majority, they saw to that. They would have asked them to leave. Why are they building 16 bases and the biggest
Embassy they have in the world, if they intend to leave.

Jon Soles, USA

I thought I would give a firsthand account of President Bush's speech at Fort Bragg, since I covered the event for my newspaper. Regarding the lack of applause, the atmosphere prior to the president's arrival was reverent and somber. The 82nd Airborne Division was behaving the way the Army's most elite, combat ready division would behave in front of their commander in chief. They don't hoop and holler. Even during a chorus of loud patriotic cadences by the 82nd's chorus before the president spoke, the 700 soldiers were silent. This wasn't a mess hall of soldiers in desert camofluage, it was a room of soldiers in their dress uniforms.
Of course we need Europe's help in the War on Terror and of course, the Bush Administration was tragically mistaken to think we would be "in and out" in Iraq. But the job must be finished. We owe it to the Iraqi people.

Susan Boyer, NC/US

Mr. Ash, You should get your facts straight which is often difficult when you rely on the USA mainstream media. The soldiers at Fort Bragg were instructed by their superiors not to applaud and hoot and holler during President Bush's speech before it began. If you think the GIS don't avidly support this commander in chief you are grossly mistaken. In addition, if you believe the slanted polls re the war you are simply naive. They are a reflection of manipulation, not an accurate depiction of what most Americans think. Stop listening to pundits who never get out of Washington to talk to the real folks. I shouldn't need to remind you that the same pollsters contributed to the European belief that Kerry would beat Bush and the utter shock on your continent when he did not. Many Americans happen to believe that the generals know better how to fight this war then a bunch of liberal senators, journalists and pundits who never served in the military, let alone fought in a war. I would also direct your attention to the fact that American soldiers stand solidly behind Bush and their mission in Iraq and generally disliked Bill Clinton, a European favorite. How do you spell d-i-s-c-o-n-n-e-c-t?

Brooks Butler,

The troops in the attendance for President Bush's recent speech were under orders not to interrupt with applause, hoorahs etc. There was one interruption with general applause started by civilians in attendance.
It would be an error to presume that the lack of applause from the soldiers represented a lack of enthusiasm or disrespect for President Bush.
This fact was made clear on FOX News immediately after the speech when an officer was interviewed.

Ernest Urvater, USA

Dear Mr. Ash: With regard to today's column (6/30/05), I'm not so sure things are better now than they were three years ago. Certainly Bush is engaging in damage control, but these are probably surface indications which hide the deeper resolve to intensify domination as the world's only hyper-power. The domestic agenda is the real tip-off. The U. S. is slouching steadily toward a police state. A dangerous consolidation of secret police power is well underway with John Negroponte poised to become our Lavrenty Beria. The public space for dissent is closing steadily as privatization runs rampant. Beware the facile rhetoric

Winston Dudson, USA

Mr Ash;
In your article for the Guardian entitled "The sobering of America - US foreign policy is getting better - and that's partly because Iraq has got worse" you seem to draw the conclusion that the lack of enthusiastic cheering from the military members of the audience was due to their lack of enthusiasm. And you also noted the news coverage, before the event, said that we should look for this cheering. Well, you r faulty conclusion is another sign of your lack of knowledge of the facts. Prior to the event, the officers had ordered the military members of the audience to refrain from excessive applause, which was to be limited to a polite amount before and after the speech, because the White House has asked them to. This was due to the non-political nature of the speech and the fact that a military venue had been chosen for its presentation.
If you want to have real facts about how the military feels about Iraq just look at the retention rates (the % of individuals who choose to stay in military after their obligations are up). For the units in the audience during Bush‚s speech it is over 5 times the historical rates: it seems that they agree enough with Bush and the war in Iraq to stay in the military at rates much larger than normal.
Of course, the readers of your Guardian column will never know these facts but what to they care. That don‚t want to know the facts or they wouldn‚t be reading your column.

Deirdre, Ireland/London

M Bastian,
No, not 'one personal experience', quite a few in fact. If you can--for example--find a train which leaves Dijon (a major city) for Lille (another major city) after 6.30 am I'll congratulate you. A Belgian colleague tried to get one for me in vain, and he was not linguistically handicapped. And my mother's tiny East Anglian village has a train service of sorts--though no cathedral or hospital.

Denis, USA

Just read Timothy Garton Ash's column 'The Sobering of America'. What a dreadful piece. It went on and on and said nothing. I'm an American. I'm an Independent. Now to be completely open, I have not voted Democratic in a long long time. It is a party dominated by Marxist-Feminists. As a male, I am not welcome with the Democrats, unless I wish to re-engineer America into their Marxist-Feminist vision. I do not. So either I don't vote, I vote for other than Republican, or I vote Republican. What Ash claims to see and understand in what he considers a changed America from 6 months ago, is not what I know and see. Polls after Bush's speech showed a sharp increase in our presence in Iraq. The people have not heard from their leader in a while, and they wanted to. The American military is solidly behind Bush. Mr. Ash, I see you spend time in Oxford and in Stanford in California. Welcome to America. You are seeing one of the most beautiful places we have. Enjoy your stay, but show some respect for the intelligence of the American people (and for your own as well) by presenting objective journalism instead of the tripe you wrote here.

Rich Schwietzer, American Military Historian

Read your piece on the sobering of America and I think your portrayl of the GI's showing little more than "mild curiosity" with meeting W is blatanly inaccurate. I too was watching the body language and I thought the troops were quite smitten with W and , concomitantly, supportive of his policies. I suppose I am as inclined as you to see what I want to see but I know this American is supportive of W's forward-leaning policy in Iraq.
Constructive criticism is welcome, but I do think critics must answer a few tough questions themselves:
Relative to the historical the standards of , say, Gettsyburg, the Somme, and Okinawa , is losing less than 2,000 beloved KIAs over a period of three and a half years in a multi- front war unaccpetable? Or unsustainable?
If you're going to cave to homicide bombers in Baghdad, would you have done the same when up against the kamikaze pilots in 1944?
In 1993 (World Trade Center), '96 (Khobar Towers) '98(African Embassies) 2000 (Uss Cole) and 2001 (WTC) there were major terrorist attacks on US interests? Why have there been no attacks on American soil since President Bush began GWOT?
Critics of the war in Iraq should recall that prior to the war there was a movement led by France and Russia, and other recipients of Oil for fFod bribes, to lift sanctions. Long term the sanction policy was unsustainable : Do you beleive that Saddam and his sons, for we were most likely talking about a fifty year dynasty here, would have foregone WMD's once the sanctions were lifted? If not would you have adovcated a "unilateral" American veto of a santions lift?

Denis, USA

From: United Press International
Democrats' own mood poll scares them
Jun. 29, 2005
A poll on the political mood in the United States conducted by the Democratic Party has alarmed the party at its own loss of popularity.
Conducted by the party-affiliated Democracy Corps, the poll indicated 43 percent of voters favored the Republican Party, while 38 percent had positive feelings about Democrats.
"Republicans weakened in this poll ... but it shows Democrats weakening more," said Stanley Greenberg, who served as President Clinton's pollster.
Greenberg told the Christian Science Monitor he attributes the slippage to voters' perceptions that Democrats have "no core set of convictions or point of view."
Fellow strategist James Carville said the war in Iraq and rising fuel prices are affecting party loyalty as well.
"The country is just in a foul mood," Carville said. He noted within the same poll, 56 percent of Americans say the country is headed in the wrong direction.
The poll was conducted June 20-26 and queried 1,078 likely voters. The margin of error was pegged at 3 points.

Mark Berninger, USA

The soldiers at Ft. Bragg were at attention during President Bushes speech as they would be expected to be when addressed by their Commander in Chief. They did not applaud until they speech end when it would be proper to do so. I am certain that under circumstances that under which applause would have been proper they would have heartily done so at many points in the speech.


Mr. Ash seemed stunned that a nation's president could say there is no higher calling than being a soldier. What about "doctors", "nurses", or "aid workers" he asked.No, Mr. Ash. None of those other professions take a legally enforceable oath to put themselves in harm's way, and to even actively seek out combat at the command of a civilian government.Soldiers of every nation, at least those in democratic nations pledge to do what the civilian authority orders, as long as they receive those orders through legal chain of command. All those other people can quit any time they please, and not be concerned that their co-workers' lives will immediately face greater risk by that decision.Leave your school-boy politics for your firends who are doctors or aid workers Mr. Ash, and get down on your hands and knees to thank your nation's soldiers. Because one day, many of them will follow orders you may think are praisworthy, but which they may disagree with in their hearts. I wonder if you see soldiers outside of your television very often?

Susan Starke, USA

Although a slight US majority believes the war was a mistake, a much larger majority opposes the withdrawal of troops. American public sentiment is not aligning with the world's, because a growing number of Americans are wondering whether they are unique in their belief in Jeffersonian democracy. It's hard to imagine that people might prefer dictators. If Americans come to accept that their practically theological commitment to democracy is unique, they will become isolationist and reject all foreign entanglements or obligations.
By the way, the constant whining from anti-war anti-Americans about oil is getting tiresome and ridiculous. Americans have seen no economic benefit whatsoever from this war. Even the dreaded Halliburton has lost money. All of these foreign conspiracy theorists fail to grasp the fact that there is no way a single adminstration can consolidate power long enough to pursue all of these nefarious long-term agendae. Only if the the broad electorate supports a 50-year occupation will this happen. Americans used to have a sentimental attachment to Europe, and they were willing to see their troops there for 50 years to keep the peace. They don't feel that way about Iraq.

Patrick, United States

Mr. Ash,
I hope someone mentioned this to you, I'm sure someone did but I'll do so anyway, but the reason the soldiers didn't cheer is because they're not supposed to. In respect to the commander in chief they are supposed to remain silent until the end of the speech. Please get your facts straight.

Shane Borgess, USA

From an article by a European elite, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I would read an interpretation of my President's speech that does little more than daydream about America realizing it's mistake in confronting Iraq. As usual, America will do the hard work and the rest of you will whine about how you would have just asked nicely for the terrorists to resist killing innocents. But then again, many of you likely believe that America deserved what happened to it on 9/11, right?
President Bush's speech was a reaction to the relentless negativism offered by the main stream media in lieu of honest reporting. Mr. Ash's assuming that because there was little applause from the military crowd meant dissatisfaction with Bush tells me he didn't ask a single person there why there was silence during the speech, Ash, grasping for anything that he can club the Bush administration with, knowingly misinterprets the obvious because he doesn't expect his European audience to know that at this speech, the military audience would not interrupt their commander in chief. Just a little curiosity would have uncovered this, but that he interprets such a response and dresses it in the gaudy rags of European triumphalism says more about him than his opponents.
I don't expect much depth on this complex issue from Europe, but it pains me when Americans fail to remember the lessons of allowing our enemies pick the day and time to debate their differences with us. Recent history offers many examples of how America must come in to clean up the messes made by idealists who allow rampant murder in the name of ' peace.' There's peace in graveyards, but not a lot of hope. Ultimately, Europeans are going to have to swallow your hatred/jealousy of America before coming back to us for your hand outs. Sadly, it is becoming increasingly obvious that our citizens are returning the disdain you harbor against us, though it hardly mirrors the senseless disrespect you show for us, it grows with every proverbial backhand you offer in place of cogent conversation on issues that affect us all.
Poor article, Mr. Ash. You prove the addage that higher education today offers much knowledge and little wisdom. In today's trying time, to be unable to recognize that we must take serious steps against a fundamentalist Islam is to announce your withdrawal from this defining era in civilizational maturation. Here in America, we've become accustomed to assuming that responsiblity, and you have us to thank that you can afford to be wrong.

Mike, Germany

Dear Mr Ash,
I thought your article "The sobering of America" was very good. It reminded me of another article published eighteen days earlier; "America apologises for the horrors of lynching". Well, better late than never. But this doesn't mean America has come to terms with its witch-hunting and lynching past, (there are still segregated schools in the south), it just means it has made an "official" apology. Likewise, just because the mess in Iraq has made the neocons "sober", as you say, doesn't mean they are reformed.
What linked the two articles in my mind was the realization that America doesn't do "sorry". America's view of Vietnam even today, would be the equivalent of the British regarding the Boer War as a raging success. Wimps like Kerry had better keep their mouths shut about Vietnam.
While Bush was still in his first term, Gore Vidal predicted that Bush would leave office one of the most hated presidents ever. Well, this may still come to pass. But we must accept the fact that it was the American people who voted Bush back into office, and it was the American people who were gung-ho for war-ho in Iraq: 70 to 75 percent. But God in his infinate wisdom, uses suffering to bring us to our senses. Lets wait and see what the mood is like in America when the GI death toll goes over 2,000, or over 3,000! Silent soldiers greeting his speech will be nothing in comparison. They can build all the "eduring" bases they want, it will avail them little. The American people won't take it, oil or no oil. Mission accomplished indeed.
Lets hope a big rift opens up within the Republican Party, if it hasn't already. The Army I know hates Bush's guts. The Democrats because they spend most of their time apologizing for the latest naughty things they have said, have now missed a golden opportunity to nail Bush. So the job has to be done by the Repubicans themselves - yes, its really that pathetic. I think John Mc Cain is already being lined up. The next four years could be one of damage control, and trying to control brainless.
In the long run though, nothing much will change - American will remain a Peter Pan, (never wanting to grow up), this is seen most clearly in its views of global warming and the environment, its love of secrecy and media control, and most important, oil and big business. Its a massive rogue state, a liablilty not only to itself, but the rest of the world. Especially when it has a president as feeble as this one.
Just to clarify a point that seemed to confuse you Tim, Bush's statement: "there is no higher calling than service in our armed forces." He was doing a bit of recruiting for the Army. The Army cannot meet its quota. Although for Bush right now one marine who signs up is indeed worth, ten doctors, or ten nurses.


From G8 to G9: Brazil and India in - Russia out
7 July 2005

Sergey, Ukraine

Dear Sir, its a grat shae for you if You don't know that Yalta is situated in Ukraine. Learn Geography and politic maps.

Genn Poberezny , Ukraine - US

Why would Russia be hosting G-8 summit at the Ukrainian city of Yalta? It makes as much sense as Britain hosting it at, let's say, Dublin. Of course, some may not recognize that it is beyond its borders, but how could Mr. Ash make such a blunder? Is this a way to advocate Ukraine's joining G+ instead of Russia?

Trev Harwood, UK

" is Russia's turn to host the G8 next year. Perhaps they can do it at Yalta."
But surely Yalta is in the Crimea, which is Ukraine....

Michel Bastian, France

To Deirdre:
> No, not 'one personal experience', quite a few in fact. If you can--for example--find a train which leaves Dijon (a major city) for Lille (another major city) after 6.30 am I'll congratulate you. A Belgian colleague tried to get one for me in vain, and he was not linguistically handicapped. And my mother's tiny East Anglian village has a train service of sorts--though no cathedral or hospital.
No problem: train from Dijon leaves at 06.51 am, arrives at Paris Gare de Lyon 08.39, change station for Paris Nord, train for Lille leaves at 09.58, arrives at Lille Europe at 10.59. Took me two minutes to research that on the internet.
I´ll admit the french railway system isn´t the best in the world, but it´s not quite as bad as you make it out to be.

It alwyas lies below
8 September 2005

Mike Brady, UK and Brazil

Joseph Conrad said of civilisation "We live in the flicker." The return to the dark ages could lie a few years behind the first dirty bombs in the financial capitals.
Yet when there is much to lose, there is also much to protect. It is possible that Katrina and other disasters linked to human folly will galvanise our leaders to take action.
But unlikely they will do enough or in time.
Our leaders already operate under the law of the jungle. If they let their country slip in the global economic competition, they will be out. Time and again the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) warns Tony Blair or Gordon Brown that climate change measures are going to far or business taxes are too high. 'Investment could simply drain away to more amenable locations' the CBI threatens.
However much our leaders want to take a global view it is the Bush doctrine of do nothing to harm the economy that prevails. No action on climate change. No reform of the global trading system. No meaningful regulation of increasingly powerful transnational corporations.
We are now faced with a stark choice.
Continue as we are with the risk of civilizations collapse as Timothy so eloquently warns.
Retreat to ever strong fortresses, if we have the wealth and power to construct them, while the rest of the world is increasingly enslaved.
Transform the relationship between countries by constructing a vision of the world which the majority can support and demand our leaders implement the policies developed by 'we, the people'.
My preference is the third of these options. Which is why I support the Simultaneous Policy campaign. SP brings people around the world together to develop the policies we want to see implemented. Campaign supporters, known as Adopters, call on politicians to sign a pledge to implement SP alongside other governments. Simultaneous implementation removes the threat of disinvestment.
Parliaments in several countries already contain elected representatives who have signed the SP pledge. In the UK members of all major parties have done so.
SP is a long-term strategy and not an alternative to demanding immediate action, but it has the potential to usher in the polices that are necessary, not only those that will be tolerated by powerful vested interests.
It is free to join the campaign at
If you are outside the UK see

Jamie Andrews, UK

I don't know if this will be read as the last entry seems to be back in June, but I'm responding to a column published on 8th September 2005.
I agree pretty much wholeheartedly with the article, and unfortunately share your sombre outlook. Have you heard of an organisation called Simpol - - ? I personally believe that approximately two-three billion people will die as a result of global warming, Dark Ages style anarchy will ensue, and then 'civilization' will possibly start building itself back up again (if the planet is still inhabitable). I only hope that next time some lessons will have been learnt.
To take a more constructive approach, it is absolutely crucial that we use what remaining oil we have to build energy technologies that will provide a semblance of the quality of life we now enjoy in any future 'stable' scenario. This shift to local/distributed energy production needs to be coupled with an economic policy that allows for food to be produced at a local level. Communities must become more close-knit and long-distance travel all but suspended (existing bicylces must be cherished). Any surplus energy we may have should be used to maintain the internet/global communications. The word consumerism dies.
Clearly though, the omens are not good. How do we shift to the above state of affairs whilst avoiding the catastrophic fragmentation witnessed in the run-up to the Second World War in the form of snow-balling protectionism? Essentially the question is this: How do we promote social equity? Should economic policy be local or global? The former tries to safeguard the basic human needs, albeit at a much lower level of subsistence than the average Westerner can currently conceive, whilst the latter relies upon the unifying qualities of Thomas L. Friedman's freely-traded 'flat earth'.
The problem is whilst we continue to straddle the two, we are only going to exacerbate the mounting problems. The answer, if there is one, lies in energy and using renewable technologies as a mechanism to smoothly localise economies. And sorry as I am to say it, this policy-decision should be taken on a purely economic front, as the battle against global warming has already been lost.

Disgusted Jones, Earth

Your latest piece:,5673,1564944,00.html
isn't on this board yet, but it stinks. "A hurricane produces anarchy. Decivilisation is not as far away as we like to think. Some people, some of the time, behave with heroic solidarity; most people, most of the time, engage in a ruthless fight for individual and genetic survival. A few become temporary angels, most revert to being apes." Were you down on the streets of New Orleans taking notes or watching it all pass by on CNN? Here's an account that might shake your certainties:
In Italy we have had very severe earthquakes with thousands of dead but, oddly, no anarchy followed. No de-civilization reported. How could that be, Timothy? Because we're not African-Americans? Or maybe because Italy has a good civil protection structure that responds quickly to emergencies? Could it also be because emergency management in the US was absorbed into the homeland security gravy train?

mike syvanen, Davis, California

Your comments about the lawlessnes in New Orleans really misses the point. Compared to what? I listened to a live interview with a Jazz musician who was in the 9th quarter. When asked about gunfire he said now that you mention it, he hadn't heard any in his neighborhood since the hurricane.

P. Akhtar, UK

Odd how disasters in the USA always elicit voluminous, detailed and fear-inducing analysis. It is not as if katrina was the first such event to suggest that civilisation is wafer thin.
The greatest threat to civilised behaviour comes from the rich countries, those who are currently waging illegal wars and those who have a rich history of colonisation and hence a sound track record of destroying civilisation. Those who possess a massive nuclear arsenal do it precisely to destroy civilisation.
We should not be thinking of how to 'accommodate' India and China into the 'international system', rather we should accept that they are the product of capitalism, globalisation and trade liberalisation. It is only because they are catching up (economically) with the USA and Europe that we think we need to 'accommodate' them. This sounds like new fangled imperial talk.
I would also take issue with the statement that 2000 may mark a high point of civilisation. This is quite true I suppose if you are British or American. But what if you happen to be a citizen of Iraq or Vietnam or Nicaragua or East Timor or Kashmir or Diego Garcia (can one be a citizen of DG?). Then I guess you would not rate 2000 as such a high point. But then unlike Mr Ash, what the people of these countries think does not matter, it never has and it never will.

Bill Costley, USA

DREAD RETURNS! runs steadily
at the top of the hour in the media:
& the imperial metropolis trembles,
shivvering all its imperial cousins.
Wither Civilization? (they wonder)
Wither Values? Wither Freedom?
Whenever Dread returns, History
becomes forgettable & expendable.
When was your last dread-free day?
When‚d you last wake-up chipper?


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