THE DANGEROUS LUXURY OF HATING AMERICA
Vigorous disagreement is healthy. But — with unity their only hope, men of good will on both sides of the Atlantic are taking their lives in their hands by exercising the inalienable right to misunderstand and dislike each other
PROBABLY the most important and certainly the most terrifying fact in the free world today is not Russia’s strength, Europe’s weakness nor anything that can be measured in statistics.
It is the dry rot an intangible process within the minds of nameless millions steadily undermining the friendship of the old world and the new, on which the fate of both must hang.
Among Europeans this phenomenon is called anti-Americanism, among Americans gross ingratitude. It is much more complicated than simple prejudice. It is, in fact, a kind of psychic disease which, unless cured, could some day prove mortal, thereby confirming the prognosis of that distinguished political physician, the late Joseph Stalin.
In Europe and especially in Britain the quiet but bitter resentment against American policies and, worse, against American people, is so deep and has grown so fast of late that statesmen hardly dare to discuss it in public and try to mask it with speeches and postures.
This well-meaning conspiracy of concealment clearly is failing. A.mong the little people who in the end will decide everything, the United States’ moral leadership of the free world, the only kind of leadership that can possibly succeed, is in danger of collapse at its beginning.
In seven thousand miles of travel by automobile through the eight major nations of Western Europe I heard over and over the same dismal recital — the Americans are ill-mannered and blundering children, their civilization is a combination of wealth, corruption, Coca-Cola and Senator McCarthy, t heir government is probably leading the world to war. I met only one man, an English politician too eminent to be identified, who had a word of gratitude to say for the United States.
“The Americans,” said he, “saved us from Germany in two wars. I’m convinced they will save us from Russia by preventing a third. And meanwhile they have saved us from bankruptcy.”
Europe, blind in its ingratitude, has yet to grasp that simple truth. And the Americans in their misjudgment of all foreigners have yet to grasp the first facts of Europe’s life.
The relations between the British and American peoples are,^ of course, the crux of the problem as they must be the foundation of peace. I hose relations are deteriorating because they are approached on the primary illusion that the two peoples are spiritually alike, compatible by nature and brothers under the skin. Actually, their superficial resemblance is the chief cause of their incompatibility because it raises false expectations, ending in irritation and resentment.
“Most of our troubles with the Americans,” said a wise old don at Cambridge, “stem from the awful barrier of a common language. Since they speak the same language the British and Americans expect each other to be the same sort of people. When they turn out to be utterly different both are disappointed and angered, as if the other fellow had somehow let them down. An Englishman isn’t disturbed when a Frenchman eats snails or keeps a mistress. That is the French way. But when the American chews gum, dresses oddly, uses a queer accent or starts a fight in a pub we find it inexcus-
LUXURY OF HATING
aole because it isn’t British. And the Americans feel the same way about us.”
When the average American talks about Britain he is thinking of an imaginary land and people that never existed and never will. When the Briton thinks about the United States he usually pictures a revolting travesty provided by the criminal cunning of the American movie makers, by Senator McCarthy (who has done more harm to trans-Atlantic friendship than anyone since George III) and by Britain’s shoddy mass-circulation press, which ignores American life to lavish its space on the adulteries of Hollywood, the witch hunts of Congress and the night life of New York.
In all this tragedy of errors the Canadian occupies a special position, privileged but often uncomfortable. Both sides will talk to him as they will never talk to each other. The Englishman usually supposes that the Canadian is either an exiled Englishman or a rather superior American not beyond saving. The American regards the Canadian as just another North American, artificially separated from God’s Country by a rather absurd line on a map.
Neit her of our friends, while admiring our economic progress, has begun to understand the paramount fact of Canadian life — that we too are a separate breed and growing more distinct, more Canadian, every day.
It is thus amazing and embarrassing to a Canadian when the Englishman suddenly removes his armor, relaxes the stiff upper lip and confesses his horror of Americans, or the American takes down his hair and admits that the English simply baffle him.
These troubles have three current points of friction: The American’s
total inability to understand foreigners and his careless manners once he leaves his own country; Europe’s painful adjustment to a secondary role in world power, and Europe’s fear that American power will be misused, at best by stupidity, at worst by malice.
Bad Blood in Traffic Jams
American manners, the least significant factor in this equation of discord, loom largest in the mind of the ordinary European. Quite wrongly, he judges American civilization by its manners, or rather he judges a nation of one hundred and fifty million people by the behavior of a handful. He cannot penetrate the brassy façade of fictional American life to see the hard-working, hospitable and great-hearted people of America.
The habits of American soldiery in Europe are as familiar as they are exaggerated—the oldest story of war, conquest and occupation. You can guess the dimensions of this problem when you find the sleepy old town of Heidelberg, the haunt of Goethe and the Student Prince, so jammed with American army trucks and generals’ limousines that at 6 p.m. the traffic halted dead for fifteen minutes at a time and I drove seven blocks in a full hour. Here was a massive physical friction and l>eneath it a much deeper friction in the minds of the conquerors and the conquered.
In a wine garden beside Goethe’s river a former captain of artillery told me that the British Army was brave and always “correct” (his highest adjective of praise), and the Americans, though fearless, knew nothing of discipline. Unbuttoning his collar, laying his feet on the table and hoisting a bottle to his lips, he gave an admiring crowd an imitation of an American soldier in the presence of a general: “Hi, general, how’s the boy?” In the
German Army, said the former Nazi, a soldier would not be shot for such an offense. He would be sent to a lunatic asylum as obviously insane.
“The Americans are children.” I heard that phrase in eight countries and more towns than I can remember. “But in time,” added a genial Roman professor, “they will grow up and learn. They will learn how to live, how to enjoy themselves instead of dying of a cardiac condition at fifty. They’ll learn that there’s more in living than money.”
This, mind you, from the citizen of a country which has not yet learned to live on its own resources, which could hardly survive without the money of those hard-working adolescents, the taxpayers of the United States.
Yes, and as the professor and I chatted on the main street of Rome some hundreds of Italian youths, who presumably knew how to live, were conducting their nightly riof, the Fascists and Communists screaming, gesticulating and frothing like madmen, chin to chin. No one objected to their manners because they were Italians. An American soldier with a drink too many is taken to represent the historic barbarism of his race. In Naples a hotelkeeper clumsily parodied fcr me, in what he supposed to be a Yankee accent, an American calling for another bottle when any sensible European would be satisfied with a single glass of wine. Yet the only Americans in the room were drinking Coke in a corner with all the symptoms of homesickness.
In Cambridge an English airman who kindly took me punting on the Cam said he was happy because he had just escaped from an airdrome in East
Anglia where English and Americans were stationed toget her. T he Americans, he explained, were poor types when drunk. But, 1 asked, what were they like when sober. In his crisp English style he said he didn’t know because he had never seen them, off duty, in t hat condition.
Now, this was a palpable lie, a lie so often repeated as to become a joke, a myth, an outrage.
The wife of an English officer in Berlin told me, and undoubtedly believed, that the American occupation forces had bought up for a song from hungry Germans all the best art treasures and household furniture in the city.
A chauffeur in Bonn, a German major captured in North Africa and imprisoned in Kansas, told me that the Americans were good people who had treated him “correctly.” But he intends to emigrate to Canada for lately he had been hearing terrible things about the United States. He is not likely to hear anything else in Europe. Continued on page 26
The Dangerous Luxury of Hating America
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 17
When the Folies Bergère, between its parades of stark-naked women, pictures the typical American traveler as an oaf in a dinner jacket Paris laughs but the laughter does not hide the bitterness of a sick country.
One sleek American millionairess, forced to leave her limousine and travel by train through the St. Gothard tunnel, looks down her nose at the common people, complains about the service and, by her air of disdain, disgusts a whole trainload of Europeans, who forget the quiet young American couple in the next seat, quietly minding their own business.
The Roman guide, for all his welltrained polish, cannot disguise his contempt for the old maid from Spokane who tries to absorb Italian culture in three easy lessons.
An Italian innkeeper assures you that all Americans are crazy and lawless whik> he himself is laboriously engaged at the moment in cooking two sets of books to cheat his government out of income tax.
Bad manners, though no one in Europe seems to suspect it, are not confined to the Americans. British manners, for example, are perfect by British standards. They are often repulsive by American standards. No one can resist the bluff friendliness of the British workingman but the American is repelled by .the coldness of the upper classes, a coldness deepening as the social scale ascends.
He is amazed to find that Britain, perhaps the most successful democracy in the art of government, is not and may never be a social democracy. An economic revolution has changed the distribution of wealth. It has hardly made a dent in the unquestioned principle of class. The London Times says the revolution has made the nation more class-conscious than ever.
The English gentry’s exquisite deportment, the casual look learned by long study, the clothes carefully tailored to appear careless, the accent acquired by years of sedulous apprenticeship, the English gentleman’s unalterable and sincere conviction of his racial superiority—all this at first chills and then heats a normal American. The Englishman, for his part, is appalled by the American’s habit of saying what he feels and exposing his soul indecently.
The American cannot be expected to understand immediately that the Englishman, frightened by his own sentimentality, ashamed of his secret emotionalism and pitifully shy, has constructed an outer glaze as a protective coloration against a prying world. The American may not appreciate at once the solid, unshakable strength of the nation behind the formal façade; the self-discipline of a single organism, an indivisible community, a single family, beside which the society of North America is almost an anarchy; the nameless nobility and grubby heroism of little people whose organic unity overrides all class divisions and is the true secret of Britain’s greatness.
Accustomed to speed in work and play, the American is infuriated by the leisurely pace of Britain, the delays and endless paper work, the all-pervading officialdom and fussing over silly details, the uniforms and badges of office from the hall porter to the Beefeater of the Tower, the unquestioning assurance that the rulers may err but the system itself is the ultimate work of man.
“You must first understand,” said one of England’s most powerful industrialists, “two essential facts. We are an island people, we are isolated by the sea and we have no real interest in any other country. And we are a lazy people, we only do as much as we have to for survival, we prefer to enjoy life and we never strain ourselves until we’re on the brink of disaster. We are, you might say, a Dunkirk people.”
From his office we could see a road gang drinking their tea beside a hot brazier. In a bombed-out concrete basement near St. Paul’s a band of office workers played lunch-hour soccer with a tennis ball.
“You see,” said the industrialist, “the whole problem there. We have to convince those easy-going people that London isn’t yet rebuilt and we are facing an economic Dunkirk.”
The power of self-criticism is stronger than foreigners suppose. For example, the day after the Coronation The Times (with shocking bad manners on such an occasion, many of its readers thought) suddenly lashed out at the British people as “a good people grown careless . . . content to live handto-mouth . . . meanness of spirit, envy and jealousy sour too much of our national life.”
Probably it would be fairer to say that the British people are tired by war and austerity, an ordeal which the American has never known. Their pride is hurt by the decline of their relative strength in the world balance of power. Sometimes they reveal a brittleness unnatural to them as when Eden was publicly criticized for his perfectly reasonable decision to take medical treatment in the United States.
Second Fiddlers Are Unhappy
If British manners irritate the American the German’s current air of servility and heartiness before his conquerors is still harder to take.
The French, who claim the best manners on earth and secretly regard all other races as barbarous, have only to step into an automobile to make the countryside hideous with the ceaseless screech of their horns, the roads a death trap with their recklessness.
It is all a matter of standards but few Europeans admit that Americans have any right to a standard of their own. Vainly the Canadian tries to explain that Americans at home are well-behaved, friendly and considerate. I never found one European who believed me. I had half-convinced a hotel clerk in Barcelona when an American guest, loaded with wine and money, lurched up to announce in a strident voice that the barkeeper had insulted him by refusing him more drink and he must have a public apology or leave. The Spaniard will continue to believe all Americans are like that.
The clash of manners, however distressing, does not begin to explain the growing anti-Americanism of Europe. It is, to a large extent anyway, only a rationalization of Europe’s frustration and envy, an escape mechanism to cover Europe’s own sense of weakness and dependence.
This is particularly true and doubtless inevitable in Britain. The British people are going through not only a hard time economically but a cruel readjustment spiritually. After centuries of supremacy it is not easy for a great people to accept the supreme power of the United States, to realize that their reward for saving the world singlehanded in the first years of the war is poverty while even the conquered Germans are living better on the whole than the conquerors. And not easy to accept moral sermons from Mr. Dulles, who runs Malenkov and
animated alphabet by WHALLEY
H IS FOR I IS FOR
J IS FOR JUDGE
K IS FOR KEYHOLE
McCarthy a close third in the present European unpopularity contest.
The postwar generosity of the United States secretly rankles in all British hearts, however it may be acclaimed in public. The money certainly is appreciated. The neceasity of accepting it is bound to hurt.
A wise Londoner explained Britain’s feelings by recalling a story about Field-Marshal Smuts. The South African statesman was asked why he was being so ferociously attacked by a certain politician. Said Smuts: “I can’t
imagine. I never did that man a good turn in my life.”
The United States’ costly good turns of recent years have made few friends in Europe.
These emotional frictions are not half so deep or permanently important as the ignorance that feeds them. To the Europeans America is as distant, unmapped and uncongenial as the moon. The Americans know much more about the outer surface of Europe. Yet they miss the whole point.
“They think,” as a world-weary Frenchman told me, “that they know foreigners and how to deal with them. Actually we are no better understood than the inhabitants of Mars.”
The Europeans are misunderstood largely because the average American regards the American Way of Life as the true norm and ideal state of man. He expects foreigners to grow inevitably toward this particular society with a little more experience, enlightenment and help.
The Europeans, of course, have no intention of doing anything of the sort. They will imitate American techniques, accept American gifts and try to duplicate America’s riches. They will never forego their own ways of life which they consider superior to any other. Before the United States can even begin to solve the trans-Atlantic problem it will have to accept the curious fact that for most of the world the American Way of Life will always be a curious aberration.
This really doesn’t matter, but as one of the most penetrating minds of Britain remarked, it wounds the Americans.
“We Englishmen,” he explained, “never expected to be loved when we were running the show. We didn’t particularly want to be. We always knew that unpopularity was the price of power. But the Americans, poor fellows, just can’t bear not to be loved. It burns them right up, you know. We won’t get on together until the Americans realize that power is a lonely business, with more kicks than ha’pence. Yes, and it would help a lot if Mr. Dulles stopped talking like the Diety.”
Recent events have added a final friction of another kind—Britain and Europe fear that the United States government doesn’t know how to use its power. Eisenhower has been, so far, a sharp disappointment to his European friends. They expected the President to exploit his election victory as he exploited the beachheads of Africa and Normandy. Instead, they saw in Washington nothing like Roosevelt’s first electric Hundred Days but a vacuum in which the President seemed poised uncertainly at dead centre.
Such fears are not confined to Europeans. After a close look at Europe Walter Lippmann returned home to report that “American influence is declining precipitously as the Eisenhower administration displays its weakness and indecision.” Mr. Lippmann erred on the side of understatement.
When this report is printed Eisenhower may have recaptured the full power of the presidency. But much precious time has been lost, much harm done in Europe, the Eisenhower legend seriously diluted.
Three distinct factors can be identified in the confused debate now raging throughout the continent. There is, to begin with, the familiar notion that the trigger-happy Americans will blunder into a world war. When you tell the Europeans that it just isn’t in the nature of the Americans to start a war, that they have never fought until they had to, the Europeans point to General MacArthur, the China Lobby, the wild men of the Congress, the confused soul-searching of Senator Taft, the bullying threats of Senator McCarthy and, above all, to the dominant position of so many military men in the American government.
To most Canadians the theory of an aggressive American imperialism is not alarming. To countless Europeans it is a deadly nightmare. The United States, as one of Britain’s most influential figures observed, might survive an atomic war, though broken and desolated. For Britain and Europe there is no such hope. Glancing out his penthouse window across the vast bulk of London, a shining target for bombers, this man added: “Another war would
leave nothing here but an atomic swamp. Do you wonder we get the wind up a bit when we hear the lunatics howling in Washington?”
Another nightmare is still more urgent and seems more likely to materialize -the fear of an American depression. Here again Europe feels itself far more exposed than the United States. One of England’s leading economists put a problem of infinite complexity in simple terms: “The United States is
rich enough to stand without serious
strain a recession cf, say, five or even ten percent in its national income. For us it would be sheer disaster. Remember that in the spring of 1949 American business dropped about five percent for a few months, a tiny affair in the States. But the drop in American imports was something like forty percent and it just about wrecked us, dollarwise. Within three months we had to devalue the pound. We can’t stand another shake like that.”
To the Europeans an American recession, even a small one, is no longer an economic process. It has become a
moral crime. Few seem to remember that the American economy, for all its mistakes, has recently saved the world from ruin. The Russians remember, with regret.
Unjust and ungrateful criticism of the American system is constantly fed by the American Congress. Europe has been shaken to find Eisenhower, who preached low tariffs and increasing trade in his election campaign, yielding to Congressional pressure and postponing this whole issue for a year.
He postponed it, moreover, at the very moment when the Commonwealth
was ready to risk the gigantic gamble of convertibility--the freeing of the pound to find its own level in terms of the dollar—if it could get reasonable American co-operation. When Eden and Butler proposed the Commonwealth plan of reduced tariffs, expanded trade and convertible currencies to Washington they were politely brushed off by the American government which had formerly demanded this policy.
Doubtless it is far too early to foresee the result of Eisenhower’s postponed but inevitable collision with the protectionists of his party. The Beaver-
brook press shrilly announces that American tariffs are going up as in the Twenties. The real thinkers of Britain fear that Eisenhower will face his problem too late, when even a minor American recession makes tariff reductions politically impossible. The third factor in Europe’s disillusionment is doing still more harm at the moment: Senator McCarthy’s crusade of vilification has convinced millions of Europeans that the American people have scrapped the Bill of Rights and repudiated the doctrine of personal liberty on which their whole society is founded. For the free world outside the United States McCarthyism is not just a spectacle. It is a tragedy. The trans-Atlantic misunderstanding becomes ludicrous when you hear an intelligent Frenchman lamenting the blunders of the United States while his own government cannot even manage its own finances or be sure of surviving until next week end; when an Italian deplores American belligerence though he himself, only a few years ago, was a member of Mussolini’s brain trust; or when a former officer of Hitler’s staff solemnly affirms that the Americans cannot be trusted with the atom bomb. The cause of the problem is clear to anyone who knows the United States and has observed at first hand the tortured mind of Europe. The cure is much harder to find. Certainly it will not be found in the present attempt to hush up the unpleasant truth by diplomatic postures, after-dinner oratory and trans-Atlantic cargoes of soft soap. A Canadian, as a middleman in this wrangle between his friends, must conclude, first, that any workable longterm agreement between the British and American peoples must be based not on myths but on sheer necessity. Out of day-to-day co-operation in practical affairs understanding will come in time. To expect it by some law of nature or some racial affinity is not only absurd but dangerous because if is bound to fail. Second, the United States and Europe will never learn to get along together until they realize for a start that they simply do not know each other, until they see that the United States is presented as a wicked caricature in Europe and Europe as a preposterous fairy tale in the United States. Third, the United States must understand that the caricature of its life is largely of its own making through the mischievous agency of Hollywood, McCarthyism, the lunatic fringe of the Congress and the manners of Americans abroad. Fourth, the United States must he convinced that Europe is not a brokendown, antique model o‘ the American system which must be replaced by a new model off the Detroit assembly line, but a continent of vigorous able people, tragically divided but in many ways more civilized than the new world; that these people are not objects of charity but allies and friends absolutely essential to the United States’ survival. Finally, Europe must reconcile itself, as it has not reconciled itself yet, to the historic fact that the United States is and will remain for a long time the largest power on earth; that this power can be influenced to good ends but never compelled or repealed; that no great nation in the United States’ position has ever been so generous to foreigners, so innocent of ambition, so eager to do the right thing, so assailed by conscience or so suddenly summoned by history to perform a miracle. In our time many miracles will be required. None of them can hope to succeed without a miraculous change in the trans-Atlantic climate. ★