Suspicions Old and New
» Our Anglo-American relations are now, as Walter Lippmann says, so deeply engaged that “they cannot be severed.” But they must be clarified.
by ANDRE VISSON
BRITISH-AMERICAN solidarity is the cornerstone of the United Nations. This solidarity cannot be questioned as far as the winning of the war is concerned. But it does not exclude occasional differences in regard to the strategy to be employed, and it certainly does not exclude differences in conceptions of the post-war world.
It is the strength of the democracies that allows them to reveal their frictions and divergencies, even in wartime. A frank discussion of these frictions is often the most adequate if not the only means of dispelling misunderstandings which, if accumulated in private, might lead to mistrust.
Those frictions are, moreover, regularly exploited by Axis propaganda, which desperately tries to poison British-American relations.
A Study of German short-wave broadcasts to the United States and Great Britain reveals what the German experts in psychology believe to be the most vulnerable points on the British-American front. They are: —
1.The traditional charge of rival imperialisms.
2.The insistence on mutual economic exploitation.
3.The disagreement over war strategy and political policies.
4.The disunity in the military command.
5.The reiteration to Americans that “Britain will fight to the last American soldier,” and the reiteration to the British that Britain’s exposed position marks it as “America’s aircraft carrier.”
These same points are pressed in German domestic broadcasts. To bolster the German morale, Dr. Goebbels is doing his best to overemphasize British-American “disunity.”
These are the points he stresses: —
1. American criticisms of British policy in India.
2. American-British rivalry for the control of North Africa.
3. Disturbances allegedly caused by the American troops in Britain.
4. Frictions which arise around Lend-Lease and the negotiations of the war debts.
5. Questions about which people—the British or the Americans — pay more taxes, build more ships, and so on.
Despite his skill and experience, Dr. Goebbels has not succeeded in compromising British-American unity. It would be erroneous, however, to ignore this propaganda completely, since it consistently seeks to aggravate mutual prejudices and to exploit all actual or potential sources of friction and contradiction between the two countries.
Some people doubt if it is wise for the democracies to bring such suspicions into public discussion. I believe, however, that a free and frank discussion of America’s complaints in relation to Britain, and of Britain’s complaints in relation to America, can only strengthen British-American solidarity.
Different surveys of American public opinion have shown that about 25 per cent of Americans can be described as more or less unfriendly towards Britain. Within this minority is the hatred which has been fostered for generations among the IrishAmericans. This vociferous minority breaks out in one or another of the following charges: —
1. Britain is imperialistic and has developed an unprogressive colonial system, which it seeks to preserve after the war.
The British Empire is to be judged by the British policy in India. The fact that the natives in Malaya and in Burma did not fight on the British side is evidence of the failure of the British colonial policy.
2. Britain has not yet pulled its weight in the war. Britain keeps its troops at home and wants America to win the war for it. (The advance of the British Eighth Army in North Africa has somewhat tempered this complaint.)
3. The sum of $6,353,143,000 (out of the total Lend-Lease sum of $8,252,733,000) allotted to Great Britain and the British Empire is a great drain on American resources and is involving America increasingly in “Britain’s war.”
This problem of Britain’s lion-share in the LendLease is confused with its failure to pay its debts in the last war.
4. The traditional prejudice against the British, their aristocratic society and their “old school ties. ” They are accused of being superior, condescending, Machiavellian.
5. Britain cannot be trusted to coöperate in the post-war world. Its aims are said to be “selfish and imperialistic.” Its bankers and industrialists are expected to resume their fight against their American competitors on the world markets. British diplomats are supposed to outsmart their American colleagues.
The British Reply
1.Americans accuse us of being imperialistic. They say that our Empire is “ unprogressive, ” but Australia, Canada, Eire, New Zealand, and South Africa represent the largest federation of free peoples in the modern world. The Dominions are in no sense subject to Great Britain, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand entered the war voluntarily. Eire voluntarily stayed out. We surrendered the Iraq mandate in 1930. We recognized Egypt as an independent sovereign state in 1922. We agreed upon certain reservations regarding our military and naval forces in Egypt in 1932.
Americans point out that the natives in Malaya and in Burma did not fight on our side, while the Philippines fought on theirs. But the Philippines had almost five centuries of Christian civilization and the Malayans are profoundly Oriental and profoundly pacifist in the Oriental sense. It is our fault that we did not develop in them the feeling of responsibility. But if we had organized a regular native army in Malaya, we should have been attacked at home by the Church, the liberals, and the pacifists.
Americans reproach us for our policy in India. It is unfair to judge our imperialism by our treatment of India. It is as difficult for Americans to appreciate the Indian problem as it is for us to understand the Negro problem in the United States.
2. About their war effort, the British say: —
We entered the war as unprepared as the United States, and had an isolationist sentiment, just as America did.
After Dunkirk we had less than one armored division with which to defend ourselves.
We sent troops to Libya and Abyssinia, nevertheless, and if the assistance we gave to the Greeks was not sufficient, it at least helped to buy invaluable time for the Russians.
For a year and a half the British Navy, singlehanded, patrolled and kept free 125 million square miles of water. Even today this navy carries the major burden of convoys from the United States to Russia and to the Far East. We provided the bulk of the transports and the naval escorts for the North African campaign.
The Royal Air Force has materially weakened the German war production and civilian morale, thus indirectly assisting Russia.
British troops in Britain are expeditionary forces training for the invasion of Europe.
We marshaled our manpower to such an extent that only three millions (including children, sick, crippled, and aged) are now not engaged in some form of national service.
3. To the complaint that they get the lion’s share of Lend-Lease, the British answer: —
The transfers made under Lend-Lease are not commercial loans. They are contributions of material to a common pool with which a common war is being waged. After Mr. Stettinius’s report, there is hardly anyone who can consider Lend-Lease as a one-way proposition.
British purchases in the United States amounted to cash payment of over $7,000,000,000, thus far exceeding the value of goods exported up to November, 1942, under Lend-Lease agreement.
4. To the complaint about their “ossified social system” the British retort: —
Britain is now a land of “fierce and urgent economic democracy. . . . Ideas thought radical in America appear conservative in England.” (The words come from an American, Allan Nevins.)
They justify their claims to social progress by the following record: —
a) Trade-unions were recognized by the Trade Union Act in 1871. (In the United States they were recognized in 1933.)
b) National old age pensions were provided for in 1908. (In 1935 in the United States.)
c) National Health Insurance began in 1911.
d) National unemployment insurance began in 1912. (In 1935 in the United States.)
e) Maternity and welfare of children under five became a national public service in 1918. (In 1935 in the United States.)
f) More than one third of the total number of houses in Britain today were built between 1918 and 1939.
g) About 85 per cent of the purchasing power in England is now in the hands of those earning less than $4000 a year.
h) The income tax has been raised to a standard of 50 per cent plus a surtax which at the highest rate brings the total income tax to 97 per cent. The income tax starts at $440 a year. Only 80 persons enjoy a net income of $25,000 a year (compared to 7000 in 1939).
i) Social security is carried one step further in the recommendations of the Beveridge Report.
DOUBT about British sincerity in post-war world coöperation constitutes the most serious American complaint. It is actually the crucial point of British-American relations. All the traditional prejudices and all the inevitable frictions between the two peoples who have had to adjust their individual efforts for a common aim could not compromise or affect British-American solidarity as far as the winning of the war is concerned. The two nations are determined to employ all their energies and resources for that purpose.
American doubts about British sincerity in the shaping of the post-war world are the more serious because the British answer that they have, on their side, exactly the same doubts about American sincerity — or capacity, some of them say, to continue in post-war times the coöperation established during the trying years of the war.
There is considerable anxiety in London over the possible outcome of the 1944 Presidential election. Mr. Eden, during his recent visit, listened attentively to Administration views and was no less eager to discover what the Republicans’ stand might be on international affairs. The British have a vivid remembrance of the American withdrawal after the last war. They interpret the Republican gains in the last Congressional elections as the indication of a possible “isolationist reaction.” They express their apprehensions lest big business dominate America’s foreign policy after the war. Naturally, it is the Labor Party which is especially worried about this big-business domination. But the Conservatives also share these anxieties — they are afraid that American big business will emerge in the post-war world much stronger than British big business.
In the United States many Americans are wondering whether British big-business interests will not try after the war to revive the “liberal, benevolent” imperialism of Cecil Rhodes or even to resume, with a new vigor, the shrewd economic competition which, in 1920, resulted in the complete elimination by the Royal Dutch-Shell trust of the American oil interests in the Near East.
The British stress that their uncertainty about America’s post-war coöperation obliges them to provide all possible economic assurances. They explain that this uncertainty is also responsible for their desire to tighten and consolidate their coöperation with Russia.
The American public would feel much happier about the British if the latter would, for example, announce the abandonment of their bases in the Far East (Hong Kong and Singapore). The British answer that they would gladly augment American satisfaction in this way if the United States could guarantee its coöperation in the establishment of international world-wide security.
They say that if the American diplomats resent the continued British attempts to play their traditional part of “go-between” between the United States and other foreign powers (as has happened recently in relations with the Fighting French, with the Near Eastern peoples, and with Russia), it is mainly because, unable to obtain from the United States any definite guarantees on post-war coöperation, they feel that they must improve their own diplomatic positions throughout the world. They do not always say it, but they believe that their centuries-old experience in international affairs entitles them to play this part, not only for their own benefit, but also for that of the United States.
In answer to the American apprehensions about the British economic and trade policy after the war, they point out that when they accepted the idea of America as “Democracy’s Arsenal,” and later the Lend-Lease agreement, they exposed themselves to a very great danger. America, which sends “tools” for the victory in ever increasing quantities, will necessarily emerge after the war with a much more powerful industry to compete with the British in the markets of the world.
As to Lend-Lease, the British feel that it might enable the United States to impose a number of crippling obligations upon them after the war. They fear that the United States may demand repayment in commodities (tin and rubber) or in territories (more naval and air bases) or in the control of the sea or the airways.
The comments which Mrs. Clare Booth Luce’s speech on air control after the war provoked in Britain are an excellent illustration of the British state of mind. The British are continually apprehensive that the Americans might constitute, in the post-war world, a very serious competition not only for their merchant marine but also for their air-transport lines.
There is no doubt, on the other hand, that the Americans intend to get for themselves after this war the places they feel entitled to in the world markets. No American will understand why, for instance, the British should keep the monopoly of Lloyd’s reassurance transactions.
ANY comparison of British and American complaints reveals that both countries are particularly concerned about the post-war era.
The Empire is for the English the geographical solution of their economy. It was the prosperity created by imperial markets which allowed Britain to increase her population fivefold during the last century. Loss of these markets without economic compensation would ruin England. The British complain that certain Americans seem unable to realize that if Britain is going to survive at all as a great power after the war, then the Empire —in some form or other — will have to survive with it. The British are apprehensive that “idealist” America will force them to make many political and especially economic sacrifices, and that then an “isolationist” America may arise which will refuse to consider these sacrifices and to assure Britain of the necessary American support.
The main American complaint is that the British are too slow to make those concessions which the Americans consider necessary in India, in the Near East, and in the Far East. The main American apprehension is that after the war British trade interests will dominate British foreign policy.
Sir Philip Sassoon said that he believed in a British-American economic marriage, with South America as the “wedding ring.” But there are American skeptics who wonder whether Latin America might not become a ground for economic divorce.
The British themselves emphasize that Britain is a country with a large importing surplus. As a result of its imports the countries which furnish it with necessary materials have a supply of British currency which incites them to become British customers. The United States, on the other hand, is a country with a large export surplus. Therefore there is a shortage of American currency in world markets. After this war, there is a risk that sterling will be still more widely offered, while the United States dollar will become even more scarce. It is obvious that it will not be very easy to coordinate British and American trade and financial interests. Yet such a coördination is vital to both nations.
Conferences on food and currencies, to be followed by others on metals, oil, and communications, are supposed to assure after the war the coördination of American and British economies, which has been established for the duration by such cooperative bodies as the Combined Food Board, the Combined Shipping Adjustment Board, and other agencies.
The real problems of British-American relations, as we have seen, concern post-war coöperation. The British want to be assured that the Americans will cooperate with them for international security and for the creation of a free but coördinated trade which would enable Britain to maintain its standard of living.
The Americans expect the British statesmen to reassure them that if the old imperialism is gone, a new Anglo-American ideal is being created out of the present international chaos — an ideal which wall express all that is best in the traditions common to England and America.
An intelligent and courageous Englishman, Mr. Geoffrey Crowther, wrote: “The American people have to learn the responsibilities of their strength; the British people have to learn the limitations of their weakness.”
A witty and equally intelligent American diplomat found, on the other hand, this excellent formula to explain the chaos which preceded this war: “In the years between the two wars,” he said, “the British knew what they wanted and knew how to get it. But they always wanted the wrong things. We, however, could not get what we wanted, because we did not know what we wanted. ”
This time let us hope that the British will want the “right things” and that the Americans not only will know what they want, but will know how to get it. Once America realizes “the responsibilities of its strength,” it wall be able to make the best possible use of its power in order to promote liberty and justice in world affairs — for its own benefit and for the benefit of all other free nations.