28 APRIL 1939, Page 19


[To the Editor of THE SPECTATOR] SIR,—Two incidents have recently confirmed my opinion that our schools are seriously neglecting a very important subject— the history of the United States.

The other day a lady told me that obviously " America " was going to "back our side" because Roosevelt had "referred to the Germans as Huns and Vandals." She admitted that she had not read the reports of the President's speech, and I was in no mood for argument. If I had been less lazy, I think I should have said that she was making a great mistake in thinking that either the President or the American people would simply take sides with the British Empire. She seemed to me to be showing great ignorance of the American attitude to Europe, and I am afraid that such ignorance is both widespread and dangerous.

A few weeks previously I had the pleasure of entertaining a delightful American professor in my home for a few days. In an entirely friendly way he deplored our ignorance of American geography, history and politics. He had recently met an educated Englishman who thought that San Francisco and Los Angeles were only a few miles apart ; and in the train an English lady had blandly told him that "of course," American standards of education were much lower than ours.

I write this letter in the hope that some of my colleagues in the teaching profession will express their views on the matter. To retaliate, as one might, with instances of

American ignorance of British affairs will not be helpful. After all, the United States form the greatest political force in the world today, and their history is surely as important for us as that of, say, Italy. What do we know about the American Constitution, the powers of the President, of the Federal Government, of the individual States? What do we know of the racial composition of the people, of the Monroe Doctrine, of modern American literature? What do we know of the relationship between the United States and Canada, or of French Canada and its place in the British Empire?

I can hear the groans of my colleagues at the thought of cramming something more into the curriculum, but I suggest to them that this is an important matter, and that it need not take up much time, especially if kept apart from the examina- tion syllabus. I have recently taken a sixth form through a course of twelve lectures based upon two excellent books— Adams' The Epic of America and Siegfried's Canada. The story is vivid, dramatic and inspiring, and I believe that it was enjoyed by everyone in the class. I wish every Englishman could be made to read Lincoln's speech at Gettysburg.

The cleavage between dictatorships and democracies becomes daily more clear cut. If we are to find our way back to the rule of international law and justice, it can only be by the co-operation of the great democracies. The Rome-Berlin-Tokyo triangle is becoming a quadrilateral or a rather lopsided pentagon with Madrid and Budapest. Let us have a Washing- ton-Ottawa-London triangle, and let it be equilateral !—Yours