Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Musings: a British-American Amalgamation

In the 8-13-09 issue of the New York Review of Books is an review of an Andrew Roberts book by Max Hastings entitled. The review is entitled “A Very Chilly Victory,” and the book reviewed is Masters and Commanders: How Four Titans Won the War in the West, 1941-1945. Unfortunately the review is not available on line unless you subscribe to the electronic version of the NYROB. I subscribe only to the hard copy.


Max Hastings is a British military historian whom I appreciate. I know more about him than about Roberts (who is 30 years Hastings’ junior); so I’m inclined to accept his criticisms at face value. The most prominent of his criticisms is that Andrews doesn’t put the Second World War in its proper perspective. Roberts says he is going to write about winning the “war in the west,” but Hastings rightly emphasizes that this victory would not have been possible without Russia’s holding down the bulk of the German Wehrmacht in the east. Hastings observes that historians (Andrews included) still write too often from “national perspectives.”

Two of the “titans” Roberts writes about are Churchill and Roosevelt, which Hastings himself writes about in his Retribution, the Battle for Japan, 1944-1945. Hastings praises Roberts research, his dredging up documentation that hasn’t been written about before, but Hastings doesn’t think it changes anything. By that I take him to mean that his own view of these matters hasn’t been altered by anything that Andrews has produced.

Neither Hastings nor Roberts provides any evidence to support my inclination to see an inherent unity in British and American relations. On March 5, 2009 I described Britain as a “Superpower”: http://www.lawrencehelm.com/2009/03/britain-as-superpower.html . I am inclined to see Hastings as being guilty of what he accuses Andrews of, not providing the proper perspective for his subject. Andrews focuses upon the British and American efforts against the Wehrmacht in the West. Hastings wants to take in the entire war and give proper credit to the Soviet Union. While I agree with Hastings in regard to the war, I don’t agree with his evaluation (his agreement with Andrews) regarding the relations between the US and Britain.

Yes there were conflicts between British and American leaders and Generals. Hastings and probably Andrews attempt to tell us which viewpoints were correct and which incorrect. But there is nothing I see here that militates against the common interest that Britain and America share. There was something, Britain’s empire, but that has been abandoned, not without regret on the part of Churchill and some others, but with that impediment removed; what are the other disagreements? Yes, there are political disagreements, but these disagreements strike me as no more severe than those between the Democrats and Republicans in the US.

There are other differences. Britain, being European is used to having its common citizens disarmed. In the movie, A Mind for Murder, Roy Marsden’s Adam Dalgliesh is a bit shocked that DS Sarah Hillier (played by Mairead Carty) thinks the British police should be armed. “All the time?” Dalgliesh asks. Well, yes, at least over here in the US, we have our policemen armed all the time. We (many of us) would even like our citizens to be armed “all the time” if they feel it necessary. Our nation was based upon a “bottoms up” view of government. The citizen has every right to everything unless there is a contrary law. There are contrary laws in abundance, but we still have the idea of our constitution in mind; whereas in Britain, they have top-down view of government. The citizens there have gained more and more rights.

While we have different perspectives, we aren’t so very far apart, and none of the differences I can think or are intransigent. Some positions have seemed so, but then there is a new administration (whether in Britain or in the US) and we see that they aren’t. And if someone finds some part of the US that is implacably opposed to some political position of Britain, I believe that you can find that same disagreement within the US and within Britain.

Is there an advantage to thinking in these terms, of a closer alliance between Britain and American? I think so. Probably more thought has been given to this idea in Britain than in the US. There is a term for it: Atlanticism. The Atlanticists seek closer ties to the US whereas the rest look more toward the EU.

I don’t believe the EU is an effective governmental entity, nor that NATO is an effective military arm of it. But we can see that despite the bickering the US and Britain did during WWII, they did work together to win “the war in the West.” Yes, there have been conflicts, but Britain and the US worked well together during the Cold War, and in the aftermath against the Islamists and rogue states.

Of course the biggest seeming impediment has to do with who would run it. Bah, I say. Let no one run it. Who “runs” the UN? Recognize the common interests and build upon those; then when next there is a military conflict see if we do not share an interest in confronting it together. If it is a war, split the objectives up the way we did in Iraq. That worked well enough and could be something to build upon. Let there be joint war-games.

We see that the UN hasn’t worked in regard to dealing with major conflicts. The differences between the members of the Security Council are too great. But the differences between Britain and the US are not that great. We have and could again work together.

If we believe in “Globalization” as a fulfillment of Fukuyama’s End of History, we must at least acknowledge that we are not progressing well toward it at the present time. The “end” is not as near as some of us hoped. In the meantime we must content ourselves with Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations. A British-American amalgamation wouldn’t impede progress toward a Liberal-Democratic “End of History,” and it would present a certain confident stance against the “Civilizations” that would contemplate clashing with us. Look, we could say, we are not just Britain, and we are not just America, nor are we merely Australia, Canada or New Zealand. We are an English speaking people with common interests, 460,000,000 people strong. We are somewhat pacifistic, but shrewdly interested in trade and the promotion of all sorts of business interests. We aren’t interested in dominating the rest of the world, but neither are we interested in being dominated. Think of us, any of you other civilizations that are feeling belligerent and looking for a casus belli, as getting along well enough to confront the worst that any of the other civilizations can bring against us.


Some of what I wrote is going to come across as sounding belligerent, but I don’t intend that. I have been reading quite a bit about World War II lately and every discussion describes how ill prepared we (Britain and America) were to confront to the challenges of the Germany and Japan. Britain and America did eventually work together to win their part of the war, but it was a struggle, as Hastings and Roberts describe. We have learned quite a lot from that lesson and from other lessons subsequent to World War Two, but why not take the further step that I recommend and create something, call it an English-speaking amalgamation? Let it consist of Britain, America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

No one with the perspective of Hastings or Roberts would see this English-speaking amalgamation as being a threat to others, but of course some nations would. Why seek to become more powerful if you don’t intend to exert that power, Russia will be sure to think, but note, Russia that the only time you have anything to fear from the US, let alone from my hypothetical amalgamation, is when you invade one of your “near abroad” neighbors. The US, and any such amalgamation I envision, wouldn’t go looking for trouble, but it may very well defend nations it has good relations with.

And yes it would be a “threat” to rogue states wishing to conquer their neighbors. No nation will go to war with another anyplace in the world without wondering how the US is going to view their aggressive act and whether the US will interfere.

Some in the US would read what I have written and wonder why we “need” anyone else. We can do it by ourselves; so what need do we have of Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia? I am not thinking in terms of “need” in that regard, but of prudence. Why did Hitler invade Poland? Because he believed Britain wouldn’t interfere. We would be saying we have a close relationship with Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and no nation should invade them and not expect us to sit as idly by as we did at the beginning of World War II.

If we (the US) did not commit to defending our allies and were not militarily prepared to do so, that could tempt certain rogue nations to want to take advantage of them. We should know from the lessons we have learned in the past that we are going to defend them eventually. We don’t save money and lives by staying out of a conflict early on if we know in advance that we are not going to allow a friendly nation to be conquered.

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