Sorry for the quite long story but I guess that it can help to explain the different view between Europeans and British.
My mum’s dad fought during WW1 on “Carso” – the Border between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The battlefield was just 60km away from the village where he was born and where his family lived. On 24th Oct 1914 the Italian army faced a huge loss in “Caporetto” and it was forced to retreat in Veneto. My grandad was forced to follow the army leaving his family behind in an area that in less the three days was under Austro-Hungarian control. In other words, his family faced the “enemy” literally on the doorstep.
My dad’s father was enrolled in the Italian army during WW2. On 8th Sept. 1943 (when Italy signed the armistice with the Allied forces), he was in Rome and he was told that as far as Italy was concerned the war was over and thus, that he was free to go back home, a village half way between Venice and Trieste. He took the train and when he was waiting for the connecting train in Venice he was arrested by the German army because he was a member of the Italian Army – at that stage considered an enemy. He spent more than two years in a concentration camp in Germany leaving my grandma, my dad and his little sister alone. My dad (he was 11) was forced to drop school and to work as a carpenter in order to help my grandma to pay the mortgage on their home and put food on the table. He was able to go back to school only three years later when he started to attend school in the evenings. In other words, my grandpa was arrested by foreigners in his own country few km away from home and send to a foreign country for more than two years.
I was born in the same region in 1968. My home village is 60km away from what used to be the Yugoslavian border. I remember travelling occasionally to Yugoslavia with my parents to buy petrol/meat/cigarettes/liquor that used to be cheaper than in Italy. I remember to find it so strange to go through the border control in order to enter a country that I hardly found different from Italy and where everyone was able to speak Italian with us. I also remember the strange walls in Gorizia, a town that was split in two after WW2 where some streets were transformed into “cul de sac” with a wall at the end to mark the Italian/Yugoslavian border.
All in all, I clearly remember my childhood with sad stories about war told by my grandad and the world split in two (where the end of what I considered my world was very close to my home).
I suspect that my stories do not tell anything new to continental Europeans. In a way or in another everyone in mainland Europe has experience of closed borders and has a lot of family memories about wars with the enemy entering their own homes. Our families know the meaning of being deported from your own country, arrested in your own home by foreigners that barely spoke our language.
British did not experience foreigner invasion since 1066. They suffered hugely during WW2 with the bombings; the young generations fought in WW1 and WW2 and many lost their life. However, I suspect that the different way in which they experienced WW1, WW2 and all the previous wars in Europe is the base for a different perception about the role of Europe. They are not aware how important is Europe Union (and previously the EEC) in defending us from ourselves, i.e. from start to fight each other again for an additional piece of land or for the control of a road or of a bridge.
I must confess, I simply love Europe as it is today and I love the EU. I love to work with colleagues from many different European countries. I love the fact that one of my close colleague and one of the close friends we have are from Germany; I love the fact that my research team includes two very nice academics from Austria and I pursue different research projects with Polish, Italian, Algerian, American, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, Swedish, Cypriot and Finnish colleagues; I love the fact that I can travel now from my home village in Friuli (Italy) to Ljubljana (Slovenia) or from Vienna to Budapest without having any idea where the border was.
More importantly, I find amazing what happened to me few years ago in Hungary when during a dinner with a group of Hungarian academics I discovered that one of them had been in Italy a few months earlier visiting the area where my mom’s dad had fought in WW1 because it was the very same area where his grandad had fought during WW1. The grandsons of two persons that possibly were trying to kill each other were sat at the same table spending time together, laughing at jokes and enjoying nice food nice wine.
Price this if you can!