The first mass demonstrations against the U.S. since the pacifist wave of 1983 erupted last week around U.S. military bases and in major West European cities from Milan to Madrid. Thousands marched through streets, calling President Reagan a murderer and demanding that their country withdraw from NATO. The protesters mirrored the official positions of most European governments. When the U.S. planes went into Libya, only the British government of Margaret Thatcher actively supported Reagan. The Mitterrand-Chirac administration in France, like Felipe González Márquez's government in Spain, refused to let U.S. aircraft overfly the two countries. The Italian government of Bettino Craxi harshly criticized the operation, while Helmut Kohl's West Germany was anxiously quiet. TIME's Paris bureau chief, Jordan Bonfante, sent this report on the new strain in Atlantic relations:
Every evening at 8, one of the French TV networks, Antenne 2, begins its news broadcast in the same way. Eight close-up pictures, framed in lurid yellow appear on the screen, one after the other. As they go by, the anchorman says in an understated voice, "Tonight the French hostages, including the members of the Antenne 2 news team--Philippe Rochot, Georges Hansen, Aurel Cornea, Jean-Louis Normandin--have still not been released." Only then does the news begin.
The litany of the hostages, some of whom have been missing in Lebanon for more than a year, is an all-too-familiar evocation of President Carter's Iranian hostage dilemma of six years ago. And Western Europe's uncertainty and helpless fear of terrorism today resembles that of the Carter Administration in 1980.
Each of the major countries had its own reasons to protest. The French, in addition to being worried about their own eight hostages in the Middle East, had an irresistible Gaullist urge to preserve their military independence. "No blank checks," a French official said of Paris' refusal to go along with the U.S. action. Concurred a French army colonel: "We will not be the Americans' valet d'armes--their orderly or spear carrier." The Italians have an enduringly bad con-science about Mussolini's colonial war against Libya and, to be sure, are concerned about 4,000 Italians living there today. West German leaders appear to have chosen to indulge the strong, barely dormant pacifist streak in the country.
Nevertheless, the Europeans also share common reasons for opposing the American action. Among some leftists, including members of the West German Socialists and the British Labor Party, there is a fashionable attitude of blaming the U.S. for trying to stop terrorists rather than the terrorists for starting the bloodshed. A broader group of Europeans fear that since their continent, not the U.S., is the terrorists' battleground, they are most likely to suffer reprisals.
In addition, Europeans have a centuries-old proximity to, and affinity for, the Arab world that the U.S. not only does not share but too often fails to understand. Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger, the Arch-bishop of Paris, points out that the French have a "fascination and aversion" toward the Arabs. "It goes back even to Poitiers, which, as every French schoolboy learns, was where Charles Martel stopped the Arab conquest of Europe in 732." Lustiger could have added that Europeans also have a way of becoming mired in their own history to the point of paralysis.