My country, always wrong


There is a strong cultural divide between the east and the west of Europe:


You can reasonably assume that countries not polled in the east would mostly be in the shades of red, almost certainly in case of the other two Baltic states and other Balkan countries, like Croatia and Albania. In this context, Finland and Sweden are temperamentally closer to the Soviet Empire and the Ottoman Empire successor states than they are to the EU or the original core of NATO.

Similar polling in the United States shows that 55 per cent would “stay and fight” if their country was attacked, and 38 per cent would leave. The poll gets more interesting when broken down by political affiliation:

Republicans say 68 – 25 percent and independents say 57 – 36 percent they would stay and fight, while Democrats say 52 – 40 percent they would leave the country.

It’s not surprising that only a minority of those on the left would defend their country; what’s interesting is that the American left is still more patriotic than the western European mainstream.

A new poll in Australia does not, alas, break down the results by ideology, but it does by age cohort:

A survey commissioned by the Institute of Public Affairs and undertaken by Dynata of 1,000 Australians from 25-27 March 2022, asked ‘If Australia was in the same position as Ukraine is now, would you stay and fight, or leave the country’? The results were:

  • Stay and fight: 46%
  • Leave the country: 28%
  • Unsure: 26%

Only 32% of those aged 18-24 said they would stay and fight and 40% said they would leave the country (28% were unsure), and 35% of those aged 25-34 said that would stay and fight while 38% said they would leave the country (27% were unsure).

So whereas the United States and Australia are somewhere in the lighter shade of red in the European context, Australian Gen Y and Gen Z are located very much somewhere in Great Britain or Spain.

While the eastern half of Europe (and so geographically broader than “the Eastern Europe”), the US and Australia are from Mars, the Western Europe is from Venus.

This is not particularly difficult to explain. Countries of Western Europe have been at peace since 1945; certainly since the fall of the Soviet Empire and the end of the Cold War they have not been under any serious military threat, either of a conventional invasion by a hostile state or a nuclear attack. Resting safely under the American security umbrella, three or four generations have now grown up with no memories of war and pretty strong pacifist education (nowhere more so than in Germany, for obvious reasons). Unusually in historical terms, peace is now the natural state of European politics. Most western Europeans would not fight for their country because they cannot even imagine a situation where their country would actually require defending.

Conversely, the closer you are situated to Russia – the core of both the tsarist and the communist empires of the past five centuries – the more on edge you are; not without reason, as Ukraine has been discovering over the past eight years. In southern Europe the added, and perhaps the dominant, factors relate to the more recent and more relevant conflicts within the former Yugoslavia as well as between Greece and Turkey. Historical memories of invasions, defeats, occupations and existential struggles for national survival are much fresher the further east one moves from Vienna.

But there is more to it, particularly when you drill down into political or generational break-downs.

The left, by and large, does not like its own countries and societies. Younger people, who lean very strongly to the left, are the clearest exemplars of this trend. If you think your country and society is essentially oppressive and bigoted – racist, sexist, xenophobic – is a beneficiary of exploitation and imperialism, and is built around an unjust and failing economic system (that would be capitalism), why would you want to fight for it? That would be defending the indefensible.

Russia and China are watching with great interest. They are very much counting on, and fanning, such attitudes in the West. Let us pray our populations will never be put in a position where they have to make these sorts of life and death decisions.

Photo by Jackson Simmer on Unsplash