LOOKING ACROSS THE ATLANTIC
The. Origins of a Relationship
By H. C. ALLEN
THE week in which Lyndon B. Johnson has been inaugurated as President of the United States in his own right, having been elected by the biggest majority in America's history, would in any circumstances be a good moment to take stock once more of the state of Anglo-American relations; but it happens also to be the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent, which terminated the war of 1812—the second and last war between Great Britain and the United States.
A century and a half ago today, this 'Treaty of Peace and Amity,' which had been signed on Christmas Eve 1814, was on its slow way across the winter Atlantic to Washington, where it was, with compensating and quite unusual speed, to be accepted by the Senate on February 16, the day after it was submitted by the administration. Thus ended what to most Britons (whose history books have understandably fixed their attention during these months on the doings of Napoleon) has remained an unknown war.
By contrast with its contemporary, the Treaty of Vienna, which finally terminated the war with France in 1815 after the total victory of the allies
over the Emperor of the French, the Ghent Treaty did not even mention a single one of the main causes of the war of 1812, because the conflict was so inconclusive. Yet both treaties were to usher in a hundred and fifty years of peace with Britain—one with the 'United States and one (if we are to discount the hostilities with Vichy in 1940-41) with France.
In the Anglo-American case it was in part the very stalemate which made this possible, followed as it was by the real and partly deliberate iso- lation of the United States within the western hemisphere during most of the rest of the cen- tury. By the end of it America had both expanded to her present territorial limits on the North American continent, and also pushed far beyond this mainland with the acquisition' of such dominions as Puerto Rico in the Caribbean and Hawaii and the Philippines in the Pacific. And Britain had not only gradually been able by this time to solve her main outstanding diplomatic disputes with the United States, but had begun fully to accept the inevitability of the great-power status of America.
Indeed, by the Spanish-American War of 1898 large sections of the British public had come positively to welcome the re-emergence of the American republic into world affairs; and in- fluential groups in political and social life on both sides of the Atlantic were enthusiastically promoting Anglo-Amgrican friendship, fostering the amity between the two `kindred,' Anglo- Saxon' peoples. (The Anglo-American League, a predecessor of the English-Speaking Union, for example, was formed in 1898, and the Pilgrims was founded three years later.) The pressure exerted by such groups, which were to be a notable feature of Anglo-American relations from that time forward, was made much more effective by the steady and probably irre- versible trend which had by now been established towards democracy in Britain. At first, in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, the leading proponents of cordial relations with America were the Radicals, dedicated to the ex- tension of the suffrage; Bright and Cobden were, indeed, often referred to in the House of Com- mons as the 'Members for the United States.' The triumph of the North in the Civil War (Whose centenary is just now, in 1965, moving to its close) strengthened the cause of the par- liamentary reformers in the struggle for the second Reform Bill of 1867; and during the en- suing two decades (culminating in the third Reform Bill of 1884) Liberals, under the influence of such men as the rising Joseph Chamberlain, tended to look more and more to the political example of American democracy.
But the disruption of the Liberal Party over Ireland and the defection of Chamberlain and the Unionists to conservatism, combined with the rise of socialism and the formation of the Labour Party, began to effect a striking change in British opinion in the last years of the century. These new elements on the left, some of them in- fluenced by Marxism, were deeply suspicious of American capitalism, which was now in its hey- day, and a long era of radical mistrust of America began. By contrast, the Liberal Party itself, for its last Indian summer of power, and, more surprisingly, the Tories (whose aristocratic elements had long mistrusted American democ- racy, but among whom businessmen were now much more influential), were becoming increas- ingly wedded to Anglo-American co-operation. Though all parties were liable to outbursts of occasionally xenophobic anti-Americanism even• up to the present day, by the time of Aneurin Bevan it was, in sharp contrast to a hundred years earlier, the right which stood most clearly for co-operation with the United States and the left which was suspicious of the American leviathan.
Yet. these were the factional groupings and individual quirks to be expected in a free society, and the participation of the United States—albeit comprehensibly reluctant and, in the opinion of critical Britons, tardy—in the two world wars greatly strengthened the embryonic sense of over- all Anglo-American community of interest, which had been nurtured by certain leaders of opinion on both sides of the Atlantic at the turn of the century, in the era of what its first historian later entitled 'the rise of Anglo-American friend- ship.' In the Second World War this 'special rela- tionship,' as it then came for a period to be called, and indeed to be, reached its apogee and found its supreme spokesman.
As he put it at the height of 'this ordeal and struggle,' the two peoples 'are united by other ties besides those of state policy and public need. To a large extent they are the ties of blood and his- tory. Naturally I, a child of both worlds, am conscious of these. Law, language, literature— these are considerable factors. Common concep- tions of what is right and decent, a marked regard for fair play, especially to the weak and poor, a stern sentiment of impartial justice, and above all the love of personal freedom, or as Kipling put it, "Leave to live by no man's leave underneath the law"—these are common conceptions on both sides of the ocean among English-speaking peoples.'
This consciousness of the common cause was carried over into the post-war years, and in the sudden-seeming onset of the Cold War the Labour government, its foreign policy dominated by the massive and beneficert, conservative and far- seeing figure of Ernest Bevin, participated fully in such great enterprises as the Berlin airlift (an unadulterated manifestation of the special rela- tionship if ever there was one), and the forma- tion of NATO. With the return of Churchill to power in 1951, he once more summed it up:
Britain and the United States are working to- gether, and working for the same high cause. Bismarck once said that the supreme fact of the nineteenth century was that Britain and the United States spoke the same language. Let us make sure that the supreme fact of the twentieth century is that they tread the same path.
His wise advice was soon forgotten. The wan- ing of co-operation between allies which, as so often after great wars, followed in due course the end of the Second World War, and the onset of the first thaw of the Cold War, which came with the death of Stalin; the failure of John Foster Dulles to tend (what the Economist was then wont to call) 'The Alliance' with real—and certainly sufficient—care; and above all the rash and mis- guided policy of the Eden government—these and other factors produced the sudden and astound- ing Suez crisis, the gravest Anglo-American breach in this century. The American government led the United Nations in the condemnation of the Anglo-French use of military force against Egypt and the desperate run on the pound which fol- lowed not only forced the suspension of hostilities but made unmistakably clear that Great Britain was no longer a power in the same class as the United States.
What of the Alliance, what of the so-called special relationship now? The question was widely asked, not without some relish, in' many British quarters, especially those never deeply en- amoured of the influence of the United States, let alone sold on 'the American way of life.' Those who had never believed in the salutary nature nor the vital importance of the Anglo- American partnership denounced America openly, and at a more sophisticated level aspersions against the 'hands-across-the-sea' spirit became commoner currency, while the idea that there could be any sort of inevitability in Anglo- American friendship was vigorously attacked.
These doubts and denunciations were, how- ever (since Labour bitterly opposed the Suez venture), most pronounced in Tory ranks. Con- servatives were more incensed at what they regarded as the affront to Britain's prestige, whereas the Labour Party, sharing what was clearly on this occasion the feeling of the United States against the use of force and against neo-imperialistn, as well as her feeling for the United Nations, purged its bosom of some of the perilous stuff of. Marxist and Bevanite anti- Americanism which had long weighed upon it. It was no accident that in 1964 the new Labour government, as its Foreign Secretary declared it would, very obviously—indeed, vis-a-vis Europe, ostentatiously—made the American alliance the 'sheet-anchor' of its policy.
But, in fact, by far the most striking sequel of Suez was the rapidity with which the Conserva- tive government itself set about, and succeeded in, repairing the ravages it had wrought in the Alliance. To his great credit, Harold Macmillan (the very Chancellor of the Exchequer who had presided over the near-liquidation of the pound sterling during Suez), under the slogan of Anglo- American 'interdependence,' succeeded to a quite remarkable degree, by patience, single-minded- ness and skill, in restoring the relationship to its Pristine state. During the great Kennedy-Khrush- chev confrontation of November 1962, the British government, and for the most part the British people, behaved with creditable and re- markably calm loyalty to their great ally.
Indeed, so swift was the recovery of close and amiable. Anglo-American relations after such a disastrous setback that one felt bound to wonder Whether, if they could survive the Suez crisis, they could not survive anything. Prophecy is rash, and Judgments which are based on the `trends' and 'circumstances' of history run the serious risk of being confounded because they ignore the wills and wishes of living men. But to those who decry the special solidity of the Anglo-American rela- tionship because it seems to them to depend on the transitory feelings and efforts of hands-across- the-sea 'do-gooders,' it may be pointed out that those feelings themselves are the recurring product of a vast network of circumstances which continually predispose to Anglo-American accord.
law, language, literature,' these were already Common to both peoples when the negotiators of the Treaty of Ghent found out the advan- tages of being able to draw up the instrument in a single language. The 'ties of blood' remained very strong in the succeeding 150 years, across an Atlantic becoming ever narrower, an ocean which came to cement rather than sever the hundreds of thousands of family relationships (brothers and sisters, uncles and cousins) pro- duced by the huge emigration from Great Britain to the United States over the long stretch of the years. To these connections must be added many more of the threads (Lilliputian sometimes in separation, but formidable indeed in their totality) which bidd the two peoples together— continuous trade and ceaseless exchange of tech- nological innovation, political alliance and inter- change of military personnel, the prodigious tourist traffic and the constant and mutual stream of scholars and students, and the persistent, reci- procal, ebb and flow of humanitarian movements. Finally, 'state policy and public need,' in the past three-quarters of a century, when democ- racy has ever and again been threatened by diverse authoritarian principalities and powers, have repeatedly driven the two nations into closer concert.
Thus the past itself, with all the manifold in- fluences which flow from it, has become the most powerful of Anglo-American ties. Just as we are all, each one of us as individuals—subtly and in complex fashion but with immense force— moulded by our own experiences, so Anglo- American history has produced not merely a community of interest between the two peoples, but a powerful tendency for both parts of the Anglo-American society to react in similar and increasingly familiar fashion to the stimulus of events. It will be surprising indeed if this pro- cess does not continue far into the future.