General Articles

U.S. Back in the Empire?

BEVERLEY BAXTER January 15 1948
General Articles

U.S. Back in the Empire?

BEVERLEY BAXTER January 15 1948

U.S. Back in the Empire?


IT SHOULD be clearly recognized in every country of the Commonwealth that we have reached a vitally important point in our history. In fact we are seeing the closing phase of the Second Empire and the beginning of the Third.

The First Empire ended with the loss of the American colonies. The Second Empire began with the inclusion of India and now ends with the independence of India and the unconditional freedom to Burma. What lies ahead?

It may be that the answer to that question will come from Washington. Destiny moves in a mysterious way and it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the Third Empire will see the return of the American colonies!

Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill are temperamentally and politically as far apart as the poles, but each of them bas the gift of uttering truths before the world is ready to accept them. Thus Mr. Shaw wrote in 1915 that Britain could never again fight a world war without being ruined. No one paid any attention, for Shaw was out of fashion, a pacifist and a crank, and what does a playwright know' about the facts of political life?

Two years ago Mr. Churchill made a speech at Fulton, Mo., in which he shocked the world by saying that there should be an Anglo-American alliance and even hinted at a common AngloAmerican citizenship.

It is often said of Churchill that he has genius without judgment, a phrase which is at once effective and patronizing, as if genius were a poor thing and not to be taken seriously. I can remember how startled we were when Churchill flew to Bordeaux in 1940 and, in a desperate attempt to keep France in the war, offered a Franco-British Union with a simple citizenship. Wise men described it as a gambler’s last throw, an impracticable suggestion intended to inflame the Gallic temperament by its dramatic quality.


Yet who can deny that, both Britain and France would be stronger today, and European stability much nearer attainment, if the two nations had faced the postwar period together? France w>’ll always be a republic, but in a common citizenship with Britain the F’rench would have shouted “Vive le Roi!" in the boulevards again and felt a confidence in the future that is now sadly missing.

To reinforce my argument,, let me add that when I went to Hanover in 1946 a deputation of influen-

tial Germans asked if it would not be possible to send a royal prince from England to be King of Hanover so that eventually the British Zone in Germany would be incorporated in the British Empire.

I agree that all this borders on fantasy and that the difficulties of such a move would be prodigious, but nevertheless it all points to one clear fact—that the British Empire and Commonwealth with its adaptability and wisdom stands out as the greatest steadying influence in the world.

Some of you may remember a London Letter which I wrote a few months ago in which I told how Viscount Templewood (formerly Sir Samuel Hoare) visualized the Empire as a club with different kinds of membership such as country members, week-end members, full members and even foreign members. Subsequently I put that, idea forward in a debate on foreign affairs and it aroused interest even if not enthusiasm.

Some Americans For Union

MACLEAN’S is widely read in the U. S. A. and I can imagine some full-bellied laughter across the border when they read that America might return to the British family. But. when they finish laughing I would like to tell them that there are many influential Americans who are not only thinking along these lines but planning for it. If I were to reveal the names of some of them it would cause a sensation.

The attitude of these gentlemen toward Great Britain can be summarized as follows:

1. Britain is impoverished, overpopulated and has neither the resources nor the vitality to develop her African colonies or assist in the development of the Commonwealth members.

2. By allotting nearly everything to exports Britain will block the free flow of multilateral trade.

3. Since Britain’s survival is essential to America she will need assistance for years to come and will thus retard America’s progress.

4. The only solution is for the U. S. A. to enter into a partnership with Britain to develop the Empire.

I make no comment on this but put it forward as an accurate diagnosis of what might be called the New American Thought. There is no need to doubt that these Americans see their country as the senior partner in such a scheme and that the idea is born less out of love for the British than as an attempt to ensure American prosperity for the next 50 years. They cannot be blamed for desiring the welfare of their own people.

When I learned that

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these ideas were widely held in certain American circles I went to see one of the shrewdest of British politicians, a man of vast experience and a brilliant mind. He listened carefully and then made this comment:

“Nothing can prevent the domination of the world by America for the next 50 years. The wars which exhausted the rest of us have made her rich and powerful. Her own territory is not yet fully developed and she will be able to sustain a much larger population than she has now. Despite Canada’s loyalty and generosity, America has virtually brought her into an economic union now. Canadian trade unions have to telephone to New York or Chicago for their orders, and in a thousand ways Canada is tied to the American dollar. Looking further afield the IJ. S. A. thinks that she can repeat that, process in Australia and New Zealand, and especially in Africa which has suddenly assumed great importance to our friends in Washington.

“The British have enduring qualities —but not always endearing—which the Americans will never attain. Therefore I give the Americans 50 years, after which Britain will dominate once again. The British have always capitalized the spadework of other nations. We benefitted from the colonization done by Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries. We benefitted by the exploring and colonizing of the French. Now we are about to benefit by the rise of America to world power, just as America grew up and prospered while Britain policed the world in the 19th

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century. I do not doubt that some kind of partnership between Britain and America is bound to come about.”

Just before I took my leave I asked him if be thought that Canada would day join the American union.

“No,” he said. “Quebec would never allow it.”

Again I make no comment on this, but whether he is right or wrong in his vision of the future it is always impressive the way an intelligent Englishman keeps a sense of the centuries. This man looks upon 50 years as a mere moment in the story of mankind and contemplates with satisfaction the ultimate recovery of Britain even though he will have long since been buried in her soil.

It Will Take Time

But now having faithfully recorded all these things I would like to set down my own feelings about this vision of things to come.

First, let me say that I believe profoundly in the necessity and the inevitability of the English-speaking leadership of the world. The choice is between that or the leadership of Asia.

Secondly, I have always felt that the British Empire, like all things created by man, must be subject to the law of change.

Thirdly, I believe that some method should be found whereby the countries of the British Empire should work in amity with the U. S. A., not only politically but economically.

But it would be utterly impracticable to try and bring about a complete Anglo-American partnership in a day or in one move. If that were done the British Empire would become the American Empire with Britain as the senior colony, and I don’t think we are quite ready for that over here despite our troubles and our shadowed future.

It would have to be a graduated process in which America would need to learn the difficult lesson that t rading does not merely consist of selling. Neither loans nor credits nor even a peacetime system of lend-lease can alter the basic philosophy that a nation must accept imports in payment for exports. To bring that about in the U. S. A. would require a national selfdiscipline which must be strongly at variance with the American temperament.

Yet there is majesty in the conception of Anglo-American partnership and, unless it materializes in some workable form, the curse of totalitarianism from the East may fasten its grip upon the world. Therefore the thoughts of men should be along these lines even though the difficulties be as numerous and as formidable as the Rockies, if