Why don’t we call America the United States of England? It may be a separate entity politically and geographically, but today it truly carries forward the imperial spirit of the old British Empire.
There was a period from 1775, 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, even if it tolerated slavery. But by 1846 when Congressman Abraham Lincoln of Illinois assailed President Polk’s invasion of Mexico, the spirit of Liberty had succumbed to the spirit of Empire. And if we, as Americans, don’t face it, we will never change it.
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—an Empire with a paranoid streak that sees enemies everywhere it must fight to justify its struggle for world hegemony.
Let’s view the American Revolution for what it actually was: a sort of internal readjustment where predominantly English-speaking colonists won the same rights to govern themselves and plunder others as the Britons who remained behind.
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 London 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. The U.S. also in time would wrest control of former British mandates, such as Iraq, created by Winston Churchill after World War One after the breakup of the Turkish Empire. British troops marched into Baghdad in 1917, according to historian Arthur Herman in “Gandhi & Churchill”(Bantam Books) and could only pacify the nation with 75,000 troops, mostly brought in from India. “Some of the fiercest fighting took place west of Baghdad near the town of Fallujah, while around Samawa, to the south, rebels managed to derail a British armored train.” Sound familiar?
By that August, Herman writes, the Times of London was asking: “How much longer are valuable lives to be sacrificed in the vain endeavour to impose upon the Arab population an elaborate and expensive administration which they never asked for and do not want?” Just as America found itself in the deepest trouble by taking on France’s imperial role in Viet Nam, so it has found itself vilified by much of the world for invading the former British mandate of Iraq.
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 a war-time 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 a dozen new aircraft carriers to UK during WWII 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 their failure to crush 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, are now combined in common 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. Prime Minister Tony Blair backed American aggression in Iraq with thousands of troops — although he is said to have known President Bush cooked the books to falsely portray Iraq as 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 tyrant 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 exposé 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 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 (that we know of) 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 their 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 poverty 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 recruited largely from the underclass.
Over the years, the U.S. and U.K. have even expressed their imperialist spirit through martial music that reflected kindred aspirations. “Rule, Britannia!”, a popular poem set to music in 1740 was known for its chorus “Britains never, never will be slaves!”
This rousing appeal to liberty, however, did not stop the British from attempting to subjugate other peoples, notably the American colonists and, later, India. “Rule, Britannia!” was no idle phrase but a call for domination. And just prior to the time the U.S. launched its war against Spain in 1898, “The March King” John Philip Sousa began penning such strident marches as “Semper Fidelis”(1888), the Marine Corps anthem, and “The Stars and Stripes Forever”(1896). Perhaps the best example of how the global outlook of the two empires converged may be found in the music of Sir Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance No. 1,” a majestic march with words by British poet Arthur Benson, written for the Coronation Ode of Edward VII in 1901, at the height of the British empire.
The work proved so popular that American high schools and universities adopted it as their own, reminding graduates that their country was chosen by god and that they were to use their might to expand:
“Land of Hope and Glory/Mother of the Free/ How shall we extol those/Who are born of thee?/Wider still and wider/Shall they bounds be set/God who made thee mighty/Make thee mightier yet.”
Going beyond musical symbolism, no more disturbing example of the transfer of power occurred when the British sought to overthrow the Iranian democratic Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh’s government in 1953 after it nationalized the previously British-run oil company. According to author Stephen Kinzer in “Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq,” when the outraged British attempted to organize a coup against Mossadegh, he shut their embassy and forced their intelligence agencies out of the country. The British then turned to Kermit Roosevelt, grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt and CIA chief for the Middle East and asked him to create the coup.
“Under the plan drawn up by the British,” writes Lawrence Velvel in his new book, “An Enemy of the People(Doukathsan), “We would bribe journalists, preachers and other opinion leaders to create hostility to Mossadegh, (and) would hire thugs to attack people, making it look as if the attacks were by Mossadegh…” Velvel is the dean of the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover, Mass.
When these tactics failed, Roosevelt paid street gangs to set off riots. According to Kinzer, “a plague of violence descended on Tehran. Gangs of thugs ran wildly through the streets, breaking shop windows, firing guns into mosques, beating passerby, and shouting ‘Long live Mossadegh and Communism!” A cooperative Army general finally used tanks to attack the Prime Minister’s residence and he surrendered.
The CIA’s installation of despot Shah Mohammed Reza Palevi on a throne, Kinzer writes, “ultimately set off a revolution that brought radical fundamentalists to power” in Iran and led to the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.
“Not satisfied with the humiliation they visited on the United States by holding 54 American diplomats hostage for 14 months,” Kinzer writes, “these radicals sponsored deadly acts of terror against Western targets, among them the United States Marine barracks in Saudi Arabia and a Jewish community center in Argentina. Their example inspired Muslim fanatics around the world, including in neighboring Afghanistan, where the Taliban gave sanctuary to militants who carried out devastating attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001.” “None of this” would have happened, Kinzer continued, quoting one Iranian diplomat, “if Mossadegh had not been overthrown.”
“Our oil companies—Gulf, Standard of New Jersey, Texaco and Mobil—received a 40 percent share of the new National Iranian Oil Company, and the shah established a tyrannical dictatorship, with the dreaded Savak doing dirty work for him,” Velvel writes. “So our misconduct of yesterday contributed greatly to, (and) probably caused, the terrible situation in the Middle East we find ourselves in today.”
Velvel points out how Great Britain and the U.S. engineered the coup together. Britain from 1901 had a monopoly on Iranian oil allowing them to pay Iran just 16% of what they got for selling it. When Mossadegh took over in 1951, he nationalized the oil industry “just as, he would say, Britain had nationalized its coal and steel industries for its own people’s benefit” and paid the British a fair price, Velvel added.
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 in the new Pax Americana. England, however, remains a vital part of the expanded new entity, even though the trans-Atlantic union’s capital has been relocated from London to Washington.
As Noam Chomsky states in his book “Imperial Ambitions,” after World War Two “Britain had to make a choice. Was it going to be just another country or was it going to be what they called a ‘junior partner’ of the United States? It accepted the role of junior partner. And that’s what it’s been since then.” And 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.”
Ferguson 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 the three hundred years when Britain ruled, and made, the modern world.”
Today, the United States of England covers much of the planet: the United Kingdom itself, plus Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, its territories such as Puerto Rico, and its tightly knit empire of allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as the countries it is struggling to dominate, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Colombia; and the score of nations where it has planted military bases often in which local populations, as in Okinawa, would like nothing better than to see them depart.
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 III did unto them.
Sherwood Ross is a Miami-based American author who contributes to history magazines and newspapers. He reported for the Chicago Daily News and worked as a wire service columnist. He has contributed to a wide range of national magazines including “The Nation,” “World War II,” “The Progressive,” and “Christian Century.” He is the author of “Gruening of Alaska”(Best Books) Reach him at sherwoodr1 @ yahoo.com
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