Sunday, 25 July 2010

The fury over Cameron's "gaffe" only distracts from the realities of empire

I honestly never thought I would find myself in agreement with Peter Hitchens. That is, until David Cameron made a "gaffe" about Britain being America's junior partner.

The part that has irked people, apart from that horrendous crime of "talking down Britain," is that he said "We were the junior partner in 1940 when we were fighting the Nazis." Telegraph blogger Tim Collard insists that we were in fact "the only game in town," and the Mirror shares the "fury" of World War II veterans.

Hitchens, one of the few right-wing columnists who avoids overt hysteria, is of a different opinion;
For those of you who say I never have a good word for David Cameron, here’s one. He’s pretty much right about 1940, even if it was by accident.

When a politician is accused of committing a ‘gaffe’, it almost always means he has told the truth.

And 1940 was in fact the year that Britain became America’s very junior partner, a sad role we have followed ever since.

I know, I know, the USA didn’t enter the war against Germany until 1941 (and then only when Hitler declared war on them).

But Franklin Roosevelt took great advantage of our desperate position in 1940.

As the Germans advanced through France in early summer that year, he offered one of the most unfair bargains in the history of diplomacy – 50 worn-out, ancient destroyers in return for nine rent-free US military bases in British colonies.

He had already insisted on hard cash for war supplies, which rapidly depleted Britain’s gold and currency reserves.

And Britain only finished paying for ‘lend-lease’ wartime aid – down to the uttermost ­farthing, plus interest charged for late payment – on December 29, 2006.

Post-war loans and Marshall Aid came at the cost of pledges to relinquish what remained of the empire, not least the bits we had just fought so hard to get back from the Japanese, and to open up colonial markets to US competition – plus unrelenting pressure to join the European Union, which still goes on.

These weren’t the acts of besotted friends, but of a hard, wise, calculating politician who wanted the best for his own country, not for ours.
He's right. Especially when he points out that "this is how great powers behave" more generally, when they are able.

This is, in fact, a point that Noam Chomsky has made numerous times before;
Well, if you look at the British diplomatic history, back in the 1940s, Britain had to make a decision. Britain had been the major world power, the United States though by far the richest country in the world, was not a major actor in the global scene, except regionally. By the Second World War it was obvious the US was going to be the dominant power, everyone knew that. Britain had to make a choice. Was it going to be part of what would ultimately be a Europe that might move towards independence, or would it be what the Foreign Office called a junior partner to the United States? Well it essentially made that choice, to be a junior partner to the United States. US, the leaders have no illusions about this. So during the Cuban missile crisis, for example, you look at the declassified record, they treated Britain with total contempt. Harold McMillan wasn't even informed of what was going on and Britain's existence was at stake. It was dangerous. One high official, probably Dean Atchers --he's not identified--, described Britain as in his words "Our lieutenant, the fashionable word is partner". Well the British would like to hear the fashionable word, but the masters use the actual word. Those are choices Britain has to make.
And that choice has defined relations between the two countries ever since;
Britain has been kicked in the face over and over again in the most disgraceful way and they sit there quietly and take it and say, “Okay, we will be the junior partner. We will bring to what’s called the coalition our experience of centuries of brutalizing and murdering foreign people. We’re good at that.” That’s the British role. It’s disgraceful.
The media, of course, will continue to paint this as a "slip up" or a "gaffe." The common line will be that he "has tried too hard to please" or that he has to "get his historical facts right."

But, ultimately, the only slip up Cameron made is that he revealed the truth. The media has whipped up a frenzy to hide the reality, but it has already been pushed into the open. And you can bet that, the power dynamic is not a revelation for Cameron, even if he let the public in on it "by accident."

Britain is the junior partner in the imperial ventures of the United States of America. It has been since 1940, and certainly since the end of World War II. This power dynamic is motivated by the control of strategic markets and resources worldwide, not freedom or democracy, and every war it undertakes is an act of imperial aggression.

That, not a rare moment of honesty about a history we don't learn about in schools, is what we need to be angry about.