Atlantic Alliance Between United States And England.The alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom is a paradox. This intimate association that has fought wars and carried out the most delicate and intricate diplomatic tasks is not based on any single treaty or agreement. It is a paradox because, although roundly attacked from the outset by powerful[Pg 160] groups in both countries, the alliance has grown steadily in strength toward a position in which it is almost invulnerable to political attack.
This situation is a tribute to the hard-headed appreciation of facts which lies beneath the political oratory and posturing on both sides of the Atlantic. For the alliance is not the result of the intrigues of Anglophiles along the eastern seaboard of the United States or of the Machiavellian diplomacy of Britons eager for a handout; it is the result of mutual self-interest. In the dangerous world of the mid-twentieth century it is the best hope of survival for both nations.
Americans, in the plenitude of power, often ask one another why they need alliances, and why, in particular, there should exist any special relationship with Britain. One way of answering the question is to consider our situation if the United Kingdom were neutral in the world struggle with the aggressive totalitarianism of the East. There would then be no United States Air Force bomber bases in Britain. The British naval bases with their facilities in Britain and the Mediterranean would no longer be open to the United States. The United Kingdom would not be a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The British divisions that have helped hold Germany since 1945 would have been withdrawn. British hydrogen bombs and atomic bombs and the long-range bombers built to carry them would not be on our side. The position assumed by the United States at diplomatic meetings would no longer be supported by the leaders of a stable, experienced power still possessing considerable influence in many parts of the world.
Finally, the United States could not rely in times of crisis upon the backing of fifty million people speaking the same language and adhering to similar political beliefs—people who are resolute, ingenious, and brave in war, progressive and industrious in peace.
Certainly the alliance is not to everyone’s taste. There are and there always will be urgings in both countries to “go it alone.” There[Pg 161] are politicians and statesmen who would place each nation’s reliance on other allies. But custom, usage, common interests have combined to create the situation; the problem is to see that the alliance works and to realize its potential in the world.
No one would contend that the United Nations or NATO or the South East Asia Treaty Organization or any one of half a dozen smaller associations is not important. But examination shows that all these rest on the basic union of American and British interests. If that goes, everything goes.
It follows, therefore, that the popular attitude in Britain toward the United States and Britain’s relationship in international affairs to the United States is of the utmost importance to both countries. Understanding it calls for a thorough appreciation of Britain’s position in the world, not as we Americans see it but as the British themselves see it.
To begin with, let us try to answer that familiar and inevitable question: “Isn’t there a good deal of anti-Americanism in Britain?”
If the question refers to personal dislike of Americans as individuals, the answer is no. Of course if an American in Britain is noisy and impolite he will be told off. Britons should expect the same treatment in the United States under similar circumstances.
Americans as individuals are not disliked in Britain. But an American must be prepared to encounter searching inquiry and often sharp criticism about the policies and programs of the United States government. He will learn that some institutions in the United States of which we have a high opinion do not similarly impress the British. Certain groups within British society view various aspects of life in the United States with reactions ranging from hostility to hilarity. This is natural. You cannot expect a socialist to be enthusiastic about capitalism, especially when capitalism is so obviously successful. Nor can you expect a British conservative to rejoice in the transfer of world power westward across the Atlantic.
So, inevitably, there are discussions and debates when Amer[Pg 162]icans and Britons meet. Long may it be so. For this freedom to argue problems is the very essence of the alliance. It is a means of ironing out the difficulties that arise. It also emphasizes the common ground on which we stand, which, put at its simplest, is a mutual belief in the principles of democratic freedom.
In Germany I often encountered men of education and intellectual probity who were convinced that a modern state should not have a democratic form of government and that to encourage democracy was inadvisable, even dangerous. In Britain or the United States one often meets men and women who rail against the occasional inanities of democratic government and deplore its weaknesses. But it is most unusual to meet someone, save a member of the small band of communists or fascists, who believes that the British or American people could or should live under any other system. Differences must be worked out and are worked out under the cover of this common acceptance of democracy. This belief does not sound impressive until you talk about the same subject with a middle-class Frenchman, a German professor, or a Soviet diplomat.
Although of course there are plenty of people in Britain, as there are in the United States, who are profoundly uninterested in the alliance or in any other aspect of international affairs, it can be a salutary experience to talk about Anglo-American relations with Britons. Often you encounter candor, honest curiosity, and, sometimes, shrewd judgment.
Such conversations go a long way toward killing the old idea that Britons—or, specifically, the English—are an aloof, chilly lot. Aloofness was and, to some extent, still is a middle-class characteristic. But, like so many other things in Britain, behavior in public has changed in the last fifteen years. The time has not come when Britons in a railway compartment will exchange telephone numbers and photographs of their children, but the old social isolation is breaking down.
The questions and criticisms that the American encounters are a good sign. They testify to the average Briton’s understanding[Pg 163] of the interdependence of the two countries. As long as the alliance flourishes there will be and should be such exchanges. They are a source of satisfaction, not offense.
Moreover, the questions are necessary. There is a dearth of serious news about the United States in the popular British press, although the remotest village will be informed of Miss Monroe’s chest measurements. The Times of London, the Manchester Guardian, and the Daily Telegraph do an excellent job of reporting the United States within the limitations imposed by the paper shortage. The popular press, however, is something else.
There are, I believe, three factors that contribute to British questionings and criticisms about United States policies and statesmanship. These are:
(1) McCarthyism, by which the British mean the political attitude in the United States which begins at a perceptible trend toward ideological conformity and, at its worst, imitates totalitarian measures;
(2) the United States’s leadership of the free world, which has been transferred from Britain in the last fifteen years. Doubts on this score are fed by statements of American leaders, often belligerent and uninformed, which raise the question of whether the United States administration understands either its enemies or its friends;
(3) the trade competition between Britain and the United States and the trade barriers to British imports raised by the United States.
It is difficult to say which of these is the most important factor in forming British attitudes toward the United States. For a variety of reasons McCarthyism was certainly the most important in the first five years of this decade.
Not many Britons understand the emotional involvement of a large proportion of Americans in the Far East and its problems. Nor was the impact of the Korean War upon the United States fully appreciated in the United Kingdom. Finally, the British, although they stoutly opposed communism, were never so deeply[Pg 164] concerned with communist infiltration in government. Perhaps they should have been. The point here is that for a number of reasons they were not.
Consequently, neither those who report and edit the news in Britain (with a few exceptions) nor their readers were prepared for McCarthyism. A good many otherwise well-informed people were shocked when at the height of the McCarthy period Professor D.W. Brogan, one of the most stimulating and knowledgeable British authorities on America, pointed out that there had in fact been a considerable amount of subversion in the United States government and that there was ample proof of Soviet espionage.
The gradual reduction of the Senator’s importance and power pleased the British. This was not because he had been a good deal less than friendly in his comments about them—they are not markedly sensitive to foreign criticism. The reason was that many Britons saw in the methods of Senator McCarthy and some of his associates a threat to the heritage of individual liberty and equal justice under the law and, ultimately, to the democratic government that is the common ground on which the alliance is based.
The scars McCarthyism left on British popular opinion are deep. Months after the Senator’s star had faded, many people were only too ready to believe that terror still reigned in the United States and to discount the presence of a large body of moderate opinion that strongly disapproved of extremism either of the left or of the right.
McCarthyism, of course, was a godsend to the British communists in their efforts to turn the working class and the intellectuals against the United States. They exploited his methods and his speeches to frighten those who doubted the strength of American democracy. Their propaganda was directed chiefly at the industrial workers, whose good will the United States needs in Britain and, indeed, everywhere in the world. This, said the Communists, is fascism. This, they said, is what we warned you would happen in the United States. Look, they said, here’s an elderly general as President and McCarthy running the country. Doesn’t it remind[Pg 165] you of Hindenburg and Hitler? they asked. What freedom would you have, they inquired, in a country where McCarthy considers socialists the same as communists? How long would your trade-union organization last?
This may sound absurd to Americans, but it was dreadfully important, and it can become dreadfully important again. Senator McCarthy did the good name of the United States more harm in Britain than anyone else in this century.
McCarthy did not have many friends in Britain. But it is symptomatic of the importance attached to good relations between the two countries by Britons that at the height of the anti-McCarthy uproar some Englishmen attempted to point out that after all there were other forces in the United States and that the wild pictures of fascism rampant in Washington painted by left-wing journalists were, to put it mildly, slightly exaggerated.
Such assurances made little headway. Many Britons, as I have said, discerned in the Senator a threat to the basic liberties of the American people and hence to the health of the alliance. Many more were profoundly ignorant of the real situation in the United States largely because they are profoundly ignorant of the American system of government and how it works. There was, finally, the extreme sensitivity of the British working class to anything that its members consider to be capitalist reactionary action. In Britain the memories of the fight against an organized and powerful reactionary group for the rights of labor are vivid. As we have seen, they are nourished by the speeches of Labor propagandists and politicians. There is also a strong flavor of internationalism within the Labor movement. Given these factors, it was easy enough for many thousands of working-class people to believe that McCarthy represented the same forces they had seen arise in Italy, Germany, and Spain to impoverish labor and smash the power of the unions.
This group paid little attention to—if, indeed, it even heard—the arguments of Americans and Britons that, while McCarthy was deplorable, some measures had to be taken against Communist[Pg 166] espionage in the United States. Such arguments were drowned in the uproar raised by the left wing in Britain over the plight of some poor devil of a schoolteacher who had been a member of the Communist Party for a few months fifteen years ago and who now was being put through the wringer by Senator McCarthy and his fellow primitives. Finally, the British public as a whole—and particularly the British working class—was not so aroused emotionally by the cold war as Americans were, and there was far less hatred and fear of the Soviet Union.
American critics of Britain have suggested that if the United Kingdom had been as deeply involved militarily in Korea as the United States was, this attitude toward the Communist bloc would have hardened. I doubt it. The British are accustomed to casualties from wars in far-off places. They do get angry and excited about casualties among their troops from terrorism. The hanging of two British noncommissioned officers by Jewish terrorists in Palestine during the troubles there produced more public bitterness and animosity than did the grievous casualties suffered by the Gloucestershire Regiment in its long, valiant stand against the Chinese in Korea.
The attacks on British policies and British public figures by Americans disturb those who are concerned with the future of the alliance. I do not think that the effect of these upon the general public is so great as is generally believed. Some newspapers feature reports of these attacks and reply in editorials that are stately or bad-tempered according to the character of the newspaper. The attacks themselves, however, do not produce excessive anger among ordinary people. To repeat, the British are not sensitive to foreign criticism. One reason is that they retain a considerable measure of confidence in the rightness, even the righteousness, of their own position—a characteristic that has galled Americans and others for years. (Incidentally, it is a characteristic they have passed on to the Indians. Mr. Nehru in his high-minded inability to see any point of view but his own is not unlike the late Neville Chamberlain.) A second reason is that this generation of Britons has been[Pg 167] insulted by experts. Secretary of State Dulles, Senators McCarthy, Knowland, and Dirksen can say some pretty harsh things. But, compared to what the British have heard about themselves from the late Dr. Göbbels or the various Vilification Editors of Pravda or Izvestia, American criticisms are as lemonade is to vodka.
Mr. Dulles’s unpopularity among the British results not from his taste for inept phrases but from the belief widely held among leading politicians and senior civil servants that on two occasions—the formation of the South East Asia Treaty Organization and the negotiations with Britain after Egypt had seized control of the Suez Canal—he told them one thing and did another. Such beliefs strongly held by responsible people trickle downward.
This evaluation of Mr. Dulles’s diplomacy is one cause for British worry about the United States’s leadership of the free world. The idea that the British do not accept the transfer of power westward across the Atlantic is superficial. They may not like it, but they do accept it. Yet the idea has great vigor. An American editor of the highest intelligence once said: “These people will never get used to our being in the number-one position!” I think they are used to it. But acceptance has not ended their doubts and criticisms about how we exercise the tremendous power that is ours, or their resentment of United States suggestions that Britain is finished and no longer counts in the councils of the West. The British do not mind when Senator Knowland accuses them of feeding military matériel to the Communist Chinese. They do mind when in an international crisis the State Department treats Britain as though she were on the same level as Greece.
For, whatever the alliance means to Americans, to Britons it has meant a special relationship between the two countries under which the United Kingdom is entitled to more consideration than she often receives. It was the realization that the United States did not recognize this special relationship which touched off the wave of criticism and doubt during the Suez crisis.
From the welter of words loosed in that period—speeches, Parliamentary resolutions, editorials, and arguments in pubs—a[Pg 168] central theme affecting relations between Britain and the United States emerged. The decision of the United States administration to condemn British action in Egypt and to vote with the Soviet Union against Britain in the General Assembly of the United Nations smashed the conception of the alliance held by millions of Britons. This sorry development is quite unaffected by such considerations as whether the British government should have ordered intervention or whether the United States government should have been as surprised by intervention as it was.
The British regarded the alliance as one in which each partner was ready to help and sustain the other. They felt that the administration’s actions mocked a decade and a half of fine talk about standing together. Traveling through Britain early in 1957, I found “that United Nations vote” was a topic which arose in every conversation and to which every conversation inevitably returned. Some could understand the logic of the United States. But very few understood how, in view of the past, we could bring ourselves to vote against Britain.
Whatever Washington may think, the British believe they deserve special consideration because of their present exertions and past performances. They point out, accurately, that the United Kingdom has put more men, money, and matériel into NATO than has any other ally of the United States. They assert that, although there have been differences between the two powers, Britain has sustained United States policy in Europe sometimes, as in the case of German rearmament, at the cost of great political difficulty. An alliance, they say, should work both ways.
Britons are thankful for American generosity after World War II. But their gratitude is affected by a powerful psychological factor often overlooked by Americans, one that strengthens the British belief that their country merits a special position in America’s foreign policies. This factor is the British interpretation of the role played by their country in two world wars.
It is an article of popular faith in Britain that the nation twice went to war in defense of smaller powers—Belgium in 1914 and[Pg 169] Poland in 1939—and that the United States, whose real interests were as deeply involved as Britain’s, remained on the sidelines for thirty-three months of the first war and for twenty-seven months of the second war.
Americans find it tedious to be told by the more assertive Britons how their beleaguered island stood alone against the world in 1940. The American conviction that the war really began when the Japanese blew us into it at Pearl Harbor is equally tedious to Britons. Nevertheless, the British did stand defiantly alone. They whipped the Luftwaffe, and they took heavy punishment from German bombs. They fought hard, if often unsuccessfully, in the Western Desert, Greece, Crete, Abyssinia, and Syria. All this went on while we across the Atlantic began ponderously to arm and to argue at great length whether the Nazi dictatorship really was a threat to freedom.
These events affected those Britons who are now moving toward the direction of the nation’s destinies. The cabinet minister of today or tomorrow may be the destroyer seaman, tank-commander, or coal-miner of 1940. However deplorable the attitude may seem from our standpoint and from the standpoint of some individual Britons, the British people believe something is due them for their exertions. The wiser leaders, speaking from both the left and the right, advise their countrymen to forget the past and think of the future.
How they will think of their international future is a different matter. For the first time since 1940 there is now a strong sentiment in Britain for going it alone. There is also a revulsion against all forms of international association, starting with the United Nations and extending to NATO and SEATO. To anyone who understands the pride and toughness that lie at the center of the British character this is understandable. They have never been afraid of being alone.
In considering British dissatisfaction with the place accorded their country in the American outlook, it should not be thought that this reflects lack of liaison between the two nations on the[Pg 170] lower echelons of diplomacy. The co-operation between the United States Embassy officials and the Foreign Office in London ordinarily is very close. So is the co-operation between the British Embassy diplomats in Washington and the State Department. To repeat, it is in situations like the crises over Cyprus and Suez that the British feel they are treated by the State Department and the administration not as the most powerful and reliable of allies but as just another friendly nation.
This concern over Britain’s place within the alliance is sharpened by doubts over the ability of the United States to exercise leadership in a manner that will secure both the peace of the world and the maintenance of the interests of the West.
Such doubts arise generally from the wide differences between what American policy really is and what various spokesmen for the United States say it is. Let us consider two statements by John Foster Dulles, a man who, when he became Secretary of State in 1953, was admired and trusted by professional British diplomats and by politicians interested in international affairs.
At one point Mr. Dulles spoke of “massive retaliation” against any enemies of the United States in the Far East. The remark made a great splash in the headlines of the world, and in the view of the British it was totally useless. The Russians and Communist Chinese leaders, they argued, realized that the United States had nuclear weapons and would be prepared to use them in the event of war. As both nations are dictatorships and as the government controls all communications media in each country, there was no prospect of Mr. Dulles’s warning being relayed effectively to the Russian and Chinese masses whom it might conceivably impress. But it was relayed to all those people in the world, especially in the Asian world, who in any case consider the United States as a huge, powerful, and possibly aggressive nation. The British were appalled by the effect of the statement on India. There, as elsewhere, it was well ventilated by the Communists and other enemies of the United States as an example of America’s devotion to belligerence.
Earlier in his busy career as moral lecturer for the West,[Pg 171] Mr. Dulles had spoken of the possibility that the defeat of the European Defense Community plan in the French National Assembly might provoke an “agonizing reappraisal” of the United States policy toward Europe. Again the result was quite different from that desired by the Secretary of State. The National Assembly rejected EDC, just as everyone interested in the matter, with the exception of the Secretary of State, Dr. Adenauer, M. René Pleven, and M. Jean Monnet, knew it would. The United States did not immediately begin any “agonizing reappraisal” of its position in Europe because quite obviously it could not do so at the time. It had to keep its troops in Europe, it had to rearm Germany, it had to sustain the NATO alliance because these are the essentials of a foreign policy that is partly the result of American initiative and partly the outcome of our response to the challenges of the times.
In both cases it slowly became plain that neither the Congress nor the people of the United States were prepared for massive retaliation or even agonizing reappraisal. The reappraisal did start in 1956, but it was the result of very different factors: the rising costs of nuclear weapons and the necessity in both Britain and the United States of reducing armament expenditures and taxes, the change in the tactics of Soviet foreign policy, the reassurance (largely illusory) given the West by the summit conference at Geneva in the summer of 1955, which convinced many that the need for heavy armament expenditure was receding. This reappraisal may be agonizing, but it has nothing to do with the one the Secretary of State was talking about.
The crisis in European affairs caused by France’s rejection of EDC was solved largely by British initiative and diplomacy. Today most Britons interested in international affairs feel that this feat has received too little recognition in Washington. Sir Anthony Eden, then Foreign Secretary, pulled the forgotten Brussels treaty out of his pocket—or, more accurately, out of the soap dish, for he was bathing when he thought of it—and hied off to Europe to sell the treaty to the interested governments as an instrument under which Germany could be rearmed. Sir Anthony was eminently successful[Pg 172] in his sales talks. Mr. Dulles remained aloof for the first few days, thinking dark thoughts about the French. He had been advised by high State Department officials that Eden didn’t have a chance of selling the Brussels treaty idea. When it became evident that Sir Anthony was selling it and was being warmly applauded even by the Germans for his initiative and diplomatic skill, Mr. Dulles flew to Europe. It looked very much to the British as though he wanted to get in on the act.
Many Britons felt that Mr. Dulles let Sir Anthony and the Foreign Office do the donkey work in patching up European unity in the autumn of 1954 and in negotiating a settlement in Indochina that spring. The Secretary of State and the administration were ready to take a share of the credit for success, but were only too eager to remain aloof from failure. Only the patience, experience, and forthrightness of General Walter Bedell Smith, then Under Secretary of State, enabled the United States to cut any sort of figure at the conference on Southeast Asia.
Such a policy of limited liability in great affairs is not in accord with either the power of the United States or the principles preached by Mr. Dulles and others.
Another American phenomenon that annoys and occasionally frightens the British (and, incidentally, many other allied and neutral states) is the belligerent loquacity of our generals and admirals. The American public is not particularly aroused when someone in the Pentagon announces that we must be on our guard and must build enough heavy bombers or atomic cannon or aircraft-carriers to blow the Kremlin to Siberia or even farther. The public is pretty well sold, perhaps oversold, on defense. Besides, the public is much brighter than the generals or the admirals or their busy public-relations officers think it is—bright enough to realize that behind these dire prophecies of doom, these clarion calls for more weapons, the services may be having some trouble in squeezing the treasury. The citizen reads the first few paragraphs and turns to the sports pages to see what Mantle did yesterday.
The situation is far different in the United Kingdom or in France or Italy or even Germany, to name only our allies.
The British people live packed on a relatively small island, and it has been estimated that six hydrogen bombs dropped in Britain would be the knockout. Consequently, the people do not like loose talk about nuclear bombing. They have a shrewd suspicion that they, and not the talkers, will be the first target.
Such apprehensions may be exaggerated. But there is sound thinking behind British insistence that such announcements by our military spokesmen damage the cause of the West and the good name of the United States among our allies and, equally important, among the growing number of states now neutral or near neutral in the struggle between East and West. For many reasons, geographical, military, political, even religious, these states abhor war and violence. Russian propagandists recognized this attitude at the outset of the cold war and have played upon it with great skill. And they have been helped immeasurably every time Senator Blowhard or Admiral Sternseadog suggests that we should blow hell out of the Russians or the Chinese.
These manifestations of combativeness may be helpful in reminding the Russians of United States power. But the Russians are not our primary concern: we are their enemies, whatever the surface policy of the Soviet government. Our primary concern in this new period when the cold war is being continued by more complex and subtle means than blockades and coups d’états is the new nations we have helped bring into being.
It is in relation to this approach, I believe, that the British question our judgment. Particularly those officials and politicians who deal with foreign affairs are not immediately concerned with the prospect of Communist revolution in Italy or France. They estimate that the leaders of the Soviet Union would avoid such upheavals in the present state of world affairs because revolution would sound the alarm bells in every Western capital and prevent the Soviet Union from accomplishing a more important objective:[Pg 174] the steady weakening of the regional alliances—NATO, SEATO, the Baghdad Pact—which have been laboriously constructed by the United States and the United Kingdom to contain Communist aggression and to provide a safer, richer life for the peoples of the allied states. Simultaneously, the Soviet Union, through diplomatic, political, and cultural agencies, will make every effort to pull the neutrals, great and small—India, Egypt, Indonesia—onto their side.
It is in this arena, one where diplomatic skill and economic assistance are more important than military power, that Britain believes the West must exert its strength. Both diplomats and politicians are convinced that in the next five years there must be a thorough overhaul of the political planning and military arrangements made by the West in the period 1949-55. They question whether this can be done if the principal emphasis in defense circles in the United States remains on the prospect of an imminent war.
A point arising from this discussion is that the British themselves are unused to the spectacle of a soldier or sailor pronouncing on issues of national policy. In Britain the warrior, retired or serving, is kept in his place. If the government wants the advice of Field Marshal Montgomery it asks for it and gets it in the privacy of the cabinet rooms.
In the field of foreign affairs the British maintain that the tremendous physical power of the United States and our immense resources do not automatically guarantee that in the exercise of our power we will always be right. Leaders of both parties feel that the United States government, particularly President Roosevelt and his advisers, misread Soviet intentions lamentably in the period 1942-6, and that consequently Allied strategy strove only for victory and not for a stable peace after victory. The political tides that sweep the United States every two years give American foreign policy an aspect of impermanence, even instability, which weakens United States influence in the world. There is a feeling that United States diplomacy would benefit from fewer press conferences and more private negotiations.
Naturally, these criticisms can be irritating, especially if they[Pg 175] are delivered in the Pecksniffian tones characteristic of many British officials. But history will judge, I believe, that this transfer of power westward across the Atlantic has been carried out with great good sense and dignity. It may also hold up to scorn the present generation of Americans if they fail to avail themselves not only of the physical strength but also of the diplomatic experience and skill of a nation wise in the ways of the world. This is not a time for Americans to be too proud to listen.
Such considerations belong to the stratosphere of Anglo-American relations. An American living in Britain will soon be brought down to earth in any conversation with British businessmen.
Repeatedly he will be asked why the United States bars British imports through high tariffs, why there is discrimination against British bids for contracts in the United States, why Senators and Congressmen belabor the British on one hand for trying to expand their trade with the Soviet Union and on the other hand do all they can to block the expansion of British trade with the United States.
“Trade Not Aid” is the British goal in their economic relations with the United States, which is Britain’s second-best market. In 1954 we bought goods valued at £198,800,000 ($556,640,000) from Britain. But this represented only 6.6 per cent of the total United Kingdom exports, and in 1938, long before the export drives, when Britain still counted on her overseas investments to help finance her own imports, the percentage was 5.4 per cent.
So, although both nations recognize this trade’s importance to Britain—it is her principal source of dollar earnings—the increase in the trade has been relatively small.
The inability of British exporters to sell competitively in the United States because of tariff protection provokes sharp criticism. The Republican administration of 1952-6 was attacked in the editorial columns of newspapers that are usually most friendly to the United States, for, despite the reassuring speeches of President Eisenhower, British industry still claimed it was being denied access to American markets by the tariff restrictions.
Certainly the tariff does bar many British imports. It may be, however, that many of them, perhaps a majority, would not be able to compete with similar American products. There is a great deal of ignorance about the American market among British industrialists and some reluctance to assume the long and complex job of analyzing a particular market. I know of one manufacturer of women’s handbags who has built up an extremely profitable business in the United States largely through a thorough study of the market on frequent visits to this country. I also know of other larger firms that have failed to exploit their potential American market because they would not change their methods or their product to meet the market’s demands. Beyond this, they could not understand the importance of servicing their product and of maintaining continuous relations with middlemen and buyers.
We have seen that Aneurin Bevan and other politicians of the extreme left are wedded to the idea that successive Labor and Conservative governments have danced to Washington’s tune. There are many who would deny undue political or diplomatic influence by the United States on Britain; indeed, many in America would say the shoe was on the other foot. But no one could discount the growing influence of American customs and ways of living upon the people of Britain. Part of this is the direct result of the popularity of American movies and the continued presence of American troops. Part comes from the fact that British manufacturers are rather belatedly turning out the household devices which have revolutionized living in the United States. This and the ability of the new working class and the new middle class to buy in abundance has led to a change in the living conditions of millions.
Ignorance of the political system and international objectives of the United States is still fairly widespread. In some important respects, however, there is today among the people of England a greater knowledge about the people of the United States than there ever was in the past.
Before the entry of the United States into World War II, for[Pg 177] instance, there was a strong conviction in Britain that ethnically we were the same people. The mass of Britons expected us to be as British in our background and national outlook as the people of Australia or New Zealand. The war corrected that impression. The army that came to Britain was composed of men of diverse ethnic stocks, and the people among whom they lived learned that Americans could have names like Magliaro, Martinez, or Mannheim and still be good Americans. This shocked both the Americanophobes who thought of us as “Anglo-Saxons” unchanged since the administration of Thomas Jefferson and their political representatives who envisaged us as openhearted and openhanded former colonials only too eager to help out the “mother country.” But in the long run this clearer, more realistic view of modern America has had a good effect on relations between the two countries.
Similarly, the presence among Britons of several million young men representing the United States removed some illusions built up by years of steady attendance at the local movie house. We were not all rich, we were not all gangsters or cowboys, we did not all chew gum. Americans worked just as hard, worried just as much, and had the same hopes and dreams as Britons did. The period of the big buildup in 1943 and 1944 before the Normandy invasion was marred by saloon brawls between Americans and British and by friction on both sides. But this is outweighed, I believe, by the fact that the same period contributed greatly to the two peoples’ knowledge of each other.
When the United States Air Force sent forces to Britain at the peak of the cold war, it was assumed by many that this process would continue. But the present contingent is minute compared to the millions of Americans who moved through Britain during World War II. Moreover, its members are more professional. They do not have the opportunity or the inclination for close contact with British homes. They want what professional soldiers want the world over: a bellyful of beer and a girl. They get both.
The senior officers of the United States Air Force units in Britain and well-intentioned Britons, zealous for the improvement[Pg 178] of relations between the countries, spend a great deal of time worrying about the behavior of the airmen and their treatment by British civilians. The time is ill spent. It is the nature of young men far from home, in or out of uniform, to drink, to wench, and to fight. Here and there they may encounter tradesmen eager to make an extra shilling out of the foreigner. But such profiteering does not seem to be on the same scale as that practiced by the good people of Florida or Texas or Kansas upon their own countrymen in uniform during World War II.
In many superficial respects Britain is more Americanized than before the war. There are hamburger joints near Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, and the American tourist can buy a Coke in most big towns. A pedestrian in London sees windows full of “Hollywood models” and “Broadway styles.” In the years immediately after the war, working-class youth copied the kaleidoscopic ties and broad-shouldered, double-breasted plumage of the American male. Today, still following styles set in America, he is adopting the more sober appearance of the Ivy League, and the button-down shirt has made its appearance in High Holborn. This is a curious example of styles traveling west and then east across the Atlantic, for the Ivy League dresses as it believes—or, rather, as its tailors believe—English gentlemen dress. Now the working-class young man in Britain is imitating “new” American styles that are themselves an imitation of the styles followed by his own upper class. Whatever the fashion in the United States, this class clings manfully to the dark suit, the starched collar, and the derby in London, and to tweeds in the country.
Obviously the movies made in America have had an enormous effect on the British way of life. For a number of reasons the effect has not been altogether good. Accuracy in portraying the American scene is not one of Hollywood’s strong points. A couple of generations of young Britons matured nursing an idealistic view of the United States as a wonderland where hippy stenographers lived in high-ceilinged houses, wore luxurious clothes, drove big, powerful cars, and loved big, powerful men. There was almost invariably[Pg 179] a happy ending to the minor difficulties that beset hero and heroine of an American film.
Realism was restored to some extent by the advent of the American soldier. Very few of the GI’s resembled Mr. Robert Taylor, and their backgrounds were quite different from those portrayed on the screen. There were, of course, some fast talkers who could and did make a pig farm in Secaucus sound like a ranch in California, but, on the whole, the American soldiers came from civilian surroundings no more exciting than Leeds or Bristol. The movie-going public now views pictures about home life in America with a more skeptical eye.
The series of American films about juvenile delinquency, drug addiction, dipsomania, and other social evils created a problem for those interested in presenting a balanced view of the United States to Britons. Great efforts were made by the United States Information Service to demonstrate that the ordinary American did not begin the day with a shot of heroin or send his boy to a school that would make Dotheboys Hall seem like a kindergarten.
These efforts were inspired to some extent by the manner in which the Communists exploited such films as genuine reflections of life in the United States. Both the comrades and the USIS were wasting their time. The British public can be agonizingly apathetic, but it is not stupid. I never met anyone who thought these films represented the real America or who believed the Communist contention that they did. The fact is that the ability of the United States to make and show such pictures testifies to the strength of America. When the Russians produce an epic about the slave labor that built the White Sea-Baltic canal or an exposé of the corruption that riddled Soviet industry in the war and immediate post-war years, we can begin to worry.
The theater since the war has exercised an important influence in bringing America to Britain. Starting with Oklahoma, a series of Broadway musical shows dominated the London stage for a decade. One of the minor occupations of British critics is grumbling about the shortage of “real” British musicals. But even the grumpiest[Pg 180] have been won over by the music of Richard Rodgers and Irving Berlin and the lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II.
British taste is not always in accord with our own. South Pacific was not the critical success in London that it was in New York. The British loved Guys and Dolls—they had lost their hearts to the late Damon Runyon in the thirties—but they did not like Pal Joey, in which John O’Hara gave a much more realistic picture of the seamy side of American life.
But the accent has been on musicals. Very few serious American plays have successfully invaded London. In this field the traffic seems to be the other way.
The comics, invariably described in left-wing publications as “American Horror Comics,” have been another medium for the spread of American culture in Britain. Like the movies, they have their critics, and, like some movies, they are used by the Communists to demonstrate what fearful people the Americans are.
The reader will notice that British Communism, although of almost negligible importance as a political party, is active in promoting differences between the two nations. The Communists know very well that the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is the strongest link in the Western chain; if they can break it, the rest will be easy.
I have been at pains to point out the issues over which governments and peoples on both sides of the alliance differ and those aspects of our national behavior which occasionally worry and concern the British. It should be emphasized that the areas of ignorance in the British attitude toward the United States are of minor importance compared to the ignorance of the average Frenchman or the average Indian. British misconceptions about the United States can be corrected and Communist attempts to exploit these misconceptions defeated because the British public does know something about the United States. This knowledge may be slight, but it is enough to build on.
Over the years there has been a change in attitude on the part of young people which I find disturbing. When I first came to Eng[Pg 181]land in the late thirties I encountered a good deal of curiosity about the political and social aspects of the American system. Young people wanted to know about American opportunities for education, about technical schools, about the absence of a class system. Today such interest as is displayed centers mainly upon the material factors in the United States.
Perhaps what I encountered nearly twenty years ago was the lingering afterglow of that period in our history when we stood as a promise and a hope to the peoples of the world. Certainly many of the egalitarian aspects of American society admired in pre-war Britain have been slowly introduced into British society. A cynic might even suggest that they know us better now. At any rate, I meet fewer young people who are sure they would like to live in America and be Americans.
Ignorance of the United States lies at the root of many of the criticisms of our country one hears in Britain. This is being overcome to some extent by the work of the USIS, but the task is a serious one. Beyond such obvious difficulties as the shortage of newsprint which limits the amount that responsible newspapers can print about the United States, there is another important obstacle to better relations. This is the fact, that although Americans travel to Britain each year in tens of thousands, the prospect of the average Briton seeing our country is remote. The British treasury doles out dollars with a sharp eye on the gold and dollar reserves, and a large percentage of the transatlantic travelers are businessmen selling British exports to the United States. This is something, but it is not enough.
The industrial working class is the most numerous and politically important in Britain. It is also the least informed about the United States. Scholarships for Oxford and Cambridge students at Harvard or Princeton and visiting professorships for English dons do not, as a rule, help this class. The ideal would be an exchange system under which hundreds of working-class men and women from Bradford, Manchester, Liverpool, and the back streets of London were given the opportunity to see America plain. The[Pg 182] English Speaking Union in the United States and the United Kingdom is attempting to bring this about.
Only through such contact, I believe, could the picture of the United States built up by some Labor Party politicians be erased. There remains a dangerous lack of understanding not only of our political system but of what mass production and greater productivity in the United States have done for the average workingman here. Newspaper articles, television series, books help, but it is a thing that must be felt as well as seen. It can be felt only in the United States.
The attention paid to differences and difficulties should not obscure the value that Britons place on their relationship with Americans. Materially, Britain’s interest in maintaining the relationship is much the greater; undoubtedly they need us more than we need them. But here we must remember the national character of Britain. The British have been an independent people for a thousand years. Even when the fortunes of the nation have been at their lowest ebb, the people have been outspoken in defense of what they considered their rights. The earliest Continentals who traveled to England lamented the blunt independence of the yeomen and the absence of subservience among the noisy city crowds.
Some sociologists have concluded that all this has changed and that the industrial revolution and other social changes have transformed the British from the rowdiest and most belligerent of nations into law-abiding conformists. The national boiling-point, they report, is high.
Certainly a superficial view of the British working class in its high noon of full employment, security, high wages, and new housing would seem to confirm this conclusion. Personally, I doubt that the turbulent passions which sent Britons out to singe the beard of the King of Spain and to make rude noises when Hitler proposed peace in 1940 are spent.
Phlegmatic, often apathetic, sentimental but not emotional, they are a people capable of great outbursts of political action. They should not therefore be considered a people prepared to follow[Pg 183] docilely and blindly where the United States leads. The failure to recognize the presence in British character of this fundamental, unruly independence even when it was flourished in their faces is one of the principal reasons why President Eisenhower and his administration were surprised by Britain’s intervention in Egypt in the autumn of 1956. Granted that the President was involved in the election campaign, it is mystifying that a man of his experience in dealing with the British failed to see the signs pointing toward independent action.
As early as August of that year letters in The Times urged an independent course for Britain and France in the Middle East. One letter signed by Julian Amery, then a Conservative back-bench Member of Parliament, ended with the reflection that if the two countries followed such a course and took action independently of the United States, it would not be for the first time. That The Times would give space to letters of this sort was a sign that the Establishment recognized the ideas they contained. In September, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer visited Washington, he made it clear to the most important of his hosts that Britain would not take the Egyptian seizure of the Suez Canal lying down—that if this was to be a struggle for Britain’s existence, his country would prefer to go down with the guns firing and the flags flying. During that same month Sir Anthony Eden had written to President Eisenhower in terms which to anyone familiar with British official phraseology said that if Britain did not get a satisfactory settlement of its difficulties over the Canal through the United Nations, other action would be necessary. In speech after speech, especially at the Conservative Party Conference on October 13, the leaders of the government carefully stated that they did not exclude the use of force as a means of settling the Suez problem.
The British government badly miscalculated the Eisenhower administration’s reaction to intervention in Egypt. It expected benevolent neutrality from a trusted ally. It got pressure and criticism. But this miscalculation may have been natural under the circumstances, for it can be argued that Britain did not expect the[Pg 184] United States administration to be surprised. It had, after all, given abundant direct and indirect warnings that force might be used as a last resort. How much of the administration’s anger, one wonders, was based in the realization that it had been told what was going to happen—if only it had stopped to read again and think?
British diversions from co-operation in policy over Suez or anywhere else are, to a considerable extent, the result of the circumstances governing the existence of the United Kingdom—circumstances that are as different from our own as could be imagined. Here is an island absolutely dependent on world trade. Westward lies the continental United States, with a continent’s natural resources at its disposal—an almost completely self-sufficient power. The difference is inescapable and permanent. We must expect the British to react sharply whenever a vital part of their trade is endangered. In 1956 the harsh equation was “Suez equals oil, oil equals British production, British production equals the existence of the United Kingdom.” Likewise, we must expect the British to expand, within agreed limits of strategic restrictions, their world trade. This is particularly true of trade with Communist China.
In this connection we might remember that, to the British, diplomatic recognition is not a mark of approval, and that if there is a possibility of dividing the Soviet Union and the Peiping regime, it can be exploited only through diplomatic channels. Diplomatic attempts to wean China away from Russia may fail. But they are worth trying. Can they be tried successfully without the co-operation of both the United States and the United Kingdom? I think not. In any case, the task this generation faces of preserving Western freedom in defiance of the Communist colossi is difficult enough without discarding this diplomatic weapon.
An alliance flourishes when it is based on realism. Realism involves knowing your ally and understanding his motives. In war the strategic reasons for an alliance are laid bare; the motives are there for all to see. In peace, when international relations are infinitely more complex, the task of maintaining an alliance is[Pg 185] consequently more difficult. In this chapter I have cited salient aspects of American political life and government policy which have irritated and angered the British. The differences over the Suez crisis were the last and most important of these. That issue generated a great deal of anger, and some harsh and brutal truths were spoken on both sides. I think that from the standpoint of the future of the alliance this was a good thing. It forced the British, I believe, to adopt a more realistic attitude toward the United States and United States policy, and it will lead them to take more, not less, diplomatic initiative in the future.
There will be other differences in foreign policy between the two countries, for differences are inevitable in the relationship between two parliamentary democracies. Indeed, they are a strength. It is because the British are an independent, outspoken, hard-headed people that they are good allies. It is because British governments think for themselves and enjoy the services of an experienced, incorruptible, intelligent civil service that their support is welcome and necessary in the contest with the East.