The Special Relationship

by zunguzungu

In his paeon to the special relationship on Monday, Bruce Anderson summarizes American history thusly:

“Because they have not spent the last millennium in a conflict-ridden continent, crammed up against potentially hostile neighbours, they have only been fitfully interested in diplomacy. They are so big that they sometimes dispense with allies in favour of global solipsism. But almost every President comes to recognise that this is not enough. At some point he wants friends and discovers we British not only speak the same language. We tend to think in the same way.

In what “way” do both Americans and the British think? Why do we have a “special relationship” with Britain?

Now, although Anderson has a column for The Independent, it is to that noble British paper’s shame: Anderson is a reactionary bottom-feeding waste of skin and ink. Here, for example, he argues that “we” have a duty to torture not only terrorists but also their families and children; here he openly regrets “giving” independence to Africa; and here, the pièce de résistance, he blames New Orleans’ culture of laziness for Katrina (“New Orleans was responsible for its own fate”). That last one has to be read to be believed:

“America is founded on work, responsibility and law. There is no more important item in the Bill of Rights than the unwritten one: that each and every American has the right to work his butt off…Not in New Orleans: that city is founded on laziness, irresponsibility and lawlessness. There has been one problem with the American ethos. It works for the voluntary immigrants. Whatever their colour or creed, that is what drew them to the States. But large numbers of the descendants of the involuntary immigrants have spurned every opportunity to invest in the American dream. It is as if they regard the work ethic as tainted, because it was imposed on their forebears by slavery.”

In case you missed the subtlety of “involuntary immigrants,”  his point is that black people are lazy (though give him chutzpah props for arguing that the most important item in the Bill of Rights is the unwritten one. Well played, sir, well played). Which is why I don’t actually care about him; anyone who can spout that kind of garbage is not worth taking seriously in any way at all. But I highlight the underlying racist core of his ideological attraction to the “special relationship” because I recently became aware of the basically racist core of the original idea of the “special relationship” when it was originally articulated, Winston Churchill‘s[1] famous “Sinews of Peace” speech in Fulton Missouri in 1946. This is not to say that all enunciations of it are racist, of course, but, well, you know, quack, quack, right?

Anyway, “The Sinews of Peace” is usually better remembered for first using the phrase “iron curtain” and it is sort of a landmark moment in ratcheting up of the development of the cold war. But what usually gets forgotten is that there’s an organic relationship between his evocation of the Soviet threat and his solution: the re-formation of the imperial system as the West’s defense against it. What we need to fight communism, he argues, is the merging of British and American imperial power into a single “fraternal association of the English-speaking peoples…a special relationship between the British Commonwealth and Empire and the United States” an association which he explicitly argues to be a kind of joint imperial administration over the fast crumbling British Empire.

Remember, in 1946, the war was over and Britain was up to its eyeballs in debt, mostly to the US. India will become independent a year later, and a lot of empire-builders are worried sick that the entire thing will collapse. So for Churchill, the idea of an Anglo-American “special relationship” is a way to theorize this transition by imagining a post-war world order dominated by a global alliance of Britannic nations united in both military anti-communism and the imperial white man’s burden. So after noting that (because of the wartime alliance) “[a]lready we use together a large number of islands,” he argues that “more may well be entrusted to our joint care in the near future” and that such an alliance would “greatly expand that of the British Empire Forces” and “might well lead…to important financial savings.” He anticipates that eventually there would come “the principle of common citizenship” within the Britannic nations, and hopes to “see 70 or 80 millions of Britons spread about the world and united in defense of our traditions, our way of life, and of the world causes which you and we espouse…If the population of the English-speaking Commonwealths be added to that of the United States with all that such co-operation implies in the air, on the sea, all over the globe and in science and in industry, and in moral force…there will be an overwhelming assurance of security.”

Mostly his effort would fail, of course. To the (considerable) extent to which he was attempting to wed a singular (national) Britannic identity — even, hopefully, proposing a common citizenship — to the preservation of Britain’s imperial dominion, America wasn‘t interested. Where he had hoped the that a post-war community of Britannic nations would be united by blood kinship, the English language, and an authority over the colonial world, the official American vision of the post-war world would be a history defined by progression towards local autonomy and development. The UN, Suez, Bretton Woods, and Acheson’s big fuck-you speech of 1962. Against Churchill’s argument for the continuing centrality of what he called “the strong parent races in Europe,” the US would have its own sense of relationships between nations: the American historical narrative of  colonial children moving out to build national homes of their own. But the fact that the phrase is still so often used is at least worth noting. Sometimes words still carry the underlying core of the original ideology that shaped them, right? Certainly it is for a shithead like Bruce Anderson.

[1] This Churchill, who said of the Palestinians in 1937: “I do not agree that the dog in the manger has the final right to the manger, even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race, a more worldly-wise race, to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.”