Special Relationship? Definite or Indefinite?

by: Peter Jukes

Wed Feb 04, 2009 at 10:31:01 AM EST

Out of politeness perhaps, or in search of a cure for insomnia, I've been asked several times to write a diary about current UK politics. That would be great if you're fascinated by the sight of paint drying, grass growing, or traffic lights changing...

But fortunately yesterday, for her first foreign meeting with a European equivalent, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose to meet David Miliband, the fresh-faced UK Foreign Secretary and said.

"It is often said the United States and Britain have enjoyed a special relationship. It is certainly special in my mind and one that has proven very productive,"
Peter Jukes :: Special Relationship? Definite or Indefinite?
Of course, as is the way of these things (i.e. the relation of poodle to master) David Miliband couldn't help changing the article, when he averred the he wanted to:

"renew and refresh the special relationship"

It makes sense. For a medium sized power, there's nothing so reassuring at night than to feel you have a special definite alliance with the superpower. In fact, I would say that the principle of British foreign policy since the Suez Crisis of 1956 till the Iraq invasion: "It's better to be wrong with the Americans than right with anyone else..."

There's no doubt, because of language, history, common law, culture, intermarriage, James Bond, Hollywood and Pop Music, there is a special relationship between the UK and the US. However it is as fraught with many dissonances as congruities. We often assume we have a common culture and will get along (check out Madonna and Guy Ritchie) only to discover that these two cultures are wildly different. On many many levels, from economic structure, government intervention, social policies towards Gay marriage or abortion, attitudes to the role of religion and general church attendance, Britain is firmly European, and has more in common with foreign speaking cheese/salami/bratwurst eaters than our former colonial friends. There are many historians from this side of the pond, like Niall Ferguson, who argue the transatlantic rift is widening, much faster than the slow shift of tectonic plates.

However, at the end of her meeting with Miliband (which was quickly followed by another tete-a-tete with the German foreign minister) Hillary Clinton apparently did slip into something more definitive:

It is a Washington ritual: when a British leader visits, he or she feels obliged to mention "the special relationship".

But in reality there is no such thing. Britain is no more important to the US than Germany or France. Americans, anxious to avoid upsetting their other allies, steer away from referring to "the special relationship" and speak instead of "a special relationship".

At least until yesterday, when Hillary Clinton showed her inexperience and, in her final remarks, uttered the words "the special relationship" at a press event with David Miliband.

Oops. Personally I think other countries might have primacy in special relationships: Canada, Mexico or Israel perhaps. But thanks for the thought Hillary, and since there is a close military alliance between US and UK military forces, especially now in Afghanistan, I understand the slip.

From the British point of view, my guess is that we love and resent US power, influence, and cultural reach almost as much as the French. There's certainly a knee jerk Anti-Americanism in both popular and intellectual life which figures like Reagan and Bush bring to the fore. My former American partner was unlucky/lucky enough to teach US foreign policy at Cambridge around the time of the Iraq invasion of 2003, and would describe her job as 'spear catching'.

But unlike the French, underlying this resentment at big brash rich clumsy big brother was an underlying family affinity. Certainly, since taking office, Obama's has helped the USA's approval ratings shoot up to unprecedented levels.

Perhaps figures like Roosevelt, Kennedy and Obama - who seem to look outward rather than inward, reassure us we won't be forgotten. Or perhaps they reflect a genuine fear of US isolationism and unilateralism.

We are due a General Election in the next year or so, and quite how this will pan out with a change of UK government I don't know. Blair, who got on famously with Bill and Hillary, also managed (unfortunately) to find some kind of fellow spirit in George W. Since, for many reasons (including our economically disastrous dependence on financial services and the City) the next Government is unlikely to be Labour, it will be interesting to see how a Conservative administration will deal with a Democratic president.

If the noises made as long ago as last summer by the Tory Leader David Cameron are anything to go by, Obama will be cited as an inspiration by Conservative as well. This might seem bizarre, but Tories have always been passionate about alliances with the US since you've had all the big guns, and  since British conservatives are well to the left of American Republicans on most social and economic issues (even to the left of many Democrats) this is not such a stretch.

As Andrew Sullivan is constantly pointing out, the centrist pragmatic Burkean form of politics we call Conservatism has a lot in common with Obama's style.

But one area, I think, will be problematic: economics and the relationship with Europe as a whole. The danger of too close a US/UK lovefest has always been, in my mind, the idea that we could somehow sail away from Europe, moor our Islands somewhere off the coast of New England, and become an extra Nafta member, or 51st State. Anti European Tories are always mooting this, and such Anglo American fanaticism was the real reason for Thatcher's downfall. We love the US, and UK companies have intensive and extensive investments, but Europe is the main trade partner by far, and our social moraes, the structure of our societies and cities, is visibly European and has always been so.

While our economies drift further apart, we are met with the paradox that on a tactical and strategic level, US and UK forces are even more intertwined. The various elements of the British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, comprise one of the few remaining national armed forces able to project power abroad (with US airlift). Most other European armies are static and defensive. Their capabilities don't gel with US  communications, posture or aggressive kinetic techniques. British forces do, and whether Conservative or Labour, it seems that both sides like it that way.

So perhaps this is the special relationship, at least in military terms - but having rambled through the options, I'd love to hear what the Moose thinks.

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Please (2.00 / 5)
Don't save your flames. I love being called a Limey Monarchist. The more xenophobia the merrier in my book  

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

Very interesting diary (2.00 / 6)
My view is, since you guys were about the only ones willing to be full partners in something as stupid as the war in Iraq, I'd say that's a pretty special relationship!  But I certainly hope Mexico wasn't outraged over Hillary's oh-so-indelicate choice of articles (diplomacy is so silly sometimes).

But fortunately yesterday, for her first foreign meeting with a European Head of State, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose to meet David Miliband, the fresh-faced UK Foreign Secretary...

Is David Miliband truly a European Head of State?  Is he even European? ;)

"Economics is not a morality play." -Paul Krugman

Special or dysfunctional? (2.00 / 5)
One of the most salient causes of Blair's downfall, and contributing to unpopularity of the Labour Government, was precisely the current UK leadership's willingness to follow George into Iraq.

There were many nuances to this; Blair convinced us that he would ensure any invasion had UN backing, and tacitly promised to reign in excessive US unilaterism, claiming to support the more multilateral members of Bush's government (Powell and Rice) against the gung ho go-it-alone hawks such as Rumsfeld, Feith and Cheney.

It didn't work out well, and I for one realised how dangerous this special relationship could be for any UK politician. We made a strategic mistake, gave Bush credibility, and alienated most European leaders.

Thanks George.  

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
Yeah (2.00 / 4)
I hope the right lessons get learned.  If a difficult situation does come up in the next few years, it's important to have close allies who will give you the benefit of the doubt on tough judgment calls and stand by you.  But "the benefit of the doubt" can't just mean a blank check!

"Economics is not a morality play." -Paul Krugman

[ Parent ]
Word (2.00 / 4)
70 per cent of Americans (and Brits) supported the invasion come spring 2003. I certainly think Blair's advocacy helped up those numbers, to his infamy.  

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
It sure did (2.00 / 5)
Tony Blair has always been popular here.  I think from the perspective of the average American, the British accent alone adds about 20 IQ points.

"Economics is not a morality play." -Paul Krugman

[ Parent ]
Except in the Deep Rural South... (2.00 / 2)
...or in parts of Boston's Irish community, where a British accent probably adds a couple of black eyes and broken ribs.  

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
Mexico may be a little offended (2.00 / 4)
but they know they play the neglected step-child in this relationship. Canada, the UK, and perhaps, distant Australia come first. Australia is our base for Asian adventures and as such will always have a special relationship with the US. Canada is also special, except that I would imagine Canada is feeling a little leery about becoming the second most important trading partner behind China. It is the UK, however, that truly enjoys a special relationship with the US.

I think there are many factors at play here. There is, of course, the military aspect. Just as the Land of Oz is our base for Asian adventures, the UK is our base for European adventures. Britain allows the US to project its air superiority over Europe. This aspect of the US/UK relationship is enough to make it special. There is more to it than that, though.

It is often noted that the relationship is like that of two siblings with the US acting as the brash younger brother. I've never been happy with that characterization. I think it is more generational, almost parent-child in nature.

In my scenario, the US is the grown child who has gone its own way. There is still some love and affection for the parents, but like many children, we feel we know what is best in the modern world. The parents are stuck a generation behind us.

It is that familial feeling that really drives the relationship, for just as it is for a family, when one needs the other they will be there for them. On this side of the pond, we believe that we will always be in agreement on the most important issues. If England calls, we will be there. And, we expect it to work the other way also.

One other aspect here is the Anglo-philia common in the US. This shouldn't really be a surprise to anyone. This country was founded by Englishmen and women based on English thought and the English respect for the rule of law. That last, the rule of law, may be England's greatest gift to the world.

There have been plenty of other gifts, as well.

There is the gift of language, of course. We treasure English writers almost as if they were our own. Shakespeare is perhaps the greatest writer of all time and he wrote in the same language we read today. We all read books by the Bronte sisters in school. Then we have writers who were  English, but that most Americans probably think were American. I think Jane Austen, Henry James, and Wordsworth probably fall in that category.

It's not just the writers either. We have a special admiration for many of the great Englishman of the past. Men like Wellington and the great Nelson. Men like Churchill. Then there are the pre-revolutionary figures like Captain John Smith that were Englishmen in America.

What other nation shares this kind of history and affinity for language with us?

Even after all of the great immigrant eras we are still a nation where most of the population can trace its roots back to the countries of the UK. England is the mother country for 100's of millions of Americans. I would argue that that has much to do with the special relationship.

This is not a recession. It's a robbery.

[ Parent ]
All Good Points (2.00 / 5)
The other affinity - which no doubt comes from drama and language - is the cross cultural commerce in pop music (since the Beatles), comedy (from Monty Python to the Office) and British actors and directors working in Hollywood (or as I did briefly) on American TV. Just look at the best actress, film and director awards for this year's Oscars. And you wouldn't believe how many of the lead actors in The Wire were actually from the UK. I counted about seven...

I agree the brash younger brother image is a crass populistic myth - that's why I characterised it as part of a knee jerk Anti Americanism. I think the genetic relationship is well distant of that: but what Americans probably don't realise if they just watch Notting Hill is that England, specifically London, is very much a nation of migrants these days, like the US. Half of all Londoners have a non English grandparent. We're following your footsteps in that regard.  

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
PS. I gave a hat tip to Mexico (2.00 / 2)
Personally I think other countries might have primacy in special relationships: Canada, Mexico or Israel perhaps.

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
"the" special relationship (2.00 / 4)
Do we know that Clinton's use of the definite instead of the indefinite was a mistake? The author of the linked column seems to be pretty sure, but it's not obvious to me. As others point out, the Iraq stuff did kinda bring us closer together, for example...

Who knows? (2.00 / 4)
Knowing the Guardian, this could just be journalistic drama creation, combined with some good old fashioned British self-flagellation. Personally, I think Hillary was just probably bouncing off the phrase used by Miliband. Don't want to make a storm in a tea-cup, or create a new 'gate' ('tehgate' for example).

One thing I should have added to my diary is that, according to the whacko conspiracy theorists at NoQuarter and Texasdarlin's site, Obama is technically a British citizen.

Perhaps Hillary knows something we don't... ;-)

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
I am young and historically ignorant (2.00 / 4)
compared to many of the esteemed Moose on this site, so let me approach this from a personal perspective rather than a global one.

There is something about growing up as an American that makes it "easy" to identify with our one time colonial masters. Among some individuals (in my generation, at least), there is a certain fascination with British art and culture that I'm not sure how to describe. Among the "intellectuals" (in whose ranks I pretend to run), there is a sort of respect for British art, literature, and poetry which runs deep. With me this began before I learned to read, with my mother stuffing things which were probably well beyond my capacity to understand firmly down my throat (not that I minded) in the evenings before bed. Along with things like "The Curious Kitten", "How the Elephant Got Its Trunk", and "Goofy's Big Race", I was read King Lear, The Canterbury Tales, and Don Juan. My parents' idea of what makes a person "cultured" is altogether strange. As a 4-year-old, they introduced me to Laurence Olivier's version of Hamlet, as well as to The Terminator. Their reasoning on the latter? They "thought it was cool."

But in my snotty private school, it was not the differences between our cultures upon which we focused -- rather, they taught us of our similarities. My teachers spoke of your writers and poets, and even some of your politicians, with much the same reverence as they did our own. The respect we were taught for certain figures made it easier, if not in fact somehow pleasurable, to assume that the two cultures are tightly bound -- which in many ways they are. They simply diverge far more often and more widely than most Americans who bother to think on it truly realize. (Just look at the way you silly bastards spell, for example!) We are not as inextricably interwoven as many Americans might like to think. But even even as a child studying world history, I always wanted the British to win, no matter the conflict. It's as if they were Americans by association, US citizens by proxy. For a very long time, they were, to my young mind, "my ancestors", despite the reality that, in fact, most of my ancestors were German.  Among the simpler in my generation, this love for your culture manifested itself purely in the form of a Monty Python fetish (and I freely confess my own fondness for British television -- my paternal grandfather hooked me on several shows which used to rerun on American stations when I was a child). And for my part -- and that of many others -- there was also a religious tie. I was raised an Episcopalian, and the denomination spawned from the Anglican Church. Since the blow up over the homosexual bishop,  the Episcopal Church has split, with a number of former members (some of my family among them) joining the Anglican Church.

I think there are innumerable reasons for Americans' affinity, natural or pseudo-manufactured, with your country. Those I've mentioned are largely literary and hardly explain the widespread belief by many Americans that we share, for the most part, a common culture and similar ideologies. Yet many believe it, perhaps in large part simply because, for whatever reason, they wish it. Perhaps it is comforting to think there's another US -- another "us" -- out there in the world. A comforting thought to believe that another country "understands" us because it "knows" us and perhaps in some way is us. Not realistic, but comforting.

Come to me in my dreams, and then
By day I shall be well again!
For so the night will more than pay
The hopeless longing of the day.

OK I love your response... (2.00 / 4)
...but because I admire and trust your writing, and I know you of all people won't take this the wrong way, I'm going to use it to bounce off on another riff.

This association with Englishness, English names, Anglophilia, obviously has an unfortunate aspect in the US. English surnames mean little here, and I was fortunate in my upbringing that exotic names, different backgrounds, foreigness, was highly rated by my family and my peers.

But in the US, with your Logans, and Mayflower Fathers, and Daughters of the Revolution, doesn't Englishness and Anglo Saxon surnames, bespeak a kind of waspish superiority, a hegemony almost. I remember being struck how, unlike my state school in England, that the private high school in Boston I graduated from (as part of an exchange programme) was a complete monolith of English surnames. In fact the only foreign name amongst the whole staff I can remember was one 'Kowalski'. The school also elevated Englishness in some bizarre ways, with sailing every afternoon, black tie balls and whatnot. In some ways, and I feel this even more in certain sets in New York, I travelled back to a form of Englishness I'd never encountered in England itself. It was partly class obviously (I came from a pretty lower middle class background) but also the problem that Englishness means 'class' in the US, in a way it doesn't anymore (for some obvious and less so obvious reasons) in the UK.

So while I relish this praise of Englishness, I also get why some people are deeply pissed off about it, and why I'm misread on these blogs as a pompous and aloof aristocrat with a monocle.

In the US, Englishness is a byword for 'class', and though on a literary or poetic score this is good, on a social and egalitarian scale, it can often be bad.  

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
Wait, what? (2.00 / 3)
You don't wear a monocle?  Fuck!  There went my mental image.  No tophat and tails either, I suppose.

Earth is the best vacation place for advanced clowns. --Gary Busey

[ Parent ]
Nah mate (2.00 / 3)
Think of me more like a Punk Band. Just three chords. And the truth.  

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
or a country band... (2.00 / 3)
Harlan Howard, the Dean of Nashville Songwriters, is credited with coining the phrase "three chords and the truth".


Dumb factoid, but there it is.  Regardless, I rather like the Johnny Rotten version of you better than the Planter's Peanut one.  Punk sorta stole the phrase, as it applied just as well to them.

Sorry to thread hijack, but a music reference of any kind is almost certain to send the likes of me on a tangent.  By the by, I've only just barely forgiven you Brits for trying to lay claim to the invention of Punk.  ;)

Earth is the best vacation place for advanced clowns. --Gary Busey

[ Parent ]
No, I knew the origin (2.00 / 3)
Wasn't claiming it for Punk. Think I heard Bono say it first. But I knew a music reference would get your attention. Three chords and the truth mate. It's universal. No one owns it.

On punk, I was alive and strumming in that era, and worked as a schoolboy at Friar's Aylesbury, a club where I saw the Jam twice, the Clash three times, Blondie and the Ramones supported by Talking Heads, Bowie playing keyboards for Iggy Pop. Always loved the US New Wave bands more, and my punk days really began with Patti Smith's Horses, and Television's Marquee Moon.

So it's all good. You win.

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
Sweet. (2.00 / 3)
In the beginning there was the MC5; the MC5 begat Iggy Pop and the Stooges; the Stooges begat the Ramones; the Ramones begat the Sex Pistols, etc. I've read much about Friar's Aylesbury, in the writings of Lester Bangs, Legs McNeil, and Gillian McCain.

Marquee Moon is (IMO) one of the best albums ever made. Verlaine and Lloyd's guitar work were nothing short of revolutionary.  If only The Heartbreakers had produced more than one studio album (which was very poorly mixed) and hadn't promptly self-destructed.  [Sigh]

I was born at the wrong time.

Ok, thread hijack officially terminated.

Earth is the best vacation place for advanced clowns. --Gary Busey

[ Parent ]
Wow (2.00 / 3)
You know about Friar's Aylesbury? That is amazing. My hometown as an adolescent. I worked at the club from 1976-1980. I feel officially cool and happily hijacked.

I would only add Velvet Underground as the Ur version of Punk.  

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
Indeed. (2.00 / 3)
...what with Cale being a Welshman and all.  :)

The Velvet Underground were most definitely at the forefront of the genre (in the U.S.), particulary in that they were among the first to overtly challenge the conventional societal standards of the time.  Thanks, Andy Warhol.

Your hometown you say?  That's amazing. Friar's Aylesbury is on my list of Places to See Before I Die.  

Earth is the best vacation place for advanced clowns. --Gary Busey

[ Parent ]
I'll take you there (2.00 / 2)
But you'd better hurry. The first building was demolished sometime in the late 70s, and I think they're about to demolish the second soon. I went there last year for an Aylesbury Grammar School reunion to watch Wild Willy Barrett and John Otway (local stars)...

Now if you tell me you've heard of them, I'll fall down on my knees and worship your awesome sagacity. (No fibbin' though)

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
Heh. Honest to Gob! (2.00 / 2)
Believe it or not, I've a familiarity with Otway and Wild Willy, but only passing.  I have the song Really Free on a compilation a friend made for me.  Also recall reading that Pete Townsend produced for them at one point?  Not sure I remember correctly, but that's about the extent of my knowledge on them, I'm embarrassed to say.

Earth is the best vacation place for advanced clowns. --Gary Busey

[ Parent ]
Yes 'Really Free' made it into the charts (2.00 / 2)
I grovel and abase myself before the Fogiv Music Knowledge Base

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
PS (2.00 / 2)
That was not a thread hijack actually, but a living demonstration of the close connections between the US and the UK. What was German or French pop music doing at the time? You don't know, neither do I, nor do either of us want to!

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
Lulz. (2.00 / 2)
I wasn't aware France produced music of any kind beyond the Hot Club of Paris days.  Germany on the other hand had some very cool things begin to happen in the mid-60's, particularly in the form of these fine (ahem) American boys:

Earth is the best vacation place for advanced clowns. --Gary Busey

[ Parent ]
Now you are getting into my area. (2.00 / 2)
And by that, I don't mean my area of expertise. MC5 was coming up at the same time as Bob Seger and Grand Funk. I heard all of them in small venues. In fact, I first heard GFR in a garage at one of their early practices. Grand Funk is named for the Grand Trunk Railroad that operates (ed) around here during the 60's.

People think of Detroit when they think of music from this region, but it is really all of southeast Michigan that has given so much to the music world. I live about an hour north of Detroit, near Flint, and all of the bands used to play here before they went national.

There was a park nearby where they held outdoor concerts. Bob Seger played there many times when I was a teenager. Brit will love the name of the park, it was called Sherwood Forest.  

This is not a recession. It's a robbery.

[ Parent ]
Fogiv=Green w/ Envy (2.00 / 1)
You got to see the MC5!  Given your location, I can't help but wonder what you think of Mitch Ryder and the Detriot Wheels?

Earth is the best vacation place for advanced clowns. --Gary Busey

[ Parent ]
Mitch Ryder rocked this area (2.00 / 1)
when the band was called the Rivieras. That would have been in the mid-60's. I was about 18 then.

There is so much music history around here, excluding Detroit, which excludes an awful lot of great music history.

Question Mark & the Mysterians are from this area. They were probably the first punk band. The lead singer actually changed his legal name to Question Mark.

Stevie Wonder grew up in Saginaw, MI, which is about 30 minutes north of here. Madonna grew up in Bay City, which is about 20 minutes north of Saginaw.

Grand Funk Railroad had at least one member from Terry Knight and the Pack. Terry Knight was the most influential music promoter in this area. He was the original manager for GFR.

It's a very incestuous group of musicians. Craig Frost - originally with GFR is now the keyboardist for Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band. There are others I can't think of right now. Oh yeah, Mel Schacher, the bass guitarist for the Mysterians became part of GFR.

I grew up listening to this music. The bands would come through town to play at two different clubs and the park I mentioned in another comment. Everyone knew the local bands, as distinct from Detroit bands. It wasn't unusual for a band to get 50 people hanging around for one of their practices.

My older brother knew the guys in GFR. That's how I happened to hear their practices. Mark Farner and Don Brewer were casual friends of his and he also knew Terry Knight. Everyone in Flint followed the band's career pretty closely, but our family had a special interest. That's how I heard about the band wanting to add Peter Frampton. That would have been a great addition.

When Mark Farner left Grand Funk the rest of the band formed a new band called Flint. They dropped that band when most of them reunited in the early 80's.

Thanks for bringing back so many fond memories.

This is not a recession. It's a robbery.

[ Parent ]
Hm (2.00 / 3)
It depends where you're from.  In the Midwest where I come from there's pretty much none of that, but on the East Coast there's definitely some of that prep-school culture where it makes a difference if you're descended from the House of Lancaster.

"Economics is not a morality play." -Paul Krugman

[ Parent ]
My mother was born (2.00 / 3)
in Sicily and English was her second language.  While my father was born here, he did not speak English until he went to school.  Both grew up in "ethnic" areas.  My surname is Italian.  

My father's mother emigrated to Philadelphis when she was 20 years old, after she had married my grandfather. (He had come as a 14 year old, but then went back and married her).

Anyway, when my grandmother was about 60, her adult children (11 of them), put together money to allow her to make her first visit back to Calabria, Italy after 40 years.  She had been widowed so she went alone.  I think her story speaks to your topic here:

When she got to her village (this was sometime in the 1950s), after all those years and having written her cousins she was coming, all in the village were excited, screaming, "Americano, Americano!"

Later, when I was older, I recall my Aunts telling the story of their mother telling them about her visit.
"Imagine it," she told (mostly in broken English or Italian as she lost much of her English after a stroke), "all these years I lived in America, I had to go back to Italy to be called an American.":  All her life, she, like her neighbors were referred to (by politically correct folks, tolerant types, as Italian, by others as the WHOPS, the DAGOS)  We all knew each section of town by their ethnic codes.....and the "upper" parts of town (farthest from the river and the railroad tracks) were the White Anglo Saxon Protestants.

That has changed a lot......

Even my own mother often referred to other people (outside of our family and close friends) as "Americano"...(her pronunciation was more like "met i gans"...I swear I was 10 years old before I learned there was no country from which "met i gans" came.  I had actually asked my mother about what country they were from.....and she looked at me and said, "American....it means American".  What she really meant was anyone whose name did not end in a vowel......

As for out west where I live now, CO, when I first moved here, the lack of ethnic neighborhoods, deli's and ethnic foods and clubs, shocked me.  But I learned that I had picked one of the most WASP places to live in the country.  It has changed somewhat from 1974, thank goodness.  

"You can have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, or democracy. But you cannot have both."
- Louis Brandeis

[ Parent ]
That's what I fear (2.00 / 2)
England used to be like that, sometime in the 50s, but the reality of Empire (and then Commonwealth) is that most the countries we colonised got 'rights of residence', and hence we have very large communities of Indians, Kenyans, Ugandans, Pakistanis, Asian Ugandans, Sikhs etc. all recreating their own form of Britishness.

I had the same experience as you sometime in the 90s, when I moved from North London, a vibrantly mixed Jewish/Turkish/Kurdish area, to the South East, which was white working class, fish and chips, and where my mixed race brother would cause silence to descend when he entered the local pub. All that has changed, changed utterly, in the last twenty years.

In that way, we are all global, and Americans and Brits are hyphenated in new and fascinating ways.  

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
We are global (2.00 / 2)
Went back east for a family reunion last summer and it truly has been amazing in my lifetime. I am now one of the elders of the family (the oldest of the grandchildren of the immigrants, and of their children only one is left, and two spouses of others.  So I am fourth in age.........of being the eldest.
I think back and hope they all would be pleased.
We have mixed race great grandchildren (African and Hispanic) and gay couples among the grandchildren.  

And it all works.

"You can have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, or democracy. But you cannot have both."
- Louis Brandeis

[ Parent ]
So you're telling me that (2.00 / 1)
you're not a pompous and aloof aristocrat with a monocle?

Alas. Disillusionment strikes.

As Steve said, it depends somewhat on where you're from (and perhaps where you want to go). Oddly enough, in the culturally homogeneous Deep South, I was always surrounded by a plethora of "unusual" names. There were, of course, an overabundance of the Anglo-Saxon standards, but even so, there was never a dearth among my peers of comparatively "odd" surnames. My own name is quite uncommon for the region, but there is still a healthy smattering of diversity on that front. Down here, if anyone is going to elevate or discriminate, they look at your skin color or your religion rather than your name. Groups are singled out more than individuals, per se. Individuals are only "singled out" for being obvious members of a certain group. The people in the South most likely to discriminate rarely go out of their way to read, so looking at a surname would require far more effort than is usually expended.

But I do think the US has a prominent case of Anglophilia. Interestingly, I think one might find that if an English surname holds undue weight, it is most likely to do so in the Northeast -- like in Boston, as you mentioned. The only two friends of mine who have expressed sentiments similar to yours on this issue went to colleges up North. One attended Wesleyan University in Connecticut and the other Brown University in Rhode Island. And the age of the universities seemed to have some bearing as well. I think perhaps the older the school, the more deeply ingrained certain values, including, I think, the belief that greater "Englishness" lends one higher status.

But it is largely regional. The college I attended, while certainly not Harvard or Yale, was nevertheless a top tier liberal arts school and filled to the brim with pompous, aloof young people who, while lacking monocles, nevertheless fancied themselves aristocrats of a sort; yet I never noticed that any particular importance was placed on surnames. The overblown airs of superiority I encountered in my peers had far more to do with money (granted, old money was "better") than name.

Down here, class is determined almost entirely by money, education, and accent.  

Come to me in my dreams, and then
By day I shall be well again!
For so the night will more than pay
The hopeless longing of the day.

[ Parent ]
questions for our resident brit? (2.00 / 4)
What do the brits think of our fundamentalist Christians and the role they played in politics under George, and the role they currently play in our running politicians, and those 'faith-based' initiatives?'  Anything comparable across the pond?

What do brits think of our 'war on terrorism?' do Brits see terrorism, state sponsored or individualistic, as crimes or acts of war?  

What do the brits think our special relationship with ourselves? Do they see us as a super-power uniquely allowed to interfere with other nations? And if so, which ones?  

Just, for if you can't sleep?  

What, me worry?

To answer these, as Arnie said (2.00 / 2)
"I'll be back"

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
Thanks Anna (2.00 / 1)
Food and wine have intervened, and given me the inspiration and stamina to answer some of your intriguing questions..

1. Religion. I've written about this elsewhere (in a German publication but original English version here), America's religiosity marks it out from the whole of Western Europe. No religious group (bar the Catholic Church in Poland) has the power that Evangelicals have wielded in the States. It continues to baffle Brits who, if they profess any faith at all, tend to err towards an ecumenical and liberal form of Anglicanism. It is also bizarre given the putative separation of Church and State in the US. We have an established church, and perhaps the net effect of nationalising religion is to completely discredit it. Food for thought. As I wrote in the piece above, I also think that American religion, from the Great Awakening to New Age, is constantly reinventing and marketing itself, which explains part of the popularity. In my experience too, churches provide a kind of cohesion in an otherwise highly mobile and fragmented country. You guys meet people at church. We just go their to get married, or die.

2. War on Terrorism. I was going out with a White House fellow who was supposed to be in the Pentagon on 9/11. Because of this, and my other connections like Remarque Forum, the British American Project, the GMF foundation, I was privy to some of the reactions following the attacks of 9/11. I was at a conference where Cheney emerged from his cave in November 2001, and where the as then unknown Bremer came to talk to us about the difference between terrorists and normal people. I talked to Peter Feaver about how America had changed utterly, and heard Ron Asmus talk about how he cried when he dropped his kids off at a Washington school, scared he would never see them again.

Though I appreciated the devastating nature of the 9/11 attacks, I didn't understand any of these responses, and I spent most those years warning people about over reaction, about giving the terrorists what they want, answering their attacks with the credibility of 'war', and surrendering the high ground in the pursuit of short term victory. I suppose I preprogrammed to do this, since all my adult and adolescent life, I have been brought up with the regular (close by) bombing campaigns of the IRA, and the various tactics British governments from Heath to Thatcher used to combat terrorism. In the end, I think NOT according terrorism military status, but making it a crime against ordinary people, was the most effective. In the end the police (with the help of covert infiltration of various paramilitary groups) defeated the violent wings of republican and unionist terrorism, not the army.

3. American Exceptionalism - which is what I think you mean by your special relationship with yourselves. I part admire it, and it should be clear from my activity on these blogs, my interest in US politics, and my passion for Obama's candidacy, that I do think there is something special about US politics. It's power and global importance to be sure, but I think that power is main 'soft power', cultural affinity, role models, and aspiration. And in the last election you surely have made America a nation all others would aspire to be like in terms of mobility, equality, opportunity.

But I also have grave reservations about some aspects of American exceptionalism. Let's just bypass religion for now, and even the projection of power abroad (which has good and bad aspects IMHO), but the unique American declaration that every citizen has a right to the 'pursuit of happiness' seems to me to create all kinds of neuroses and alienations. Because happiness is virtually written into your constitution, it seems to me that most/many Americans I know (and I know a lot) are almost haunted by the spectre of their own unhappiness, as if awareness of mortality, or the limitations of ambition, or personal tragedies were some kind of failure. I don't want to make too much of this, and I love the restless questing American spirit, but there's something deeply miserable about expecting happiness, whereas the Europeans I know - especially countries with a tragic history like Romania, Poland or German - seem to have a better and easier time enjoying themselves. They think themselves lucky just to have survived, while Americans punish themselves for not being better. A protestant thing perhaps, but I know where I feel slightly more at ease.  

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
On a side note (2.00 / 2)
It seems to me that there was an entire subtext about Tony Blair's religion that went completely over the heads of those of us in the States.  I remember seeing political cartoons suggesting Blair was going to resign as PM to become the Pope, or what have you, and I asked my Tory friend what all the fuss was about.  He told me that Blair dabbled in religion enough to be considered a religious nut by UK standards, but that of course Bush is 100 times worse, and that if any PM went on about being on a mission from God or whatever like our Presidents do, he'd be shipped off to the loony bin.  Or whatever your quaint British slang might be for an insane asylum.

"Economics is not a morality play." -Paul Krugman

[ Parent ]
I think we invented 'loony bin' (2.00 / 2)
But your dead right. Blair kept his faith well under wraps during his tenure as PM. The British hate private stuff like religion (or sex) being aired by their politicians. As his spin doctor and media manager Alistair Campbell once famously said when asked about Blair's beliefs

We don't do God.

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
thanks brit (0.00 / 0)
you're good at answering what I want to know.  And more, that I also find I wanted to know.  

What, me worry?

[ Parent ]
A timely report (2.00 / 3)
Some additional news out today about our special relationship.  Read it and weep.

"Economics is not a morality play." -Paul Krugman

Yes, I saw that... (2.00 / 2)
...and thought of including it. We don't get the abrogations of executive power that you do in the US (or Cheney thought you did) and we're also a signatory of the EU Charter of Human Rights which explicitly forbids torture. I'm sure this story will run.

On a less serious note, I must admit that while I was waiting for the browser to load the story, and prepared to 'read and weep', I thought it might be about the prevalence of reality TV show formats (American Idol, Wife Swap etc.) UK broadcasters have sold to the US.  

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
Another Central-European Comment (2.00 / 2)
The question is whether it is about partnership or relationship. A relationship is healthy when one party is strong and honest enough to say "No" and the other party is able to accept it, provided that the reasons and arguments are valid. I believe that nations having such a strong relationship with the US will be clearly favored in this new political term.

Completely agree Elch (2.00 / 2)
I have a very central-european perspective on this myself, for various reasons, and as I hope I've made clear, the inability of Blair to say 'no' has been to the huge detriment of our relationship with the US, and has depleted any moral capital we built up in that regard. I think it will take years to restore it, and given Obama's position on Iraq, I'm not at all surprised that his biggest European trip in the summer was to the Brandenburg memorial in Berlin.

Hopefully, the UK Foreign Office took notice of that.  

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
Hey Brit (2.00 / 4)
You've got me thinking about the perspective of UKers with respect to other English speaking former colonies.

How do you guys view your relationship with Canada and Australia?

Granted, neither are superpowers, but they are still very large economies, and Canada is a petroleum superpower in many ways.

Thanks for the great diary.



STIPES!!!! (2.00 / 3)
Hey, dude. How ya been?

This is not a recession. It's a robbery.

[ Parent ]
Check this Meteor Blades diary out. (2.00 / 3)

The British media are awash in stories today about how the Cheney-Bush administration threatened to end intelligence cooperation if the UK government revealed evidence that a British resident, Ethiopian-born Binyam Mohammed, was tortured at the Guantánamo detention center in Cuba. Two leading High Court judges in the long-running high-profile case are also saying they'd been told by the Foreign Office that the threat still applies under the Obama administration.

Great links and a great read.

Just because they are posting on a progressive site doesn't make them progressives. - John Allen

yeah, looks like bullying (2.00 / 1)
if you can't prove it, it didn't happen?  But, do you think it's smart or stupid?  I (big surprise) think airing our dirty laundry is one of the few ways open to hold us accountable.  I'd like Barack to drop that threat and just evidence away.  

What, me worry?

[ Parent ]

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