Would Britain Forsake the U. S.?

Would Britain Forsake the U. S.?

Beverley Baxter November 1 1954
Would Britain Forsake the U. S.?

Would Britain Forsake the U. S.?

Beverley Baxter November 1 1954

Would Britain Forsake the U. S.?


Beverley Baxter

WHEN you read these words the fateful year 1954 will be moving toward its last stage. It might have been of the Canadian autumn that the poet wrote: “Oh be less beautiful or be less brief.”

I remember so well the dying beauty of the countryside when winter plunges its knife into the earth and the leaves turn blood red.

This fateful, puzzling year! In November Churchill will celebrate his 80th birthday and there will be great scenes. In November parliament will be opened by Her Majesty and we shall conduct the long debate on the royal speech which, in effect, is a debate on the state of the nation.

By that time the Labour and the Conservative parties will have held their annual conferences. Greatly daring, the Conservatives in conference are going to submit themselves to television. Labour is more coy, or perhaps more wise. Mr. Attlee

may feel that he would be outshone by the colorful Mr. Bevan, and that his doodling might not appear to advantage before the merciless candor of the camera.

Not until parliament assembles shall we be able to assess the reaction to Attlee’s goodwill mission to the Communist world. It is said in the Good Book that we should love our enemies and those who act despitefully towards us, but it is a big price to pay if in the process we lose our friends.

I have mentioned before in Maclean’s my friend Roy Howard who is head of the powerful Scripps-Howard syndicate of newspapers in the U. S. Actually he has handed

over the reins to his son Jack, a fine young ”‘S Vlews afx,ut valor. fellow with a splendid war record, but I am never deeply impressed when dictators abdicate. Lord Beaverbrook, for example, no longer controls his newspapers. He announced it loud and clear in print. Yet I have not heard of any of his editors telling him to go to blazes.

Roy Howard has lost faith in Great Britain. He was a good friend to us in the Hitler war but now he sees in us a nation that has lost its moral fibre, its pride, its valor and its judgment. It may have been nothing more than coincidence that William Philip Simms, foreign editor of the Scripps-Howard group, came to Europe in August and sent home a long dispatch that was published in their New York World-Telegram and Sun under the banner heading: “If Reds Bombed New York Allies Wouldn’t Budge.”

I do not suggest that Simms was influenced directly or indirectly by Roy Howard. It is surprising how often editors agree with the opinions their proprietors express in public or in private.

It was only a month before that Roy Howard wrote me a friendly note from somewhere in Europe regretting thaf he would not be visiting London this time. He gave as his reason that he could not bring himself fo gaze upon a oneegreat country that had sunk so low in character and purpose. However, he added that he hoped to see me in New York in January (which he probably will) and thus indicated that our friendship) would not be affected by the spiritual collapse of tlie British people.

Foreign editor Simms wrote in his celebrated dispatch fhese words:

I doubt if we have a single ally we really could depend on if the Reds let fly with an atomic bomb on New York, coupled with a warning to London, Paris and others to "stay neutral”—or else. Europe is sick and tired. She

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London Letter


will settle for even the bare illusion of a few years of peace.

America’s first line of defense is no longer Europe. It is in Detroit. Pittsburgh. Washington. New York, in the air over Canada and the North Pole. And Europe’s first line of defense is in the same place.

Then he proposed that there should be a drastic reduction in U. S. foreign installations, a withdrawal of all but

token forces and an end to “giveaway” financial aid programs.

After which he proclaims, with the naivete of a newly sprung debutante, “I am not suggesting that we should abandon our allies.”

Well, that’s damned decent of Simms. When we read his dispatch it was like hearing a stern father telling his son that he would be cut off with a shilling but that the parental love would remain unchanged. It could hardly be strange if the son replied in the English idiom: “Socks to you!” One might have attributed Simms’

strange meanderings to a touch of the sun but the weather, last summer, was terrible all over Europe. Therefore, we must aasume that he gave the matter deep thought and found that he agreed with Mr. Howard.

Let us now put his arguments to the acid test. We shall assume that Russia has atom-bombed New York and has simultaneously sent word to the British Government that we would not he attacked or harmed in any way if we remained neutral. The British parliament calls an emergency meeting and Anthony Eden, as Prime Minister,

rises to make the opening speech.

Carefully, laboriously, he recalls the long tension between the U. S. and Russia. The fault, he explains, is on both sides and certainly the Russians would have to bear the major share of the blame. But, he would go on, an atomic war is so unpredictable that it is the duty of those nations not directly concerned to stand apart so as to be able to restore the shattered countries when the war comes to an end. His peroration would presumably be something on these lines: “It is not that we are too proud to fight. It is simply that as trustees of civilization we must keep Western Europe, and especially these islands, detached from the conflict so that we can restore peace and tranquility to the world.”

New York a shambles! Pittsburgh wiped out! Hundreds of thousands of Americans of all ages foully murdered and mutilated by guided missiles! And we stand aside as impotent, decadent, cowardly onlookers so that Russia, perhaps in conjunction with Germany, can take Europe when their clutching fingers are ready!

Agreement or no agreement we would not and could not stand aside. At its lowest it would be an act of lunacy. At its best it would be an act of cowardice.

How can a journalist of Simms’ standing so misread the British nation? It is all very well to shout “Munich” but we had not given Czechoslovakia any guarantee. It is perhaps interesting to recall that before Munich the Dominion governments informed Britain that they would not necessarily support Britain in a war over the Sudeten territory of Czechoslovakia. As for Washington the silence could be felt.

Our pledge then was to France, and Britain keeps her pledges. How was it that Britain gave the world a virtual hundred years of peace between Waterloo and the 1914 war, except that Britain’s word was doubted neither by her enemies nor her friends.

It is possible that both Mr. Howard and Mr. Simms have taken too seriously the anti-American speeches of some British socialist MPs. But these two American journalists are experienced enough to know that America is the ideological enemy of socialism and Communism. The prosperity of the U. S. in raising the wage rate of the workers to a height beyond the dream of the left-wingers is a rebuttal of the socialist faith. That is not only unavoidable but understandable.

And on the Conservative side the Americans should realize that a great power like Britain, impoverished by two world wars, must be allowed a certain jealousy of the nation that has superseded it as the greatest power. This is nothing more nor less than human nature expressing itself in the most normal terms.

Mr. Simms may think that we dislike Americans. Quite frankly we like some and we dislike others. There is nothing I enjoy more than showing American visitors over the Houses of Parliament but, at times, I wonder why

nice American parents allow their young sons to wear shirts down to their knees and look like juvenile delinquents. Is that petty? Probably. But every tourist is an ambassador for his native country, and ambassadors should always take into account the susceptibilities and peculiarities of their hosts.

Our cinemas depend for their prosperity on the British liking for Hollywood films. For nearly fifteen years our greitest theatre, Drury Lane, has housed the operettas of Rodgers and Hammerstein. American stars frequently head the hill at the vast Palladium When Adlai Stevenson came here after his splendid sporting campaign for the presidency we acclaimed him to the skies. When Walter Lipprmnn visits London we nearly always give him an all-party reception at the Commons.

We vould be less than human if we did noi from time to time regret the tragic policy of isolationism which was maintained by successive U. S. governments vhen the very word had ceased to have any logical meaning. And we think that Americans sometimes forget that wthin an hour of the bombing of Pearl Harbor we declared war on Japan.

The emergence of the U. S. as a world power ready to accept the burden of world leadership is one of the greatest events in all history. Nor shall we ever cease no pay tribute to that great American President—Harry S. Truman —for lis inspired policy of aid to Europe and the swift hrave answer to the challenge of Communism in Korea.

Ready to Die for Freedom

I do not deny that Britain has taken many decisions that looked as if she were abdicating her role as a great world p)ower. But it had to be. History does not stand still and Britain could not deny to territories and countries the adult status for which she had trained them. We were patient beyond belief in Persia but patience won the day. In Egypt we drank the bitter waters of renunciation but it may be that in the process we shall regain the respect and the liking of the Arab countries.

Those of us who are commentators on the world scene and can command the alchemy of print must maintain a deep sense of responsibility. T he one hope of tyranny is that America and Britain will become estranged. If we remain friends and allies, albeit with healthy dispute from time to time, then eventually man’s instinct for freedom will prevail even in those countries that maintain a virtual police state. The soul of man demands freedom and there will come a day when he is ready to die for it.

Perhaps the most fundamental difference between Washington and London is that the Americans seem to believe that they can bomb a country into freedom. In Britain we believe that a war deferred may well become a war that does not take place.

But if it comes, and if the enslaved half of the world strikes at the U. S., then Mr. Howard and Mr. Simms need not fear that we shall stand aside or wait until the combatants are exhausted and ruined.

Once more I urge that President Eisenhower visit London. He would find the same welcome and the same nation as when he led the allied forces to victory in Europe.

As for Mr. Simms and Mr. Howard we hope that they will come as well. In the meantime I hope that their sleep will not be haunted by bad dreams caused by drinking too deeply of the wells of doubt. ★