France, Part 3.
I ended the last essay by describing my beautiful experience in Strasbourg at seeing to what extent the horrors of past war and oppression have been swept away from Europe since the end of World War 2. I grew up hearing horror stories of the German war from my uncle. To people of his generation, the peace that has lasted in Europe since 1945 was unthinkable. But my generation has seen it. A large part of the credit belongs to the European Union, which richly deserved the Nobel Peace Prize it received in 2012. And while some countries such as England have questioned the workability of complete economic integration, nobody wants to go back to the days of antagonism, certainly not of war.
I thought about these things in Strasbourg, France, on July 18 and 19. On July 18, I walked from the Wacken tram stop over to the European Union Parliament building. The main building is in Bruxelles (Brussels), but this secondary building is still very big and busy. The flags of the Union and of France were still at half staff in memory of the July 14 terrorist attack in Nice.
Nearby was the Court of Human Rights. In America, we are used to thinking of human rights as something that we choose and impose on the rest of the world. Many other nations, such as Russia and China, believe the same thing about their right to impose their values on the world. But in the European Union, the member countries deliberate together about what is right and wrong. I felt humble as I stood before the court, which also had the French and European flags at half staff, realizing that I represented a country which would never let any other country tell us, or even suggest to us, what to do.
The next day, July 20, we went with our French family across the Rhine River bridge into Germany. No checkpoint for passports. The European authorities have restricted traffic flow, presumably to monitor vehicles that might carry out terrorist attacks like those not a week earlier in Nice. But they have no plans to block the free flow of humans across the Rhine; in fact, they are constructing a new tram line over the river.
We walked through the beautiful German city of Kehl to a park along the Rhine. Of course, France was visible just a short distance away, across the river. This was the frontier of war for a millennium. But today it is just a peaceful park. Best of all, there is a pedestrian footbridge, away from the traffic of the vehicle bridge, which spans the river. We walked across and back. There wasn’t much to see or do; it was the significance of the act itself that will stay forever in my memory. In the middle of the bridge, right on the border, French-German couples have placed padlocks in the chain link, indicating that for them the new peace between France and Germany is not merely an international agreement but the most intense form of love.
The new stage of altruism that awaits the social evolution of our species is international trust and, where possible, love. I felt no hostility as I entered France, or walked between France and Germany. The only hostility I felt was in returning to the United States, where federal officials grilled me with trick questions to make sure that I, an American citizen, was not posing a threat to my own country. In Europe, there is a lot of altruism between nations; in America, especially in this political season, we have very little altruism within our country.
Our species evolved to be altruistic within our group and ferocious to everyone outside of our group. The European Union represents perhaps the best example of large-scale outside-the-group altruism that the world has ever seen, and its greatest success is the lasting peace, and the unthinkability of war, between France and Germany.