A clear view of the backlash

March 13th, 2006

President Bush is facing criticism both abroad and at home. But that doesn’t mean that the British government is going to weaken its relationship with Washington. After Britain got into the Second World War, the British people began to learn a lot about the USA. Prior to the war, Hollywood was the only American institution that people knew a great deal about.

The American government had pursued an isolationist policy for many years and so I suppose it didn’t make much sense to be deeply interested in what Washington was thinking when every day the headlines were dominated by Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin.

When information about America and the Americans started to pour out it took two forms. The first concentrated on the immense practicality of American domestic gadgetry.The second emphasised the extreme simplicity of American thought. Bear in mind, in the rush to war the British understandably took refuge in stereotypes. At that time they felt that we were surrounded by unfathomable and peculiar foreigners.

Show trials

The Germans sang sentimental songs, but were fanatically devoted to Adolf Hitler. The Russians also sang and danced as well, but they kept confessing in famous trials that they were all working for the Japanese secret service, or the Gestapo.

It was a relief for the British to turn from these odd nations to the straightforward Americans, who knew nothing of the world outside America and apparently judged everything in simple, moral terms.It was the assumed simplicity of Americans that was both appealing and reassuring. True, America had gangsters; short men in smart clothes played in movies by Jimmy Cagney and Edward G. Robinson.

But the ordinary American was a tall, shambling figure, as portrayed by Gary Cooper or Jimmy Stewart, who spoke monosyllabically and believed in telling the truth. Snide critics asserted that the ordinary American wasn’t overwhelmingly bright, but we all have our little failings. And what he lacked in intelligence he more than made up for in raw courage.

So the Americans not only reassured the British by their simple strength, they also made the British feel sophisticated.

They aroused none of the unease the French did. Listening to the French made the British feel like bumpkins. The Americans made us feel like wise uncles. We could smile at their naivety and comfort ourselves with the thought that they wouldn’t come to grief with us around to throw in a bit of Old World duplicity when needed.


Patronising though they may have been, these feelings contributed greatly to the strength behind the Anglo-American alliance. Harold Macmillan said the British were the ancient Greeks, guiding and advising the American Rome.

Perhaps that wasn’t very tactfully put and maybe shouldn’t have been said in public at all, but it did illustrate the cement that held the alliance together.

How different from the situation this week when the American President, though nominally supported by us, is in fact cruelly isolated.

Last week President Bush made a trip to Asia, which had a strange atmosphere to the point of being weird. He turned Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, into a kind of ghost town. The reason why could be found in a Punjabi opinion poll. 3% thought the USA was a trusted partner for Pakistan, while 60% didn’t even support the war on the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Oblivious to opinion polls and the eerie silence, President Bush gently urged Pakistan’s President Musharraf to get his agents into al-Qaeda and bring the terrorists to justice.

He also recommended a strong dose of American style democracy for Pakistan, apparently convinced that once the government of Pakistan did what the man in the street wanted all would be well – even though the man in the street had made his feelings towards the United States clear enough by keeping the same streets empty during the President’s visit. […]


The contrast between ordinary BBQ writing and the writing of invited guests or people who are allowed to write whatever they feel, like the producer of Newsnight climbing down from his ‘Bittorrent is PeadoTerror’ shill piece is astonishing.

The sound of real thought, real history clear analysis and proper context is quite refreshing is it not?

Did anyone read reports about the streets of Islamabad being empty?


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