The history of Europe has largely been written in conflict and war, a point I was soberly reminded of while visiting the American Cemetery in Luxembourg as part of the trade mission led by Gov. Gary Herbert to the European Union. Though the United States was involved in the two most recent conflicts, World Wars I and II, the history of war in Europe extends back over centuries.
The indications of the excesses of nobility and the resulting revolutions can be seen everywhere in Paris — from the Palace at Versailles to Napoleon’s tomb. Even the iconic Eiffel Tower was erected over the city skyline as a symbol of the 100-year anniversary of the beginning of the French Revolution.
A stop at the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam was a poignant and reverential reminder of the personal cost of war. Anne and her family hid in cramped living quarters behind a bookcase for two years, only moving around at night for fear of making a noise that could lead to their capture. Our guide shared that, for many years, it was visits from Americans that kept the museum and home site in operation. When asked why Americans visited at a time when no one else did, he stated that he felt Americans related to Anne in a unique way — that her perseverance, attitude in approaching dire situations and desire to find good are values commonly found among Americans.
On a lighter note, the trade delegation met with an economic development agency in Belgium where the presenter joked that they were well-suited to have foreign companies doing business in Belgium because other nations had been invading their small country for hundreds of years. Clearly the history of conflict is never far from their thoughts.
This history was put into perspective during one of our meetings with EU officials in Brussels. The genesis of the European Commission was as a business coalition for the coal and steel industries. Years of iterations, negotiations and hard work led to the evolution of what is now the European Union. A commissioner who attended the meeting shared that leaders are most proud that EU alliances have played an important role in avoiding war in Western Europe for 65 years.
The statement about avoiding war during a discussion on economic development seemed incongruous at first blush. The clarity in the comment comes upon realizing that war is not just something Europeans study in school — they see the consequences of it all around. It is not surprising the EU officials in our meeting saw the true value of peace and stability in diplomatic relationships, between countries of course, but also in the personal relationships between people.
Many of the measurable successes of the EU trade mission will be seen in new business partnerships, added customers and sales and increased investment in Utah from foreign firms. There is another benefit that cannot easily be quantified but one that is equally important — the formation of personal, diplomatic relationships that serve as a basis for continued economic growth.
Though the scars of a history filled with wars can be seen everywhere in Europe, 65 years of peace have led to healing and increased economic collaboration among countries. Contrast our sobering time at the cemetery in Luxemburg with the hope that came from a visit to the world’s longest operating steel mill in Saarbrucken, Germany.
Started by Louis the XIV in 1685, this mill has been used many times throughout its history as an on-again, off-again foundry for tools of warfare. But today, the steel produced in the more than 300-year-old mill is used to build the skeletal structures of economic development around the world. What once created machinery for conflict now is used to create headquarters for companies.
This mill serves as a metaphor for the true focus of international trade, which is to continue economic development through increasing opportunity for business owners and employees. From new opportunities comes a better quality of life and prosperity, which provides a stability that is the foundation for peace.
Derek B. Miller is the president and CEO of the World Trade Center Utah. Previously he was chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert and managing director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.