The United States of England
Why don’t we call America the United States of England? It may be a separate entity politically and geographically, but it surely carries forward the spirit of the old British Empire.
There was a period from 1776, when “the shot heard ‘round the world” was fired, to 1846, when America invaded Mexico, a span of 70 years, that the new nation “conceived in liberty” was, at the least, an imperfect democracy, without tyranny on its mind. But by the time Congressman Abraham Lincoln of Illinois assailed President Polk’s invasion of Mexico, the spirit of liberty had succumbed to the spirit of Empire.
Yes, the Colonists having failed at securing political representation in return for paying their taxes, demanded, fought for, and got by force of arms, freedom from the Mother Country. But as the sun set on the British Empire, it rose on the American Empire--- the one that dominates the world today.
Let’s view the American Revolution for what it actually was: a sort of internal adjustment where predominantly English-speaking Colonists won the same rights to govern themselves and plunder others as Britons who did not immigrate to the Colonies.
As historian Niall Ferguson writes in “Empire”(Best Books), “The Hollywood version of the War of Independence is a straightforward fight between heroic Patriots and wicked, Nazi-like Redcoats. The reality was quite different. This was indeed a civil war which divided social classes and even families.”
About the same time “Perfidious Albion” was dispatching Redcoats to shoot Africans who refused to pay tribute, Americans were dispatching blue coats to shoot Native Americans unlucky enough to occupy territory in their path.
And just as the Crown took over India and Africa by force and violence, Americans employed like tactics to steal half of their good neighbor Mexico.
Over time, America and Great Britain drew ever closer, allying themselves by the time of World War One to reign in Germany’s colonial ambitions. They repeated the performance against Hitler. Even before WWII erupted, the Anglo-Americans were sharing intelligence and military secrets and made common cause to wrest for themselves the riches of Asia.
Significantly, after World War I, the U.S. pressed Britain not to renew its treaty of friendship with Japan even though Tokyo had been an ally. The Japanese were baffled at this turn of events but America was not going to tolerate a Pacific rival that might come between it and the Crown. A common history, a common language, a common culture, and, most of all, a common venality by then had united Anglo-America too closely to permit any sharing of empire with an Oriental upstart. Asked by FDR in 1933 to assume administration of U.S. territories, Ernest Gruening protested, “But Mr. President, a democracy is not supposed to have colonies.” FDR insisted it was temporary (it wasn’t) even as he complained Britain’s colonial policy enriched only Britain. “The people are treated worse than livestock,” Ferguson quotes FDR as saying. “Their cattle live longer. For every dollar that the British…have put into the Gambia, they have taken out ten. It’s just plain exploitation.” If FDR didn’t care for the British Empire, Adolph Hitler did. He told the Reichstag in 1939 the Empire “is an inestimable factor of value for the whole of human cultural and economic life” even if Britain acquired her colonies by “force and often brutality,” and that “no empire has ever come into being in any other way…”
By the advent of WWII, America and Great Britain were as inextricably intertwined as DNA double helix. In 1941, FDR dispatched a flotilla of destroyers to help England suppress the Nazi U-boat menace; U.S. tanks were rushed to help Britain’s Eighth Army stop Hitler’s Panzers in North Africa. USA, “the arsenal of democracy,” could churn out so many warships it sent dozens of new aircraft carriers to UK and never missed them.
The world ascribes to the United States the development of the nuclear weapons dropped on Japan. But British scientists were also deeply involved in the venture, executed in defiance of the Geneva Conventions and against the solemn pledges of both partners at the outbreak of World War Two not to bombard civilian populations. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were obliterated by the Anglo-Americans -- the atom bomb was one of their many joint ventures. Earlier, U.S./UK bomber fleets united to exterminate 800,000 German civilians after the failure of their efforts to subdue the Third Reich’s war machine by wiping out its war production plants.
“The wartime alliance with the US was a suffocating embrace,” writes historian Ferguson. “Without American money, the British war effort would have collapsed. …As one American official put it succinctly, America was a ‘coming power’, Britain a ‘going power’.”
The U.S. and Great Britain, joined by Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, have combined to share in intelligence-gathering that provides them with military and economic information to advance their vital interests. They also combined to overthrow the elected government of Iran in 1953, bringing the Shah to the throne of that oil-rich nation. Currently, Prime Minister Tony Blair backs American aggression in Iraq with thousands of troops --- although he is said to have known President Bush cooked the books to portray Iraq a nuclear menace.
Writing in 2005 of the “special relationship” between Britain and America, John O’Sullivan, editor-at-large of “National Review” recalled the partnerships between presidents and prime ministers: “These political partnerships have been both warm and productive while often cutting across the usual divisions of left and right: the Tory Churchill and the Democrat FDR; the Tory Macmillan and the Democrat Kennedy; the Labour Wilson and the Democrat LBJ; the Tory Thatcher and the Republican Reagan; and now, famously, the New Labor Blair and the Republican George W. Among the achievements of the special relationship are the victories in the Second World War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Falklands War, the Gulf War, and the Cold War.”
England’s long-standing role as an imperialist power, euphemistic for a nation that invades countries, murders those who oppose it, and subjugates them to its rule, is widely recognized. In his book, “Web of Deceit: Britain’s Real Role in the World” (Vintage, 2003), author Mark Curtis writes that, with UK’s support for terrorism, “violating international law has become as British as afternoon tea.” According to a review of his work in Guardian Unlimited of July 5, 2003:
“Drawing on formerly secret government files, he analyses not only Britain's role in recent events in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, but also British complicity in the slaughter of a million people in Indonesia in 1965; the depopulation of the island of Diego Garcia; the overthrow of governments in Iran and British Guiana; and repressive colonial policies in Kenya, Malaya and Oman. He relentlessly peels away layers of deception until, with the aid of painstaking research and analysis of declassified files, he (Curtis) lays bare in graphic detail a shocking exposÃ© of British aggression and double-standards.”
Similarly, Uncle Sam today is hated by much of the world for its heavy-handed assaults upon weaker states, such as Guatemala, Viet Nam, Panama, Chile, and Haiti. Queen Victoria, upon being telegraphed of the latest British victory, would express her sorrow over the Redcoats who made the supreme sacrifice. So, too, President George Bush today expresses his sorrow over the American troops killed in Iraq, even as he prohibits the media to photograph their coffins.
Today, the Pentagon spreads its intimidating presence through 700 military bases in 130 countries from the Caribbean to Okinawa. USA has appointed itself global policeman even as it refuses to submit to World Court jurisdiction. It is no accident the very mention of the United Nations elicits jeers at Republican Party conventions. Bush’s backers believe USA is above world law and superior to other nations, just as Britannia once believed its destiny was to Christianize and civilize the heathen folk of planet Earth.
Evidently, as empires expand, the burden of war is forced upon the working class, while the wealth brought home goes largely into the bank accounts of the upper class. Ferguson writes of the cost of acquiring India relative to the British National Debt: “Every candle a man lit to read by, even the soap he washed with, was taxed. For the nabobs, of course, these taxes were scarcely noticeable. But they ate up a substantial proportion of an ordinary family’s income. In effect, then, the costs of overseas expansion --- or to be precise the interest on the National Debt --- were met by the impoverished majority at home. And who received that interest? The answer was a tiny elite of mainly southern bondholders, somewhere around 200,000 families, who had invested a part of their wealth in ‘the Funds’.” Today --- even as impoverishment spreads throughout the growing American underclass --- the big winners are the elite military-industrial complex. And America’s fighting forces,
like Queen Victoria’s, are drawn largely from the underclass.
Whatever the aspirations of its Founders to break from England and establish an egalitarian society that would avoid what President George Washington termed “foreign entanglements,” USA has essentially replaced Great Britain as the world’s foremost colonial power, incorporating UK as its junior partner. As Ferguson noted, it is no coincidence “that a map showing the principal US military bases around the world looks remarkably like a map of Royal Navy coaling stations a hundred years ago.”
He notes, “Just like the British Empire before it, the American Empire unfailingly acts in the name of liberty, even when its own self-interest in manifestly uppermost.” Ferguson concludes: “The former American Secretary of State Dean Acheson famously said that Britain had lost an empire but failed to find a role. Perhaps the reality is that the Americans have taken our old role without yet facing the fact that an empire comes with it. The technology of overseas rule may have changed---the Dreadnoughts may have given way to F-15s. But like it or not, and deny it who will, empire is as much a reality today as it was throughout he three hundred years when Britain ruled, and made, the modern world.”
One wonders what George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would have thought if they had lived to see their country do unto others what King George did unto them.
© 2006 by Sherwood Ross
Sherwood Ross contributes to national magazines and publicizes worthy causes.
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